July 29: Dave Stevens

RocketeerToday we honor one of the great niche artists of the 20th century, Dave Stevens, who was born on this day in 1955.

Stevens got his artistic start inking art for comic book legends like Jack Kirby. He’d later move on to do storyboards in Hollywood for many projects including the Superfriends cartoon, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video. However, Stevens’ lasting legacy is his 1982 creation, the Rocketeer.

The action packed Rocketeer stories were a love letter to the pulp fiction and adventure serials of mid-century America. Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, the Rocketeer comics tell the tale of Cliff Secord, a daredevil aviator who discovers a mysterious silver jet pack. With the assistance of his best friend and mentor, the airplane engineer Ambrose “Peevy” Peabody, Secord would use that jet pack to fight crime as the Rocketeer. Despite the fact that Stevens only wrote and illustrated nine Rocketeer comics, the character and his adventures are much beloved thanks to Stevens’ wit, stunning art and a fantastic attention to period detail. In fact, the character even managed to break the mainstream in 1991 when Disney made a Rocketeer movie! Not bad for a small independent comic book creation.

Although Stevens died in 2008, his most famous creation has recently experienced a renaissance. Comic book publisher IDW, who currently own the rights to the Rocketeer, has hired some of the biggest names in modern comics-dom to write and illustrate new adventures for the character. Additionally, over the last twenty years the Rocketeer movie has developed a strong cult following, and Disney has even discussed bringing the character back to the big screen.

There’s probably no better cocktail to honor Stevens and the Rocketeer than a rocket powered drink named for another artist: A fun little drink called Van Gogh’s Rocket, created by Erik Denton for Los Angeles’ Church & State bistro. This drink is doubly appropriate as today also marks the anniversary of Vincent van Gogh’s tragic death in 1890.

Van Gogh’s Rocket

  • Pinch fresh arugula
  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka, preferably Luksusowa
  • 1 ounce Lillet Blanc
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/8 ounce honey syrup (½ honey, ½ water)
  • 1 bar spoon Absinthe, preferably Vieux Carre

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the arugula and add ice and all liquid ingredients. Shake and strain in to a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Tomorrow: The leader of baseball’s lovable losers.

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