The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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R.I.P. Dave Cockrum

November 28th, 2006 · No Comments · Art

Another dead hero.

Most folks know Dave from his creation (along with Len Wein) of a trifling little thing we call the modern X-Men:

Dave's X-Men

Neil Gaiman - as he so often does - sums things up nicely:

The golden age of comics is when you’re twelve. The silver age is around fourteen, fifteen – that nebulous zone when comics still matter, but so does rock music and so would girls if you could only get close enough to one to actually do anything more than blush and stutter. After that comes the slow fall from grace, and then all the ages run together in one dark gulf.

Due to back issues carefully handed down to my friends growing up, my earliest memories of Marvel’s mutants are pure Cockrum. He was my golden age. His vision of the characters are what artists for 30+ years have, one after the other, attempted to resist or improve upon and his is the version they have - inevitably - returned to. His was a timeless interpretation of the impressive - if limited - groundwork laid by such greats as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Neal Adams. Cockrum stood on the shoulders of giants, to be sure, but he made sure to surpass them. I had the weird fortune of absorbing Classic Cockrum and then immediately being exposed to early-90s “Lee-and-Liefeld” X books. Like every budding teenage nerd at that point in history, I dutifully collected all fifteen variant, chromium, embossed, die-cut, poly-bagged versions of the new “X-TREME” era books, but there was something missing from those over-rendered efforts. Time and again, something about the then-ancient works of guys like Dave Cockrum resonated.

I know what it is now, of course. Dave Cockrum was a genius. Jim Lee is just a (mostly) competent illustrator with limited vision.

While his tenure on Marvel’s X-Men is probably Cockrum’s best-known work, I’ve always had a soft-spot for his work on DC’s Blackhawk:

Dave's Blackhawk

My preference for Cockrum’s Blackhawk is hard to explain, given that the immortal Will Eisner created and illustrated the character during the time when it was - arguably - at its most significant. I probably love Cockrum’s version of the character because it’s the main one available during my lifetime (though recent interpretations in the Justice League cartoon and Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier make strong passes at the top spot). Regardless, Cockrum’s work on the series is a wonder to behold and - I believe - an undiscovered jewel for most readers.

A quick Cockrum/Blackhawk anecdote I came across today from writer Mark Evanier:

Dave and I did a couple of Blackhawk stories together. I thought he did a fine job but Dave was never satisfied with anything he’d done. We were at some San Diego Con, coming back from lunch when an attendee pounced upon us — and “pounced” isn’t a bad way to describe what this guy did. “I’ve been waiting to get you both to sign this,” he exclaimed, thrusting an issue at us. I scribbled my name but Dave took a few minutes with his inscription. He signed the first page of the story and then he flipped to page four or five and drew something in the margin. I couldn’t see exactly what it was but it looked like a hand. As we walked off, I asked him what it was he’d drawn.

He said, “I decided I drew Blackhawk’s hand wrong in that panel so every time I sign a copy, I draw it right in the margin. I’ve done that about thirteen times now.”

I said, “You can’t fix ‘em all, Dave. They printed 150,000 copies of that issue.”

Dave grinned through that beard of his and said, “Okay, so I’ve got 149,987 to go.” How do you not like a guy like that?

How, indeed?

We miss you already, Dave.


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