It’s a human story about a nice community.

Dave Cockrum is lying in bed at the V.A. Hospital in the Bronx when the phone rings. It takes him more than a minute just to answer it, and two hands to hold the phone steady because the trembling comes and goes. The voice on the other end introduces himself?says he’s a fan calling to wish Dave well. Dave makes polite conversation for a few minutes, thanks the fan for calling, then lies in bed again.

This happens all the time.

His friends call, too. I’m one of them. I call twice a day. Sometimes three times. Dave tells me about the people who’ve come to visit, or about how much he hates hospital food, or about his physical therapist who he calls the “physical terrorist.”

I tell him hospital jokes. Like the one about this old guy who has an operation on his throat and the next morning is dying for a cup of coffee. He rings the bell and the nurse comes in. “Nurse, nurse!” he rasps with what little voice he has left. “I’ve gotta have a coffee!” She notices that the man is being fed entirely by a tube in his rectum. “I?I want to help you,” she says, “but I don’t know what to do.”

“Just give me the coffee!” he demands. “Pour it down the tube!”

So the nurse goes out in the hall and fetches a cup of hot coffee and returns. “Are you sure you want me to do this?” she asks, looking at the tube in the man’s arse.

“Yes!” rasps the old man. “For chrisakes! I need a coffee!”

So she pours the cup down the tube, and the man screams.

“Omigosh!” says the nurse. “I’m so sorry! Was it too hot?”

“No!” says the old guy. “Too sweet!”

After I hang up with Dave, I make the rounds. I call various creators who’ve promised art for The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute; I answer emails to fans who want to contribute to the book; and I make sure that Dave has the little things he’s asked for that day. Yesterday, he asked for a comic book. He hadn’t seen one in six weeks.

“I miss Strangers in Paradise,” he tells me. “That’s my favorite.”

“Never heard of it,” I tell him, “but I’ll pick up a copy.” I stop at my local comics shop?TimeWarp in Cedar Grove, New Jersey?and pick up the last three issues of Strangers in Paradise. Later that evening, I read the books. Nice stuff: Smart and original. Cockrum has good taste. So the next day, I call Terry Moore, artist/writer of the book, and invite him into the tribute. He’s honored to join us.

This is an ongoing saga. It’s a human story. About a nice community. Every day, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is Dave Cockrum is still hospitalized with no clear end in sight. The good news is that everyone wants to help.

Alan Moore wants to help. I don’t understand the reclusive image some of you folks tagged Alan with?I’ve always found him warm and personable. Sure, he’s the only legitimate genius in comics (as one of SBC’s columnists recently noted), but the guy is a mensch. I called him out of nowhere, as I usually do.

“Of course I’ll help, Clifford,” he said.

“Good,” I said. “I know you never worked with Dave, but he admires you very much and it would tickle him pink.”

“Well, it’s mutual,” said Alan. “Dave was doing great things in comics when few great things could be found. I’m delighted to be part of this.”

Yeah. Good news and bad news. Everyone wants to help. The parade of creators?many of them industry legends?who have promised written or artistic contributions to The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute is nothing short of staggering. And as the editor of this uncommon collection, I have the rare privilege of seeing these pieces as they come into the office. The first art to arrive was a beautiful pencil rendering of Capt. America capturing Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein by Gene Colan (yes, I know Cockrum didn’t create Cap, but he did pencil Captain America #216, and his earliest Marvel work was on Giant-Size Avengers #2–the classic death-of-the-Swordsman story by Steve Engelhart).

The next piece to arrive was an introduction by Stan Lee. I hadn’t spoken with Stan in several years and his old office number was no longer current, so I called his younger brother, Larry Lieber. (Larry wrote and drew numerous superhero, monster, and western comics, but he’s best remembered for his daily newspaper comic strip, The Incredible Hulk; he also had a run as artist on the daily Spider-Man strip). Anyway, Larry passed the news to Stan and within an hour my phone rang. “What can I do to help?” asked Stan.

It’s been like that for weeks. Every day a new creator joins us, or a terrific piece lands in the mailbox. Harlan Ellison’s arrived last night. I asked for three paragraphs from the world’s greatest living fantasist. He gave me four pages?not tossed-off, from-the-cuff words of schmaltzy appreciation, my brothers. I got 1100 words of vintage Ellison; a study, so to speak (tongue firmly in cheek) of the other characters Dave Cockrum created; the ones we never heard of. This piece alone is worth the price of the book.

I sat at Dave’s bedside tonight and showed him some of the artwork that’s come in. The gorgeous Storm by John Romita. Wolverine & Nightcrawler by Neal Adams.

“Read me Harlan’s piece,” said Dave. “Do it in his voice.” Dave laughs. He knows I do a world-class imitation of Ellison. Maybe as good as Randy Bowen’s. Maybe better.

It’s a human story, all right.

I just pray it has a Hollywood ending.

Clifford Meth

Clifford Meth is the author of the forthcoming god’s 15 minutes (Aardwolf Publishing). He is editing the forthcoming The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute, which will include art and unpublished writings from Neal Adams, Bob Almond, Murphy Anderson, Sergio Aragones, Terry Austin, Dick Ayers, Mark Bagley, Charles Barnett, Al Bigley, David Boswell, Rich Buckler, John Byrne, Travis Charist, Chris Claremont, Gene Colan, Peter David, Alan Davis, Diane Duane, Harlan Ellison, Steve Englehart, Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman, Ron Garney, Mike Grell, Tony Isabella, Dan Jurgens, Sam Keith, Bill Messner-Loebs, Steve Lieber, Stan Lee, Pablo Marcos, Bob McLeod, Clifford Meth, Alan Moore, Terry Moore , Jerry Ordway, Tom Palmer, Mike Pascale, George Perez, Robin Riggs, John Romita, Joe Rubinstein, Marie Severin, Dave Sim, Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, Mark Texeira, Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Sal Velluto, Lee Weeks, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and others.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

About The Author