Thursday, December 01, 2022

Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection

Cliff Secorod, the Rocketeer was the sort of Red-Blooded American comic book hero we need more of from the comic duopolies. He was a would-be operator out for a buck, who ended up fighting criminals and Nazis, while lusting after lusting after his girlfriend, transparently based on pin-up model Bettie Page. The late Dave Stevens created and drew the popular indie comic hero. The artist’s friends and colleagues pay tribute to Stevens and his legacy in Kelvin Mao’s documentary, Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection, which releases Friday on VOD.

Fortunately, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was little barrier to entry for an aspiring professional artist like Stevens, who amassed some pretty amazing credits drawing layouts for Hanna-Barbera and storyboards for
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Comics were where he belonged, but his big chance came when Pacific Comics had to fill six pages in one of their issues. Unlike the two majors, Pacific allowed creators like Stevens to retain ownership of their characters, which would be significant in the case of the Rocketeer.

Inspired by 1940s serials and vintage pin-up art,
The Rocketeer became one of the biggest breakout indie hits of the early-to-mid-80s. There was indeed a Disney movie, which everyone in the film agrees was not quite great but still very good. Indeed, there is a lot of interesting commentary from the director, Joe Johnston, who went on to helm Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and Captain American: The First Avenger. Sadly, Stevens’ life after the film’s release is largely a story of professional frustration and the cancer he eventually succumbed to.

is a straightforward but heartfelt doc that would nicely supplement Mark Mori’s Bettie Page Reveals All, which chronicled the life of the model Stevens helped re-popularize and befriended late in both of their lives. Stevens’ clean, splashy, and sometimes busty art looks great on-screen. It is also nice to see Pacific Comics get some overdue credit (they were also the original home of Groo the Wanderer and Somerset Holmes).

Mao has an interesting battery of talking heads to rely on, including Johnston, Stevens’ first wife, scream queen Brinke Stevens, and his friend, actor Thomas Jane. It is a sad film, because Stevens’ obviously could have produced so much more. Still, is it nice to Stevens and the Rocketeer get credit for their influence on geek and popular culture.

Even if it isn’t perfect,
The Rocketeer is still one of the best comic book movies to date, because of its humanity, retro vibe, and iconic patriotic imagery. It worked out so well, because Johnston appreciated the original comic and welcomed Stevens’ input. Drawn served up some nice nostalgia for the artist and his major creation. Recommended for comic readers, Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection releases tomorrow (12/2) on VOD.