♦ There are some artists whose work it takes you time to appreciate; sadly, the first time I saw Alex Toth’s work I failed to appreciate what I was looking at. Over time, I came to appreciate Toth’s work. There are artists who knock your socks off as soon as you look at their work, but over time you get sick of looking at the same tricks over and over again.
And then there are artists who knock your socks off the first time you see them, and then continue to remove your footwear for many years to come. Steve “the Dude” Rude is one of those artists. I first saw Steve’s work in 1983 with the first issue of Nexus from First comics, a year after I had badgered my local comic shop to stock Love and Rockets in the mini comic-book renaissance that was the 1980s. My socks were duly removed, and I’ve loved his work ever since. When you look at Steve’s portrayal of superheroes, you remember what attracted you to the form in the first place. Look at Steve’s versions of Peter Parker, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy and tell me he isn’t the third iconic artist that “should have been” after Ditko and Romita/Mooney.
Steve strikes me as the kind of artist who always puts maximum effort into what he does, and is never satisfied with just “good enough.” He has done exemplary work for both Marvel and DC comics, but his work for DC, seems to evoke simultaneously the spirit of the golden age, a playful sense of humour, as well as a modern design sensibility. Steve Rude, and his writing partner Mike Baron, have recently revived Nexus in newspaper format, similar to the sadly deceased Wednesday Comics experiment at DC. I talked to Steve via the Internet about his new project, where he sees his work going, and what his influences are. I can confirm he is a socks-knocking-off gentleman. Please support the Nexus newspaper: we really can’t complain about the bad stuff without supporting the good stuff.
Why the Nexus newspaper, and why now? In an age where comics are going digital in a big way, printing a giant newspaper supplement seems like a quixotic thing to do.
Quixotic, indeed. The Nexus newspaper is a contribution to people who miss adventure strips in the Sunday newspaper. With the adventure strip having all but vanished from the Sunday comics’ section, the pursuit of this idea was important to me. The timing to bring it back seemed to be there. Equally important was to help revive interest in Nexus. Something with a 35-year history needs a shot in the arm every decade or so.
I just bought the Nexus Chronicles hardcover from Flesk. That’s a very beautiful book – was that partly what led to the idea for the newspaper?
The original idea for the Nexus newspaper came from a conversation I had with DC art editor, Mark Chiarello, several years ago in San Diego. He wanted me to contribute to a publishing experiment called Wednesday Comics, which was his idea to help showcase several of DC’s most prominent characters in a full page newspaper strip. We both loved the idea, but its success was limited to a single run. Years later, when wanting to revive interest in Nexus and The Moth, the newspaper idea came to me again. I thought, “Maybe I could do this myself and have something really exceptional for people to look at.”
What reaction have you had to the newspaper from fans and professionals?
The reaction I experience when I present the newspaper to fans or pros, usually at one of the conventions I’m attending, tends to be one of mild shock; “Wow, this is amazing! What a great idea” is a common one. But, I’m always thinking, “If I could increase this reaction to several more thousand subscribers that would quite make my day.” I’d rather draw them then PR them, so getting the word out is always an ongoing pursuit. So thanks for helping get the word out, Peter.
Nexus returns you to your origins. I remember first buying Nexus when it was published by First comics (although I know there are three black-and-white issues before that) and I’ve always loved the artwork and the tone of the comic. Did you guys “click” from the start?
Baron and I have always clicked as a team and have always been tight. I have the greatest admiration for him and always will. He’s a rare type of writer and even a rarer type of friend. If Baron says he’s going to do something, he always comes through. His word is his bond. Not something I encounter in many people these days.
Nexus must be one of the longest runs – if not continuous – on a comic by the same script/art team ever. There’s you, Eric Larsen on Savage Dragon and Kirby/FF. How does it feel to have worked on a character for so many years?
Working on Nexus for so many years has kept me creatively sharp for 35 years. I love comics and the challenges of trying to improve as an artist, and I truly believe we’ve just begun to tap into the stories we can tell. Nexus, Sundra, and Dave, their lives go on just as our own lives continue to do.
When your work first appeared there were many comparisons made, probably the most common ones being Jack Kirby and Alex Toth – pretty good company! I see many other influences in the early work including people like Gene Colan – perhaps even some Burne Hogarth? There is a balletic/athletic quality to your work, which, and I’m the biggest Jack Kirby fan in the world, I don’t see in him. Who do you feel have been your biggest influences?
You hit the mark with Kirby and Toth; Kirby being a lifelong influence, and Toth mostly coming from his layout animation work in the 1960’s. Though I enjoyed studying Hogarth in my early college years, I eventually moved on to more preferred sources, like Andrew Loomis and his several volumes on Illustration, and the various other comic storytellers like Paul Gulacy during his Master of Kung Fu years. I try to study all the artists that I like, mostly the great Illustrators from the 40’s and 50’s. They’ve always been my best teachers.
Your relationship with the “big two” comic companies, Marvel and DC, has been intermittent. Any work you’ve done for either of them has always been well above mainstream quality . Would you have preferred a career at either?
Like many young artists, my dream was to work for Marvel, that being the House that Jack Built. Ironically, I have never once felt that Marvel and I have ever clicked together. My various visits to their Manhattan offices over the years have always been a somewhat drab affair. All the fun seem to be missing there. By contrast, the DC offices always had a sense of fun to them. People are a lot looser and more fun to be around.
When you moved to California you were friends with Doug Wildey (in fact I believe you had/have his old animation desk). Did Wildey influence you at all? I know you’re a Jonny Quest fan.
Yes, I’m a huge Jonny Quest fan, always have been. The recent DVD releases are always on deck at the Dude house, ready to peruse with the press of a button. During 1964, my whole family would gather around our B & W TV set. What a great time to have been born and see the advent of this ground-breaking show.
I was indeed lucky enough to know Doug personally, having made many exciting visits to his home, a few minutes out of L.A. We talked about his days in animation, and with my friend, Mark, we actually watched a few episodes together with Doug. We’d always end up back at his studio to see what he was working on, often a full-colour commission featuring the Quest team. He had several of his Western paintings hanging in different rooms around the house. The drama and authentic detail he put into these pictures always stunned me. Looking at these originals, I was always reminded how good this guy really was. One of Doug’s last acts of generosity was to present me with his actual animation desk, which I have sitting in my studio. Much of my Nexus cartoon ideas have been done on this very desk.
In the 1980s comics took a turn towards the “grim and gritty” with considerably more violence than had been traditional. Do you have an opinion on this?
My opinion on the “grim and gritty” factor has remained firm over the years. It stinks.
Which brings me to my next question – have you ever been approached to do work in Europe? I can easily see work of your quality making it into the European graphic album market. Something like the world of Terry Dodson, who has had two series of graphic novels published in Europe.
I haven’t really been approached to do work for the European market. I’m lucky to have enough drive and purpose to pursue my own ideas, independent from the occasional offers from most publishers.
What do you think of the European format for comics? Would you like to work in it?
I can’t really say that I’ve studied the European comics all that much. My main influences continue to be what I was brought up on, all from the U.S. of A. That should last me a lifetime or so.
In the Captain America: What Price Glory miniseries for Marvel you worked with Bruce Jones scripting. BJ is also an artist. How was the experience? I was interested in your take on whether another artist made visualisation easier, or more difficult, possibly due to a conflict of how you would “see” the final work?
I thought the collaboration with Bruce Jones on the Cap mini-series went well. I really like Bruce as a person, and his writing is top notch. He’s always been someone who really cares about what he does. Before Bruce came into the scene as the writer, the original idea for the Cap series was something I myself came up with—using Cap to fight international terror as a peacekeeper soldier. But Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada rejected it. I was never told why. It had all the hallmarks of a story that reflected the strong national sentiments of the times. Thinking back, my suspicion over time is that Marvel developed a hesitation for anything controversial during this period (which probably explains why visiting their offices was such a drag.) I was actually in the midst of finishing up the last issue for the Cap series, when a no-smoking mandate came down from Marvel’s management, insisting that no one could ever smoke again in any of their comics. I had already drawn the bad guy smoking a cigar throughout the series, but no matter. They had production take them out, panel by panel. If you look at that last issue, people are sitting around with their hands up in the air holding nothing. I have a not-so-little disdain for the spineless attitudes of the Politically Correct.
On the same miniseries, you were inked by Mike Royer, a popular inker on Jack Kirby’s later work. How did that work out?
I liked the inking I received from Mike Royer. I recall having to do a few paste-overs on some of the faces, but I was determined to keep Mike’s name out there and not just be known exclusively for his long tenure of inking the great Jack Kirby. The editor of the Cap series tried unsuccessfully to steer me away from using Mike, but I insisted on using him. I felt like the industry owed him a debt for his long devotion to our field.
You’ve done work on Future Quest for DC, a sort of revival of the adventure characters from Hanna-Barbera. Obviously, you have an affinity for these characters – you did both Jonny Quest and Space Ghost back in the day for Comico.
I was actually called in at the last moment on the Quest book to help out with a fast- encroaching deadline for the first issue. They assigned me about seven pages that took place during the last three-quarters of the book. I turned the pages out in record time, all inked and ready to go.
You also worked on Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill, with Len Wein. How did you feel about taking on Alan Moore’s characters?
I had no problem with doing the Watchmen characters. DC owns them, treated them with a great deal of respect, and I’m told, did their best to convince Alan Moore to return to them. That’s how I understood what went on.
Comic Book Resources praised the art on Dollar Bill, and I’ve never see you turn in a substandard job. In fact, you always seem to go the extra mile to make your books works of art. Most artists seem to have off days, but I sincerely can’t remember one book by you that disappointed me. You seem to be genuinely concerned how good the work is, a characteristic that seems to almost belong to another generation now. When I interviewed Howard Chaykin he spoke a lot about his work ethic, and how influenced he had been by Gil Kane and Wally Wood. Do you feel that it’s “all about the work”?
That’s very generous of you to say
A little background to the question – I spend a lot of time defending artists who are “unfashionable” for one reason or another, and given a blanket dismissal by today’s fans because their work isn’t grim, gritty, coloured “properly” – i.e., by computer – you name it. I feel very little of their work was done dishonestly. People had bills to pay, but the amount of work put in was often disproportionate to the reward. Those creators didn’t have creator’s rights or a “piece of the action,” but they did their best, and sometimes their best was amazing.
I too understand that a lot of the 70’s and 80’s comic artists have been looking for work. To be beholden to a company when you need work is a stressful burden.
I know you’re a fan of Jack Kirby – who isn’t? – and I know you met him. Did you talk to him about work at all? This is the fanboy in me.
Well, I’ve never really used the word “fanboy,” but all of us are fans of something. I’m a fan too, first and foremost. The several times I visited Jack and Roz at their house, he and I would talk about anything that came to mind, often about comics, sometimes his early days as a kid. He was always open to subjects that generated interest in him, which seemed to be everything. Being at Jack’s house, with Roz at his side, felt a bit like going back in time, to an almost Mayberry-type environment. Jack generated a calming air, seemingly from a bygone time, the kind you’d find in a favourite relative or a grandfather. Meeting Jack was like experiencing a temporary suspension from the randomness that exists outside. You felt safe and protected from the bad people in the world. Much of my inner world revolves around what I learned from Jack and the exceptional memories of having been around him so much. He’s never too far from my thoughts.
Mike Baron. You’ve worked with him for an inordinately long period of time now . I’m guessing that you like each other. Anything that you’d like to add?
Mike’s scripting began to take a turn in content around the time we began publishing Nexus under the Rude Dude banner in 2007. His style had undergone changes during those ten years of not working together—it was sparser and often seemed without the little touches of nuance and humour that used to be so prominent in his work. The co-credit of myself as writer accounts for the various disagreements over story content. It’s very much a co-production as this point. Regardless of what develops in the times to come, he’s still my partner and I’ll always have the highest regard for what he’s given me.
I know you’re focusing a lot on painting these days, and I hope you’re being successful with it. Is this a direction you would prefer to comics, or do you intend to combine comics and painting for the foreseeable future?
After giving several years in pursuit of the fine-art field, I’ve smartly brought myself back to earth where I’m happiest—drawing comics and doing my
illustrations. That’s where I belong.
Assuming that you are going to continue in comics, in which direction do you see yourself moving?
My future direction is already spelled out: keeping the Nexus newspaper a dynamic source of entertainment for people, and developing my skills at painted illustration work. That’s my life for the foreseeable.
Last question: is there anything you thought I’d ask you that I didn’t? And if so, would you mind asking and answering it for me?
I’d say your questions seem to cover most everything important going on with me. Astute questions always provoke one to contemplate the big (and small) issues in our lives, and give us a chance to reflect on the path we’re currently on. You did a superlative job on this, Peter.
Steve’s Website is here: http://www.steverude.com/. You can buy art, the print and digital versions of The Nexus Newspaper and much more there. In addition…