Sunday, March 16, 2008

King of the Rocketmen



They used to show old Serials on tv on saturday mornings when I was a kid, and I loved most of them. I noticed the staginess, the cheapness, the creakiness, but it didn't bother me. I could always get around it, probably because I was always in love with stories, even then, and those shows always had decent stories. I loved the old Buster Crabbe "Flash Gordon". I loved "Champion the Wonder Horse". I have dim memories of a Zorro show, maybe a Lone Ranger show too. But my absolute favourite was "King of the Rocketmen".



Fast forward to 1991, and Disney release "The Rocketeer". My first thought upon seeing the lovely Art Deco poster in a comic book was "Thats "King of the Rocketmen"" My second thought was that it had to be based on a comic book. And of course it was.



I managed to snag a copy of one of Dave Steven's fine collections of "Rocketeer" stories a few years later and realised that it wasn't just an old serial it played homage to - there were references to pulp characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage too, as well as characters visually based on old B-movie stars. But the story was a little weak - Stevens was no writer. What he was was a brilliant artist, with a lovely, meticulous line reminiscent of Alex Raymond and Al Williamson and a fantastic design sense (the Rocketeer costume is proof of that). He really didn't do all that much work in comics - the entire Rocketeer saga is only a few magazines long, and aside from that he did some beautiful covers - but all of it is of the highest quality. And he was strangely influential. That retro, art deco look he specialised in was given new popularity by his work, the heavy blacks and sculpted figures echoed in the work of Mark Schultz, Steve Rude and even Jaime Hernandez. His use of Bettie Page as a model for the female lead in "The Rocketeer" led to a rediscovery of her work in American pop culture. And of course "The Rocketeer" movie immortalised his creation in another medium, even if quite a lot was lost in the translation. Its a nice film, not an outstanding one, but that poster is worth revisiting:



Anyway, he died last week, which made me think about how much I love his work, and how I should try to get hold of more of it. There is so much bad comics art around, that the really great stuff needs to be cherished. Stevens was really great.

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5 Comments:

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5:08 pm  
Blogger Monsterwork said...

For some reason you skipped out on using the single greatest panel of comic book art ever in your little obit there.

http://www.the-isb.com/?p=307

Like you need an excuse to reprint this. I had the first volume of that Rocketeer mag when I was about 12. Epoch.

7:03 pm  
Blogger David N said...

That is a great panel and he drew amazing women, but I wanted to avoid the impression that he was primarily a cheesecake kinda guy. But, yeah...

11:39 pm  
Blogger Will Shyne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:00 pm  
Blogger Will Shyne said...

Pasted my password in there.
Anyway...
I couldn't agree more. Gorgeous stuff, not a great story but I love the art and the design of the Rocketeer is superb. I was fortunate enough to end up with a Rocketeer Kubrick which completed me for a little while.

And it is a great panel and he was primarily a cheese cake guy post Rocketeer. Sad but true. Did some outrageous stuff for Verotika. Best forgotten, unlike the artist himself.

12:01 pm  

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