AWARD THIS! 2023 NOMINEE! I can still vividly recall the first time I pulled a Dave Stevens’ issue of The Rocketeer from a back issue bin at a comic book shop. I’ve seen a great many comics in my day as an avid collector since childhood, but the perfectly drawn artwork on the cover wowed me immediately. I excitedly bought the book, and I was not disappointed, to say the least. Director Kelvin Mao’s Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection is a deep dive into the work and life of the meticulous, genius-level artist. We get to hear from close friends, fellow artists, and former lovers about what truly inspired Stevens’ beautiful, award-winning art.
Dave Stevens was obsessed with the 1930s, along with the shapely female form, particularly that of the legendary 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page. The film even attributes Page’s celebrity renaissance in the 1980s in large part to the flattering artwork he created. In a tickling twist of fate, Stevens and Page actually became great friends late in her life. He admitted to confidants that doing things like grocery shopping with his idol and muse was surreal.
A lot of the fun of Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection comes from the talking heads such as luminous actor Thomas Jane, who was a friend, and filmmaker Joe Johnston, who directed the film adaptation of The Rocketeer. Even ex-wife Brinkie Stevens lovingly and candidly shares stories about the man behind the comic book myth. They all say that Dave Stevens was painstakingly slow at completing his projects due to being such a perfectionist. It frustrated his publishers and fans, who waited with bated breath, but like Sinatra, he did it his way.
“…Stevens was painstakingly slow at completing his projects due to being such a perfectionist.”
There’s a segment dedicated to The Rocketeer movie, and as a fan of the Disney cult classic, I longed for more. However, it’s a minor gripe because there are some cool tidbits about how Johnston wishes he could sit down on the couch with Stevens and talk about the things he would’ve done differently. He even expresses an idea they had for a sequel, which interestingly sounds like it may have been similar in style to the Johnston-directed Captain America: The First Avenger. There’s also some good stuff with screenwriter Danny Bilson about struggles with the studio and changes he made from the source.
Stevens was a regular fixture at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and there are stories about his encounters with some of the other legendary artists, such as the equally obsessed with style and compelling person in his own right, Jim Steranko. Back in the 1990s, it wasn’t the pop culture mega event that it is now, but more geared towards the comics and artists, which was perfect for people like Stevens. He made a lasting impression because he was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame at SDCC. I visited an awesome exhibit dedicated to his work at the Comic-Con Museum.
Dave Stevens led an interesting life as a struggling artist, but it was sadly cut short due to leukemia. Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection does an excellent job of examining all aspects of his life in order to get a full picture. Fans of his work, as well as the uninitiated, should find Stevens’ eccentric ways fascinating.
Note: A lot of nude artwork is featured in the film, so it may not be appropriate for everyone.
Dave Stevens: Drawn to Perfection is a 2023 Award This! Pop Culture documentary nominee.
"…does an excellent job of examining all aspects of his life..."