The Clifford Method: Clifford Meth talks Cockrum Tribute and "god's 15 minutes"

If you're a regular reader of J. Torres "Open Your Mouth" column here at CBR, you probably already know what writer Clifford Meth is up to these days. He spoke with J. Torres about a special tribute book he was producing for veteran comics creator Dave Cockrum and work he was doing on his behalf of securing royalties for the work Cockrum did at Marvel Comics. You can read more here and here. Last week CBR News caught up with Meth to learn more about the tribute book as well as his "god's 15 minutes," both coming from Aardwolf Publishing.

First, we begin with "The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute," an anthology filled with contributions from some of comics greatest names.

"Dave Cockrum has been hospitalized since late December with complications from pneumonia and diabetes," Meth told CBR News. "Now understand that Dave and his wife Paty are dear friends of mine, so I felt a need to do more than send flowers. That first night, when I learned that Dave was on the critical list, I was in tears - all I could do was pace the floor. I wanted to really help, so the wheels started turning and a tribute book and benefit auction seemed like a natural. So I organized 'The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute,' a book that continues to receive contributions from a virtual parade of industry legends."

Putting together an anthology of this sort isn't an easy task and Meth is doing it for free. For Meth, his only reason for doing it is simply to help out a friend in need. "The reward is in the deed," said Meth. And their friendship goes way back.

"I was a fan of his as a boy, but we became friends about a dozen years ago when I owned a comics shop and he did a signing for us. We hit it off and stayed in touch. When I launched my fiction career, he was enormously helpful. We ended up doing several comics together, too, including 'Futurians #0,' which I wrote a backup story for."

The good news is Cockrum is now out of the hospital portion of the V.A. and has returned to their nursing home.

"That's a good sign health-wise, but it's still a terribly depressing environment. The V.A. is a warehouse for the dying or the abandoned. I hate to say that, but it's true. Dave's prognosis is still iffy. We all hope he'll draw again, make art again, but it's still far away. He's very shaky. My goal is to get him home, but that takes money; he'll need care at home, too."

In addition to the names already mentioned in press releases and in Torres' column, the list of contributors to this anthology has grown. New contributors include Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Joe Quesada, possibly Bernie Wrightson, Jim Lee and Marie Severin and there's even a possibility that work by Frank Frazetta may grace those pages.

"Neal Adams has become my partner on the project and he's respected by everyone; he approached people I never would have asked. Initially, I contacted Dave's friends and mine - people I knew I could count on, like Harlan Ellison, Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. But I knew the word would spread, and it did. And the addition of Neal changed everything because he did more than say, 'Yes, I'll draw.' He said, 'I'll stay with this until it's over,' meaning until we've fixed things. When Neal called me…with the possibility of Frank Frazetta joining us, I said, 'Jeez, Neal - are you friends with him, too?' Neal said, 'I played baseball with Frank. Frank's a very emotional baseball player.'"

There's even more good news for Cockrum. Two weeks ago Meth accepted a royalties deal with Marvel Comics on behalf of Cockrum. Two months ago Meth was given legal power to negotiate on behalf of the Cockrum's. Meth told CBR News he worked closely with Neal Adam on this, who's had great success with these sort of negotiations before. Meth said Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada was helpful during the negotiations and Marvel was very cooperative.

"We can't disclose [terms] for legal reasons. Marvel was pretty insistent on keeping quiet," said Meth. "Between the book that Aardwolf Publishing is doing and the benefit auction Neal and I organized that Heritage Comics is going to run and the deal with Marvel, the Cockrums should be taken care of for the rest of their lives. It's a fair deal and it's something we're all happy with. I would have to say that Marvel was very generous and not difficult at all to work with. I'm not saying this to put any spin on it - they were very professional and very human."

"The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute" will be in the April Previews for a late June shipping.

The other project Meth is involved in right now is "god's 15 minutes," a 252 page book of illustrated fiction featuring introductions by Harlan Ellison, Al Feldstein, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, and the late Robert Bloch with art by Gene Colan, Marie Severin, Joe Kubert, Mike Ploog, George Perez, Dave Cockrum, Joe Sinnott, Herb Trimpe, and others. The book ships this April from Aardwolf Publishing, who is also direct-selling 220 signed/numbered copies (signed by cover artist Michael Kaluta, Ellison, and Meth). Retailers can also order the regular book from Diamond, which comes with a signed bookplate (signed only by Meth).

"Jim Reeber at Aardwolf was compiling my first five trade paperbacks for an omnibus when I thought to myself, let's give this project's proceeds to Harlan Ellison's KICK Internet Piracy Fund," Meth told CBR News when asked about the genesis of this project. More on Ellison's KICK, a fight to combat Internet piracy, can be found here. "Harlan's been my friend and mentor for nearly 15 years - he's taught me more than anyone else I know. I'm personally disgusted by the fact that he needs to be involved in this horrific lawsuit with AOL, but his rights have been trampled and, once again, he's willing to put it all on the line. As his friend, how can I watch that and not participate at some level? Even if his cause wasn't just, which it is, I'd be behind him. Once again, it's a friendship thing. You're my pal and you're in a fight, so I'm in a fight, too. That's how I look at life. It can be very time-consuming.

"The artists drew whatever they wanted, but they were assigned stories - this is a book of illustrated fiction. The artists - Gene Colan, Dave Cockrum, Marie Severin, Joe Sinnott, Herb Trimpe, Gray Morrow, George Perez - illustrated actual stories. And then some of my writer friends (and even some of the artists) were asked to write intros. So you have Harlan Ellison, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Gene Colan, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Al Feldstein going on about something Meth did or something Meth didn't do or a particular story. It's a fun book. There's even an afterword that the late, great Robert Bloch wrote for me years ago."

Lining up contributors for both of these books was a long process. Some were asked directly and others heard about them through the grape vine and offered up their services.

"With 'god's 15 minutes,' artists were asked to illustrate stories and they were paid. This was business. Of course, I went after artists I liked and admired - some that I was friends with and others that I wanted to befriend. Sometimes I called, if they were a friend of mine, and sometimes Jim Reeber called or wrote them. I do get an occasional artist saying, oh, I'd love to illustrate one of your stories, but his name is usually Mike Pascale.

"With the Cockrum book, I made a few calls and got word out through the comics media. Then, when Neal Adams joined me, we really hit it off and sort of partnered on the book and the auction tasks. I can't say enough about Neal. Solid rock mensch, that guy. He's the kind of friend I went after as a kid. And he can draw, too."

So, now that you know what Clifford Meth is up to today, who is this guy? What's his past? Meth was more than happy to fill in those new to the writer.

"I was active in fandom in the mid-70s, then broke out in the late 70s as an entertainment journalist. When the L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire syndicated me, a lot of doors opened and I ended up writing for several dozen magazines. I had a certain gutsiness that certain folks found endearing, so I ended up getting the better stories, the better interview ops. Howard Stern gave me one of his few exclusives. So did Frank Zappa. [Kurt] Vonnegut and I began to correspond. But the big breaks came about a decade ago when I started selling fiction. I partnered with Jim Reeber at Aardwolf Publishing and found that there was an audience among comic readers for my illustrated fiction."

For more on "The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute" and "god's 15 minutes," visit the Aardwolf Publishing Web site.

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