A masterful artist, Stevens specialized in styles reminiscent of the 1930s and 40s. He reveled in the lost art of the pinup girl, and his drawings crackled with art-deco style and film serial excitement. He wasn’t prolific; a notoriously slow artist, he did things with pen and ink that most artists could not achieve with an array of brushes and paint. I’ve always been fascinated by artists that work in pen and ink; such simple tools can yield amazing results in the hands of someone as meticulous as Stevens.
Sadly, many might not even know of Stevens’ work, or what place it has on a Disney blog. In 1982, Stevens created the Rocketeer in the pages of Pacific Comics’ Starslayer #2. Over the next thirteen years the Rocketeer would make occasional appearances in print but his connection to Disney comes through the 1991 film adaptation, The Rocketeer. This film, perhaps more than any other, is the most underrated film in the entire Disney canon. Directed by Joe Johnston and with a fantastic cast and score by James Horner (portions of which are still played at EPCOT Center’s “Fountain of Nations”), The Rocketeer deserves far more attention than it has received.
Improperly marketed by Disney, and opening the same weekend as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Rocketeer underperformed at the box office and plans for a sequel were scuttled. This was a character that deserved a franchise, and one of my personal obsessions is the idea of creating a ride based on the film for the Hollywood Studios park. Oh, what one could do with a KUKA robocoaster and The Rocketeer…
Unfortunately, Stevens rarely returned to the character himself, and plans to continue the Rocketeer’s adventures after 1995 never came to fruition. We only have a handful of stories scattered amongst different publishers by which to remember Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer. Thankfully Stevens himself continued to work, but not on comic projects. Mostly it seems he spent recent years doing art by commission, and selling his famous pinups at comic shows across the country. Perhaps someday the Rocketeer will continue in some form – it would be a fitting tribute to an artist lost far before his time.
UPDATE: Thanks to Pat in the comments, who pointed out that Stevens’ mother has requested that fans donate to the Hairy Cell Leukemia Research Foundation.