X-POSITION: Dave Cockrum Tribute

Welcome to a special edition of X-POSITION. This week, we pay tribute to the legendary artist Dave Cockrum, who passed away in 2006. With "X-Men: Odd Men Out" released later this month, featuring two previously unpublished stories illustrated by Cockrum and written by Roger Stern and Michael Higgins with a cover by Eric Nguyen, CBR asked several creators who worked with or followed Cockrum's influential X-Men run to offer a few remarks on the artist's enduring influence on Marvel's mutants.

First up we have Alan Davis, artist of such series as "Excalibur," "Captain Britain," and "Uncanny X-Men."

I have been lucky enough to work on some of the characters created by Dave Cockrum, Nightcrawler in particular. Like countless other fans around the world, when I think of Dave's work the first thing to mind is his wonderful and individual sense of costume and character design, most notable in Dave's contribution to the X-Men. But Dave's creations were far more than an interesting arrangement of features or colorful styling. Dave was a master storyteller-- one of the elite few who, in an overcrowded team book, could capture the essence of every character in a story so they became solid plausible, identifiable individuals.

I never met Dave but shortly before he died we exchanged a few e-mails and I was delighted to discover that he was a genuinely nice guy.

John Romita, Jr., who had his own noteworthy run on "Uncanny," had this to say:

Dave was always a real gentleman, a good man and an innovative artist/designer. His X-Men work, including his designing of the costumes, stands as a part of his legacy... it speaks for itself.

He is missed.

"Dark Tower" illustrator Jae Lee recalls a memorable encounter with Cockrum, and the indirect influence such an artist can have.

His art reminds me of late summer evenings spent reading comics. Of weekends at local conventions scouring through long boxes for that missing issue of "Uncanny." I met him once, only once, but I knew him well through his art. He broke all the rules when it came to costume designs. His were always innovative. Dave Cockrum will continue to live forever.

Not everyone, though, had the opportunity for even a fleeting encounter; yet "Uncanny X-Men" artist Billy Tan echoes Lee's remarks.

I didn't have the honor to meet or get to know Mr. Cockrum. His works are inspiring and set a standard for those of us who followed in his footstep to strive for our best. Thank you Mr. Cockrum, for inspiring us and bringing us so much fun and joy in the comic world.

Those who did know Cockrum are left with fond memories of his spirited approach to creating comics, as veteran writer-artist Walt Simonson tells us.

Dave Cockrum was a gentle guy who loved comics. And it's nice to feel that he left an indelible legacy in the business of storytelling.

When I remember Dave, I always think of the female form adorned with sashes. Or perhaps it's just the combination of form-fitting outfits and flowing garments Dave drew so lovingly that I'm remembering.

I first became aware of Dave's work when he was working on the "Legion of Super-Heroes" for DC. He began drawing the book just before I got into comics myself professionally. Like all of Dave's work, his "Legion" issues were straightforward, well-crafted comics. And I always felt that in Dave's Legion material in particular, there was a real element of beauty. And freshness. His influence with those characters continued long after he had departed from the book.

Eventually, he moved over to Marvel. And helped change the business.

In the end, the X-Men he helped recreate, first with Len Wein and then with Chris Claremont, remade Marvel Comics when the title became the franchise for the company. And comics became a different kind of playground.

Not bad for an ex-Navy guy who liked to draw, and created characters and stories from love.

Louise Simonson, also a longtime comics writer and editor, shared similar impressions of Dave Cockrum's talent for design, particularly when it comes to the team dynamic.

There are a lot of problems to be solved in the creation of any comic book. Crafting the look of the book-- including the drawing style, storytelling, page and panel composition, costumes, acting, locales--requires a lot of an artist. On top of this, each 22-page story has to be completed, on time, month after month.

Team comics, like "Uncanny X-men," simply compound the challenges an artist faces. Even before he came to the X-Men, Dave Cockrum was a master of this most difficult genre. His early work on the "Legion of Super-heroes" for DC Comics remains legendary.

But he came into his own on the X-Men.

As the co-creator with writer Len Wein of Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine, among others, Dave had a profound influence on the design and destiny of the X-Men. Along with writer Chris Claremont he helped relaunch a series that became Marvel Comics most popular franchise.

Dave tired of the monthly grind and left the X-Men for a while and John Byrne took over as artist. Then, when John Byrne left, Dave returned. Finally Dave left the X-Men for good, preferring to put his energies toward his own creator-owned property, the "Futurians."

Dave's influence, however, remains clear in the popularity of the characters he co-created and who are so prominently featured in Marvel's X-Men movies.

Rick Leonardi, another artist coming up in the 1980s with "Cloak and Dagger" and "Uncanny X-Men," looks back at Cockrum in context.

It's startling to look back at the early, early '80s, when I was a newbie, and take stock of the giants who were roaming the comics landscape at the time: Miller was of course putting the finishing touches on his overhaul of capital "S" storytelling with "Daredevil;" Chaykin, with "American Flagg," was shamelessly demanding significant intellectual ante from the reader just to follow along, thereby dispelling the hoary old conventional wisdom that readers had to be led by the nose or they'd be unhappy; Byrne was refining a style, or more like a system of production on the "Fantastic Four" that was eerily efficient but still made for great yarns; Walt Simonson, combining high-velocity graphics and a kid's giddy imagination, was finding shiny new material in the dullest corners on "Thor;" Arthur Adams was laying the foundation for a succession of mannerist imitators that persists to

this day.

And Dave Cockrum was having a blast on the "X-Men." That's how it seemed to me, anyway. Just wading in, crunching out the grids, page after page of them, throwing in the occasional double-page so you could get your bearings, then back to the plot. I imagined a guy in the classic bent-over-the-board pose, for hours and days on end, but with a mad gleam in his eye, impatient to tell the story; a guy who couldn't get to the next panel fast enough, 'cause, see, he wanted so much to show you what was gonna happen next.

I swiped from nearly everybody in those days (still do). But Dave's "X-Men" stuff I read compulsively, for fun.

Finally, "Spider-Girl" writer and former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco wraps up this special edition of X-POSITION with an early memory as well as one more recent.

Dave Cockrum and I weren't friends--we were acquaintances at best. We first met in the early 1970s on a subway train, heading home from a meeting of the old Academy of Comic Book Arts. I was writing single-page gags for Archie Comics. He had recently been assigned to the "Legion of Super-Heroes." Dave opened his portfolio and showed me all the new costumes he'd designed for the Legion. He also had pages and pages of new characters he planned to introduce. I don't really remember the costumes or the characters. I just remember Dave. He was bursting with enthusiasm and an unconditional love for comics--a love that almost, but not quite, matched the one he reserved for his cherished wife Paty. We last spoke a couple of years ago when he generously allowed me to interview him for a book I was putting together on the X-Men. Although his health was deteriorating, his passion for comics was undiminished. He was still bursting with new ideas, characters and stories. Dave did not go gently into the good night. It was an honor to know him.

Next week, we return to the regular X-POSITION format, and we're taking your questions for the X-Editors on the nigh-imminent "Uncanny X-Men" #500. If you think you can pry some secrets out of Nick Lowe, John Barber, and Axel Alonso, send an email to returning host George Tramountanas with "X-POSITION" in the subject line by Friday.

Now discuss this story in CBR's X-Men forum.

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