With Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer Artist’s Edition, IDW introduced it’s range of high-end books for the comic collector, featuring reproductions of raw artwork from some of the worlds most renowned comic book artists. So acclaimed (and limited) was this first edition of Stevens’ beloved creation that it sold-out within days, leaving die-hard fans (like myself) in pursuit of the occasional available copy online, often demanding prices over £300 on the used market. Further releases such as Wally Wood’s EC Stories, Joe Kubert’s Tarzan and Waltor Simonson’s Thor continued this trend and proved that for fans, the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favourite artist is too tempting to miss. Thankfully and due to the overwhelming demand, The Rocketeer Artist’s Edition has now seen its second printing, offering fans another chance to own what must be the ultimate collection of Dave Stevens’ work.
Dave Stevens’ prolific career, sadly cut short in 2008 by leukaemia, included work for the Hanna-Barbera and Filmation animation studios, storyboard work for Steven Spielberg on The Raiders of the Lost Ark and the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Second only to his comic book illustrations were his highly accomplished pin-ups often featuring Bettie Page with whom he developed a fond friendship and who became one of the leading characters in his most enduring work, The Rocketeer. Taking inspiration from classic adventure serials of the 1920s and 30s, it’s a light-hearted tale of heroism, hoodlums, swarve criminals and sultry dames mixed with a heathy dose of Hollywood glamour. With all of these elements it’s no surprise that Disney made a decent (if not toned down) movie in 1991 that’s become something of a cult favourite.
I have no qualms about admitting that i’m a huge fan, so prepare for a highly biased review. Of all of Stevens’ work it’s The Rocketeer that shines the brightest. For me, this is literally as good as comic books get, and although the series continues to live on today in the hands of other talented artists, it doesn’t feel quite the same without Stevens’ flair or incredible artistic ability. To this humble illustrator, his work is at a level that I can only wish to attain, and each page of this book (that reproduces his original artwork at full size from high-res scans) is a lesson in figure drawing, expression, composition and inking; not to mention the skill of storytelling.
It goes without saying that I think this is an essential purchase, but it might be worth mentioning for those like me, who started their Artist Edition collection with Wally Wood’s EC Stories, that this doesn’t match its humongous size. Measuring in at around two-thirds it’s size, my jaw didn’t drop quite as much upon opening and there does seem to be a few issues with the brightness levels on some pages. Aside from two pages that not scanned from the original art, some appear light and over-blown while others are positively dark. To be fair, these are all minor gripes, mainly dictated by the physical artwork and without seeing the originals we can only trust that these are the best reproductions possible, and overall they are of an outstanding quality.
Of all the Artist’s Editions this stands out as something special, showcasing a true masterpiece of comics and singular vision from one of the industry’s finest artists. For Dave Stevens fans, this is a book that you simply have to own. Nothing else i’ve seen gives such an insight into his unique talent or the experience of looking at the genuine article. It’s a joy to sit beside the ghost of Dave Stevens and enjoy reading his every brush stroke. I for one plan to spend as long as I can studying it for all it’s worth and hope that some of his talent rubs off.