Daniel Davis is a hard guy to miss. When peddling prints of fantastical creatures at comic and book conventions, the artist – who launched the illustration duo Steam Crow with wife Dawna (pictured) in 2005 – typically wears a striped shirt and brown apron, and sports a handlebar mustache that would probably put somebody’s eye out in close quarters. Along with his wife, the Peoria, Ariz.-based artist, 44, shepherds his menagerie of monsters and cartoony creatures everywhere from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to the massive San Diego Comicon to our own Phoenix Comicon, taking place June 5-8. Steam Crow’s art (available at steamcrow.com and in local stores including Lulubelle Toy Bodega and Made) resembles a dazzling amalgamation of steampunk, vintage wartime propaganda posters, 1970s cereal boxes and something you might find on the walls of an abandoned amusement park – perfect for Disneyland, where Steam Crow has shown and sold work in the park’s WonderGround Gallery for the past two years.
So where did your obsession with monsters come from?
As a kid, I read a lot of pulp fantasy books, encyclopedias, and Dungeons & Dragons books. The D&D books were especially inspiring, as you could read about the powers of the monsters listed right there in the text. I really couldn’t tell you where my interest in monsters came from. In the early 1970s, they were everywhere – album covers, cartoons, poster art, TV specials. Everything seemed to be infused with monsters, sci-fi and fantasy.
Does Phoenix provide a sufficient audience for Steam Crow?
Well, we do travel across the whole West to make our living. So at this point, the Phoenix market isn’t quite adequate to support us entirely. But we’ve just scratched the surface here. We’re not a household name in the Valley, so until we are, I can’t blame anyone but myself. Phoenix has been great to us; we have the coolest and most interesting patrons around. We’re lucky that we ended up here [from Spokane, Wash.] when we started Steam Crow.
What’s the secret to your slick mustache?
My mustache has sadly eloped back into my beard. It’s a cyclical thing... grow a beard, shave it down to a fancy mustache, wax it, lose whiskers to the wax, lament the wiry thin mustache, chop it down, grow a big beard, etc. Start over.
Have you had to deal with Internet art thievery?
Yeah, people steal my characters from time to time, and I have to shut it down. And yeah, it’s definitely a huge concern; our intellectual property is the thing of value that we’ve spent the last decade creating.
It’s also the main reason that I don’t do bootleg “fan art.” I’m a big fan of other properties like everyone else, but I don’t spend my energy making stuff that I can’t legally sell or own. I’d rather spend my time inventing my own stuff.
Is it true that Steam Crow got a call from Mickey Mouse?
In 2012 we were contacted by the Disney WonderGround Gallery, and asked if we wanted to be featured artists in Disneyland for a weekend. It was a really good time. Then, in 2013, we came back again, but this time for two appearances, and they sold our work in the gallery for an entire month. Again, it’s a cool experience, but also kind of weird. We didn’t have any Disney art. And there we were, on Disney land, in a Disney park, in a Disney gallery, selling our weird monster stuff. Every sale was a victory for the little guys!