Interview with Steve "the Dude" Rude
by Bob Gough, Contributing Writer

Steve "the Dude" Rude broke onto the comic book scene in 1981 with the introduction of First Comics' Nexus, written by collaborator Mike Baron. He gained critical acclaim quickly for his dynamic and clean style, inspired by the work of comics legend Jack "the King" Kirby, but delivered with a unique style, devotion to consistency and love of detail. He's a two-time Eisner Award winner and recipient of the Russ Manning Newcomer Award in 1983. Steve is also the self-described "keeper of the flame" at Marvel and revels in each chance to do homage to Kirby's Fourth World saga at DC. His latest projects have been a series of four issue mini-series of Marvel icons such as Spider-Man: Lifeline, X-Men: Children of the Atom and Thor: Godstorm. The next is Captain America: What Price Glory available in March 2003. Ardent fans can't wait for each new project.

Mile High: Steve, thank you for your time. When you say you're the Keeper of the Flame at Marvel, what does that mean?

Keeper of the Flame simply means doing the characters in the way I best remembered them from my childhood. They had a certain look and the stories had a certain feel, which I try and capture. I don't try to reinvent the wheel and outdo the original authors.

What was the first Jack Kirby Fourth World book you picked up? What was its impact on you?

The first Jack Kirby comic I remember seeing would've been back in '66-- No doubt a Marvel comic and probably Captain America. The great thing about liking art is just knowing that you like it. I recall that Kirby's art gave me an immediate thrill.

For me, it was Mister Miracle #2. I was familiar with Kirby's style from his Marvel work on Thor and Fantastic Four mostly but when he got to DC it was like the chains were off and he took off flying with outlandish concepts and groundbreaking delivery that I'd never seen before. It was clear that, even as "hip" was starting to be abused and commercialized, Kirby "got it." You captured that same sense of the times with Nexus in the 1980s when punk and new wave rebellion rang true with readers. Did you feel that you'd tapped into a vibe for the times while you were doing Nexus?

I suppose we were thinking for the times when Baron and I began Nexus. I recall Baron wanting to market "Nexus Glasses" for the "thinking mans" punk rocker. I know he wanted a pair for himself!

Please talk a bit about the enduring appeal of Nexus, a character who is now as old as Superman was in the Silver Age. Why is it readers will flock to any new project about the protector of Ylum?

Nexus had a strong and devoted fan base. They came to count on Baron and I to never do the expected and to deliver compelling, human-based stories. Our readership was never large, but perhaps when we return to Nexus someday, we can induce new readers to come aboard.

You've done a Mister Miracle Special and a Legends of DC Universe: Jimmy Olsen story. Would you like to do more Fourth World work for DC? Can you tell us about any upcoming Fourth World projects?

For the present, I'll be concentrating my energies on the Moth, a character I created back in the early 90's. It'll be my first time working for Image, and since they don't pay until solicitation, so it'll be an interesting balancing act!

It's clear you've taken Kirby's dynamic style and polished and honed it. How did you refine the Kirby way (in particularly smoothing out and clearing up lines in areas such as human digits, facial expressions) without losing its essence?

I think people tend to concentrate on Kirby's surface details in lieu of the larger picture. "Doing Kirby" probably requires more solid draftsmanship than one might think.
I hope I captured but a small part of his great talent.

John Romita, Sr. also clearly informs your work, especially in the bold human portrayals you come up with. The expressions on your characters' faces-human or otherwise-really infuses each one with soul. Also, in panel construction, you surpass both Romita and Kirby in making sure everyone in a shot is doing something. How do you achieve visually what amounts to the same success a playwright strives for?

I'm not sure, but I appreciate people thinking that. I do know that most of my storytelling, which are the angles and body expressions that I draw in the panels, are all worked out in the "thumbnail" stage, before I start drawing the actual pages.

Were there other artists that influenced your work? What about Paul Gulacy's work for example did you find useful and/or inspiring?

Paul Gulacy was influential from his Master of Kung Fu comic from the early to mid 70's. I believe his work on that book was massively underrated and influences me to this day.

You've said (on your Web site www.steverude.com) that your heroes are Jack Kirby, Captain Kirk and Bruce Lee. What about those men and that TV character did you find heroic?

When Bruce Lee movies hit the theatres in the early 70's, all us high school kids went nuts. We'd seen the Kung Fu series on TV, but nothing prepared us for Bruce. He got the girl, beat up the bad guys, and was home in time for cornflakes. Capt. Kirk was pretty much the same as Bruce, and Kirby was just a fine role model for decency and how to treat people. He was also an optimist during the most mis-treated times of his life. There's very little not to admire about Jack.

With your interest in Bruce Lee and Paul Gulacy's early work on Master of Kung Fu, why haven't you done a martial arts comic? Are there any characters or genres you haven't done that you'd like to do? If so, which?

Gulacy did it all in MOKF and there would be very little for me to add to it. However, when I do fight scenes, I try and incorporate a bit of this and that to keep things interesting and fluid. I'll hopefully be doing a lot of that in the Moth.

Congratulations on the success of the Nexus Animated Fundraiser. What does this mean for the progress of a Nexus cartoon series?

The Nexus fundraiser was a show of support for a comic that was temporarily suspended in l997. The funds will help to finance some of the costs for digital camera and post-production houses, each of which charge several thousand dollars for their services. Thanks to the support of fans, these costs are absolved. I hope to have the pilot finished for the San Diego con in August.

With your Captain America: What Price Glory? miniseries what aspect of the Star-Spangled Avenger's backstory are you and writer Bruce Jones keying in on? The '40s Cap who sometimes wore a gun and engaged in racism; the '60s Cap, haunted by Bucky's death and yet a dauntless leader; or the '70s Cap, embittered and abandoned by a corrupt U.S. government?

The Captain America story is basically an all-purpose tale. The original story I wanted to tell, of Cap on terrorist ground, was rejected by Marvel's editors. The story we told with "What Price Glory" can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of prior history with the character.

In the 1990s, heroes dwelt in moral middle-ground often adopting the attitudes and methods of villains. Is now a particularly good time for comic readers to be presented with heroes who see clear lines of right and wrong? Why or why not?

The story angle pendulum may swing many ways, and is usually reflective of it's times. I believe there are fairly clear standards of right and wrong, although people will always interpret them in their own way, depending on their life perspective.

The short glimpse of the early Avengers in Thor: Godstorm was especially exciting for fans of the Kirby/Dick Ayers days of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. How about talking Marvel into an early Avengers' mini-series?

After completing my Cap project, my tenure at Marvel is done. My kind of storytelling is not compatible with their editorial viewpoint nowadays.

You've also done a new lithograph of the Marvel Superheroes of the 1960s for Dynamic Forces. Which of the several different characters in that scene posed the biggest challenge?

In painting, the main challenge is to make them look like Kirby's characters, but with rendering to make them look real. Doing 20 characters was quite a challenge! I hope people like what I've done with them.

Thank you, Steve, again for your time.

Thank you for the fine and thoughtful questions, Bob.

[Interviews with Bob Gough]


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