Archive for March, 2008

“Amazing Grace” Canvas Print

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Do you remember the whale painting I discussed in my Journal about a month ago? The six ft. tall oil painting that was initially mysteriously rejected (and then just as mysteriously accepted) for exhibition in the California Art Club’s forthcoming annual Gold Medal Exhibition?

Well, I promised to make a print of it in a week or so. It’s turned out to be “or so” — I just put the two different sized canvas prints in the Prints section of the William Stout Bazaar on this website moments ago. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

And if you can figure out why this painting was so controversial (I heard through the grapevine that the show’s judges were screaming at each other over this work), then please let me know. I’ve (deliberately) created a lot of controversial art in the past (naughty little devil that I can be sometimes), but for the life of me, I don’t see anything controversial regarding this particular piece.

I’ve already sold one to a long time collector of my work. He told me recently that he no longer watches TV; he just sits and stares at this painting.

Love to you all, my friends.

Dave Stevens, R. I. P.

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

On Sunday I drove up near Modesto to attend the memorial service for my friend Dave Stevens. I brought my long time friend Mark Evanier with me, so between the two of us there was no shortage of comics or show biz related stories. It made the four hour drive pass very quickly. It was a clear, beautiful drive up, through snow-covered mounts in the Grapevine, past the green rolling hills and flatlands of America’s bread basket and farmland fields filled with thousands of cows.

We met Richard and Alice Hescox in Modesto for lunch, prior to the services. It was Richard (a talented paperback cover painter) who brought Dave into our studio on La Brea Avenue. Those of you who know me well know that I have a deep, critical and obsessive passion for good BBQ and Mexican food. I had previously sleuthed out a potentially great BBQ place on Trip Advisor, Doc’s Q’in Pit Stop (Trip Advisor’s #1 restaurant in Modesto: 421 Maze Blvd.; look for the big smoker in the parking lot). The sides were OK (my black-eyed peas arrived cold, actually; the buttery corn bread and desserts were terrific, though), but the meat was phenomenal. Mark said it was the best BBQ he’d ever had in his life. We had a great time with Rich and Alice. Although I hadn’t seen them in decades, it seemed like we’d just seen each other yesterday — except for the addition of many pounds (probably due to the BBQ and Mexican food) to my once skinny frame.

I won’t go into the details of Dave’s service, who attended, etc. — I’d like to protect his family’s privacy — except to say that it was sweetly beautiful, tasteful and respectful. It all performed a really nice job of honoring our Dave. Jim Silke spoke especially eloquently about how Dave became his best friend and Dave’s love of people.

The pain of losing Dave hasn’t subsided for me one bit. I’m doing what I usually do to cope with an event like this; I’m burying myself in my work. This time it’s just not helping very much. I’m still just sad, sad, sad.

Dave would have loved the subject matter of the new painting I’m doing for Ray Harryhausen, a poster for the old Willis O’Brien project, War Eagles. It’s got the 1930s New York skyline, the Statue of Liberty, a giant white eagle perched on her shoulder with a 30s pilot on its back holding Old Glory, and a Nazi zeppelin in the sky. Every once in awhile I think, “I can’t wait to show this to Dave!”

And then I remember…

DAVE STEVENS 1955 – 2008

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

A dear friend of mine, who also happened to be one of our greatest artists, passed away yesterday. This is a personalized adaptation of an obituary I had sent out on him:

Celebrated comic book artist and illustrator Dave Stevens left our physical presence due to complications from his treatments for hairy cell leukemia on March 10, 2008. He was 52. Dave was most famous for creating The Rocketeer and for his classic pin-up style drawings and paintings of beautiful women. It was Stevens who single-handedly resurrected the fame and career of 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page. Dave was the first person to win Comic-Con International’s Russ Manning Award in 1982.

Born July 29, 1955 in Lynwood, California, Dave’s first professional comic work was when he replaced me as Russ Manning’s assistant, inking Russ’ pencils for the Sunday and daily Tarzan of the Apes newspaper comic strips. That was around the time I first met Dave, a fresh-faced good looking kid with a great sense of humor and loads of talent. Dave also helped Manning out on the early Star Wars newspaper strips. Many fans cherish the Jonny Quest covers he did for Comico. Dave worked for a time at the Hanna-Barbera animation studios where he established a close friendship with Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey.

After leaving Hanna-Barbera, Stevens joined science fiction paperback cover illustrator Richard Hescox and me, becoming a member of my art studio on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. Occasionally Dave would help me out on jobs when I was under the deadline gun. He also posed for a lot of Richard’s paperback covers and for me as well when I needed a young heroic guy for a drawing or painting.

I also shared offices with Steven Spielberg at the time. On my recommendation, Stevens was hired to storyboard the harrowing truck fight sequence for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also recommended Dave to board Michael Jackson’s Thriller video for director John Landis. Dave worked directly with Michael Jackson on other projects after that. Later I hired both Stevens and Wildey as storyboard artists for an ill-fated American Godzilla – King of the Monsters film project on which I was the production designer.

It was The Rocketeer comic Dave began in 1982 at our La Brea studio that really brought Dave Stevens’ work to the forefront of national (and international) attention. Stevens successfully wove classic pulp fiction heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow into his 1930s Rocketeer narrative. The first adventures were published by Eclipse Comics. The fifth chapter ended in a cliffhanger. The story picked up again in the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine. Two issues were published by Comico Comics in 1988 and 1989, but the third installment did not appear until 1995 (Dave was not known for his speed) when it was published by Dark Horse Comics. All three issues were collected by Dark Horse as The Rocketeer: Cliff’s New York Adventure.

The soap-opera theme of The Rocketeer parallels Stevens’ own mercurial relationship with Charlene Brinkman (later known as scream queen actress Brinke Stevens). Dave and Charlene met at the San Diego Comic-Con; they were married for just six months. Stevens based the physical appearance of The Rocketeer’s female lead on an obsession of his, 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page. In these pre-video days, Dave used to show us some great film clips of Bettie on an old 16 mm projector of mine. The popularity of The Rocketeer and Dave’s delectable and recognizable renderings of Bettie brought a new focus of public interest and attention to Ms. Page. In the process Dave located Bettie Page, now a retiree, and they became friends. Stevens took care of Bettie whenever she visited Los Angeles and helped her to set up a licensing business. Not only was Stevens the first to (generously) pay her for the use of her likeness, Dave was successful in getting Bettie payment from many of the publishers who were exploiting her image.

Dave used his old friend Doug Wildey as both the physical and psychological template for the Rocketeer’s best friend, Peevy. Other mutual acquaintances who show up in the comics include real-life glamour and porn photographer Ken Marcus. Dave Stevens portrayed Marcus as the sleazy “Marco of Hollywood,” with a readily identifiable caricature. Dave modeled the boyishly handsome Cliff Secord (the Rocketeer) after himself.

Dave’s passion for the 1930s and old Hollywood came to life in The Rocketeer.

Once you stepped through the doorway of Dave’s home you were in the ’30s. He lived and breathed that era. Dave also had a vast knowledge of Old Hollywood. He was close friends with many of the wonderful stars and starlets of Hollywood’s past, like Yvette Vickers (from “Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman”). Their tales of The Biz back in the day fed Dave’s rich imagination.

Anyone who read The Rocketeer knows that Dave was pretty nuts for vintage aircraft. For one of his birthdays, a girlfriend of Dave’s bought him a flight on a bi-plane over at the Van Nuys Airport. Dave enthusiastically asked the pilot for “the works”. The pilot did barrel rolls, dives, outside loops and other harrowing maneuvers, all to Dave’s delight.

The film rights to Dave’s comic were purchased by the Walt Disney Company in the late 1980s. A full length live action feature film was released in 1991 directed by Joe Johnston. It starred Bill Campbell as the Rocketeer, Jennifer Connelly as Bettie (“Jenny Blake” in the film) and Alan Arkin as Peevy. Dave co-wrote the screenplay and was a hands-on co-producer of the film.

Dave had more artistic integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. He always marched to his own drummer whether it benefited him financially or not. He turned down many lucrative job offers — including a monthly pin-up assignment for Playboy offered by Hugh Hefner as a replacement for their regular Alberto Vargas feature — when they didn’t jibe with his own highly personal vision of what he should be doing. As a businessman, Dave often drove his close friends nuts. We’d watch in astonishment at the riches passing him by. We’d try to guide him into being much more financially successful, but Dave would usually have nothing of it. It took me decades to convince him to publish a sketchbook. When he finally did, it sold out immediately, as did each subsequent volume.

For a man of his huge talents, Dave was also amazingly humble. At the peak of his artistic powers and career Dave went back to art school. Hell, Dave could have taught at any art school in the country! But he felt by not going to art school in his formative youth he had missed out on some very important fundamental training and valuable academic lessons. Amazing.

Dave Stevens is survived by his mother Carolyn and his sister Jennie — and millions of fans of great art and fine storytelling across the world.

I miss my little brother already…

Monday Morning

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Nothing earth shattering here; it’s noon and I thought I’d update you on what I did this morning and talk a little about the rest of my day.

Pretty mundane beginning; I answered e-mails, made business calls and cruised Ebay for a bit.

Then, I approved Randy Dahlk’s brilliant design for the cover of my murals book coming out from Flesk Publications this summer.

Following that, I penciled the last two of my Blues Legends portraits: Blind Willie Johnson and Water “Shakey” Horton. I’m drawing 150 portraits of my favorite blues artists: 50 Blues Legends, 50 British Blues Legends and 50 Modern Blues Legends. I’ll ink the two I penciled this morning later this evening (probably after my wife has gone to bed). Then the first two of those groups will be completed, leaving only the 50 Modern Legends to complete (actually, 49; I’ve already drawn Otis Taylor). I began this project when I was convalescing from my cancer surgery in December 2006.

Actually, it began a little before that when Richard Foos (co-founder of Rhino Records) of Shout! Factory hired me to draw CD covers for Ma Rainey and Mississippi Fred McDowell. His other blues CD covers were reprints of some of the Robert Crumb “Heroes of the Blues” trading card images. Robert hadn’t drawn McDowell or Rainey and didn’t want to. So, Richard asked if I would draw those two in the same general style and format to keep his blues CD covers graphically consistent. I did, and was surprised at how much fun I had.

So I had my surgery and began my recuperation. It’s not my nature to just sit around or be idle. Remembering the covers I had drawn for Richard and how much fun they were, I made a list of all my favorite old blues guys, deliberately excluding the ones Robert Crumb had already drawn in his card set (except for Skip James and Blind Willie Johnson — I just HAD to draw those two guys!). I initially decided to come up with 36 musicians, the same number that Robert had drawn. That was an easy list to compile; Crumb hadn’t drawn any of the great Chicago guys like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or Sonny Boy Williamson. He hadn’t even drawn Robert Johnson! Woo hoo!

As I was working on those images I began to think, “I shouldn’t stop with these guys; I should also draw all of my favorite British Blues greats!” That led to my compiling a list of not only 36 Brits (i. e., Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Burdon, Peter Green, etc.) but also a list of 36 modern blues guys. Heck, I couldn’t leave out Paul Butterfield, Ry Cooder or Jimi Hendrix!

Eventually, as I compiled all three lists, limiting each list to 36 became much too restrictive. So, I expanded each list to 50 (even those lists continue to slowly grow). As soon as the text about each artist is finished, I plan to publish them as three books. I’ll let you know when the first book is off the presses.

After penciling those two portraits, I tightened up the pencils and lettering on a CD cover for The Moore Brothers. Thom Moore used to babysit my sons when they were small. He especially loved sitting at our house because of my vast record collection. Thom used to pepper me with musical questions about the 60s. Well, years have passed since Thom was in high school; he’s now become a pop star with a huge following in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, etc.). His brother Greg has joined him. They’ve produced a number of excellent CDs and now live in Bud Plant Country (Grass Valley). They just finished a European tour as the opening act for the phenomenal Joanna Newsom. She plays on their new CD, “Aptos,” the one for which I’m doing the cover.

After my run this afternoon (I run three miles of hills every other day to keep in shape), I’ll pack up and ship some of my website catalogue orders.

After that I’ll be out on my porch continuing the painting of a book cover and poster for “War Eagles” for my friend Ray Harryhausen. If I can squeeze it in, I’m going to try to finish an oil portrait of Dracula for a collector of mine (Hi, Craig!) in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve just got the bats in the picture to complete and it’ll be done. I’ll also be painting another private commission, a big triple portrait for a dear friend of mine from art school. It’s his sister, mom and dad, who were all prominent in Los Angeles’ black community and were enormously important to the civil rights movement. I’m really enjoying this painting!

After the sun goes down I can’t paint (I don’t like to paint by artificial light; I’m trying to save my eyes), so I’ll use my remaining early evening work time to draw up the initial concept designs for a magic poster featuring the amazing New York magician Steve Cohen.

After dinner, I’ll spend a little time with my wife and maybe watch a movie. After she retires, it’s back to work. Like I said, I’ll probably ink the drawings I penciled this morning. I’ll knock off work probably at about 1:00 AM, then zone out for a little doing some research, pleasure reading or channel surfing, after which I’ll hit the hay.

I wouldn’t call this a “typical day” because I don’t really have typical days — every day is different. But I guess that today is about as typical as they come. Tomorrow will be different, though — I guarantee you!

Gustaf Tenggren…continued

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Today I completed my Redbook Magazine Tenggren collection. Gustaf Tenggren was the key designer for Walt Disney’s Snow White and Pinocchio. His magazine illustrations for Redbook still retain the Arthur Rackham-influenced style he was famous for at the time, but with an added bonus: the women he drew in these illustrations were extremely sensual and sexy. Gustaf did like the young ladies, and it shows.

For all of you Tenggren hunters out there, here is the list I’ve compiled of Gustaf Tenggren’s illustration work for Redbook. This is stunning stuff. I believe this list to be complete:

Redbook Magazine
1932
February
pp. 74-76: Ehrgott, Winston W. “Little Son – The Reality of a South American Revolution”
1 two-color double page vignette; 2 two-color vignettes.
March
pp. 26-29: Colby, Merle “Hub Deep – A Frontier Love Story”
1 two-color full page vignette; 1 two-color double half page vignette; 1 small two-color vignette.
June
pp. 20-23: Squier, Emma-Lindsay “Tribal Law”
1 two-color double page vignette; 1 large two-color illustration; 1 line vignette.
August
pp. 28-31: Walker, Ewing “Zhulie – A Wild Delight”
1 two-color double page spread; 1 two-color illustration; 1 two-color vignette.
October
pp. 24-27: Harner, Virginia Paxton “Conquistador”
1 large two-color double page illustration; 1 large two-color illustration; 1 halftone vignette.
November
pp. 34-36: Layng, Charles “Ever So Slightly Careless”
1 two-color double page vignette; 1 two-color vignette; 1 ink & brush halftone vignette.
December
pp. 20-23: Harner, Virginia Paxton “Rio Magdalena”
1 two-color vignette double page spread; 1 two-color vignette; 1 two-color ink vignette.
1933
February
pp. 46-49: Paxton, Virginia “Jungle Glamour”
2 two-color vignettes; 2 halftone vignettes.
March
pp. 56-59: Harner, Virginia Paxton “Vagabond – Love’s Light Madness”
3 two-color illustrations; 1 two-color vignette.
April
pp. 44-47: Brown, Bernice “Homeland – A Love Story of Farm People”
1 two-color illustration; 3 two-color vignettes.
May
pp. 50-53: Clark, Maurice “When You Love Completely – A story of New York and Nova Scotia”
3 two-color illustrations; 1 two-color pen vignette.
1934
November
p. 51: Burt, Katharine Newlin “This Woman and This Man”
Although credited to Jules Gotleib, this two color vignette looks a lot like Tenggren’s work.
December
pp. 46-49: Duranty, Walter “Free Night”
3 two-color illustrations.
1935
January
pp. 44-47: Jope-Slade, Christine “The Man Who Launched the Angels”
2 two-color spread illustrations; 3 two-color vignettes.
June
pp. 36-39: Donn-Byrne, Dorothea “Bad Beginnings”
1 two-color double page spread; 2 two-color vignettes.