March 16th, 2008

The Zombie

Light From A Far-Off Star

March 15 -  Comic Book Misconception of The Day - Rare artistic talents, who pass away before their time, are often compared to shooting stars; a sudden, dramatic blaze of glory, then nothing.  It is tempting to compare Dave Stevens to a blazing meteor, one which came from "nowhere," unexpectedly lighting the sky before disappearing too early, and just as suddenly, last Monday.  The truth is more complicated than that simple metaphor, though.  Mr. Stevens was undeniably one of the great comic book stars of all time, but his was not a flickering one-shot flare, but a slowly building, bright-white incandescent beam.  Think about The Rocketeer.  Over the course of twenty years, he produced, what...like eight issues ever?  His beautiful artwork was definitely more about quality than speed.  He felt that a handful of "right" was worth more than a hundred pounds of "right now."  His devotion to what he did went beyond obsession, and his passion for the material shone from every page.  In the end, that turned out to be the perfect route to insure his place in the Comics Creators Pantheon.  Although not published by DC or Marvel, those eight little comics spawned a fantastic feature-film adaptation (perhaps the most faithful ever to comic book source material), resparked public interest in photographers' model and icon Bettie Page (which led to yet another feature-film, come to think of it), influenced the collecting and preserving of aircraft and artifacts from early aviation history, and gave the perfect blend of fun, nostalgia, inventiveness, and pure artistry back to comic book fans after such things seemed absent for decades.  More recently, though, Mr. Stevens had slipped from the world of comics, delving into private projects and, eventually, falling ill.  His passing, at only 52 years old, comes as a shock, and, for his friends and family, a true tragedy.  For me, though, I must confess that it's the eternal cessation of his career which has hit me pretty hard.  No more Pitts Bi-planes, Beechcraft Staggerwings, nor snub-nosed Gee-Bees filling pages with classic design and indescribable thrills.  No more achingly gorgeous Betty giving Cliff the come-hither stare.  Never again a fin-helmeted Rocketeer burning a thin, yellow con-trail across an azure sky.  These classic Dave Stevens images, precious and few, that have been burned into my memory, will just have to do.  No, Mr. Stevens definitely wasn't a comet - some tiny speck of space gunk that got caught in our atmosphere.  He was, rather, a brilliant far-off star, the light from which we on Earth were fortunate to see during a brief break in the shrouded night sky before forever slipping from view.  Thank you, Mr. Stevens, and Godspeed.