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June 3, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
“Armed with a fantastic power, the Space Phantom sets out to destroy the earth’s mightiest super-heroes” was sprawled across the cover of Avengers #2 in 1963. At the age of 8, Davis found his passion for illustration throughout the comic book’s pages. “I’ve read and reread that thing many times,” he says. “What really interested me about that comic was Jack Kirby. His art would just jump off the page and come right at you.”
Once the Avengers foiled the Space Phantom, Davis started drawing. He copied everything from the comic books he read, and it wasn’t long before he realized he had a talent for it.
That talent expanded into a career in comics. Since 1986, Davis, 55, has illustrated books from genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction, superheroes and X-rated content. In the ’90s he worked on Star Trek comics, but after company buyouts and changes, he soon found himself without work. “As a freelancer, I call it ‘feast or famine,’” Davis says. “I had a family and other things to take care of, so I found a job with benefits and a pension.”
One of Davis’ first jobs out of college was chauffeuring. He later acquired a commercial driver’s license, drove a school bus and got work with the city. In 1999, he became a bus driver with Columbia Transit.
Now, Davis explores the hyperactive world of pulp comics. Originally spinoffs from radio shows in the ’20s and dime novels of the 1800s, pulp comics, or pulps, became the precursor to comic books. Pulps are fiction magazines, usually featuring detectives. Popular titles such as Superman and Batman trace their creative origins to pulps.
In 2006, Ron Fortier, a comic book writer from New Hampshire, invited Davis to a new artistic venture. “I got this idea about producing anthologies by new writers based on 1930s classic pulp characters,” Fortier says. “I knew I was going to need an art director.” Soon, the comic book publishing house Airship 27 took flight.
Davis illustrates a few titles and designs the books, doing everything from font adjustments to logo creation. “We have a bunch of different writers and a small stable of artists,” Davis says. “The people we are working with love pulps.”
Davis also ventured into the world of political cartooning with friend and freelance writer Jack Curtin. “(Davis) was definitely a great guy to collaborate with,” Curtin says. “He never complained, argued or jumped up and down.” Davis and Curtin wanted to do a book about presidential scandals, and that idea soon morphed into The Dubya Chronicles — hundreds of liberal-leaning commentaries on the 8-year Bush administration.
As a bus driver and an artist, Davis continues to do what he loves. He doesn’t let his day job prevent him from coming up with new ideas. When the bus is empty, his imagination is full. “While working, I think of scenes I want to illustrate,” he says. “The creative process never stops.”
Within this experienced man still resides an 8-year-old boy, staring wide-eyed as the Avengers battle the dreaded Space Phantom. “I feed my family with bus driving,” he says, “but I feed my soul with artwork.”