When I was about 17 I got in touch with Dave Stevens while he was still living at his parents. I imagine I saw something of his art in some San Diego con related thing and was blown away by his perfect inking ability. He was friendly and even thought he was only an year older than me he was already a budding pro having been published in fanzines and having sent samples to Marvel something, I hadn’t even dared to do yet.
He used to ink my bad pencil swipes for comic book store flyers that ended up in the comic book buyer’s guide. I never looked so good. I remember just being in awe of his initials, so perfectly realized from the get go. We inked some comic book jobs together; he and Bil Stout making me look good on my inking jobs for Russ Manning or Mark Evanier when we all did Tarzan comics for overseas comic markets. Often he would come by my studio at my parent’s house just to pass the time in our lonely profession.
When I moved to LA he soon followed and that’s where these photos were taken, he modeled for a horror story I did for Bruce Jones. Not only was he a brilliant artist, his writing ability helped him to grasp every emotion instantly. I’d show more shots, but as an overwrought horror story the other photos would be in bad taste at this point. As thin as Dave was he was in his prime for these shots as Paul Power, Jim Gomez, Dave and myself used to go to the YMCA in Hollywood and train our balls off. Dave wanted to gain weight and would train until he dropped, but then would eat like he was on a diet. We would always goad him to eat hamburgers and he would order tuna salad.
Dave dated my sister seriously for a time, a hook-up that I hoped would lead to marriage, as I couldn’t think of a better brother in- law, but I think he was determined to be a free sprit after his disaster of a first marriage. I never got whole lots of details about it, as Dave was very private about romance and deep personal feelings. He was open with his frustrations with himself and his artistic ambitions and we spent many an hour bitching out everything in the world. We went to concerts and worked at the same studios, He being the one who made great friends I being the one to fuck up and alienate everyone. I’m sure I embarrassed him, but he never lectured me, I lectured him and harangued guys he loved who I thought gave me a raw deal and he didn’t hold it against me.
Dave was slow, but steady with his art, always striving hard to do his very best. On the contrary, he always said he hated working, which used to piss me off, as his ability was so high I couldn’t imagine being down on myself if I had that kind of skill. His big regret is he just didn’t have enough art education as we lived through the time of anti- drawing when conceptual art ruled, there were good artists out there, but It didn’t seem like it to us. I think we both shared that trait that there was so much more to strive for, but you work, you live life and then whoops you’re out of time to achieve that greatness you can see in others, but inexplicably not in yourself.
I used to love dropping by Bil Stout and Dave’s studio on La Brea… that was a place that breathed art.
At the peak of his success Michael Jackson was stalking Dave to draw a comic book about him. One night when the studio phone rang Dave asked me to answer it and if it was Michael to say he wasn’t there. This high voice asked for Dave and I went into my best Cheech and Chong. Dave? Dave’s not here? “Can you tell him Michael called?” Michael who? ” He knows me.” Dave had to run into the other room once he saw where I was going. When I moved to New York to study art seriously our friendship became strained as distance and the very busy phase of his career blowing up with the Rocketeer movie. I stupidly took that stuff personally and after not hearing from him in a situation I thought was important. I decided to get mad at him for 20 years.
I heard rumors about a “blood thing” over a year ago but chose to not believe it. After some therapy for anger management, I decided to start calling some old friends I had beefs with and at least try and make amends. About that time I heard how badly off he really was and decided to get hold of him. I didn’t have his phone so I wrote him a postcard and he was gracious enough to call me. Immediately the years melted away and we had some great long conversations. When he was up to it we had a lunch or talked on the phone, but he would be down often and I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks. Last time I saw him he came to an art show of mine. He looked good considering and was in typical form at dinner. I called to thank him, but didn’t hear back. I’ve been really busy so I didn’t try as hard as I should have to stay in touch, my poor rational is he mostly let me see the good days so I let my guard down. I didn’t think it would happen so fast. I hadn’t processed how long he had been struggling with this thing and those criminals at Kaiser.
I avoided the career info already covered on other news sites, just let out a few random thoughts. If you love someone and have had a fight, please, please call him or her. I’m really happy we made peace, but so regretful of all those missed years.