Q & A
From December 1997 to March 1999 Dave Stevens answered questions that you submitted to him on this site. Here is the complete Q&A from that period:
Can you tell us a little bit about why you created the Rocketeer?
Dave Stevens: I first created the Rocketeer in 1981 as a backup feature in another comic book. It was only solicited initially as "filler" material by the publisher (Pacific Comics), but I approached it as though I were doing a lead feature. Even if I had no idea what I was doing. It was pure seat-of-the-pants.
The concept came directly from childhood visions of rocketry and daring-do mixed with a fascination for the fairer sex, and an outright lust for all things of pre-war America. Basically, I wrote and drew it entirely for myself! And it was FUN. And, apparently that fun was infectious, because it was a hit with readers.
What was it like the first time you met Bettie Page?
Dave Stevens: It was shortly after the LA earthquake in 1994. I was called upon to act as her driver for the day. She'd apparently decided that it was time we met. It was that simple, really. But, obviously for me, a decisive moment in time that I'll never forget. Kismet.
Seeing her for the first time was an affirmation I'd waited twenty years for: it was REALLY her. Much older, and white-haired, but still her. We spent a full day getting to know each other, while driving from place to place, listening to big band music and talking about her tumultuous life and times. It was magical, and we became very close pals from that point on, I'm happy to say. She's a remarkable person and it's been a rare privilege to know her.
I'm sure this has been asked a thousand times but will there be another Rocketeer movie?
Dave Stevens: There has been talk, off and on for several years, but so far, nothing has materialized. Our executive producer, Larry Gordon wants to do a sequel (We'd originally signed contracts to do a trilogy.) but, unfortunately, there's been no forward movement in over a year. Too bad, we'd all like to get together and do it again! And with the advances in CGI effects since 1991, the flying sequences could be amazing!
The Disney film version of "The Rocketeer" performed below expectations at the box office, but received fairly good reviews from the critics. What was your opinion of the film?
Dave Stevens: My own feelings on the film are mostly positive. Though it took up two years of my life, and all my waking hours, for me it still stands as the culmination of everything I'd worked toward at that point in my career.
Like all films, it has it's flaws and weak spots, but overall it holds up surprisingly well for me. Even in remembering all the scenes that we lost in editing for time, and others we never even got to shoot (for too numerous reasons), I still feel incredibly lucky to have as much as we got, cinematically. It's there and nobody can take it away.
I'll always be indebted to Joe Johnston, for his faithfulness to the spirit of the series. And to writers, Bilson and DeMeo for perservering. And what can I say about Bill Campbell? I mean, he was and still is THE embodiment of Cliff Secord. I'll always be intensely proud of the performance he gave us.
So, yeah. I guess you could say I LIKED the film.
In your submission to the recent book: Art of Comic-Book Inking, you neglected to reveal the tools that you use, and for which purposes... Was your sample inked entirely with a brush? Do you use a pen or pencil for some of the finer detailing? What's the process? Linework, first; then the heavier lines/areas with brush?
Dave Stevens: With regard to the process of inking, I use a brush almost exclusively. Either a Windsor-Newton or one of the Kolinskys, a "Cosmos-Extra" usually does the trick. I use different sizes, from a #1 to a #3, depending on the line weight I need. I prefer brush over pen because of the obvious fluidity of line it offers. I will only use a ruling pen for long, straight lines that need no variance in weight.
As far as the procedure, there is none! I skip around all over a piece, feeling my way through it, until all the fun parts are done, then grumble through the remaining areas (backgrounds, perspective, props, etc.), cursing myself for drawing in so much detail!
Most of your comic-book covers these days are more in the B&D, S-M area than in the tamer "cheesecake" you produced in the eighties. Is this trend a reflection of a) the changes in the comic-book market to which you have to conform to, b) changes in your own tastes? If the answer is b) can you tell us a bit more about this?
Dave Stevens: The more overt sexual tone of recent covers is definately due to the changes in subject matter of current comics. Ten years ago, there really was no place for it.
The comics being published for today's audience are darker, meaner, and seem to celebrate the joys of ultra-violence and antisocial behavior. Today's lead characters are often homicidal, demonic, psychopathic, or razor-toothed aliens. Not at all, my cup of tea.
And, of course, that darker style has affected the female players as well. They are now: vampires, succubi, witches, demons, and dominatrix'; all dipped in latex, spandex... or shoe-strings and bat-wings!
Milt Caniff once remarked that, while audiences like the good-girl characters, they tend to remember the bad girls. I suppose that's why the current craze has hung on so long.
Some of these characters I've chosen to try my hand at, others I've declined. The bottom line is that I have to find them interesting. If not, then I can bring nothing to the project and there's no point.
Personally, I enjoy the challenge of infusing an image with the right amount of sexual potency, without becoming excessive or simply banal. I've always felt that female imagery, when done well, can be some of the most compelling work an artist can produce. And I approach each job with this in mind, striving for excellence.
On the cover of The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #3 there is a small NRA logo in the bottom right-hand corner. Why did you feel that is was necessary to include this logo? The NRA is a very controversial group in American politics, and I was disappointed to see that logo on your comic book.
Dave Stevens: The symbol that you're referring to has NO connection to the National Rifle Association. The NRA stamp that I was using was that of the National Recovery Administration, which was a government agency instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a means of combating the great depression the 1930's, by regulating wages, working hours, and ultimately, prices.
That NRA symbol of the blue eagle appeared on virtually all American periodicals of the mid-1930's. I chose to include it on some of my Rocketeer covers to further the look of "period authenticity".
Did you ever think about doing Airboy and Vampirella issues instead of just covers?
Dave Stevens: Not at all. Instead, I'd hoped that I would be able to make whatever personal statement I had (about either character), with one really evocative image. That was always the goal.
With Airboy/Valkyrie, I feel like I nailed it on the first take. But, in the case of Vampirella, I doubt I'll ever capture what I see, dimly, in my mind's eye, no matter how many times I attempt it (You can't win 'em all!).
Has there ever been a comic book/project that it killed you not to be able to do?
Dave Stevens: Without a doubt, that would have to be the 1988 graphic novel, The Shadow, 1941: Hitler's Astrologer. It was one of the best-pencilled jobs Mike Kaluta has ever turned in, and some of his most sophisticated storytelling. He'd originally drawn it for Berni Wrightson to ink and finish, but Berni found himself unable to do it.
Kaluta immediately asked me if I'd be interested. Of course I WAS, but... It was a Marvel project, and I was still embroiled in an ugly legal battle with them over The Rocketeer. I had to say "no", and it KILLED me to do so (because I'd seen the entire pencilled story!). If the book had been with ANY other publisher, I'd have done it in a heartbeat. What a disappointment!
What artists in the business now do you admire for technique and craftsmanship?
Dave Stevens: My current faves would include P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Kaluta, Miguelanxo Prado, Denis Sire, and a host of others.
I admire their very personal, different approaches to telling a story. Each has his own specific look and style, artistically. They're all brilliant, they obviously love what they do, and are totally committed to excellence of craft. Following their work is a delight. They inspire me to try harder in my own work.
When I saw the "Rocketeer" movie, I was disappointed that apparently no effort was made to make the heroine look just like the one in the comic (i.e., like Bettie Page!). Why in the world did they change her name to "Jenny"? And -- no BANGS!?! How much better it would've been at least to try to find a Bettie Page look-alike! What were the causes or reasons to change "Bettie" to "Jenny"?
Dave Stevens: The loss of "Betty" was a Disney choice. We, on the creative team fought to keep the character from changing, but ultimately lost, due to a decision by management, to release the film under the "Disney" banner. (Originally, we'd signed on as a Touchstone film, which would have allowed for more adult content, and less restrictions all around.) Releasing it as a "Disney film" hurt us in many other ways as well, the most obvious being the public's perception that it (The Rocketeer) was a "kiddie film". As a result, we barely stayed in the top ten, that summer.
I'm sure this is asked ad infinitum: Will there be any new Rocketeer material, either art pieces, comics or tv/movies?
Dave Stevens: There is currently a three-issue mini-series in the planning stages, I've written the story, but won't actually be drawing it. I will be providing cover art and may be doing some of the interior inking as well. At present, it's being done through Dark Horse Comics.
There are also two art prints which will probably come out by the end of the year.
As for tv/movies, nothing to report so far, but I'm optimistic.
Do you still use models/photographs for reference or was that just your technique for initially learning anatomy/proportion/lighting, etc.?
Dave Stevens: I've always used models and photographs as source material for drawings and paintings. Always will. I don't like "faking it" and insist on getting things like anatomy and lighting drawn as accurately as I'm able to.
In the upcoming book, "Vamps & Vixens" (a selection of my pinup cover art) I talk at length about the importance of finding good reference material, and shooting your own as well. It's a crucial component in producing successful art images. I would suggest it to anyone who's concerned with doing quality work in an illustrative style.
I was always curious as to the advice that you would give to other professionals just starting out. Specifically those who liked storytelling work but whose real love was illustrative pin-ups?
Dave Stevens: The only advice I can give is to draw what moves you. If you feel you have stories to tell, give it a shot. For some artists, sequential storytelling comes very naturally; for others it's sheer torture. In either case, it requires a considerable commitment and willingness to fail (perhaps often!), as you learn the craft.
Pin-up illustration has its own disciplines and pitfalls as well. On the surface, it may look incredibly easy, but that's part of the seduction. In truth, only a very few artists this past century have captured its essense.
The basics of it: anatomy, design, color, is easily understood by most competent artists. BUT, what's often missed are the crucial elements of subtlety, softness, and personality. I can't stress these enough. In my own attempts at pinup work, I fail quite frequently. Mostly due to weak design, unnecessary detail, or clumsy rendering, but I'm always conscious of the importance of nuance, and the fact that, without it... all you have is a nice drawing.
Will you ever have a published sketch book? I'm a doodler, and I'd love to see what you study and techniques you use to build your pieces, or layout Comic pages. Even the evolution from story to page would be great.
Dave Stevens: There are definite plans to do a comprehensive retrospective volume that would include a large number of unpublished roughs, comps, and sketches from past projects. Along with many unused Rocketeer layouts, unfinished short stories, pinups, character concepts, commercial work, etc. No publisher has been chosen yet, so, I can't say when the book will be available. But, as it progresses, you'll certainly be reading about it here.