image from IDW publishing website
Simply put, this is a marvelous and formidable book. Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer 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 STEVES' 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.