Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition
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Cannonball Read IV: The Rocketeer Artist's Edition by Dave Stevens

By fedres | Book Reviews | August 3, 2012 | Comments ()


Simply put, this is a marvelous and formidable book. Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition is the first in IDW's series of Artist's Editions, stories presented at the size they were drawn, scanned in color directly from the original art whenever possible. All but 2 of the pages in this collection are shot from the original art and the two-hard-to-find pages are shot from original production stats. Shooting from the original art - without coloring, re-sizing or altering the art for production in any other way - means corrections, blueline preliminary markings, and artist notes are all now available for the reader to see. The goal, as I see it, of the Artist's Editions is to make you feel as though you were holding the pages of original art in your hands as you read a complete story. That is definitely the impression I got as I read the book, and the size and presentation of the material enhanced my reading in a very real and visceral sense. Nothing escapes reproduction, good or bad. And it is all good in this case.

When IDW, under the stewardship of their brilliant editor Scott Dunbier, made their plans for the Artist's Edition series public, I ordered one right away. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that this is the IDEAL way to present this material to me. You see, collecting comic art is my great hobby. Besides golf and spectator sports. But in terms of money spent, time spent, and enjoyment it is hands down my hobby passion. In the years up to and after Dave Stevens' passing, his ability and the quality of his output have become legendary among original comic art and illustration collectors. Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition contains 126 pages of art (119 story and 7 covers) produced between 1982 and 1994. I myself was only peripherally aware of The Rocketeer when it was being published. All I really knew was that The Rocketeer was good girl art and basically dismissed it out of hand due to that fact. I also knew that it was sporadically published, a fact that often kept me from procuring other quality comics as well, e.g. Xenozoic Tales. So for whatever reason, I missed out on The Rocketeer back then.

Clearly, I missed out. I missed out because I now know that The Rocketeer is a wonderful comic book. Dave Stevens displays his rare talent, and it is not just his draftsmanship and artistic ability but his writing as well that makes The Rocketeer such an enjoyable read. It is fun to watch someone so clearly having fun with his creation. The pages leading up to the first full frontal shot of protagonist Cliff Secord's girlfriend, Betty are a wonder to behold. The page in which Betty first appears has memorable illustrations thoughout, a slow reveal with the big money shot of Betty, wholesome and masterfully rendered in a 3/4 length pose, about as good a piece of good girl art as you will find. Until you see the later pages, that is; Stevens' ability to depict the female form is masterful and he uses it to full effect in the best tradition of good girl art (defined by me as clean but curvy, mostly clothed but usually scantily so). Stevens' Betty is a masterful, photorealistic portrait of Betty Page, and Stevens is one of those credited with Page's eventual rescue from relative obscurity to her current stauts as widely known icon of 50s era sexuality. And Stevens' ability is evident on all the pages, not just those featuring Betty. There were quite a few times when I stopped reading to show my 12 year-old, budding artist daughter how to both draw something correctly and to draw it well. How to depict fabric on the human form. A crowd shot towards the end of the book was a particular favorite of mine; Stevens' draws a menacing goon emerge from the audience of a crowded theatre and the faces on the various "background" characters are a treat, all different types of people having different human reactions to the scene unfolding amongst them.

Ultimately, Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition is a gem of a read. It is a large, almost unwieldly book but its size is necessary to meet the goals IDW and Dunbier have in presenting such material, and its presentation ultimately serves the story and the reading experience well. The material is classic and well worth the format and serves the story and the memory of Dave Stevens wonderfully in my opinion. There is no obvious best page in the collection but the covers and pinups presented at the end are astounding in their artistry and design. Thankfully the quality of those pieces can be found on every page of the rest of the book as well, and with this new format IDW has added a worthwhile piece to the rich legacy of Dave Stevens and The Rocketeer.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it and find more of fedres's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • fedres

    Okay, it was $125 when I got it new. $499 is crazy. Also, I wrote the review when it came out and this was the first one. They tend to be stingy with the details until things are finalized but I have 5 of these books now: Dave Stevens, Walt Simonson Thor, Wally Wood EC, David Mazzucchelli Daredevil, and John Romita Spider-Man. There are also editions planned for Sergio Aragones' Groo, Jack Davis EC stuff, Joe Kubert's Tarzan, Will Eisner's The Spirit, Gil Kane Spider-Man, Mark Schultz' Xenozoic Tales, and last but not least a multiple artist, Kurtzman-era MAD magazine edition. I think the majority of these are expected by the end of the year! That is a lot of art books to buy and store, and there is a lot of mild condemnation that the books are coming out too quickly even though they are universally admired and adored. Resale prices are high as well. ($499 is crase man.) But you cannot blame IDW for striking while the iron is hot as these things apparently sell out their limited print runs.

  • special snowflake

    Just like you, fedres, I knew of the 'Rocketeer' series and always admired Stevens' meticulous renderings of the female form, but never gave it much attention, otherwise. His art is instantly recognizable, though, and I agree that an 'Artist's Edition' is an ideal format for the comic art collector who didn't follow the original comic book.
    But, aside from the fact that your review is outstanding and covers just about every detail an interested collector needs, I am most anxious to find out which other artists are going to be given this 'Edition' treatment. Does IDW mention any future editions?
    Comic book collecting was a staple of my youth, up through my 20's when the genre was getting more sophisticated and showcasing amazing new artists and writers (the eye-popping b&w 'Faust' series immediately comes to mind, as does 'Xenozoic Tales' - Rand Holmes if I remember correctly?) But now that the publishing industry is reproducing all the classic superhero and horror titles in gorgeous hardbound books of superb quality, such as this, it's great to have the opportunity to catch up on the ones I couldn't afford to include in my already-strained comic book budget at the time.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Wait...but...$499?! Boo.

  • Green Lantern

    Just chimed in to say that if you, like BarbadoSlim, only know "The Rocketeer" from the rather decent movie adaptation, you should check out the original comic material.

    Also, of note, is "Rocketeer Adventures". Two volumes of four issues have been printed of other artists and writers who've come together to tell further adventures of Cliff Secord and company. Again, worth a look if you're a fan.

  • That pose in the header pic was perfectly duplicated in the climax of the movie, The Rocketeer.

  • BarbadoSlim

    Nice write up. Also I had no idea Rocketeer was an ongoing comic I just figured it was a Disney thing. Might have to check it out.

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