I wanted to take a moment to remember one of my all time favorite comic book artists, Dave Cockrum, who was born on November 11, 1943 and passed away on November 26, 2006 at the too young age of 63. Today would have been his 70th birthday.
A few days ago I wrote about how I became a huge fan of Legion of Super-Heroes, and how Dave Cockrum’s significant contributions to that series played a major role in that. In addition to successfully redesigning the majority of the team’s costumes, Dave created new team member Wildfire, villain Tyr, and occasional allies Infectious Lass and Devil-Fish. Dave had ideas for quite a number of other new Legion members, including a certain blue-skinned, pointy-tailed fellow named Nightcrawler, but his editor Murray Boltinoff feared that the character was too strange-looking.
After Dave left Legion over a dispute concerning the return of his original artwork, he took the unused Nightcrawler with him to Marvel in 1975. There, the character became one of the members of the mega-successful revamp of X-Men by himself and writer Len Wein. Dave co-created Storm, Colossus, and Thunderbird with Wein. Although he was not involved in the initial development of Wolverine, Dave was the first artist to draw him unmasked, giving Logan his now-iconic hair & facial features.
The overworked Wein departed from X-Men after only three issues, and Chris Claremont became the series’ new writer. Chris and Dave collaborated very well together, and they were responsible for revamping Jean Grey into Phoenix, as well as introducing Black Tom Cassidy, Lilandra, the Shi’ar Empire, the Imperial Guard (who were sort of a parody of the Legion), and the Starjammers. Dave also helped Chris out on his other ongoing assignment, Ms. Marvel, penciling two issues wherein he designed a fantastic new costume for Carol Danvers. Although he did not draw their first appearances in the pages of Ms. Marvel, Dave was the designer of both Deathbird and Mystique. In the case of the later, Dave explained in 2003:
“This drawing was done for fun and hung in my office until my partner Chris Claremont wandered in one day, saw her, and started to drool. ‘I want her!’ he said. He named her Mystique, gave her powers and added her to the Uncanny X-Men rogues gallery.”
Due to X-Men going to a monthly status, Dave left the series in 1977, and John Byrne became the new penciler & co-plotter. Byrne & Claremont had a great, memorable run, producing many classic stories, but the two eventually parted ways in 1981. Dave came back for a second run penciling Uncanny X-Men, paired with inkers Josef Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek. During this time, Chris and Dave collaborated on several great stories, including “I, Magneto” in Uncanny X-Men #150, which first revealed Magneto’s history as a survivor of the Holocaust, “Kitty’s Fairy Tale” in #153, and a flashback to Xavier and Magneto’s first encounter in #161. Chris and Dave also introduced the insidiously evil alien monstrosities known as the Brood.
Dave once again departed Uncanny X-Men in 1983 to create his Futurians graphic novel. He also wrote & drew an enjoyable four issue Nightcrawler miniseries that saw the swashbuckling Kurt Wagner bouncing from one strange dimension to another. On more than one occasion, Dave had said that Nightcrawler was a sort of romanticized version of himself, so he must have enjoyed working on these issues.
Around this time, Dave took the creator-owned Futurians over to a small company called Lodestone Comics. Unfortunately, they folded after publishing only three issues, leaving Dave’s fourth issue unreleased. However, on a couple of subsequent occasions it was finally published, first in a trade paperback by Eternity in 1987 and then as a black & white issue by Clifford Meth’s Aardwolf Publishing in 1995. That later edition also included a brand new five page story by written by Meth & drawn by Dave.
Dave remained a fan of Legion of Super-Heroes, and over the years he would return to the series to draw the occasional cover or short sequence, plus some profile images for Who’s Who in the Legion. It was always a delight to see his work on the characters.
In the 1990s, Dave unfortunately had some trouble finding regular work. He did get the occasional job from Marvel, DC, Valiant and Defiant. One of my favorite stories that he drew was “Depth Charges” in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #3, written by Michael Jan Friedman, which features an aquatic alien member of the GL Corps. Dave did fantastic work on that. He was briefly reunited with Chris Claremont when he penciled a series of back-up stories for Sovereign Seven. Dave also became the penciler of the really fun supernatural comedy Soulsearchers and Company which was co-written by Peter David & Richard Howell, and published by Claypool Comics. Again, he did really great work on those issues.
For a number of years Dave and his wife, artist & colorist Paty, lived in upstate New York. I would often see them at local comic book conventions & store signings. They were both really nice, fun, intelligent people, and I’m glad I had so many opportunities to meet them. During this time, I was fortunate enough to acquire a few pages of artwork that Dave had worked on, as well as a few sketches. I’ve posted scans of those on the Comic Art Fans website. Here’s a link:
During the last few years of his life, Dave was sadly plagued by ill health. Clifford Meth helped raise money to assist in paying his medical bills, publishing The Uncanny Dave Cockrum…A Tribute through Aardwolf. Numerous artists contributed drawings of Dave’s numerous creations, with the originals subsequently being auctioned off to raise further funds.
Recently on his Facebook page, Meth announced the following: “In 2014, Aardwolf Publishing will release the final, never-before-published Dave Cockrum FUTURIANS comic, pencilled and written by Dave himself. We have a terrific assembly of comics’ stars participating, but we want EVERYONE to help us make this a HUGE success. Want to help? Artists are invited to contribute pin-ups of Dave’s Futurians’ characters, which we’ll include in the printed and/or digital book, and also use as Kickstarter perks. You’ll be in star-studded company–we promise. Please join us!” I’m definitely looking forward to this, and I wish Meth great success in bringing this to print. I’ll keep everyone updated once I learn more information about the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
Dave Cockrum was undoubtedly a superbly talented artist, as well as an incredible designer, who left an indelible mark on the comic book biz. He left behind a rich legacy of wonderful artwork and colorful creations for us to enjoy.