|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
Dave's pencils for a "filler" page used to pad the reprints in X-Men Classics. This page, featuring Colossus and Storm, appeared in #12. Courtesy of the artist. ©1999 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Dave "Blackhawk" Cockrum
The Marvel Days of the Co-Creator of the New X-Men
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke
From Comic Book Artist #6
Dave Cockrum got his start as a fan artist way back in the '60s and broke in the field as Murphy Anderson's assistant at DC Comics. After a memorable run on "The Legion of Super-Heroes," Dave went on to the House of Ideas where he co-created, with Len Wein, The New X-Men, the franchise that went on to give Marvel enormous financial success in the following decades. Dave was interviewed via telephone in July, 1998, and he copy-edited the transcription.
Comic Book Artist: You invented characters and had an eye on creating heroes....
Dave Cockrum: I had a huge stable of my own characters. It's a story that Len Wein loves to tell about the creation of the New X-Men; I had this huge sketchbook filled with characters I had come up with. Len keeps remembering that I took the X-Men drawings out of that book but that's not actually true. I made them up separately, but I did have that book of characters. That's one of the things I loved to do: invent characters.
CBA: Who were the greatest influences in your drawing?
Dave: Guys whose work I really loved were Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, and Joe Kubert. A little later, Jack Kirby because I hadn't seen his work until Marvel started up. I didn't discover Will Eisner until later but I just loved his stuff, too.
CBA: You obviously collected comics for some time....
Dave: I started in the '50s, but every time I blinked, my folks would take the books and burn 'em. I started collecting when Fawcett was still publishing Captain Marvel, and I have very strong memories of Captain Marvel Junior.
CBA: Were you attracted to the more realistic style of Mac Raboy's work?
Dave: I loved C.C. Beck's work but when I first started working in comics, DC had revived the Captain Marvel stuff, and I openly agitated to do Captain Marvel Jr. because I loved Raboy's art. That was just before I quit DC and went to Marvel. Had I stayed, I think that I would have been the regular artist for Junior.
CBA: When did you first have professional aspirations?
Dave: Real early. Drawing was something that I always could do and I started drawing super-heroes early on. I also wrote letters to the comics. When Marvel first came on the scene, there was a time when I wrote a letter to every Marvel book, every month. (Then I realized that it was too much work and I would right one letter that would address all of the books.) I met my first wife through the letter page of Fantastic Four #34. At the time, they were publishing full addresses and she read the letter and became interested because I was a sailor. We exchanged letters, she comes to California, and we get married!
CBA: You had a real strong inking presence with a heavy use of blacks.
Dave: Yeah, I was imitating Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. At Marvel, they just wanted me to ink but I wanted to pencil. I clamored about it and finally they just let me go ahead and pencil. (I've been a penciler for so long, that I've pretty much lost my feel for inking.)
CBA: You went over to DC from Warren?
Dave: Yeah. I started doing background inking, first for Tony DeZuniga (who was doing a lot of House of Mystery and stuff like that). They weren't running a stable yet, at that point. He was okay to work for, but his wife, Mary, was something else. She looked at my stuff and said, "Ehhh! Ten years, maybe, you might make it." I stayed long enough to work on five or six issues, but Murphy Anderson needed a background inker for the work he was doing on Curt Swan's Superman and Bob Brown's Superboy. He also got the "John Carter of Mars" strip, which I desperately wanted to help out with (being a John Carter fan all of my life) but Murphy wouldn't let me touch that. He'd say, "This is mine! Go away!" I worked for Murphy for about a year in a downtown Manhattan studio. It was great and I learned a lot, but the only trouble was that we did more bullsh*tting than working! So it turned out to be not that profitable and he finally closed down the studio.
While I was working for Murphy, the "Legion of Super-Heroes" strip became available. Murray Boltinoff, the editor, got Murphy to agree to ink it. Murray figured that Murphy would be responsible for the quality of the book and fix anything that I did wrong. Because Murphy was an old-time professional and I was the newcomer, Murray listed Murphy's name first on the credits, so everybody thinks that Murphy penciled those first three or four strips, when actually I did. It was the other way around: I penciled and he inked. But Murray thought that Murphy would be offended to be listed second, though he wouldn't have.
By the fourth "Legion" strip I did, Murphy was embroiled in "John Carter" and Superman, and he just couldn't help anymore. So he said, "You're on your own!" There was a lot of snowpaque on that art from correcting mistakes, but I got through it. It looked pretty slick and people said that it wasn't bad, so after that it was my book. Fan reaction was pretty good, because I was young and enthusiastic—and obviously the first one in a long time who much cared what was being done with The Legion—I even badgered Murray into allowing me to introduce new costumes, but he was timid about that. That was my best early work.
CBA: Around the same time were you doing some inking for Marvel? The Avengers come to mind....
Dave: I didn't start working for Marvel full-time until I had my little go-around with Murray and Carmine Infantino. DC wasn't returning artwork at that point, and Marvel was, but I asked for the double-page spread of the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel to be returned. I just wanted it for a souvenir, and Murray had said, "I don't see why not," and he apparently had it set aside to give to me. But Carmine came in the day I came by to pick it up and he said, "What's this?" Murray told him, and Carmine said, "You can't give this back to him. We don't do that." It was the only artwork that I had asked for back and I said, "Gee, guys, can't you bend the rules? It's all I'm asking for." He said, "Nope, can't do it." I said, "All right. See ya." (Just prior to this incident, I had gotten the Captain Marvel Jr. job from Julie Schwartz.) I then went over to Marvel and got some work, and asked Julie and Roy Thomas, "Do you guys mind if I keep doing Captain Marvel Jr.? Because I really tried hard to get that." Both of them said fine, but Carmine said, "No, he can't." So I made a clean cut with DC.
CBA: What were your first assignments at Marvel?
Dave: I did a "Gulliver of Mars" story in a black-&-white magazine. I was never very fast. These days, I'm lucky if I do two a day. Inks are probably one a day, so it was difficult to do a monthly book. I was doing X-Men on a monthly basis during my second run on the book but they had to stick in occasional fill-ins to take up the slack.
CBA: Mike Friedrich told me a story that back in 1972 you had an idea for an international team book that eventually turned into the new X-Men. Is that true?
Dave: It wasn't my idea. Roy brought up the idea that he wanted to do a new X-Men book but he was talking about approaching it as "Mutant Blackhawks." That was Roy's suggestion when he took us to a fancy restaurant, telling us to order whatever we wanted—he had a hamburger. That was Roy's proposal: He wanted them international and to operate out of a secret base. Part of the rationale, as I understand it, was that Marvel was looking for foreign markets. And then, ultimately, we picked a bunch of nationalities whose countries weren't liable to buy the book! It never wound up fitting that proposal anyway.
CBA: After that, how long did you work on the proposal?
Dave: I had gone home and started designing some characters, but for some reason, there was a pause in the development, and they just hung fire for months. When it came back, Mike Friedrich wasn't involved any more but Len Wein was. I had drawn up a number of characters: The original black female in the group was to have been called The Black Cat. She had Storm's costume but without the cape, and a cat-like haircut with tufts for ears. Her power was that she could turn into a humanoid cat or a tabby. She wore a collar with a bell on it. When we came back to the project, after the hiatus, all of a sudden all of these other female cat characters had sprung up—Tigra, The Cat, Pantha—so I figured that we'd better overhaul this one! She wound up getting white hair, the cape, and becoming Storm.
CBA: Where did Nightcrawler come from?
Dave: When I was still a fan and in the Navy, my first wife and I were living on Guam in a house in the boonies (which was infested with roaches and rats). There was a terrible storm going on overhead, we had no lights, it was noisy and loud and raining like hell with thunder and lightning. To keep ourselves occupied and keeping ourselves from being scared to death, we sat around making up characters. We made up this duo, a guy I called the Intruder (a cross between the Punisher and Batman, with a chrome skull and black jumpsuit) and his demon sidekick, Nightcrawler. The original concept was a lot different in that Nightcrawler would howl at the moon, run up the sides of buildings and do all kinds of weird sh*t. He really was a demon who had screwed up on a mission from hell and, rather than go back and face punishment, he hung around up here with this do-gooder. So he was considerably overhauled when he wound up in the X-Men.
CBA: What input did you have with Colossus?
Dave: I drew him up and brought him in, saying, "Here's Colossus, our muscle guy." Len came up with the civilian name and origin. So it was my visual. Storm was pretty much the same, though when I wanted to put the white hair on her, everybody said that she'd wind up looking like somebody's grandmother. I said, "Trust me."
CBA: Was Thunderbird your character?
Dave: Yes. When I brought in the first design, everybody said, "He looks like an Air Force pilot!" I had this strange helmet on him that was an Indian design but nobody liked it, so I went back and re-did it.
CBA: Were you excited about working on the New X-Men?
Dave: Yeah, because it was a potentially hot series and I looked forward to the opportunity to do lots of neat stuff. I worked closely with Len to start but it didn't stay that way too long. He was in the process of becoming editor-in-chief at that point, and had gotten too busy to stay on. He plotted the next issue of Giant-Size X-Men (which became X-Men #94 and 95), but Chris Claremont came on and stayed as writer for 18-odd years. I knew from the start that I wasn't going to ink it myself but I did ink the first issue because, well, I wanted to.
CBA: So you stayed with the book for two years?
Dave: I stayed through to #107. I couldn't stay with it because I was on staff by that time—my job was to design covers—and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I was tired and I gave it up. Later on, they asked me to do that Marvel Fanfare with the X-Men in the Savage Land and it was fun! I called up Chris and said, "This is really fun! If Byrne ever wants to leave the book, give me another chance at it." And Byrne left the book that following Monday. That was a weird juxtaposition! So I got the book back and I was enthusiastic again. It was fun for a long time.
The only reason I left the book the second time was because I had previously put in a proposal for The Futurians. It sat on Jim Shooter's desk for about a year, and he finally said, "Yeah, you can do this if you want." I was in some doubt whether I should quit the X-Men and do that but I really wanted to do it. Chris and Louise Simonson, the editor, talked me into giving up the X-Men because they thought I was more enthused about The Futurians. That was probably the biggest mistake of my life! That was about the time they started paying the royalties and reprint money. It takes nine months after an issue goes on sale before you get a royalty check so I hadn't received one yet by the time I quit the X-Men. When the first one came it was $2000 right out of the air! I thought, "Geez!" And it got better, and from what I heard, people like Jim Lee were making $40,000 a month on royalties. (That's why they could afford to go off and start Image.) If I had known about that kind of money coming in—even the $2000 a month—you couldn't have pried me off that book with a crowbar. The Futurians was never that successful.
CBA: Did you get to meet Jack Kirby?
Dave: Only once or twice. I had a run-in with him of sorts when I was designing covers. I would normally sketch out a rough and attach a logo to it, and send it out to the artist who was supposed to do it. They were doing "What If Jane Foster had the hammer of Thor?" and they wanted Kirby to do the cover for that. Well, me being me with the peculiar twist of mind that I sometimes have, the logo I put on said, "What if Thor wore a bra?" I sent it out and Jack and Mrs. Kirby were totally scandalized, sent it back, and refused to have anything to do with it. The powers-that-be demanded, "What are you doing to Kirby?! You've pissed off Jack Kirby!" I said, "But, but, but..." and they wound up having the cover done by John Buscema.
There was another time when I was working with Stan on the Fantastic Four cartoon. For whatever reason, they couldn't use the Human Torch, so I had the task of designing Herbie the Robot. I thought the whole notion of replacing the Torch with a robot was so lame, all I would come up with were stupid ideas: One of them looked like a trash can on wheels with a "4" on it, another was a lamp on wheels with a "4" on it. After a half-dozen of these, Stan says, "You know, you're really hard to work with!" And he called up Jack and had him do it.
CBA: Along with Gil Kane, you're one of the best costume designers in the business.
Dave: That's one of the things I like to do. Possibly my costumes have a dated look now because everybody likes bandoliers and bolts and tennis shoes today. I still like stuff that looks like super-hero costumes.
(To read the rest of Dave's interview, be sure to order COMIC BOOK ARTIST #6!)
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