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Dave Stevens (July 29, 1955March 11, 2008) was an American illustrator and comics artist. He is most famous for creating The Rocketeer comic book and film character, and for his pin-up style "glamour art" illustrations, especially of model Bettie Page. He was the first to win Comic-Con International's Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award in 1982, and received both an Inkpot Award and the Kirby Award for Best Graphic Album in 1986.

Early life and career

Stevens was born July 29, 1955, in Lynwoodmarker, Californiamarker, but grew up in Portland, Oregonmarker. His family relocated to San Diego, where he attended San Diego City College for two years, and attended the then-new annual San Diego Comic-Con (now Comic-Con International).

His first professional comic work was inking Russ Manning's pencils for the Tarzan newspaper comic strip and two European Tarzan graphic novels in 1975 (he later assisted Manning on the Star Wars newspaper strip).

He began doing occasional comic book work, including providing illustrations for fanzines (inking drawings by comic book veteran Jack Kirby among them) as well as creating the Aurora feature for Japan's Sanrio Publishing.

Starting in 1977, he drew storyboards for Hanna-Barbara animated TV shows, including Super Friends and The Godzilla Power Hour where he worked with comics and animation veteran, Doug Wildey. For the rest of the decade, he continued to work in animation and film, joining the art studio of illustrators William Stout and Richard Hescox in Los Angeles, working on projects such as storyboards for Raiders of the Lost Ark and pop singer Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.

The Rocketeer

Painted illustration of the Rocketeer
The first comics featuring Stevens' signature character the Rocketeer was released in 1982. Those stories first appeared as a back-up in issues #2 and #3 of Mike Grell's Pacfic Comics' Starslayer series. The feature later moved to the anthology title Pacific Presents for two issues. The fourth chapter ended in a cliffhanger that was later concluded in a special Rocketeer comic released by Eclipse Comics.

The story was continued in the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine, two issues of which were published by Comico Comics in 1988 and 1989, and a third by Dark Horse Comics in 1995. Stevens' extensive research and meticulous approach to drawing contributed to the long delays between issues. The first story was collected in a single volume by Eclipse Comics simply titled The Rocketeer(ISBN 1-56060-088-8). The second story was collected by Dark Horse as The Rocketeer: Cliff's New York Adventure (ISBN 1-56971-092-9).

The Rocketeer was an adventure story set in a pulp fiction-styled 1930s (with allusions to heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow emphasizing the pulp tradition), about a down-on-his-luck pilot named Cliff Secord who finds a mysterious rocket pack. Despite its erratic publishing history, Rocketeer proved to be one of the first successful features to emerge from the burgeoning independent comics movement. Influenced by Golden Age artists such as Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall, Maurice Whitman, Frank Frazetta and Wally Wood, Stevens was widely recognized along with artists such as Steve Rude and Jaime Hernandez as one of the finest comic book artists of his generation.

Stevens began developing a Rocketeer film proposal in 1985 and sold the rights to the Walt Disney Company, which produced the 1991 film The Rocketeer. The film was directed by Joe Johnston, and starred Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton. Stevens co-wrote the screenplay and was a hands-on co-producer of the film. It received a mixture of highly positive and lukewarm reviews, and disappointing ticket sales. Dave Stevens always felt that a majority of the problem was that the movie poster as well as the promotional graphics were over-stylized and vague and didn't really show people what the movie was all about.

Later life

Following The Rocketeer, Stevens worked primarily as an illustrator, doing a variety of ink and painted illustrations for book and comic book covers, posters, prints, portfolios, and private commissions, including a number of covers for Comico's Jonny Quest title and a series of eight covers for various Eclipse titles which were also published in the form of large posters. Much of his illustrations were in the "good girl art" genre. He also made a return to art college to study painting.

Following several years of struggles with leukemia, which caused a gradual reduction in his artistic output, Stevens died on March 11, 2008 in Turlock, Californiamarker.

Personal life

Artist Laura Molina, with whom Stevens had a relationship in the late 1970s, used him as the subject of her Naked Dave series of paintings.

In 1980, Stevens married longtime girlfriend Charlene Brinkman, later known as Brinke Stevens, which ended in divorce six months later. She later modeled for her ex-husband.

Several characters in his Rocketeer stories are based on personal acquaintances. The Peevy character being based on cartoonist Doug Wildey. Other mutual acquaintances who show up in the comics include real-life glamour and porn photographer Ken Marcus, as the sleazy "Marco of Hollywood".

Stevens was an admirer of 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page. He modeled the Rocketeer's girlfriend after her, and featured her in other illustrations, which contributed to a renewed public interest in her. After discovering that Page was still alive and lived nearby, Stevens became friends with her. He provided personal assistance to her and helped arrange financial compensation for the published use of her images.


At the time of his death, Stevens was working on a career retrospective collection of his work to be titled Brush with Passion – The Life and Art of Dave Stevens from Spectrum Publishing.

His work has had a significant influence on comic book and fantasy illustrators, among them Adam Hughes.


"Dave had more artistic integrity than anyone I've ever known. He always marched to his own drummer whether it benefited him financially or not. He turned down many lucrative job offers — including a monthly pin-up assignment for Playboy offered by Hugh Hefner as a replacement for their regular Alberto Vargas feature — when they didn't jibe with his own highly personal vision of what he should be doing. As a businessman, Dave often drove his close friends nuts. We'd watch in astonishment at the riches passing him by." – William Stout

"Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life... and was certainly among the most gifted. Our first encounter was at Jack Kirby's house around 1971 when he came to visit and show Jack some of his work. As I said, Kirby was very encouraging and he urged Dave not to try and draw like anyone else but to follow his own passions. This was advice Dave took to heart, which probably explains why he took so long with every drawing. They were rarely just jobs to Dave. Most of the time, what emerged from his drawing board or easel was a deeply personal effort. He was truly in love with every beautiful woman he drew, at least insofar as the paper versions were concerned." – Mark Evanier

"Well, I do expect a lot of myself. I'm a harsh critic because I know what I'm capable of. I have hit those occasional peaks amongst the valleys, but the peaks are so few-things like genuine flashes of virtuoso brush inking, like I've never executed before or since-I can count on one hand the number of jobs where I've been able to hit that mark. The same with penciling. Sometimes it just flows, but more often than not, it's pure physical and spiritual torment just to get something decent on paper. I often get very discouraged with the whole creative process." – Dave Stevens

Selected Works

  • Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens - Underwood Books (2008) (ISBN 1-59929-010-3)
  • Vamps and Vixens - The Seductive Art of Dave Stevens - Verotik (1998) (ISBN 1885730101)
  • The Rocketeer: Cliff's New York Adventure - Dark Horse (1997) (ISBN 1-56971-092-9)
  • The Rocketeer - Eclipse books (1990) (ISBN 1-56060-088-8).
  • Just Teasing - Ursus Imprints (1991) (ISBN 0942681126)
  • Dave Stevens - Selected Sketches and Studies (Vols. 1-4) - Bulldog Studios


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