IDW Publishing announced at WonderCon that it in October it will publish two editions of “The Rocketeer,” the pulp adventure series from the late 1980s and early ’90s written and drawn by Dave Stevens. The series, set in the 1930s, draws on Doc Savage and science hero concepts, as its unlikely hero finds a rocket pack and uses it to impress his girlfriend and fight Nazis. The standard and deluxe hardcover collections will include all of Stevens’ “Rocketeer” material in a single volume, with the original art recolored by Laura Martin, whom Stevens personally chose for the project before his passing. CBR News caught up with Martin and IDW editor Scott Dunbier to discuss the new collections.
“First, let me say that it’s really an honor to be working on this ‘Rocketeer’ collection. We’re going to do everything possible to make it the definitive version, one that Dave would have been happy with,” Dunbier said.
“I vividly remember the first time I saw the ‘Rocketeer’ by Dave Stevens, it was an ad that ran in the back of ‘Starslayer’ #1, announcing a back up feature starting the next issue. It was stunning. I thought, ‘Holy Crap, where did this guy come from?’ An artist that talented, that brought so many of the same kinds of sensibilities that I loved as a fan of comics and art-how could I have never seen his stuff before?” Dunbier recalled. “He looked like some wonderful combination of Frank Frazetta, Jim Steranko, Will Eisner, Al Williamson, all these different influences, but he had his own definite style. Dave Stevens was very, very meticulous, very slow–‘painstaking’ doesn’t even describe his approach to drawing.”
“‘The Rocketeer’ bounced around a bit,” Dunbier said of the series’ early publishing history. “It was published by a number of different outfits-Pacific Comics, Comico, Eclipse, Dark Horse. There have been two Rocketeer collections, ‘The Rocketeer’ and ‘The Rocketeer: Cliff’s New York Adventure,’ but this will actually be the first time the whole Rocketeer saga is collected in its entirety in one book.
Dunbier continued, “while there have been some nice versions in the past, we’re going all out to make this the definitive one. First, we’re following Dave’s wishes and having the entire book re-colored. Not by just anyone, but by the colorist Dave handpicked for the job–Laura Martin. Laura is probably best known to fans for her work on Bryan Hitch’s ‘Authority’ and John Cassaday’s ‘Planetary’ and ‘Astonishing X-Men.’ She’s damn talented and we’re lucky to have her on board.”
On her involvement in the project, Laura Martin said, “It was a huge honor to be chosen for this project, considering the caliber of ‘The Rocketeer,’ Dave himself, and the colorists who have worked with Dave previously. Just look at the list of colorists attached to the original series: Joe Chiodo, Bruce Timm, Brent Anderson…the list goes on. Those are some huge shoes to fill, with Dave’s being the biggest of all.” She also cited Chiodo as an influence on her own work. “He was coloring guides for Wildstorm when I first started there, so I learned a lot about color theory from his guides. And here I am again, thirteen years later, working from his ‘guides’ from over two decades ago. Funny how these things all come full circle.”
Martin said that she came onto IDW’s “Rocketeer” collection through discussions with Kelvin Mao, a mutual friend of hers and Stevens’. “He approached me about coloring some of Dave’s pinups for a possible art book,” she said. “I was only able to complete two pinups, a Catwoman piece and an Aurora piece. A fair amount of research into Dave’s style and palette went into the pieces, and I really tried to pay homage to his techniques. Dave was thrilled with the way I handled the Aurora piece in particular; if I had to hazard a guess, it was around that time when he decided that I should recolor his ‘Rocketeer’ work.
“The art style and the story’s tone are two major leads in the search for a coloring solution. Every colorist should consider these two concepts first when choosing a rendering technique and a palette,” Martin said of her approach to “The Rocketeer.” “My first consideration will be Dave’s own painted pieces. One can only assume that he likes his own coloring the best, so I’m starting there. Is his work brushy or blocky? How does he handle different surface textures? Does he limit his palette, or open it up? What’s his favorite tool — airbrush, brush, marker, etc.? Once I get a feel for that, I’ll look at the pulp and strip art from the 1940’s, to see what influenced Dave while he drew these pages. Of course, the fact that ‘The Rocketeer’ was previously colored is a major advantage. I can visualize the page in color, and I can use it as a starting point for my own interpretation.”
She said there were challenges particular to this project, as well “The first challenge is to interpret Dave’s intent through the filter of the the colorists’ final work, while overlaying my own aesthetic. The second is to introduce digital techniques that weren’t available in the 1980s, without it looking too ‘digital,'” Martin told CBR. “And the third and most bittersweet: I can’t talk to Dave about his vision. That’s a really tough thing, since I love to bounce ideas back and forth with my pencilers. So, even with the original colored work as a guide, without Dave’s constant input, I feel like I’m flying solo. I do have the support of people who knew him well and talked with him extensively about this project before he passed, and they constantly remind me that he trusted me with ‘The Rocketeer.’ I only hope I can do him and his fans proud.”
In addition to the “Rocketeer” hardcover, IDW will simultaneously publish a deluxe edition of the material, with extras. “Sure, the regular hard cover will be great, but the Deluxe Edition will be incredible,” Dunbier said. “Oversized, about 8 x 12 inches, and loaded with unpublished Dave Stevens Rocketeer art. There will be tons of drawings, sketches, cover roughs-100 pages of them! How’s that for the ultimate Rocketeer collection?”