Building A Better Monster: Dave Cockrum's Model Kit Designs

When illustrator Dave Cockrum passed away in November, the comic world lost a giant. Cockrum was best known for his work in revamping Marvel's"X-Men" series, co-creating many of the characters that made it to the movie screen in the X-films including Nightcrawler, Storm, and Mystique. Dave's first breakthrough in comics was a similar re-imagining for DC's"Legion of Super-Heroes" book in the early 1970s. Less well known is that Dave designed and created box art for many Aurora model kits in the mid-1970s, including many of the creatures from the company's "Monsters of The Movies" line. Writer Anthony Taylor originally spoke with Cockrum about his work for Aurora in 1995, interviewing him for a book he had hoped to write about the company. CBR News is proud to present the text of that 1995 interview today.

Anthony Taylor: How did you get started with Aurora?

Dave Cockrum: A friend of mine was a good friend of Andy Yanchus who was a project manager at Aurora. The three of us all turned up at one of Phil Seuling's big comic cons in New York in 1972 when I was pencilling the "Legion of Super-Heroes" for DC. Andy had a table selling old Aurora kits (for scandalously low prices) and my friend introduced us. He liked my work and we started talking, and after a while he asked if I would be interested in designing model kits. I was, as I had built models all my life. He invited me to come out to Long Island and meet with the people at Aurora. They had just decided to add a Tyrannosaurus Rex to their Prehistoric Scenes, so I went home and did a three view drawing of a T-rex. They looked at it; they bought it.

AT: Was that the only kit you designed for the prehistoric line?

DC: No, I also did a stegasaurus in the same scale and it was humongous. It was the first dinosaur in the line that wasn't a straight ahead static pose, it was reacting to a danger off of its rear right quarter, its head was turning back around and the tail was swinging. The pattern was actually made, but the kit was never produced. The pattern disappeared before Aurora sold out to Monogram; somebody stole a whole bunch of patterns from the vault. I was supposed to get a few as gifts, the Creature and Rhodan, but they were taken before I got them.

AT: What did you work on after the dinosaurs?

DC: I did a set of science fiction characters and a time machine that would link them to the Prehistoric Scenes line. It never got off the paper, but they liked it. It might have been a little too ambitious for them at the time. I got involved with the Comic Scenes line and it turned out to be all re-issues, although I had concepted several new figures. I did a Phantom kit [this design has since been produced in resin by Action Hobbies of Louisville, Ky.], and Dick Giordano designed a Flash Gordon and Ming kit. It was really a beautiful sculpture; the two of them were dueling with swords and Ming was stepping back and off balance. It was wonderful. I did the box art for the Superboy model, and instructions for five or six of the kits. In a way I was involved in all of the kits; some friends and I had formed a company called Graphic Features, and we were producing all the art for the Comic Scenes kits. We hired Dick Giordano, Neal Adams, Gil Kane and others to illustrate the boxes and instructions. Unfortunately, we couldn't agree on projects and the company folded.

AT: Tell me about the Monsters of the Movies designs you did for Aurora.

DC: The concept was that they were going to give you alternate heads for all those monsters. You could have the actor's head sticking out of the suit, and the monster heads would be a separate piece. That didn't last long, because no one thought that anyone would build the kit with the alternate pieces. So I designed the last Frankenstein they did, the one running from off-camera villagers, and the swimming Creature from the Black Lagoon. I also did Rhodan and Ghidrah, the last two kits produced for the line, but there was a mess of other ones that got to the pattern stage. There was the Metaluna Mutant (from This Island Earth), and Gort (from The Day the Earth Stood Still). Gort was standing on the saucer's ramp, with a clear red plastic beam melting a rifle in the hands of a kneeling soldier. I did Godzilla attacking the Tokyo Tower, and that pattern was made.

AT: Who sculpted the kits that you designed for Aurora?

DC: It was one of two guys, Bill Lemon [who passed away in 1994] or Ray Meyers. Those were Aurora's two primary sculptors. Bill Lemon, in my opinion, was the best. If Bill Lemon did you a pretty girl, she was pretty. If Ray Meyers did you a pretty girl, she wasn't. Other than that, Ray was fine.

AT: What other Monsters of the Movies kits did you design?

DC: I did the swimming Creature from the Black Lagoon. That was fun. Andy Yanchus called me late one night and asked if I could be there at 8:00 in the morning with a design for the Creature. I said, "Hell yes, I can!" Bill Lemon was on retainer and they needed a project to keep him busy. Of the kits that were never released, there was a new Phantom of the Opera, for which the pattern was made. He was threatening the girl who had unmasked him. Ray Meyers sculpted her and she was a little long in the face. Fay Wray was finished, we were going to do a King Kong in 1:12 scale, big enough to fight the T-Rex I designed for Prehistoric Scenes, but that was squelched by the Dino De Laurentis Kong movie. Aurora backed off because the rights to Kong were in question and they couldn't figure out who to deal with. There was a new Mummy. Aurora was getting a little more ambitious with the Monsters of the Movies kits. The Mummy was lurching against a statue of Anubis, which was starting to tilt. I don't know whether The Fly got to the pattern stage or not, but I designed him. He was smashing equipment in his laboratory. In 1975 for the Science Fiction Scenes line (which was never produced), we were going to do a "War of the Worlds" scene with three Martian war machines coming down a wrecked street. Also, Andy Yanchus had gone to California and measured and photographed Robby the Robot [from "Forbidden Planet"] and they were going to do that. Ray Harryhausen's Ymir [from "20 Million Miles to Earth"] was planned, but the pattern was never made. They tried to get the rights to Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars" and had me drawing up Martian people in costumes and Martian animals.

AT: Andy Yanchus has said that he tried very hard to get the company to do a Jupiter 2 kit from "Lost in Space" in 1975 when Aurora re-issued the Flying Sub, Seaview and Spindrift, but it didn't happen. Did you do any drawings for that?

DC: No. But I know the Jupiter 2 was the most requested kit; fans wrote in constantly asking for it. The company brass thought it was a boring design. They were obviously not reading the letters. Nabisco's [owners of Aurora in the '70's] management was pretty incompetent, and they didn't understand the market they were in.

AT: How long did you work for Aurora?

DC: About four years, until 1976. The last thing I did for them was a toy called KaaaRate Man. It was two big bald goons that would beat the heck out of each other. It was kind of like Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, except it was punch 'em chop 'em baldies.

AT: Did you design any kits for other companies?

DC: I did a few things for MPC because Mike Myers [of Aurora] went over there. The only thing they produced was the Hulk kit which was kind of a dumb model. He was in a pose with his hands directly over his head and they gave you two sets of hands; fists and open palmed. The idea was that some kid could throw his baseball glove or his radio up there, but I thought it was stupid.

AT: Did you pitch any model ideas to Aurora?

DC: Oh yes. None of them ever got produced, but I tried. I suggested that they market a generic superhero called Captain Aurora that would have a few capes and different heads and gloves so kids could customize their own kit. Andy thought it would be too expensive with all the extra parts.

AT: Dave, Thanks for taking time to talk with me.

DC: My pleasure.

Dave Cockrum passed away from complications due to diabetes on November 26th.

Anthony Taylor is the author of "The Future was FAB: The Art of Mike Trim," available in comic and book stores everywhere, and online from http://fabgearusa.com.

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