From the TCJ Archives

Dave Stevens, “Unmasking the Rocketeer”


GROTH: Just to skip back to something you said earlier — you want to go beyond the thematic restraints of the Rocketeer strip...

STEVENS: Not in that strip. Well, there are a couple of stories that I want to do in that strip that are real pieces on the troubled times. But they're not weepy. I don't want to bring the series down by getting real heavy. There are a couple of stories that I want to do, just short ones, for other titles with other characters. I've got a romance that's really creepy and a horror story that I have to do at some point. And two or three different rock 'n' roll ones. I don't know where I'm going to put them because there are really no books to put those in. Another thing I have trouble with is anthology titles in that I've always been asked by people to do just, you know, four or five pages. But most of the anthology books that I look at — I don't like the rest of the stuff that's in here. It's not so much that I'm passing judgment on other artists or anything like that because there's some good work being done. I'm not offended, but I don't want to be thrown into the same package with a lot of unnecessary gore. I'm speaking right now of the horror stuff. It's just something I think we can get around. There's no reason for bloody stumps and hooters all over the page.


GROTH: Well, speaking of T&A, Dave, you may have done your share — you've done a lot of covers for Eclipse and you had the Rocketeer t-shirt, which... [Laughs.]

STEVENS: The famous heart-shaped t-shirt.


GROTH: Yes, yes, which has, I think, Betty over the Rocketeer's shoulder.

STEVENS: See, I have a thing for cheesecake and I always have. I tread a real thin line there because you can get into trouble. I knew when I did that t-shirt design it was a lapse in judgment. I shouldn't have released that as a general t-shirt. It was a piece that I was doing for me that I think I intended to use at some point as a print or something, but I don't know. I changed my mind, and [Bob] Chapman [of Graffiti t-shirts] suggested, "Well, let's do a t-shirt." Oh, great! Make some money. But, you know, my little sister wanted to wear it to school, and I said, "Don't!" For large boys, it's a good piece of art. But for grade school teachers to see a young girl wearing that into a classroom of fourth graders, it's like, "Ummm... time to send a note home to Mom."


GROTH: How do you feel about the covers that you did for Eclipse?

STEVENS: like 'em. Well, let's see — I won't ever do straight nudity because I like to imply. I like to give the reader the impression that he's seeing more than he actually is. There's more mystique that way. That's why I take a real hard line with blatant nudity everywhere unless it's in an adults-only comic. In that case it's fine. Let them do whatever they want, as long as it says it's recommended for adults and maybe some of these do. I don't know — I haven't checked lately. In my case, I'll do what I'm comfortable with and hope that it won't offend anybody. In some cases I may have gone a little too close to the line. In that page of Betty — you know, the "wow" page in the comic [Rocketeer #2 from Pacific Comics] — that was too close, and she should have been wearing some kind of lingerie. In looking back you can always say, "Well, I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done it." But it's still out there.

The covers that you do for Eclipse that have the real buxom women with the kind of young Carol Lynly faces on them — isn't that exploitative?

They would be if [the women] were bound and gagged or being spanked or something like that, but it's the same thing to me as the jeans billboards with half-naked guys. I'm not offended by them. They look great — it's a positive image, not ugly or harmful. I don't think that any of my cheesecake covers have been exploitative because they don't paint women in a negative way. I enjoy drawing pin-ups.


GROTH: You sound like Christie Hefner.

STEVENS: I don't know what she has to say about it. Like I said, I tread a line, as I did with the Betty t-shirt. That was a bit much. I even tweaked it — I put a highlight on it.


GROTH: When you do the covers for Eclipse — and most of the covers for comics that you've done are covers for Eclipse — do you approve of the work inside? I mean, your covers are basically commissioned to sell the comic because your name sells better than whoever's inside.

STEVENS: With Crossfire in particular, Mark [Evanier] told me, "Look, I want you to do [a cover] because I want to see if it's going to help sales and because each issue [is] losing money." I don't think they made any money on a single issue. I may be mistaken, but I think that is what he told me. And that was the only issue they had made a profit on for the whole run. So he definitely waned me to do more. But that was an experiment in sales. In most cases, yeah, it is for sales purposes. They want to draw in another audience they normally wouldn't get.


GROTH: Do you get any sense that your work is essentially being used as a commodity to sell someone else's work? I mean, how do you feel about that? Is it disturbing at all?

STEVENS: I feel fine. I get paid for it. [laughter] The thing is, I would draw the line — and I have in a couple of cases — where it's a title that I just don't want anything to do with. Miracleman was one of those. They wanted me to do a Miracleman cover, I just said, "Well, it's not my cup of tea." And that's really it. I don't... you may have noticed that I don't do any superhero covers.


GROTH: How about DNAgents?

STEVENS: Well... [Laughs.] OK. I haven't done any muscle man covers. And that's purely because I don't have the attraction for it that I had as a kid.

STEVENS: I'm not adverse to drawing superheroes. It's just at this point in time it's not as important to me as cheesecake. [Laughter.]


GROTH: You have your priorities. Well, to what do you attribute your preoccupation with cheesecake?

STEVENS: All I know is that I draw what I like. I like those images. I think I'm also taking delight in that I'm able to draw the female figure because when I was a kid I could never draw one for the life of me. Although mine are kind of interchangeable — the same basic baby face, big eyes, and similar bodies. It's just an image that I find real appealing and positive. I don't see anything negative about it or unhealthy. The proportions are sometimes stretched, but there's nothing really gross in those proportions. It's bouncy and it's cute and I find that women enjoy it, too. I've never had a gal come to me or write to me and say, "This is exploitive. This is ugly. I don't like it."

GROTH: Is that right?

STEVENS: Yeah, I've never had any complaints.


GROTH: Not even from Cat Yronwode?

STEVENS: Uhhh....


GROTH: Or are you discounting her as a woman?

STEVENS: [Laughter.] In the beginning I had a little bit of a problem with her over Betty because Cat thought that I was swiping a Frazetta character who was a blonde. What she hooked into was that striped blouse Betty wore. That I definitely got from Frazetta, but Cat didn't realize that it was Bettie Page that I was drawing, who was a real person. Cat kind of let me have it in print about stealing from another artist — I don't remember the context. As far as the pin-up art itself, I've never had anybody give me a hard time. The only time I did get one negative response was to that page of Betty inThe Rocketeer when she was in the doorway. [Again, Rocketeer #2 from Pacific.] I got to admit that it was a little far. I should have had her at least in a negligee.


GROTH: You actually got flak over that?

STEVENS: Not flak, just somebody saying, "My son read this and I think he's a little young to be seeing this sort of thing." So I took it to heart and I'm probably never going to do that again in a general-audience comic.


GROTH: Did you get some flak over the t-shirt?

STEVENS: No, not really. The only flak came from me. What wised me up to that is my little sister was wear one when I came home to visit and I said, "Mom, don't let her wear that in public!" I realized what I had done when I started to see people wearing them. I was embarrassed. I would never wear one in public — I still won't wear one. Yeah, that was real overt. Even though it was covered, it was right there, and big, and heart shaped, and rosy red and pointed right at the reader. Every now and then, I do err in judgment but, for the most part I do have a line I don't step over.


GROTH: Are you attracted to the kind of women that you draw?

STEVENS: Well, yeah, physically. But most of them... well, I do use live models. Most of the time I don't pull that stuff out of my head. Maybe one out of five. I prefer to draw from life because you have that basis in reality which you really need.


GROTH: Now, the illustrations you do with models, these would be covers?

STEVENS: Yeah, and actually a lot of the interior stuff, too.


GROTH: How about the Comics Journal cover?

STEVENS: Yep. She wasn't a tassel tosser, she was just a regular gal. But of course most of those girls don't have those proportions, I have to stretch it some. Most of them have the chest or the hips or the legs, but they don't have all three. I haven't found the perfect model yet. It's just too tough to find a girl with an absolutely perfect figure so I just make use of what they do have and work from that. I've been pretty lucky getting good models. Some of them approach me, ask me at signings, "Do you use models? Would you like to use me once?" Sometimes I do that. It's mostly girls that just to help out, and I think they're flattered...


GROTH: And want to give of themselves?


STEVENS: [Laughter.] In the best way they can. Of course it's fun for them, I suppose, because they can hold this thing up to their boyfriends and say, "See, this is me." I don't know what other reasons they do it for. It's maybe curiosity, too. I think most women entertain the notion of posing for photographers or artists at one time or another. I've only used one or two who were professional Playboy orPenthouse models. They're actually no different, really, just a bit more sure of themselves. They know what angles look best.


GROTH: Let me offer up one criticism that is not, I suppose, a criticism of pure exploitation. As an artist, do you have second thoughts about translating a real person into a one-dimensional image? By which I mean, they're all interchangeable, they're all essentially the same.


STEVENS: Yeah. There are some faces that I'd like to literally take from the girl posing and impose on this perfect body. But it's tough to translate that literally into line. Either the eyes are too small or maybe the nose is too long.


GROTH: It would be incongruous to have a real face on an idealized body.

STEVENS: It just has the appearance of a traced photograph. The True Love cover was an exception, though. It's a guy standing in front of a big poster of a girl. That was literal translation from a photograph of a girl that I knew. She had this face that I had to use. The cutest little pixie face. But I can't think of an instance where I used a particular girl's face on a comic character's body because I am always trying to use... like the Rainbow cover [on DNAgents #24] I tried to use what had gone before as a facial model, the same with the Sheena covers, I tried to make them at least somewhat consistent with the way that character had been styled previously, with my aesthetic tied in there, too. If I ever have to do a character that isn't already established, I do tend to make it look a little more like the person posing.


GROTH: Well, do you ever have second thoughts about drawing generic bodies?

STEVENS: Actually, they never are generic. They may look like I but each one is based on the girl that I drew it from and I don't change a whole lot on her except maybe to slim the waist down a little bit. In real life, waists are obviously not as tiny as they are in pin-ups and legs are not as long. I don't give them huge busts. I usually use what's there. And faces, if I can get away with it.


GROTH: What was this model wearing [holding up the Comics Journal cover]?

STEVENS: A similar outfit. She was wearing a little, tiny, tiny, bikini top and a sequined g-string, and the headdress is extrapolation.


GROTH: Now, I heard an unbelievable story, which is that you spent $600 in a strip bar in Texas, probably at a convention.

STEVENS: Doing what?


GROTH: Just throwing money around. Good naturedly, I assume.

STEVENS: I wish I had that kind of money to throw around. The only thing that I did that was close to that is I took Jaime and Gilbert and Mario [Hernandez] and maybe a half a dozen other guys with me to see this stripper that I was in love with. This was a few years ago in San Diego. I used to go see her every time I was in town. So I took all these guys with me and bought drinks and paid for their lifetime membership cards. But that was only so they could see this girl do her stuff. She was not just one of these who gets out there and shakes it with nothing on. She came out in full costume and did an old-style burlesque number, and when I was all over I was like this revelation. And until the last minute, you don't see anything unless she wants you to. She was an artiste at what she did. She was not just a shaker and a grinder. Although we love that, too, there are these gals who come along once in a while and really like to do the whole number. It's like a little play. I don't know if I've been to any bars in Texas; maybe next year. I do occasionally tend to associate with strippers, though, and I've found them to be extremely sweet women. Surprisingly delicate.


GROTH: You were married at one time?

STEVENS: Yeah. She wasn't a stripper. When I knew her, she was an exotic dancer. Then she became a model for Penthouse and several others — Playboy, and did some Playboy Channel stuff and became an actress. Since then I think I've only been involved with maybe one or two other girls who were actually models or actresses.


GROTH: How long were you married?

STEVENS: A very short time. About six months. It just was a basic conflict of philosophies. I got married for one reason; she got married for another. It was very simply a mistake.


GROTH: Were you young?

STEVENS: I think much, much too young, 24. I don't think anybody should get married until they're at least 30. People don't mature nowadays as fast as they did 40 or 50 years ago. It seems like it. They're not as beaten into shape by the workaday system and they don't have to come to grips with reality like they used to. Nowadays, it seems like we're more able to indulge ourselves and be big babies a lot longer and not have to cope with the realities of being responsible adults. It's too easy to be unfaithful, to get divorced, and to put the finish to a relationship. There's no stigma about living together, or about divorce now.


GROTH: Do you think there should be?

STEVENS: Well, no. I just wish it weren't so easy to put the kibosh on a relationship just because you have a few rough spots. It's a shame that people don't hang in there longer. Maybe AIDS will make that a priority, maybe we won't be so willing to jump in the sack with every new person who comes along. The grass won't be so green elsewhere.