By LJ Douresseau
March 19, 2004 - 10:53
Few artists have drawn comics that display as much skill and beauty as has Steve "The Dude" Rude. Influenced by 20th Century American magazine illustrators and by such comic artists as Jack Kirby and Paul Gulacy, Rude displays such knowledge of composition that any one of his individual pages of comic art could be studied as serious art in a university setting or in the pages of artistic journals and art magazines.
The Dude first graced comics publishing in the early to mid-1980's when upstart independent comic companies were introducing revolutionary, visionary, and fresh cartoonists (Los Bros. Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, etc.) or reintroducing comics artists who'd seemingly lost their way in the mainstream (Howard Chaykin and Mike Grell) to the comic buying public. From the very first page of his first story published by the late Pacific Comics, this Wisconsin native's dynamic art, his drawing skills, and the way he composed pages marked his as special.
He made his name with writer Mike Baron on the offbeat science fiction comic book NEXUS (which has been published by three companies), and right from the beginning he started winning industry awards. Rude painted many covers for various comics from defunct publisher First Comics. He drew absolutely gorgeous art for the Dave Gibbons' penned comic, WORLD'S FINEST. He penciled the fabulous Marvel/DC crossover one-shot, THE INCREDIBLE HULK VS. SUPERMAN with a nod to Jack Kirby's Hulk and the Fleischer Studios' animated Superman short films. In a trio of equally beautiful Marvel mini-series, he again acknowledged some artists who influenced him: Kirby in THOR: GODSTORM and CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHAT PRICE GLORY? and John Romita (Sr.) in SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE.
Isn't it cool that someone so talented is always mentioning the artists who influenced him? This month, Steve launches a new comic, THE MOTH. The character appears first in THE MOTH SPECIAL (March 17th) before beginning a four-issue run in April - all from the good folks at Dark Horse Comics. Before we begin Mr. Charlie #21, I also want to shout out my favorite work by Steve. As much as I love everything he does, the three issues he drew of Joe Casey's underrated X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM mini-series is the most beautiful X-Men comic art ever drawn:
Bare with me, as I'm going to approach this slowly. How was The Moth born as a concept?
RUDE: The Moth was born in the early 90's when I was asked to come up with an original character for a trading card set. I created two new characters: The Moth and the Silencer. The Moth kind of resembles a design that Jack Kirby might've come up with. His costume was fun and easy to think up and the Origin was developed later.
What's the story about in The Moth Special?
RUDE: The story in the Special is about a group of South Africa natives that have a personal vendetta against the Moth. The backstory of what that vendetta is all about will be revealed in future issues, but they're real determined to put him out of commission. The natives conjure up a monster to track down the Moth in the states, where he works with the circus.
What's the storyline for the Moth mini-series?
RUDE: The future stories are a continuation of what happens in the Special. It's an ongoing series of adventures, where one deed or misstep begets another, just as in our real life adventures.
How long ago did you start on The Moth. I seem to remember it from quite a while ago. Did you have a difficult time selling the concept?
RUDE: We originally approached Image to publish the Moth. I thought it might be time to take more control of my concepts and decided to find out what they were all about. When it didn't work out, I approached Dark Horse, who was interested in the Moth from the beginning. If I'd known how miserable I would be working for Image, I would've picked Dark Horse to begin with!
Why The Moth? What about The Moth is so important to you right now, in a creative sense?
RUDE: I felt it was time to assert myself in the comics business with a character of my own. I would develop all the concepts and bounce ideas back and forth with a writer, who turned out to be Gary Martin, an unknown and untried writer, who is mostly known in the industry as an inker. But I like taking a chance on unknown elements once in a while, and Gary turned out to be the perfect choice. Also, I feel more comfortable when I'm in charge of my destiny. I have a tendency to be involved in all aspects of my projects, and sometimes, big company editors and I have creative differences. Working for Marvel, for example, was fun, but I wouldn't want to live there.
This might carry over from the last one. Are you at odds with the kinds of comics that are being produced in the mainstream (super heroes), and is The Moth a reflection of that? Are you trying to fill a void for a kind of comic you like, but don't see anymore?
RUDE: Every point you made couldn't have been stated more to the point, or reflect my life philosophy any better. "Yes" to every question.
In some of your "Dude News," you hinted that doing The Moth could be financially risky. Are you going to do more work for hire in the near future, which can be financially stabilizing?
RUDE: Engaging in a creator owned book is risky business, but I'm comfortable with taking risks like that. I'll take the freedom over the bread any day. When I finish up with this current Moth series, I'll have to take on a few painting commissions to boost my income before I return to the fold and get started on the next batch of new Moth books.
If you could, would you, either through self-publishing or through smaller publishers, produce only the kind of comics you like, or would always like to occasionally service trademarks or do work for hire for Marvel and DC?
RUDE: My career has consisted of a bit of back and forth--between my own things like Nexus with Mike Baron and then working on some beloved older book from the 60's like Captain America or Spider-Man. It keeps things diverse and interesting that way and will probably continue that pattern thru most of my career. But right now, with my conscious being what it is, I'm only interested in doing the Moth.
I've been a fan for 20 (since I first saw a mention of you in Don and Maggie Thompson's COMICS COLLECTOR magazine). Are you still surprised at the response your work gets from people who keep following The Dude?
RUDE: It's very flattering. I've told my wife and friends for 20 years now how lucky I am to have such a great group of supporters. My audience is made up of astute and fascinating people, looking for things of substance that can sustain our soul and help to understand the bizarre game of life a little better.
I remember that Marvel had some issue with The Moth's logo - feeling it was too close to The Punisher's Are they still "concerned" about that, and did you have to make changes to appease them?
RUDE: When Jim Valentino of Image delivered the ultimatum to give in to Marvel's request and change our logo or not be published by them, that's when I knew I would be leaving Image for a publisher of stronger constitution. Marvel's lawyers, as far I've been informed, have not brought the issue up since I told them I wouldn't be changing anything.
A few years ago THE COMICS JOURNAL interviewed you and you were quite passionate in your belief that super hero comics worked best when the heroes were heroic or strived to be heroic. Even in times of strife, Nexus strived to be heroic.
With that in mind, why do you think that, especially in the last two decades, so many writers and publishers have preferred super heroes to be so anti-heroic? Is it because other media have embraced the anti-hero or heroes who are as dangerous as the "villains" they fight?
RUDE: I think life works like a pendulum. Society seems to resist middle ground, so it swings between extremes. Thus, when we tire of one thing, we'll eventually go the opposite. Just look at the present FCC controversy. Comics creators are on a "make it so real you can't ignore it" slant right now. I stand for the opposite, and await the swing of the pendulum.
I remember looking at your gorgeous art for the Captain America mini you did recently, and I thought it was funny how much attention you give to the art. Not just in the components - subject matter, form, and content, but also in the principles - harmony, variety, balance, and movement, proportion, dominance, and economy.
No disrespect to any other comic artists who have influenced you, but absolutely no one has drawn comic art with such attention to both style and substance and has shown such skill doing it. Are you too ambitious in terms of what you put on the page? Why isn't comics a waste of your considerable skill, talent, and ability.
RUDE: Amazing how certain minds can perceive these intangible principles. I applaud your heightened senses, Leroy. A "too ambiguous" page would be a page that overwhelms with extraneous info. There is such a thing as too much, and it happens to the best of us. My work on WORLD'S FINEST displayed some of those "too much tendencies". Ah, well, another area to improve on!
Do you think that comic art that strives to be "photo-realistic" is alien to comics? I mean this in the sense that it seems as if some people don't want comic books to look like comics.
RUDE: To me, a cool style is what attracted me to Kirby, Romita and, in his animation work, Alex Toth. Photo-realism is a great and impressive technical skill, but can lack emotion and leave me cold, especially in comics. In my own style, I like to straddle the ground with "stylized realism."
I've always thought that there were very few painters who could paint comic art that still looked like traditional pen and ink comic art - Jon J Muth, Dan Brereton, and John Bolton. Besides painting covers, do you see yourself using oil, watercolor, or acrylics to paint interior comic art?
RUDE: I've had the offers to do a "painted comic," but b&w if more fun, and there's still so much more to learn about. I'd prefer to leaving the paintings to my covers for the time being.
You probably answer this at least once a week, but what's the status of Nexus returning as a comic book?
RUDE: On hiatus. Fear not. We shall return in just when Nexus is most needed.
What's the status of the animated Nexus? In fact, what's the major reason potential networks give for not producing it?
RUDE: In progress as we speak. I'm into the final edit, and then we'll go to final press with DVD's. As for Nexus getting on the air as a TV show-- I've met with dozens of producers, execs, etc., and we don't seem to swim in the same pond. Unless I meet one who is overtly courageous, thinks outside the rectangle, and is willing to set new trends, it probably won't happen. And I'm in no hurry to meet one. My life is in comics.
Right now, how much personal effort are you putting into getting the word out on The Moth?
RUDE: My entire creative existence is about the Moth right now. I'm engaging in as much word of mouth as I can. It's also my statement to the industry of what good, timeless comics are all about.
Is Dark Horse excited about The Moth possibly being something like a continuing series of mini-series, and are you interested in this character for the long haul?
RUDE: I'm certainly hoping so!
Are you in comics for the long haul, or are you looking to work in something else? In my not humble opinion, there is a fairly sizable group of immensely talented cartoonists and comic book artists who produce great art and comics, but there is little support for them both in terms of publishers and markets. So I wonder why they even bother, although I would be sad if they left.
RUDE: I'm into comics for the long haul. It's a great and worthy calling that I shall devote my life to.
THANK YOU, STEVE (and Jaynelle, too). Please visit Steve's website www.steverude.com where you can join his mailing list and visit his message board. You can also find a link to the Steve Rude eBay store where you can buy so much fine stuff by The Dude at good prices! The Rude's are touring Arizona and California from mid-March through early April in support of The Moth. They are also right now scheduled to appear at the San Diego Comicon (or Expo) from July 22 to July 25 and at the Baltimore Comic-Con on September 11 and 12.
And if you are a comics creator or publisher and you want to send me material for review consideration or you just want to talk about your book in a Charlie column, punch the click-able name link to send me an email. Holla!