Rude Dude: The Steve Rude Story (Garden Thieves Pictures, NR)

rude 75Good artists may need to be self-centered, and Rude certainly has that attitude down, but artistic talent, or even artistic success, do not equal a free pass through life.

 


Steve Rude is an amazingly talented comics artist, with multiple Eisner Awards to prove it. Working with Mike Baron, he co-created the independent science fiction comic book Nexus, and has also created some of the best old-style comics art (for classic characters like Superman, as well as pin-ups that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1942 Army barracks) ever.

Rude Dude: The Steve Rude Story is partly a celebration of Rude’s art, and serves as a great introduction to his work (although I could have used a little more about Nexus, since many people may not be that familiar with it). However, director Ian Fischer’s documentary is at least as much about Rude’s life as it is about his art, and the former story is not nearly as much fun. Rude, who suffers from manic-depressive illness, allowed the filmmaker extraordinary access to his private life, and it becomes almost embarrassing at times to see him prostrate on his bed, his remarkable talents apparently defeated, at least for the moment, by the chemical imbalances in his brain.rude 300

Rude’s private life is relevant to his art because, although Fischer does not say this directly, it may be the real reason behind some of Rude’s more puzzling career decisions. One thing is clear: Rude has destroyed multiple professional relationships over the years by not completing work on time (for instance, delivering 3 issues in 10 months when 10 issues were expected in that time), and possibly by his temper and lack of self-control as well.

The latest on Steve Rude is that he’s given up comics for fine art, creating paintings that look a lot like poster art with a strong 1940s vibe. Reading between the lines, this new career seems to have been motivated more by the fact that Rude has burned his bridges with anyone he ever worked with in the comics business, and perhaps also by his indifference to working on anyone’s schedule but his own.

Good artists may need to be self-centered, and Rude certainly has that attitude down, but artistic talent, or even artistic success, do not equal a free pass through life. Rude seems to be extraordinarily blessed even beyond his formidable artistic talents, with good looks (in his younger days, he could have served as his own superhero model) and most particularly with a wife who is amazingly supportive of his whims and moods and changes of direction even as their home goes into foreclosure. It’s admirable to stand behind your man, but you have to wonder if that approach is bleeding over into facilitation—when Rude says he just wants to be alone with a canvas, is that the disease talking or is it his true artistic spirit asserting itself?

I don’t usually speculate on other people’s private lives, but the persistent emphasis on Rude’s illness in Rude Dude really prompts that kind of thinking. Rude’s art is treated as the backdrop for this story, and while this is a legitimate director’s choice, it does limit what you will learn about comics from this film. On the plus side, Fischer includes interviews with many people from the comics industry, including Mike Baron, Alex Ross, Dave Gibbons, and Mike Allred, as well as interviews with members of Rude’s family. The interviews are mostly presented in black and white, an interesting stylistic choice that makes the colors of Rude’s comics pop even more.

Extras on the disc include two commentary tracks—one by Ian Fischer and Ross Williams, one by Mike Baron—and a gallery of Rude’s sketchbooks. | Sarah Boslaugh

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