Comic-Con Museum honors ‘Rocketeer’ creator Dave Stevens

Artist and former San Diego resident Dave Stevens is probably best known for creating “The Rocketeer,” a comic book that became a movie in 1991.

But Stevens did much more than just “The Rocketeer.” A new Comic-Con Museum exhibit highlights his work by him displaying pages of original comic-book art, advertising pieces, animation storyboards, and one-of-a-kind artifacts from the late artist’s personal collection.

The Rocketeer – Trailer (1991)

Stevens died in 2008 at the age of 52. But his legacy lives on through fans and through the new Comic-Con Museum exhibit entitled “Dave Stevens and the Rocketeer: Art For Arf’s Sake.” That title makes sense if you are familiar with Stevens’ obsession with English bulldogs.

Comic Con Museum

An undated still of Dave Stevens’ logo for Bulldog Studios.

“When he created ‘The Rocketeer’ comic book, he incorporated Bulldogs into the comic book, and that was one of his absolute favorite things. He just was obsessed with Bulldogs, English Bulldogs,” his sister Jennifer Stevens-Bawcum said. “And the interesting, funny, quirky part about that is on one of the comic book pages, the main character tries to feed him beef jerky, alluding to what would happen after the dog ate beef jerky. And you almost wouldn’t notice it but at the very bottom, at the end of one of the chapters, the dog is lifting his leg on someone else’s shoe. So, I mean, there’s just a lot of that. It is so Dave’s humor. It’s absolutely his humor, just kind of childish. He was the boy that never grew up for sure.”

Stevens was born in Lynwood, California, and moved to San Diego in the early 1970s. He began his career in comics in 1975 by assisting veteran artist Russ Manning on the syndicated “Tarzan” newspaper strip. Stevens then worked as an animation storyboard artist on films including “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the Michael Jackson music video “Thriller.”

Dave Stevens at Comic-Con

Stevens-Bawcum said her brother first attended Comic-Con as a fan.

“I’m not sure how he found out about Comic-Con, but I believe 1972 was his first Con and he started as a geeky fanboy, super excited to see all of his comic book artist heroes,’ she said. “And then he started bringing his own portfolio for these artists to review, and it went on from there. He was a volunteer for a while. I have started designing some of the badges and some of the programs. So he’s had a long relationship with Comic-Con.”

He also found mentors attending the Con such as Silver Age comic book artist Jim Steranko.

Stevens-Bawcum is one of the trustees of the Rocketeer Trust, which provided her brother’s art, props from his films, and personal items for the exhibit.

“I loaned about 60 pieces of art, plus all the personal effects, all the movie props that will be on loan for the display,” Stevens-Bawcum said. “When I was initially talking to Chris [Ryall], who’s kind of been my liaison with the Museum, he was saying, ‘You know, do you have anything big that could fill up the space?’ And I’m like, well, I have his desk from him.”

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Beth Accomando

Dave Steven’s desk is part of the exhibit at Comic-Con Museum. March 19, 2022

Seeing the desk where Stevens drew, painted, and created his art is thrilling for any fan. The exhibit also showcases the diversity of his work.

“My goal was to have the exhibit be biographical,” Stevens-Bawcum explained. “So there are pieces that I loaned from when he was in elementary school, fifth or sixth grade of Spider-Man all the way through sometime in the 2000s, so towards the end of his career and life. So I wanted a very broad spectrum of art to show that Dave was not just known for, “The Rocketeer” but he had so many other and very varied styles. I wanted people to see the breadth of his career.”

The exhibit at the Comic-Con Museum provides a lovely tribute from a sister as well as an impressive display of Dave Stevens’ artistry.

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