Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I want to thank everyone who wrote notes of shock and regrets about Dave Stevens. I have more than eighty such e-mails so I may not get around to answering them all for a while.

I appreciate the thought and I hope this doesn't sound callous or rude but I'd really prefer that, instead of composing private messages to me, you spent the same energy posting to public forums, telling folks who might not fully realize, what a terrific human being and artist he was. I don't need to be told that...and I also feel uncomfy to be getting all these condolences when so many out there are in mourning for our pal. Dave had an awful lot of friends including — and my e-mailbox is crammed with proof of this — many he didn't even know.

• Posted at 10:39 PM · LINK

Master Mimic

Tomorrow on Stu's Show, our fave web-based radio program, host Stuart Shostak welcomes the amazing mouth of Fred Travalena. I love great impressionists and Fred's about as good as they get. In fact, he's pretty darn entertaining when he's singing or speaking in the voice of Fred Travalena, too. If you've never seen him perform live, you've missed something. Don't miss this chance to hear him interviewed...and put through his paces as Stu and his phone-in callers challenge Fred to summon up his great celebrity voice simulations. If you call in, ask him to do a little Sinatra.

Stu's Show airs live on Wednesday, then repeats throughout the week. This is not a podcast you can download or listen to whenever you want. It's like a radio broadcast only it's over the Internet and you can listen to it on your computer while you do other things on it. The show airs from 4 PM to 6 PM Pacific Time (7 PM to 9 PM Eastern) and you can listen in by going to the website of Shokus Internet Radio during those hours. You can also hear many wonderful things on S.I.R. at all hours of the day.

• Posted at 8:15 PM · LINK

Jerry Serpe, R.I.P.

I'm sorry to say it's a Two Obits Day here at newsfromme.com.

Jerry Serpe, who may hold some record for the most comic books colored, died Monday in Florida. Serpe was a longtime employee of DC Comics, dating from the mid-forties. Before that, he worked for a company called Photochrome that handled coloring and color separation work on many of DC's publications, and when Photochrome went out of business, he and a man named Jack Adler moved over to work for DC.

Serpe colored thousands of comic books — issues of everything the company published during his tenure, and also did extensive production work, including art corrections and touch-ups. Few knew his name but every DC reader saw his handiwork and he even occasionally did a bit of artwork for public service or filler pages that ran in the company's books. For an extended period through the fifties and sixties, Adler was primarily in charge of the coloring of covers while Serpe supervised (and often, did) the coloring of the insides. For much of this time, DC did the color separations for the covers in-house, and Serpe did much of this work, as well.

In the late sixties, DC stopped doing color seps in-house and scaled back that department. Serpe seized on a fortuitous pension opportunity to leave the company. Thereafter, he ran an outside printing business and occasionally freelanced for DC. Eventually, he sold his interest in the printing company and began doing more freelance coloring but during the eighties, with so many new colorists entering the business, the available work declined.

Around that time, I was doing Blackhawk for DC with artist Dan Spiegle, and we had to pick a new colorist for the book. Several young and talented folks were suggested and even recommended but Dan was not always happy with the current trends in comic book coloring. I suggested he look through his pile of recent printed comics and see which coloring his work had received that pleased him. He did, deciding that a certain Sgt. Rock Annual had been tinted to his liking. It ran with no coloring credit so I called up Bob Rozakis, who was then in charge of DC's coloring department and told him, "Look that one up. Whoever colored it...that's the person we want." Bob checked the files and was delighted to find it was not one of the new kids but an old pro — Jerry Serpe, who wasn't doing much for the company by then.

Jerry colored the remaining issues of Blackhawk and did a fine job. When he got the gig, he called me up to say thanks. He was especially pleased that he'd won a "blind taste test" and been hired on nothing more than the merits of his work. And why not? It was always good.

[NOTE: I did a rewrite on this piece at 4:15 PM to correct some facts and add some details. Sadly, not a whole lot has ever been written about guys like Jerry Serpe so it's uncharted territory. Thanks to Paul Levitz for some info.]

• Posted at 2:40 PM · LINK

Dave Stevens, R.I.P.

Illustrator Dave Stevens, best known for his "good girl" art and The Rocketeer, died yesterday following a long, wrenching battle with Leukemia. Dave was born July 29, 1955 in Lynwood, California. He was raised in Portland, Oregon, then his family relocated to San Diego, where he attended San Diego City College and became involved in the early days of the San Diego Comic Book Convention, now known as the Comic-Con International. His skills as an artist were instantly evident to all, and he was encouraged by darn near every professional artist who attended the early cons, but especially by Jack Kirby and Russ Manning. In 1975, when Manning began editing a line of Tarzan comic books to be published in Europe, Dave got his first professional assignment, working on those comics and also assisting Russ with the Tarzan newspaper strip. Soon after, he worked on a few projects for Marvel (including the Star Wars comic book) and a number of underground comics. Later, he also worked with Russ on the Star Wars newspaper strip.

In 1977, Dave went to work for Hanna-Barbera where he drew storyboards and layouts, many of them for the Super Friends and Godzilla cartoon shows and bonded with veteran artist Doug Wildey, who produced the latter. Wildey and Stevens became close friends and in 1982, when Dave created his popular character, The Rocketeer, he modelled the character's sidekick, Peevy, on photos of Doug. Dave himself was Cliff Secord, who donned the mask of The Rocketeer, and other friends appeared in other guises.

The Rocketeer made Dave's reputation and also spawned a resurgence of interest in fifties' figure model Bettie Page, whose likeness Dave used for the strip's heroine. But the strip was not profitable for Dave, who was among the least prolific talents to ever attempt comic books. It wasn't so much that he was slow, as his friends joked, but that he was almost obsessively meticulous, doing days of study and sketching to create one panel, and doing many of them over and over. Even then, he was usually dissatisfied with what he produced and fiercely critical of the reproduction. Friends occasionally pitched in to help with the coloring but some begged off because they knew it was humanly impossible for anyone, including Dave himself, to produce coloring that he'd like. Eventually, he sold most of the rights to Disney for a Rocketeer movie that was produced in 1991. Dave served as a co-producer of the film and did a brief cameo, but the endeavor was not as lucrative for him as he'd hoped, and it pretty much ended Dave's interest in continuing the character.

Most of what Dave did after that fell into the general category of "glamour art," including portfolios and private commissions. Many of these were illustrations of Bettie Page who, though once thought deceased, turned out to be alive and living not all that far from Dave. They met and Dave became her friend and, though he was not wealthy, benefactor. Deciding that too many others had callously exploited her likeness, Dave voluntarily aided Ms. Page financially and even took to helping her in neighborly ways. One time, he told me — and without the slightest hint of resentment — "It's amazing. After years of fantasizing about this woman, I'm now driving her to cash her Social Security checks."

Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life...and was certainly among the most gifted. Our first encounter was at Jack Kirby's house around 1971 when he came to visit and show Jack some of his work. As I said, Kirby was very encouraging and he urged Dave not to try and draw like anyone else but to follow his own passions. This was advice Dave took to heart, which probably explains why he took so long with every drawing. They were rarely just jobs to Dave. Most of the time, what emerged from his drawing board or easel was a deeply personal effort. He was truly in love with every beautiful woman he drew, at least insofar as the paper versions were concerned. (Dave was married once...for six months to the prolific movie actress, Brinke Stevens, and she retained his last name after they divorced.)

Dave's illness these last few years was a poorly-kept secret among his friends, but he insisted that it be kept quiet, and struggled to make occasional public appearances. We tried to get together for dinner every month or so but it wound up being more like every six months. The last time, he joked that it was lucky he had such a reputation for slow production. Now that he was unable to work for weeks at a time, no one noticed that his output had declined. His main efforts went towards an "Art of Dave Stevens" book he was struggling to assemble. Mostly though that evening, we talked about comics and comic artists. Dave was a fan in the very best sense.

I don't really know how to end this and maybe I don't want to...because it will mean another level of loss regarding one of my closest friends. As long as I can keep writing about him, I feel he's still with me in some manner. And the thought of losing a great guy like Dave Stevens is just too, too sad. He was truly loved and admired by all who knew him. I'll post information about a memorial service, if and when I hear about that kind of thing.

• Posted at 11:25 AM · LINK

Tuesday Morning

Many websites this A.M. are featuring articles about "the controversy about Eliot Spitzer." What exactly is the controversy here? He got caught frequenting an expensive prostitute. He admitted it and apologized. He's dickering now for the best deal he can make to trade his resignation for a plea bargain on whatever crimes he might be charged with. When he gets it, which will probably be any day now, he'll quit and disappear from public life, probably forever but certainly for a long time.

The only "controversy" I see is over what percentage of his fall is due to personal immorality and what percentage is sheer stupidity. Otherwise, I think everyone's pretty much on the same page with this one.

• Posted at 11:09 AM · LINK

Today's Video Link

I always liked the 1965 pop song, "Cara Mia" as recorded by Jay and the Americans. If you don't remember it, I'll refresh your memory. Here's that group performing it that year on the ABC teen music show, Shindig...

Okay now. The gentleman singing lead on this number is Jay Black, who'd changed his name from David Blatt when he joined the group. He was the second Jay in Jay and the Americans, having replaced the first guy (John "Jay" Traynor) in 1962. Bookings for the group declined in the early seventies and they went on to solo careers, reuniting occasionally for oldie shows. Around the turn of this century, they made a couple of memorable appearances on "oldies" specials and the clip below is them doing "Cara Mia" on one such program.

I think this is a great musical moment. Black's voice was obviously not what it once was but this is a very difficult song and it's amazing that, 35 or so years later, he sounded as good as he did. The crowd obviously recognized the feat they were hearing and responded accordingly...

In case you're interested, a group still tours by that name but it features a third Jay — John "Jay" Reincke. Black somehow wound up with ownership of the group's name but lost it in a 2006 bankruptcy filing. Some of the other members of the original group bought it and brought in Reincke and now they tour as Jay and the Americans while Jay Black tours with his own band and (I assume) sings a lot of the same tunes. Jay and the Americans had a stunning 21 records on the charts, including several Number Ones, so there's a lot of good material there to perform...enough for at least two Jays and maybe more.

• Posted at 12:36 AM · LINK

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