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for Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dave Cockrum

Mark Evanier told me the news at Mid-Ohio-Con. Our pal Dave Cockrum had passed away. It was Sunday, the last day of the show, and the news spread in the waning hours of the show.

Dave had been a guest a few years earlier and he was beloved by our con crew volunteers. Several of them came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed seeing him at the show and how much they loved his work. Later, in the hotel bar, many glasses were lifted to and many tears shed for our absent friend.

I knew I had to and wanted to write something about Dave here, but I kept tripping over my words. I've known him for what seems like forever. Then, it occurred to me that I had already written about him recently, in a benefit book published by our mutual pal Clifford Meth at a time when Dave was in a VA hospital.

The piece isn't a perfect fit for what I have/want to say, but it's pretty darn close...and I'll be back to add some more thoughts afterwards.



Dave Cockrum

"Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount."

- Clare Booth Luce

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind."

- Leonardo da Vinci

Clifford Meth called to tell me our pal Dave Cockrum was in a VA hospital in the Bronx. I couldn't tell you the precise date or time of that brief conversation because a dozen other thoughts were crashing around inside my head during it, all with the common theme of why the F-word was the universe being such an S-word to too many of my friends. I know I'm being positively prudish here, but I'm trying to be polite to the G-D universe in the hope it might stop being such an S-word to my friends.

Clifford then asked if I'd write something for a Dave Cockrum benefit-slash-tribute book and I immediately agreed. He then went and got similar commitments from so many great writers and artists that you, like me, are probably now wondering what I'm doing here. Did this book really need a Zeppo?

However, my love for the esteemed Dave is such that I'd feel like a total J-wad - now it's getting silly - if I didn't combat my rising flop-sweat and trademark humility to say a few words in his honor. Here goes...

I first "met" Dave when I was a teenager. He was in the Navy; I was in high school. What we had in common was that we were both frequent contributors to the second wave of fanzines which followed in the wake of Alter Ego and others. Many of these zines focused on the Marvel super-heroes which had come into their own and which were giving Superman and his DC brethren a run for their, or rather, our money. Sometimes it seemed every Marvel zine had amazing drawings by Dave, sometimes on the same page as a less-amazing-but-equally- earnest article by me.

Dozens of aspiring professionals contributed to the fanzines of my youth, but Dave was one of only two I was certain would make it to the big show. Besides myself, of course.

[Clifford: how wrong would it be if we charged extra for that second name? It's in a good cause, right?]

From the first Cockrum drawings I saw, I thought Dave had this natural heroic style. It had the classical elements found in the DC work of Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, but it also had the more rough-and-tumble influence of Marvel's comics. How could any savvy editor pass up that combination? Indeed, the only surprising thing about Dave's professional debuts was that they were in Jim Warren's Creepy and Eerie, and not The Avengers or Green Lantern. The guy had as much range as he had talent and I was thrilled a publisher had recognized that.

Dave and I kept in semi-touch after he moved to New York. We likely met face-to-face at some comics convention or another, but the early meeting I remember most vividly is when he invited me to visit Murphy Anderson's studio circa 1972. He was doing background inks for Murphy on Superman and Superboy; I was out of high school and working for The Plain Dealer. Dave's job was cool. Mine was less so, but afforded me the financial means to stay a few days in New York City following Phil Seuling's annual July 4th weekend convention. Spending an afternoon with two of the nicest guys in the comics industry further cemented my ambition to join their ranks. I'm sure Dave or Murphy never realized how much their kindness meant to me.


Dave's career path took a quantum leap forward when he landed the job of penciling the Legion of Super-Heroes in the back of the Superboy title. He was born to draw the bazillion costumed cut-ups in that strip's futuristic setting. Those super-teens of the 30th Century had rarely generated such excitement. Within two years, Cockrum's Legion had reduced the Boy of Steel to an ensemble player in his own comic book.

Cockrum's character and costume designs set the bar for super-hero comics in the 1970s and beyond. Sometime, just for jollies, dig out your Cockrum issues of the Legion and study, really study, his work. Compare it to the artistic sensations who followed and you'll see many of them picked up a trick or twelve from my pal. If I ever get bitten by a radioactive anything and gain great powers instead of dying a horrible agonizing death, Cockrum is the go-to guy for my new spandex jammies.

I started work at Marvel Comics in October of 1972. Dave came over shortly thereafter and I got to work with him on a couple of things. He draw my "Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars" story for the black-and-white Monsters Unleashed, taking the too-sparse plot of the inexperienced Isabella and making it work. I returned the favor by screwing up the scripting of "The Manphibian," a pilot story plotted and penciled by him which eventually saw print in the one-shot Legion of Monsters. If he ever gives me a third chance, I swear I'll do right by him.

X-Men 98

In between those two tales, Dave filled his hours by working on the relaunch of the X-Men, the relaunch which led to that team's becoming arguably the most successful super-hero franchise of all time. He created or co-created Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, and dozens of other merry mutants, monsters, and madmen. In a fairer world, such uncanny achievements would have made him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams of avarice.

Too bad we're all stuck in this world.

Relax. I'm not going deep into the gloom-and-doom aspects of the comics industry. We all know what Dave's situation is and how it mirrors other creator situations and, by virtue of the success of Cockrum's creations, dwarfs most of them. We also have fearless and good and tough fighters addressing that situation. They know who they are, you know who they are, and I know that I'd sooner try to F-word a Great White than get between them and the mighty deeds they are prepared to do on Dave's behalf. In short, those fearless and good and tough fighters have it covered.

Even so, I think it should be noted that Dave himself isn't a stranger to showing his heroic mettle in support of his fellows in the comics industry. The details aren't mind to give - though I'm hoping someone else writes about them in this tribute volume - but, some time back, Dave left a lucrative staff position in protest of management's treatment of his co-workers. Part of his resignation letter even found its way into a comic book, much to the chagrin of its recipient. Somewhere in the depths of Casa Isabella, I have a faded copy of the letter - likely a tenth generation copy of a copy of a copy - and it was some serious righteous ire. I get the grins just thinking about it.

Before I started writing this piece, I zeroed in on the three attributes I most admire in Dave Cockrum: courage, dedication, and determination. Those three attributes were my outline for telling him and all of you how much he means to me.

I saved "courage" for the last because I know how very rare it is in the comics industry. Not to get too sappy here, but it takes a hero to really get into a hero's head.

"Dedication" has always been obvious from Dave's work. He's an artist and craftsman who gave and continues to give his all to every job, big or small.

"Determination" is the mark of a creator who keeps creating in spite of unscrupulous industry practices, oft-clueless executives, and physical and financial ills. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

I'm getting off the stage before the hook comes out. I've no doubt this volume is filled to the covers with incredible drawings and erudite expressions honoring Dave Cockrum, so you shouldn't be hanging around the likes of me. Except for this...

It'll cost you ten bucks to the cause - Clifford takes check, money order, and PayPal - to learn the identity of that other 1960s fan I was sure would make it big in comics. For a hundred bucks, I'll even write a letter saying it was you.

Hey, Cockrum's the hero here. I'm just the bitter old P-word who is proud to be his friend.



Dave had a great laugh. That's the reason I feel comfortable posting a tribute in which I cracked wise more often than not. If he's not smiling right now, it's only because he misses all of his friends as much as we miss him.

Cliff raised some money for Dave with this book and, much more importantly, got money from Marvel Comics for the Cockrums. Neal Adams stepped up to the plate in a big way to aid that transition. Good works like that are natural to Cliff and Neal and it's one of the reasons we love them madly.

I don't know how much Dave got from Marvel. I'm guessing that it wasn't as much as I think it should have been. However, when a major publisher attempts to do right by a creator - it's tragically rare that they do - I'm not going to lambast them for the attempt. It's a good thing, we should thank them for it, we should encourage them to keep doing it.

I have known Paty Cockrum almost as long as I've known Dave. I can't think of too many couples more perfect for each other and, even as I mourn Dave, I'm profoundly grateful they found each other and had so much time together. Not enough time by any measure of reckoning, of course, but that's the way of it. If anyone can bear the unbearable, it's Paty, but my heart and my love go out to her. She is one of the great ladies of comics.

Dave's friends have been asked, in lieu of flowers and such, to make donations to The Hero Initiative, a fine organization that was formed to help comics creators in need. To make a donation and to learn more about the organization, go to:

Since Dave wouldn't want me to keep you hanging, I'll reveal that, of all the future pros who contributed to the same fanzines he and I contributed to, the other one I was sure would also become a comics creator was...Mark Evanier.

Everyone reading today's column now owes ten bucks to The Hero Initiative. Don't make me come looking for you.

Dave...thanks for the decades of entertainment and friendship. My life is better for that. I'm better for that.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/29/2006 | 11/30/2006 | 12/01/2006 >>

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