Dave Stevens Updated: 11 March 2008
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Dave Stevens (1955 - 2008)

March 13, 2008 at 19:32

Jim Steranko & J. David Spurlock
Remember Their Friend Dave Stevens

Steranko, Spurlock, Stevens in San Francisco. © 2004 J. David Spurlock Steranko, Spurlock, Stevens in San Francisco. © 2004 J. David Spurlock

It is a very, very sad day.

I thought the world of Dave Stevens. Besides creating the Rocketeer, Dave ochestrated the Bettie Page comeback and looked after her quite a bit. He was very supportive of my Space Cowboy strip and there was talk about him doing a Space Cowboy cover. I told him he had let Adam Hughes runaway with his King of Cheesecake crown by slowing down so, in the last decade. I knew he suffered from Leukemia for years but we wouldn't talk about it.

Though we discussed various book projects: Art books, Rocketeer collections, etc., the only times we really worked together were when, on rare occasion, I'd represent him as a booking agent for some personal appearance like the Creation convention in Pasadena a few years ago. I look back warmly on many great times we shared--frequently in social occasions with other Art Pack types including his idols Jim Steranko and Carmine Infantino, and contemporaries MW Kaluta, Bill Stout, Bob Burden...and even decades back to the Doug Wildey days (I remember Doug saying Dave had single-handedly brought cheesecake back to comics)! There were usually a few great looking women with us too. I still have a sketch Dave did on one such occasion in Atlanta. Great times with a brilliant artist. I was proud to call him friend and I will always remember him.
J. David Spurlock

Dave Stevens died today and the art world lost one of its most passionate practitioners. Our loss, as friends and fans, was infinitely greater. With the exception of Kirby and a few others, one would be hard pressed to name anyone in the field who was more admired and beloved.

Those who knew him will also confirm that, even though he was a superb draftsman and a rendering perfectionist, there wasn't an erg of pretension in him. Who had more right?He was easily one of handsomest, best-dressed, and well-spoken men that could be found behind a drawing board or on a convention floor. Although he may have taken ten minutes to comb his hair and make certain his shirt hung well, there was not a hint of ceremony or conceit in his manner or attitude.

Although he was completely accessible to anyone offering a comment or criticism, Stevens was an extremely private individual. He gave a massive amount of his time, effort, and creativity to those who loved his work. No speed demon, he'd meticulously deliberate over each panel, each figure, each line, until they were as perfect as he could make them. It was an expensive habit, with a killer toll taken from his personal life. He was driven by his professionalism and it showed in the work.

What did not show were the internal processes and sometimes the turmoil in the man behind the work. Stevens was essentially self-educated in artistic techniques and his desire for perfection kept him relentlessly on that track. The result was that no one was better at creating a certain kind of adventure, atmosphere, and anatomy than Stevens. But making it look so easy was only a mask that concealed hard work and serious sacrifice. He kept all that to himself.

And when he was diagnosed with a rare, terminal illness, he kept that to himself, too. His closest friends were aware of the condition, but he had no interest in community�or even private�sympathy, and went to considerable lengths to conceal the problem from his public. Most of his associates were unaware of what he endured physically, mentally, and spiritually because he kept such an inexorable focus on his aesthetic vision. Even the punishment of year-after-year chemo treatments, only deepened his commitment to his art; he began attending sketching sessions (after being a celebrated, successful pro) and eventually enrolled in painting classes, to help his skills transcend the line tradition to the tonal. He was moving from cartoonist to painter, a goal few artists seriously attempt in their 40s, let alone with a terminal sentence hanging over them.

Several years ago, Stevens confessed that his physician had given him about ten to twelve months�to February 2007�to live, based on a calculation of his leukemia's progression. Rather than be ignited by rage, self-pity, or other negative emotional reactions as most of us would do, he opted to go on with his life as though no end was in sight. We frequently talked about business, about our work, about other's work, about film, about music, about food, about the woman we loved, about our artistic discoveries, about new theories, about the forces that shaped our universe and we sparred, scolded, wisecracked, and laughed, just as we had throughout our 35-year+ relationship.

It led to a point that puzzled me deeply. He knew that unless some miracle cure materialized (insiders scoured the net periodically for clues and news of such a cure), the end was in sight. Yet Stevens' behavior was more normal than mine. I didn't understand how he could awaken every morning and face a doomsday countdown, a personal Armageddon, so cavalierly�and questioned him about it. He revealed that he had no intention of allowing a fatal prognosis to corrupt whatever remained of his life, that he was living every day as naturally as possible.

I was stunned, not by his comment, but because he made it happen�on his terms! He was exhibiting the kind of unbridled courage that generally doesn't exist off the comicbook page. The chips were down and the kid showed his moxie! I never admired him more than at that moment and told him that for a pretty boy, he had plenty of nerve! Stevens' philosophy endured until the end. We spoke a few weeks ago. His voice was faint and he was exhausted, but he made our late-night conversation continue for ninety minutes, heavily punctuated with laughs, each of which generated a coughing fit. Nerve!

I knew the end of the story for a long time, but wasn't prepared--and maybe never will be--to accept the terrible finality of his death. It is painful to start every day knowing there will be no new Stevens images to savor. Or all-night conversations fueled by trivia duels, arcane experiences, esoteric insights, and ongoing laughter. I'll add him to my list: no new Wes Montgomery solos, no more Bob Peak posters, no additional Mickey Spillane thrillers. Life goes on, just the way Stevens wanted, except he won't be here to make it more interesting.

I can tell you, however, that he'll live in my heart as long as I can take a breath. See you around, pal!

Jim Steranko

March 13, 2008 at 19:51
I loved talking to Dave. I'll miss him. Condolences to his family and friends.

Alan Sinder
March 13, 2008 at 19:54
Dave, tell Wildey hello for me. I miss you already, man.

Floyd Norman
March 13, 2008 at 20:11
I have no words.

Dan Fraga
March 13, 2008 at 20:18
Very sad, "Rocketeer"was always one of my favorites. I truly admired this man's work. Great job Dave, RIP

Paul from Ct
March 13, 2008 at 20:43
I grew up loving the Republic Serials of the Rocketman and thought no one in the comic field shared that passion. Then along came Dave Stevens and the Rocketeer to happily prove me wrong. His art was stunning, breath-taking and just simply gorgeous. The Rocketeer was my favorite comic book hero of all time and will always be grateful to Dave for bringing him to life. Heaven must have one amazing bullpen of comic artists, but now its even richer. Thanks, Dave, from the bottom of my heart.

Ron Fortier
March 13, 2008 at 21:05
Oh Dave, The grief sticks in my throat and I find it hard to breath/eat. You ALWAYS made me feel good about my peculiarities. I hope that you are right about afterlife and that I will see you again. I count the minutes

Alison Buckles Hennessey
March 13, 2008 at 21:37
Dave's artwork was the best around and the 'Rocketeer' was one of the most elegantly rendered characters ever designed. I am very saddened to hear about his passing, as I always wanted to meet him.

Scott C. Clements
Toronto, Canada

March 13, 2008 at 22:03
A talent so prodigious will be felt deeply for its loss. Rest in peace, Dave.

I will forever cherish all the work of Dave's I have collected over the years, along with the memories it evoked then and now.

Kevin Urenda
March 13, 2008 at 22:27
I only met Dave once at a slow comic con in Raleigh, NC in 1990. He was such a warm personable guy. This is very. very sad. He was a huge influence and inspiration to me.

Shawn Van Briesen
March 13, 2008 at 22:49
Dave made comics fun and beautiful again.
To live in a world rich with his creations is a blessing for which I will be ever thankful.

Doc in Atlanta
March 13, 2008 at 23:24
They say "The Good Die Young" never has that been truer then now.

Thanks for the great artwork Dave.

God Bless and sleep well.

March 13, 2008 at 23:35
Dave's life has always been an extension of his art...lots of unappreciated detail, great brush control and technique, with minimal use of white-out. An incredible guy and an incredible talent.

Whether eating at a local diner, attending any number of conventions, on the set of The Rocketeer, or just sitting around shootin'-the-shit with Silke, Kaluta, Kookie or other friends, good times, playful dialogue and of course, lofty artist endeavors could always be found. Dave's talent and properly-grounded ego, have made these last 27 years of knowing him productive, educational and a hoot. A talent like Dave is rare and precious, a character like Dave is one of a kind.

Goodbye Young Dave!!

Bob Chapman
March 14, 2008 at 00:55
You are still much loved, we will miss you. Thanks for being an inspiration for all of us.

March 14, 2008 at 00:55
I first fell in love with the Rocketeer thanks to the movie. I was 16. From that day on I began to collect merchandise of my hero and hunt down the comics. To this day I am a fan, still collecting, still loving the character. Whenever the movie is on I stop to watch it. I always dreamed of one day getting to San Diego and meeting Dave and telling him just how much his creation meant to me and how much I admired him and loved his work.
I pray he is at peace now and I pray for his family and friends. Though I never met him, I feel like I knew him through his art and interviews I read of him, and I feel like I too lost a friend that day. It's hard for me to put into words how I feel, so all I will say for now is, Thank You, Dave, for bringing to life a hero who was human, who lived and breathed, loved and laughed and hurt like the rest of us. Thank you, Dave, for the Rocketeer, and thank you, God, for Dave Stevens.

-Ian Westhoff
March 14, 2008 at 00:55
One of the biggest influences on me was the Rocketeer comics and his rendition of his brunette girlfriend. I had no idea who she was but I would later learn about Bettie Page because of Dave. I was actually affected by Dave's work when I was 10 years old adoring his style but not knowing who he was. years later I bought the indy Rocketeer comics recognizing the comic style I always admired. when the movie came out I was first in line. I met Dave briefly at Glamour Con in 1995 and got my picture taken with him. He was really quiet and seemed a bit shy. I wanted to talk with him more but felt out of my league.
And now an icon in the revitalization of pinup art is gone. I have his poster book called Just Teasing and I always treasure it.

March 14, 2008 at 02:09
Artists, fans and friends alike all mourn with heavy hearts today. Dave was a true inspiration and great friend to many.

Warmest thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to Dave's family and friends with love.

Kim Harlow
March 14, 2008 at 02:32
He was one of the first graphical artists I admired and looked up to.

Dave's Rocketeer and all his pin-up illustrations have been always a source of inspiration to me.

The world has lost a great artist.

May future generations learn about him and his work so he will always be steemed and admired as he rightfully deserves.

Goodbye Dave!

Loki Chan
March 14, 2008 at 03:02
When I read this I was truly shocked and dismayed, "Can't be true" was the first thing that went through my head! I then went straight to Mr. Stevens own website and sure enough, he has passed away from complications due to leukemia at age 52. My God, what a terrible shame. I loved Stevens stuff way back when I was a young man, what with all the beautiful girls/women that he drew with such a flourish and ease. Sort of the modern day version of a Vargas girl pinup. Creator of the Rocketeer that I loved sooo much, and who can forget "Betty In The Bath"?

To paraphrase one of the greatest baseball managers of all time, John McGraw when he was asked about the tragic death of pitcher Christy Mathewson, "Why did God take Matty, when there were so many others that might be spared?"

God bless you Mr. Stevens, you were one of the absolute best!

Bobby Danner
Comics Cavalcade Owner/Moderator
March 14, 2008 at 03:17
Still reeling.

I feel smashed and tumbled like that unseen wave that hits you on the exhale and churns you upside down through the brine and grit, denying you air.

Dave Stevens is gone.

My personal vocabulary is woefully inadequate to sum up the massive, massive impression and influence Dave has had on me for years. There was a comforting reassurance for me that someone with his vision and talent were still possible and existed. He knew something, and he fought and labored to communicate it in his art. To clarify it to his satisfaction. People recognized it; to paraphrase "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance," people don't always agree on the definition of quality, but they know it when they see it. People naturally responded to Dave's art.

That was reassuring too, that Dave was in it purely for the art.

He set the bar astronomically high and also was the first to tell you how to go about reaching it. He was all those things: Class, Artist, The Nicest Guy! and one hell of an inspiration.

But right now, frankly, it sucks.

I selfishly want Dave back. I'm not ready to see that beautiful brush line come to such an abrupt halt. I'm not ready to attend the 'Con and not see Dave in his booth setting up, graciously giving time to all the fans & interruptions; Having the opportunity of peeking and pouring over his latest projects and sketchbooks. I'm not ready to hafta miss him. I'll also never have the opportunity to take what he has so generously taught me and others and show him personally how much it helped in my work; To lay before one of my best teachers a measure of success I could point to and say, "without your inspiration, it would not be here. Thank you, teacher."

All selfish wants and indeed moot.

For me, Dave's final lesson was to persevere, whether it be through a difficult drawing, financial hardship, illness, or the too-soon passing of a great mentor and artist; More importantly, to persevere with integrity and class. And once again, Dave has set that bar astronomically high.

Goodbye Dave.

~Bob Rhett

March 14, 2008 at 03:32
What to say? For me, there's never been a comic that matched my sensiblities like The Rocketeer. Dave was my favourite creator from page one of the first story in Starslayer. Pure, uncomplicated, beautiful to look at. It's a shame there will be no more. It's a shame he's gone so soon. My condolences to his family and friends.

Don Mann
March 14, 2008 at 03:41
A true master of the medium taken from us far too soon. Thank you for the everlasting works of genius that you have graciously left for us. God bless Dave, as well as his family & friends.

Mark from VA
March 14, 2008 at 04:03
I sort of knew Dave when I worked at this funky old bookstore in Burbank many moons ago. There are two main things I will always remember about him. He was very cool to me even though I was just some guy working in a used bookstore. And more importantly, Dave was ALWAYS with a totally hot pin-up style girlfriend!


Lance Anderson
March 14, 2008 at 05:10
Dude, I loved your work, and thanks for bringing Bettie back. Pax

Larry Hayes
March 14, 2008 at 05:42
Dave's creativity gave me one the most thrilling rides in my comic book reading days!
He taught me that I can fly into the past, enjoy the present, and realize that we all can and are Rocketeers
... if only we use our imagination and remember turn to the next page, as we will continue into daily adventures.
Thanks for the great discussions.
Soar high now Dave,
because not only angels have wings!!

March 14, 2008 at 05:57
Dave Stevens.

What can I say about the man, that could possible add to those who have already spoken so well of him.

I have spent the last few days rereading the Rocketeer and watching the movie with my 3 boys. I think it is very important for them to know and understand the work that creates such inspiration in their father.

And there is a story.

I was 14 years old when I first encountered the Rocketeer. I had been collecting comics for 3 solid years, not counting the sporadic issues that I got when I was around 6 years of age. Fresh after seeing Dick Tracy brought to life via the big screen, and riding my bike five miles to the nearest grocery store, with my best friend, to collect the trading cards to the movie, I was floored by the prospect of this new movie coming out from Disney. The Rocketeer. Everything a boy needed to fancy himself a hero. Yes, I was another one of those introverted souls that spent most of his time in his head. My best friend and I embraced this new-to-our-minds hero and bought up all of the collector cards that we could get our hands on. Sadly, we never completed a run, and to this day I wish I had them all.

I did not see the movie at this time. I grew up in a rather modest household, and we never went out to many movies. But, promptly after the release of the Rocketeer on video, I received it as a Christmas gift. I still have that old VHS tape, it is beginning to skip.

I bought the back issues of the Rocketeer at my LCS in the year of 1996. I bought them all, the Starslayer issues, the special edition, and the Comico editions. Then, last but not least, that final issue of Rocketeer Adventure Magazine put out by Darkhorse. I also bought the collection from Darkhorse, and at a comic show a few years later; I bought a hard cover of the first story arc of the Rocketeer.

I met Dave in the spring of 1999. He was a guest at the Motor City Comic Con. I was friend with one of the long time workers of the show, and was there as a volunteer. While the rest of the volunteers had specific shifts and tasks, I was given the opportunity to wander the show for free, and only work on special activities, like watching over Dave�s art and booth as he was on panel. In return for this, Dave gave me several prints that he was selling for free. He signed the all, "Thanks, Josh", and was ever courteous.

I spent several hours with Dave over the course of that weekend. He gave me quite a lot of advice about art and life in that short span. The one thing that stands out the most was when I asked him about overcoming colorblindness in the arts. His response, word for word, was, "Brother, I don�t know what to tell you. You should go ask Kaluta. He�s colorblind, and he is a beautiful painter."

I followed his advice and talked with Kaluta. I learned much from that weekend, now almost 10 years ago. And to this day, "Brother�" has forever been burned into my vocabulary.

I can only hope that some day we will see The Rocketeer again. We were all given a special treat when Dave showed us the first few illustrations of Mimi Rodin, In Darkhorse Presents. I hope someday we will see the fruition of Dave�s vision.

I truly loved the man. For his kindness. For his personality. For his professionalism. For his talent.


Brother, I�m gonna miss you.

.j. christopher greulich

If anyone wants to discuss Dave, I would always be happy to do so:


Click on the image to see it in full size.
March 14, 2008 at 06:19
I'm really struggling for words here, which usually isn't a challenge for me...I knew Dave personally (though I was never acquainted with him as much as I wanted to be), but it was several years ago that I last saw him. I originally met Dave way back in '89/90, when I was merely seven years old. He was friends with a relative of mine, and I was already a budding artist looking for direction. Dave instantly became an indispensable outlet of advice. Throughout the subsequent years, on my annual trips to the SDCC, I would visit Dave religiously, showing off my latest works and absorbing everything he had to say.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances (aka life), I was thrown off course in pursuing my art, and was also forced to stop attending the SDCC for a few years. Needless to say, my relationship with Dave became nonexistent, much to my chagrin. But I refused to stay idle; a couple of years ago my artistic side came back with a vengeance, and I vowed to return to the SDCC to show Dave that I hadn't given up. It became a personal mission - just to talk to the guy and show him what I've been working on. Any advice he would have given would have been gold. And this year was gonna be the year I returned to SDCC, after a five years hiatus, to prove to him - and myself - that I am the artist he always thought I was, and was gonna be. He saw something in me I could never have seen.

Dave, wherever you are, I want to thank you for your guidance throughout the years. Even the most minimal advice proved to be gargantuan in helping me develop as an artist. Both you and Stout were amazing for that. I'll always hold you in the highest of regard; as a teacher, an inspiration, and friend. Everything you did for me, from telling me which schools to attend, to letting me come on the set of The Rocketeer (even when you teased me for getting butterflies around Jennifer Connelly)...I feel like I owe you. The only way I feel I can repay you is to keep on fighting for my art, which you can believe is my biggest priority in life. Again, thanks for everything, man...it's just a damn shame we couldn't meet one last time.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Rex Cole

March 14, 2008 at 06:38
I was shocked to hear the news about Dave's passing. I was not one of the folks he knew well enough to have let on about his illness. I first spoke with him about doing a project together almost 30 years ago, and would see him in San Diego every year, so he always seemed like an old and familiar friend to me. I cheered his rise to fame with a lot of joy, and always supported his projects by adding them to my collection. The world has lost a true talent and gentleman.

Rest in peace, Dave.

Jon Gothold in California
March 14, 2008 at 06:46
After all everyone else has said there seems little left to say. Dave was one of the good ones - I wish I had followed up on our lunch date and rescheduled. I'll miss him as a friend, but he'll remain an inspiration.

Steve Gordon
March 14, 2008 at 10:20
I was very shocked and saddened to read about Mr. Stevens' passing. The day I came across his wonderful "Sheena" cover way back when, it became my chosen duty to find anything and everything I could that he had ever done. There was a singular style, glamour, and nostalgia conveyed in his art which can never be replaced.

I was lucky enough to get to San Diego Con and meet Dave back in 1994. As he sat there flanked by Jewel Shepard, Marla Duncan, and all his amazing pin-ups, I thought he had a rather dashing appearance which only seemed to complement and enhance my perception of him and his glamorous pin-up girls, as if they needed any help.

I was in such awe, I knew I wouldn't be able to muster the words of appreciation I felt for his artwork, so as he signed my books, "Cheers! Vic," I gave him a letter I had written about how his art had made such an impact on me. I'm glad I got the chance.

I can't believe he's gone, and that there'll be no more new creations of his to see again.

Cheers, Dave

Victor Burgeson in Minnesota
March 14, 2008 at 11:38
Too young! Dave was one hell of an artist and a great guy! He will be missed! We must smile and say thanx to you Dave as we mourn your passing for all the wonderful memories you have left us with!

Wayne Wright
GraveMinder Arts
March 14, 2008 at 13:21
This is a very sad day in my life, but the inspiration that Dave left will surely go on forever. Dave where ever you are buddy we all loved your genius application of your craft and your dreams and visions that took us all on an escape to the places that we would love to be. Its hard for me to express how much that you meant to all of the good people who came in contact with you, So goodbye my friend and my condolences go out to your family.

Jim Collins - Memphis, TN
March 14, 2008 at 14:24
I had the honor of meeting Dave only a few times in San Diego. The first time I met him I saw a really nice guy with an amazing talent. It was a pleasure to spend time with him.

I believe Dave attained a pinnacle to which we artists all aspire. His Rocketeer is a masterpiece. It has been an inspiration to me since I first became aware of it in 1985.

In my opinion Dave Stevens is in the hall of the giants, next to Hal Foster and Milt Caniff.

I knew he was ill. But I was so shocked when I heard he had passed away. It is a tragic loss and my heart goes out to his family and to his close friends.

Dave will live on forever in his art that he left behind. It is up to all of us to make sure of that.

Greg Hildebrandt
March 14, 2008 at 14:39
I never really met Dave Stevens. Oh, sure, I took stuff up to have him sign it at a bunch of San Diego Comicons. I gushed about how much I loved his work. He was always incredibly gracious and modest. However, I never had the guts to show him my work. I never felt it was good enough.

That's a shame. Given what I know about Mr. Stevens (from accounts by his friends), he probably would have been very kind and generous looking at my awkward attempts to emulate his work. And by all accounts, he was always sincere in his compliments of other people's work?even those less-talented than him (which is about 99% of the artists working in comics).

But I was a wuss. And I regret that.

For the last couple of months, I had returned to studying Dave's work. A lot. Trying to understand the expressive nature of his brush line. Trying to figure out how he so perfectly balanced juxtapositioning a slick, controlled line with loose, lush, rendering lines.

My mind still boggles at how perfectly he managed it.

Thanks for everything, Dave. You work will leave a lasting impression on me and my life.

--Steve Bryant
March 14, 2008 at 14:56
What can I say? I am devastated. I had the pleasure of spending the better part of two days with Dave at the Angouleme festival in France in the early 1990s. He was incredibly friendly to me and my friends, and we tried our best not to act as geeky fanboys. The lovely Betty sketch he drew for me that day is framed on my wall, next to the computer where I am typing those words. I still can't believe he's gone. My condolences to his family.

Patrice from Paris
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