Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WEHT Dave Stevens?

WEHT: "Whatever Happened To Dave Stevens?.."

That's a title for a Discussion Thread, that I've seen on a number of different Internet messageboards, over the past couple of years.. Frustrated 'comic art' fans & enthusiasts, wondering aloud where Dave Stevens has been? And what has he been up to?!
In hindsight, it turns out.. Dave spent most of his time, simply attempting to restore & retain his health, as best he could..
I was aware that he'd not been feeling well, of late.. But was surprised to hear of his personal battle with Leukemia. Sadly, it was a war that he lost, sometime on Monday, March 10...

Like most other fans, I first got to know Stevens' artwork, in the early 1980's.. In the wake of the rousing success of his 'The Rocketeer' comic-books. Even now, I still marvel at the excellent draughtsmanship & lush, slicker-than-slick inking! Amongst many favorites, Dave quickly became "the favorite comic artist.."
In 1985, while attending a comic-shop signing.. I even convinced another favorite: Mike Kaluta.. to draw me a sketch of Dave's famous creation, for me.. A chore he relished, he told me. As it was his favorite current comic character, as well..
If you're like me.. Once you've familiarized yourself with Dave's art.. Then you can't begin to imagine a reason why anyone would draw things, in any other style.. The slickness of his linework, initially sucks you in. Yet it's always solidly-drawn.. And radiates a slightly cartoony vibe, as well.
That "animated" quality, found in the movement in the Posing & Staging, may be due to Dave's pre-comic career, as an Animation storyboard/layout person. He worked for a number of years at Hanna-Barbera, before launching 'The Rocketeer'..
I think this 'Catwoman' illo for DC's Who's Who series, was one of his very best:

In 1988, I wrote Dave Stevens a gushy Fan Letter.. Along with a few of my Art Samples, for him to look at.. To my surprise, Dave took the time to send me back a lovely handwritten letter.. Turns out, he was looking for "extra hands" to help him pencil the 3rd installment of 'The Rocketeer'.. And was wondering if I'd like to take a crack at a page?!
Well, you could've knocked me over with a feather, at that prospect!..
Unfortunately, (for a number of reasons) it never came to pass.. Dave may have gotten cold feet on handing this kind of opportunity to a relative novice?.. Eventually, he gave the work to 2 more experienced hands: Art Adams and Sandy Plunkett..

In 1999, I attended my 1st-ever San Diego Comic-Con. I travelled there, with my buddy: Tom Ranheim.. A Norwegian fellow, who still runs the 'The Authorized Dave Stevens Website'. We both made a quick beeline for Dave's table. And he was very generous with both of us, despite our completely nerded-out behaviour..
When we both attended Comic-Con again, in 2001.. Dave allowed us to visit his studio in L.A., afterwards.. A cherished memory, to be sure!! Here's a photo of 'Yours Truly', nervously cradling one of the many pieces of 'Original Art' that Dave had lying around his studio space. You can see that I'm leaning back a bit, so as not to dribble any of my drool, on the Bristol Boards! ha ha
During that period, Dave had been busy working on an ambitious Illustrated Novel, featuring his latest creation: "Mimi Rodin"; a female heroine, designed after the likeness of fitness model: Marla Duncan.. The page on top, shows 'Mimi' in profile.. Underneath that, you can barely make out a half-finished watercolor illo, featuring 'Mimi' in the underground Catacombs of turn-of-the-century France..
Dave also gave us a quick tour of the Art College he was attending.. I forget the name of it now, unfortunately.. But Dave was quite enthusiastic about the place. He was studying 'Oil Painting', there. And occasionally, he would e-mail me JPEGs of his efforts, to show his progress.. Most of them, featured straight-ahead Portraiture.. Like this example:

In 2003, I managed to self-publish my own sketchbook: "WANG-DANG-DOODLE!".. (the namesake of this Blog!) The format for which, was largely based on the kind of sketchbooks that Dave had been publishing/selling, during this same period..
Thru e-mail, I tentatively inquired if Dave would perhaps allow me to try selling my book, from his own Comic-Con booth?
Though I had the money to make the trip down to San Diego. I really didn't have enough extra $ for my own table.. Dave graciously allowed me to sit with him. And the experience of sharing time with him during the 2003 show, was another truly amazing experience!

The last e-mail I received from Dave, was dated from March 23, 2007.. Almost a year ago.
He asked me how things were going.. And I wrote him back, to keep him appraised re: how my Life was going.. I wrote him back a couple of times, after that. But didn't get a response to either message..
Not unusual for Dave.. But given the circumstances now, I wish that I'd tried a bit harder to get in contact with him..

Dave had told me then, that he'd been hard at work, putting the finishing touches on his upcoming bigass hardcover/coffee table 'Art Of Dave Stevens' book. It was to be published in 2007, thru Arnie Fenner; the genius behind the recent Frank Frazetta art volumes..
Dave e-mailed me the following JPEG, to show some of the recent coloring work he'd done..
It's excruciating to me now, to imagine that Dave will be gone forever.. And that we'll see no more "new" artwork, for our eyeballs to lavish over.. But I'm hopeful that the book he'd been so diligently working on, will still someday (somehow) see the Light Of Day?.. It'd truly be a shame, if it didn't..
Last I'd heard,-- the title had been changed to: 'Dave Stevens: A Creative Life'.. An appropriate title, for a guy that's done everything from 'The Rocketeer'.. to storyboarding Spielberg's 'RAIDERS Of The LOST ARK'.. to working with Michael Jackson on his 'THRILLER' video?!.. I can't imagine a more diverse Resumé, to be honest..
The book was set to be released at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con.. Let's keep our collective fingers crossed & hope that this happens.. I think it'd be a great legacy for him to leave behind, for all of us..

It was an honor to consider you a Friend.. Rest In Peace, Dave!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Rich:
Dave was So-o-o generous with all his fans. He was very special to all of us. Our mutual admiration of his work was a special bond between us that I hope will last forever. - Best wishes from Ray Cuthbert

Rich Dannys said...

Nice of you to drop by, Ray.. And I do appreciate your kind sentiments.. I agree. We've had many interesting & pleasant conversations over the years, re: Dave's art..

And I've always thought of you, as one of Dave's greatest admirers. And a valued patron too, of his artwork.

I still occasionally refer to that terrific Checklist you put together (re: Dave's artwork) many years ago!

jim_b said...

This is such terrible news, I can't believe he's actually gone. Dave was such a top illustrator, always wonderful stuff in any piece of his
(even when you spotted an influence, like the Johnny Comet top on Betty).
Many thanks for this great tribute.
I tripped over your blog from a search and glad I did as I've seen a couple of reports so far, none of them do justice to him like the words and memories you've written here.
jim from mississauga

Dominic Bugatto said...

Thanks for a fitting post to an inspirational artist.

I truly hope that the book of his work sees the light of day sooner than later.

Drazen said...

very sad news
and great post

Rich Dannys said...

Thanks, guys..

The Good News (which I just finished reading, on a couple Internet sites..) is that Arnie Fenner's stated that the big Dave Stevens Artbook WILL be published.. Some time in the Spring of 2009.

It's supposedly 90% complete. With Dave doing ALL of the art-directing, on that.. So, I'm excited to hear that we'll still have one terrific Volume to re-enjoy all of Dave's past glories.. And to (hopefully) see the small bits & pieces, that never saw print anywhere else!

Anonymous said...

I am so sad to hear of Dave's passing he was such a nice man I'd seen him at conventions all throughout the 1980's and 90's but was always nervous to aproach him. But at one point I did and he was sweet enough to do a profile sketch of Bettie for me in my artbook!
You'll be missed Dave.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear of Dave Stevens passing. You always spoke well of him, and I remember you were quite excited when he asked you to do some work for him.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rich
Thanks for the news about Dave Stevens passing, I read at Mark Meyerson's blog a brief thing about it but no details, he was one of my fav's, and will look forward to big book.
Also thanks for the comments at my blog, lots more goodies to show and will put up more Hurter for ya! nice blog by the way.
Maybe I should put up a few pages from that Rock and Rule mag...

Rich Dannys said...

Thanks for the visit, Brad!

I apologize for triple-posting on your Blog.. I couldn't understand what was wrong. Nuthin' was showing up, after I'd hit "publish"..
Only after the last post, did I notice that you had a Moderation feature setup on it.. So, I went back and took down the previous two.

Dave's passing, still has me pretty bummed-out.
I really enjoyed e-mailing with him, over the years.. He was always an upbeat personality, despite the seriousness of his undisclosed health problems..

TotalD said...

Oh god what a horrible month. I had no idea that Dave was dead. None. I am devastated. Dave was the ultimate comic artist and I was a huge fan of his Rocketeer comics.

Thank you Rich.