Guys like Dave Cockrum are just the opposite. If it hadn’t been for the burden of his illness, he would never have even mentioned his missing royalties to anyone. For companies that take advantage of that sort of guy, that’s a ready-made sucker, a patsy. But for Dave Cockrum, it was about getting on with life. He was happy to have created what he created, to have found a career drawing comics. He never verbalized any regret about his chosen field. At least not to me, and I was his pal. Dave never considered the road not taken. “What else could I have done?” he’d say. “I love comics!”
Dave did love comics. He loved everything about them. He would talk art about plot devices and character motivation as seriously as he discussed art technique. He’d been a fan of Murphy Anderson’s and Neal Adams and Wally Wood and Julie Schwartz and then he became their student. He’d work closely with Marv Wolfman and Len Wein and Chris Claremont. It was a fan’s dream come true and Dave never forgot it. It was never about the money.
While the mid- and late-70s were his halcyon days, the 80s and 90s brought less and less work. Dave wasn’t political. There was no salesmanship to him. What you saw was what you got. He made no efforts to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the new wave of editors and so, by the late 90s, Dave’s work was rarely found in comics anymore. He was effectively forced to retire into obscurity. Without royalties. Despite the fact that he’d created Nightcrawler; that he’d designed Colossus, Storm, Phoenix, Thunderbird, Mystique, The Black Cat, The Starjammers, The Imperial Guard and The Brood. This last decade was a very tough time for this very capable man. But you’d never have known it because Dave continued to make convention appearances across America where he’d sketch for a pittance (or no money at all, if the fan claimed poverty). Dave always had a smile on his face. He was always a fan’s favorite.
Then came the stroke and the collapse and hospitalization. Then, at least, came the Marvel settlement.
Following the settlement, Dave’s last three years were spent in South Carolina. He and his wife Paty moved there, from upstate New York, to get away from the cold. Dave spent most of his days in a wheelchair watching television, rarely drawing, reading when he could. He had dialysis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?a four- to five-hour affair that always left him drained and exhausted. He knew that a new kidney might change his life, but hoping for one at his age (and in his condition) was like hoping to win the Lotto, and the odds were just about the same. So he had no illusions.
Despite the ailments and the lack of funds, Dave stayed happy. Not to say there weren’t bouts of depression, but following the comics’ industry tribute that all of you out there in comics land gave him, Dave felt somehow fulfilled. He knew he hadn’t been forgotten. Indeed, Dave discovered an entire new generation of fans on the web who were only too eager to talk with him. So when he could, he’d answer questions and make new e-mates across the i-planet. He refused to be bitter about anything. The nastiest thing I ever heard him say was, “I wish I had John Byrne’s money and he had my feet.”
Dave’s fans, many congregating at NightScrawlers.com, didn’t realize how much of Dave’s waking time was devoted to them. But one fella had it right this morning: “Dear, sweet Dave, taking the time to chat with his fans on a message board up until the end. He really gave us so much more than we had the right to ask for. It’s so hard to believe that Nightcrawler’s dad is gone.”
Dave’s last post to his fans came exactly two weeks ago, before he was hammered by a flu. He had just turned 63 and lost his own father on the day of his birthday. In reply to a combo birthday-and-condolence wish from a fan about to visit Tennessee, Dave wrote (on November 12), “Not only did my dad die on my birthday?his SECOND wife died on HIS birthday. I see an uncomfortable tendency here! Hey, Tennessee’s right next door! If you get that far, you definitely have to stop round here! We’ve got the room here and we’d be glad to have you!”
That was my pal, Dave.
Gosh, I’m gonna miss him.
© 2004, Clifford Meth