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Tag: Dave Stevens

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 4

I don’t have nearly enough books in the category that this post covers: Books about the art and lives of specific artists. I think there are a lot more out there, but for some reason I don’t have as many of them as I thought I might.

I’ll start with The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, which I bought at a convention directly from the publisher and it was an autographed copy. I only met Carmine once, and it was at a convention and I simply said how much I had enjoyed his art on the old Marvel Star Wars series. That series was the one that got me reading comics and I had, as a kid, mixed feelings about the art. First, the comic was a lot better as soon as Infantino came aboard with writer Archie Goodwin. The stories were cool, fun to read, easy on the eyes and had some very clear storytelling. On the downside, none of the characters in the comic looked like the actors from the movie. That part bugged me enough — especially after seeing the bang-up job Mike Vosberg did on Star Wars Annual #1 — to write a letter to Marvel about it. All of which digresses from this book, which is an amiable recounting of Carmine’s career as he remembers it. That’s both a good and bad approach — there’s lots of good little anecdotes and plenty of cool artwork throughout the book, but there’s not much criticism. That leaves a few areas of comics history — especially during Infantino’s tenure as top editor at DC Comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s — no closer to any kind of definitive history than we were before. Still, fans of Infantino’s artwork should get a real kick out of this volume.

Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier is a very solid and enjoyable read that attempts to cover the life and work of Jack Kirby in a single volume. Given the sheer amount of writing that Kirby’s generated over the years, it’s obviously not going to be possible for any such book to cover every single thing Kirby did in the detail his fans would like. (For that, I always understood Evanier also was working on a much more detailed biography of Kirby that, I assume, will be published at some point in the future.) But this is a very solid account of Kirby, packed full of his amazing artwork and photos and well worth the time of die-hard and casual fans alike.

If you can’t get enough Kirby, then there is always The Collected Jack Kirby Collector. I have four volumes of this series, and expect a few more have come out I don’t own. These are terrific for getting into not just the specifics of Kirby’s career, but also his impact on the field and fans. The articles range from scholarly examinations of Kirby’s work to vintage interviews the artist gave over the years to recollections from people who either worked with Kirby or were just huge fans of his. Each volume also is generously illustrated with Kirby art, often photocopies of his original pencils. Reading this much about a single artist can be a bit overwhelming, so I read through these somewhat slowly, taking my time between stints to avoid Kirby burnout.



Mythology: The DC Comics art of Alex Ross is a beautiful art book packed full of Ross’ amazing paintings. No one really captures a sense of how classic superheroes would look in the real world quite the same way Ross does, with his extensive use of models, photo reference and an amazing talent for producing finished art that looks photographic. I think in a lot of ways, Ross’ art is better suited to being displayed in this kind of glossy format than in actual comic book stories, where painted art can slow down the reading process because it demands to be looked at. I bought my edition at a signing Ross did to promote its release a number of years ago at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. Putting on my Variety hat, I asked him what his favorite comic-book movie was. His answer: RoboCop.

Tim Sale: Black and White is a lovely art book produced by Richard Starkings’ Active Images. Printed in stark black and white on glossy paper, this book really shows off Sale’s atmospheric art to great advantage. The dark, inky pages are easy to get lost in, and there’s a career retrospective interview in there to boot. I think this particular book was released around the time Sale’s art was making a big impact on the TV series Heroes, back in its first season when it was quite the hot property.

Last on this list (for now) is Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens. This was a gift I received from a fellow comics fan on my 40th birthday and really loved digging in to. I had long known Stevens’ work from various pin-ups and, of course, The Rocketeer. But this books goes a lot deeper and shows some of his contributions to many other projects, including such great films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the long-form music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It is a satisfying portrait of the artist, written mostly as autobiography but, unfortunately, finished by other hands after Stevens died from cancer a few years back.

One other volume that springs to mind is another TwoMorrows project, the Modern Masters series. I picked up the John Byrne volume at least in part because of some of the sketches from Byrne’s days at Charlton and later on X-Men. I also was pleasantly surprised to read Byrne talking about his days as a kid in Edmonton, Alberta, which is my hometown, and recognizing a couple of the places he described. In particular, I remember the newsstand at the downtown Eaton’s department story, which was right inside the front door and well-stocked with magazines, newspapers and paperbacks, though not too many comics by the time my teen-age collecting years kicked in. I also enjoyed Byrne’s brief recollection of Mike’s, a famous newsstand on Jasper Avenue that always had several spinner racks stuffed full of comics. I once made my father trudge over there on his way home from work to pick me up a copy of Star Wars #1 that I had seen there the day before but not had the 35 cents to pay for at the time. Here’s a story on Mike’s, which went out of business just a few months before my family moved to the States, complete with a photo of its distinctive neon sign.

I think I have one more post for this series, this one on comic book movies, including my own tome, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen.

Off the shelf: The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures — Deluxe Edition

The Rocketeer is something of a legendary comic book, one that I’ve heard lots about but only had a chance to read small pieces of before now. If you’re unfamiliar with this comic, here’s the basics: The Rocketeer was a throwback to the pulpy, serial adventures of the 1930s written and drawn with incredible love and attention to detail by Dave Stevens. It may have seemed like just another indie comic when it hit the stands in 1981, maybe even like just another knock off of the successful movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which made hard-luck heroes of that era very popular.

But there’s this character, Betty, the girlfriend of the somewhat hapless hero Cliff Secord. Based on Betty Page, who at the time was largely forgotten except to a few folks like Stevens, the character focused Stevens’ incredible talent and helped make this a comic few who read it would ever forget.

Looking at this new edition, which is the first time all Stevens’ Rocketeer stories were collected in one volume and features some amazing new coloring from Laura Martin, it lives up to its reputation as one of the finest examples of popular comic book artwork. It’s also a blast to read — Stevens is mostly known as an immaculate artist, but this wouldn’t be the classic it is if he also couldn’t work up a good story to hang it on.

Reading this book is like going back in time in more ways than one. Not only is it a great tribute to the adventures of the 1930s and the pinup girl sensation of the 1950s, it’s also an example of state of the art comics in the 1980s — the last decade before digital technology began to make its presence felt. Every panel in this collection conveys both the sense that a perfectionist is at work, but also the warm feeling of artwork that was created by hand. (It’s also interesting to note the help Stevens had on this project, with art assists from some other luminaries including Michael William Kaluta, Jaime Hernandez and Art Adams, among others.)

Stevens died in 2008 at the age of 52 from leukemia. And this book can’t help but be a major part of his legacy. (For the rest, pick up Brush With Passion, an autobiography Stevens unfortunately didn’t live to finish, but which shows the number of amazing projects he worked on from preparing presentation art for Steven Spielberg on Raiders to storyboarding John Landis’ famous video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He also was instrumental in later finding the real Betty Page and became a friend to her in her senior years.) It’s unfinished as a story — it just kind of ends with the second major adventure and Stevens never got around to giving the story a resolution.

The Rocketeer, of course, had a life beyond comics in the form of the 1991 feature film from Disney. While it wasn’t a box office smash, it was well-received by critics and fans of the comic. It also was an early big role for Jennifer Connelly, who played “Jenny” — changed from Betty, but still pretty close. And it should be a movie worth revisiting as its director, Joe Johnston, is set to helm another movie adaptation of a classic comic book hero in Marvel’s upcoming The First Avenger: Captain America.

The Deluxe Edition (IDW Publishing, $75) also includes an extensive bonus section, featuring rare artwork, paintings, thumbnails, scripts and sketches from the series. It is, in and of itself, a convincing argument for the validity of comic art as a thing of beauty and value. There’s a “regular” edition of this book out that costs about $30, which is a standard-size hardcover without a lot of the extras. But if you’re at all curious on this one, do yourself a favor and splurge on the Deluxe Edition if you can. It’s definitely worth it.

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