Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Run-ins with Dave Stevens

I've only met Dave Stevens a few times and I can't say that I knew him well, but what I knew of him was that he was a very decent guy. I've even had the pleasure of chatting with him and his good friend Mike Kaluta, who I knew a little better, at a table they shared at a New York con. Besides the great art he produced, the one thing that impressed me about him was how easy going and approachable he was to all of his fans. Last week i attended the Salon del Comics in Granada, Spain and spoke with some American mainstream artists and writers at the traditional opening night dinner for all the professionals and invited guests. It was fun-at least that first night. The following days when I approached these same professionals they were very stand-offish, as though i was some nutty fan trying to hang out with them when the truth was I only even heard of one of them. It´s always been fun sharing stories with other American and European artists in another country. But they made me remember why I've never really got along with most mainstream artists in the first place. That "I'm a real pro, not like those self publishing bums" attitude never sat well with me. I thought, and still do, that as tough as it is surviving in this business we could at least show some solidarity. Maybe that's why I never got that mainstream vibe from Mr. Stevens.

I first met Mr. Stevens in the early 1990's after I'd had "Model By Day" and "The GIRL" published and had by then become infatuated with THE ROCKETEER comics and, naturally, Mr. Stevens' great girl art. It's fascinating that this man single handedly revived the career of Batty Page which spawned countless books, artwork and even TV specials. And I must admit that I've only done one painting of her, a private commission done two years ago. At that first meeting in San Diego, I merely told Mr. Stevens how much I liked his work and he seemed slightly embarrased. When I shook his hand he read my name tag and said "Kevin Taylor...I've heard of you." I wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but when he told me that Mr. Kaluta showed him a couple of my books (I always gave Mr. Kaluta any new products whenever I met with him at a con) I knew he was being honest. By that time I had made it my personal policy to never go out of my way to meet artists who I admired because I didn't want to not like them, but that day I was glad I had met Mr. Stevens.

Years went by before our paths crossed again and I reintroduced myself to Mr. Stevens at another San Diego con and the first thing he says is "Hey, I remember you." And that's how it went over the years- until one San Diego con in the late nineties which was to be one of the last times I would see him in person.

I was sharing a table with Sandra Chang and Laura Molina who had dated Mr. Stevens some time before. Miss Molina showed me her latest work-a large painting of Dave Stevens nude. She went on to tell me the story of she and Mr. Stevens and of the series of paintings she´d made and would continue to make. I won't go into details of that story only to say that it doesn't flatter Mr. Stevens. But I will state that, in my adult life, I've learned that people rarely blame themselves for their own problems. This is particularly true of most women and relationship problems. You simply cannot avoid problems in any relationship. That's just how it goes. I believe the first thing a person needs to do when a problem arises is ask themself "Okay-what's my part in this mess?" And I have yet to meet the woman that can do that, except maybe with their female freinds. I even know women that actually sabotage their own relationships by projecting how long it will take for things to go bad. When you think about it, there´s always enough blame to go around.

After a few hours of hearing from Miss Molina, I decided to mention it to Mr. Stevens, just to find out his take on those paintings. Miss Molina didn't mind and, in fact, encouraged it. I waited until some people left his table-I didn't want to embarrass him-and he seemed in good spirits. That is, until I told him who I was sharing a table with and the painting I'd seen. His face actually got longer and he scratched his head, saying "We broke up about twelve years ago. It's really embarrassing. I wish she could move on." He had nothing bad to say about Miss Molina and I thought that showed real class. And I felt bad for bringing it up because I couldn't escape the fact that I probably ruined his day. I even apologized for it but he didn't blame me which was a relief, albeit only a little. Twelve years. I'm no psychiatrist, but wouldn't that kind of obsessiveness be unhealthy?

Those are my recollections of my run-ins with Mr. Stevens-as I remember them. There weren´t many and, as I said, I didn´t know him well, just well enough to share a few words every now and then. It was enough for me.

Since I started in comics, I've met with lots of American and European artists and it's been great sharing stories at dinners and in bars with them. It seems I've only really gotten along with other artists that have bypassed the mainstream market and made names for themselves independently. There seems to be that kinship of having run the gauntlet and coming out the other side in one piece. I guess that's why meeting mainstream folks thus far has been leaving a so-so taste in my mouth. I've been a fan of lots of artists, but over the years the number of those artists have severely dwindled. I guess that's why learning of Dave Stevens' death this week is rather depressing for me-we both ran similar gauntlets. Believe me, I don't in any way put myself in the same league as Mr.Stevens. But, judging from the few times we've spoken, he'd probably disagree. He was as classy as they get.

That's why I'm still his biggest fan. And I hope he can rest in peace.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Hey Kev,
I was also lucky enough to meet Dave Stevens in NYC. I had been a fan of his for years and like yourself, I went up to his table to shake his hand with a bit of trepidation. Much to my own delight, he seemed almost stunned when I started gushing about his artwork. After a brief 5 minute encounter, my whole weekend was made.
I too am more apt to approach the independent artists/creators as they seem more grounded and less apt to develop the "swelled head" from mainstream art. This "belief" has spilled into my art representation as well concentrating heavily on the independent creator. Many of the mainstream people that I represent started in the independent circuit and paid their dues. Their success hasn't tainted their belief that every fan is important. I am truly blessed with the people that i have developed friendships with while selling their wares.
Were it not for people such as Dave Stevens, Mike Wieringo, Marshall Rogers and many others that have passed to the next life, my love for this medium would have been gone a long time ago. Their Humility, love, and respect for the genre keeps me coming back for more.

May they rest in peace. Godspeed.