Back in the early 80’s I was buying comics from a tobacco store that doubled as a comic book shop in Tuscaloosa Alabama. I had become a fan of a writer/ artist Mike Grell. His Jon Sable- Freelance book was ahead of it time in story and art. I also picked up Mike Grell’s Starslayer #2 published from Pacific Comics that year. Something more that Grell’s work blew me away.
In it was a backup story for a character called the Rocketeer. Many other comic readers took notice for this story as well. It combined elements of classic pulp fiction heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow into the narration, but is also had artwork that was incredible. One of the draws for many of the male audience was the sexy art of the heroes girlfriend. She looked a lot like the popular 50’s model, Bettie Page.Bettie Page became famous in the 1950s for her fetish modeling and pin-up photos. While she faded into obscurity in the 1960s after her conversion to Christianity, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s (thanks to the Rocketeer) and now has a significant cult following.
The Rocketeer was created and drawn by Dave Stevens. It is comic book and pin-up artist Dave Stevens who has taken his Final Taxi due to leukemia at age 52.
Stevens was born July 29, 1955 in Lynwood, California, but grew up in Portland, Oregon. His first professional comic work was inking Russ Manning’s pencils for the daily Tarzan newspaper comic strips in 1975. ( Fittingly, he won the inaugural Russ Manning Award in 1982 for most promising newcomer.) Starting in 1977 he drew storyboards for Hanna-Barbara animated TV shows, including Super Friends and The Godzilla Power Hour.
1n 1982 Stevens created the character “The Rocketeer.” The Rocketeer was a stunt pilot, Cliff Secord, who discovered a mysterious jet pack that allowed him to fly. The character’s adventures were set in 1938 Los Angeles and Stevens gave them a retro, nostalgic feel, influenced by, among other things, Commando Cody movie serials and pinup diva Bettie Page.
The eponymous superhero’s girlfriend was inspired by Stevens’ ex-wife, the actress Brinke Stevens, who continued to model for him after their divorce (although he always substituted the face of glamour icon Bettie Page).
Stevens was a huge fan of Bettie Page and captured her sensual beauty in hundreds of drawings and paintings. He later befriended her and gave her a share of his earning on the comic.
The character migrated from Eclipse to Comico, and finally ended up at Dark Horse Comics. Later, the character was transformed into a 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer, which starred Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton. Mr. Stevens co-produced the hit film.
Stevens did uncredited storyboard work on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He appeared as himself in the documentary “Frazetta: Painting With Fire.”
When asked in an interview about how he created his most famous creation, Dave Steven said, ” I’d always loved the idea of a guy flying like a bird, with just a combustible contraption strapped to his back. The image really appealed to me. But I didn’t want to be stuck doing an exact replication of the serials, with Martians, death-rays, etc. That wasn’t the quite the approach I wanted to take. I wanted to do a real period aviation strip, but with one small element of science-fiction added: The rocket-pack! So I came up with the outfit and the name. You know, a funny take on the word, racketeer, “The Rocketeer.” I thought it sounded catchy and the drawing seemed to work.”