Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dave Stevens Interview from 1988. SUPER RARE

The following is an interview that I did with Dave Stevens in 1988 over the phone for the first issue of the Rocketpack Newsletter (With Chuck Haspel). To my knowledge it has never been seen anywhere else till today:

Allen: How, when and where did your career begin? (Your interest in art, The Rocketeer...any formal training.)

Dave: My interest in art began when I was a tiny, tiny kid. My dad drew all the time and I grew up copying his stuff. I kept drawing and drawing. This Rocketter business came out of the blue in 1981--the story for that I'm sure I've told 100 times.

Allen: But not here...

Dave: Yeah, but you know it was a question of Pacific needing a backup feature--telling me I could do whatever I wanted to.

Allen: It wasn't something you gave a lot of thought to or...?

Not really.

Allen: You just came up with it when they asked you for something?

Dave: I just came up with the visuals for it. I had the image in my head and I had no idea how I was going to handle it or what kind of strip it would be. I had that image---that was it.

Allen: Why did they ask you for a backup?

Dave: They knew my work from when I lived in San Diego. They always liked my work, so I gave it a shot.

Allen: Any formal training?

Dave: No, unfortunately that was something that if I had it to do again I would certainly have gone to art school right after high school.
Allen: But you worked with someone?

Dave: I apprenticed with Russ Manning. But it was such a short stint. I really would have rather gone for a longer stretch with someone. It was just a job. It didn't involve him teaching me things, as I would have liked. What I did was on the job experience.

Allen: What year was this?

Dave: 1975, and it was great for what if was, but as far as him telling me what was wrong with my drawing and that kind of stuff, he really didn't correct me. All I was doing was pretty much technical things--inking incidental stuff that didn't really figure in as prominently as the lead characters do. It was basically a crash course in production.

Allen: Are you doing what you want and are you happy with the way your career has gone so far?

Dave: I've always done what I wanted in the sense that I've made a living off of art. I've never had to be a fry cook or anything. I'm happy that what I've done in comics so far, as as little as it is, has gotten me a lot of attention in all different areas. In that respect I'm happy. I'm tickled to death. I never could have gotten that kind of attention from anything else, really. I was laboring in animation and films (live action) for years and would probably still be there today.

Allen: Who did you work for? Different companies?

Dave: Everybody. In animation I worked at every studio in town.

Allen: Disney?

Dave: I was about to go there, but they wouldn't pay the wage I was currently getting. You see, at that time, Disney considered it a "privilege" to work for Disney. I think that's clear enough. They just had an attitude. Still do.

Allen: Can you tell us a couple of projects that you worked on animation-wise?

Dave: Probably just about every Saturday morning animation show that was done in the late '70's. I styled some shows, storyboarded some.

Allen: Is there any one in particular that you had your hand in where people could see your style?

Dave: Not really because that stuff goes through so many hands by the time it reaches the TV screen it isn't like you originally drew it. But there was an animated Godzilla series on in 1978 that I did a lot of work on. That was Doug Wildley's show. He also did a show Jana of the Jungle--which was like a modern day Sheena, and I did a lot of the rotoscoping on that. Unfortunately who knows where you're gonna find copies of some of those things. And I worked on Scooby-Doo, Super Friends, and all that other garbage.

Allen: You probably made quite a bit in animation from what I hear?

Dave: You mean money?

Allen: Yeah

Dave: Oh, no. Uh-uhh. Any money I made was gone right away.

Allen: Just to survive?

Dave: Well, it's espensive to live here and at the time I was earning apprentice scale wages in animation. I gradually got bumped up, so that by the end of my animation stay, I was making a pretty good dollar. But it wasn't until I got into live action that I made good money again. Once I started sharing a studio with Stout and Hescox, then I started to go whole hog into advertising.

Allen: What type of hard times did you go through?

Dave: Well, when I first went back to L.A. I went through some, uh, fairly hard times.

Allen: Where did you come from?

Dave: Well, Idaho, Oregon, then San Diego, then L.A. I was originally born in L.A., but grew up elsewhere. Once I got here it was a little tough. I didn't have any training in any capacity as far as tools, or techniques.

Allen: So how did you break into animation?

Dave: Well, I just went in on an interview and Wildley hired me right there. But that was just due to drawing ability. When I first came to L.A. I spent about my first year, or year and a half, hiring out as a storyboard artist and sketch artist, freelancing for advertising agencies. I actually had periods of really good earnings and really horrible slumps. I went through my periods of eating beans, tortillas, etc. But I'm sure everybody does. I was not feeling sorry for myself at all, I was happy to be there.

Allen: What would you do different and why? (As far as your career choices.)

Dave: I probably wouldn't have stayed in animation as long as I did. That life's a velvet cage once you get in. The money is good, the hours are cushy. They don't force you to tow-the-line. I mean you can get away with murder.

Allen: Did you punch a clock?

Dave: You do and you don't. Some places you do, some places you don't. I really abused my privileges. But it was one of those jobs where I would literally take other work in there and work on it.

Allen: And they didn't care?

Dave: Well, of course they cared, but I had no respect for the animation industry. I fought it tooth and nail. After I had been there a year and a half I hated it. I got to the point where I was hopping from state to state trying to find some place where I'd be happy. But they all operate at about the same level of incompetence. So, that's one choice I made, that looking back, wasn't a real good one.

Allen: It's scary making moves.

Dave: Well, I was used to a certain amount of money each week and didn't really want to get back into the grind of taking my portfolio around. If I had done that, if I had gotten out earlier, I probably wouldn't have gone into comics at all.

Allen: You mean if you wouldn't have left the animation studios?

Dave: No, if I had left. Well I did. I went straight to the A-Team building which was Spielburg and Milius and worked on the first Raiders. And I would have stayed there probably. But I kept flirting with animation. After I worked on that picture I went back to another animation studio for a while and then I got out of it altogether.

Allen: If you weren't an artist, what do you think you would be doing now?

Dave: I guess I've be restoring old cars.

Allen: Can you tell us what your plans for the future are?

Dave: Uh, restoring some old cars. Restoring the one I wrecked. I've got one more issue to wrap up on The Rocketeer, then I've got two graphic novels to do. One of them right away, one of them later.

Allen: Can you tell us about the one coming up?

Dave: I don't want to at this point. It's a subject that hasn't been done before in comics and if I blab about it now, I'm sure some brilliant soul at DC or Marvel may try and ace me, before I can get to it.
Allen: Will it be a Comico comic?

Dave: At the moment it's not going to be a comic, it's going to be a book. An illustrated book. No word ballooons. I'm trying to integrate text with illustrations.

Allen: You are writing the story?

Dave: So far, yeah. I may recruit someone to help at some point, but we'll see.

(This was the end of part 1. Part II promised to cover The Rocketeer movie, upcoming books, the convention scene, Marvel, Dave's coupe and much more.)

If I can find issue #2 of the Rocketpack Newsletter...I'll post the rest of the interview here.



Rich Dannys said...

It's hard to say "No!" to Animation work.. That's one of the things, I can remember talking to Dave about, personally.. "The Velvet Cage" is such an appropriate metaphor.. that it's downright frightening!! hah

I haven't read that Interview in years.. But I have a copy of it, somewhere.. I actually get a brief mention (I think?) in Part 2.. Looking forward to seeing it again, if you have it!

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Anonymous said...

He is most famous for creating The Rocketeer comic book and film character, and for his pin-up style "glamour art" illustrations, especially of model Bettie Page. He was the first to win Comic-Con International's Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award in 1982, and received both an Inkpot Award and the Kirby Award for Best Graphic Album in 1986.
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