When creators write a book, they can only hope that in twenty or so years their characters would not only still be in use but that they will be remember for what they do. Dave Cockrum is a name among names in the comic world. His sole work on Giant Size X-Men is enough to propel him into comic legend, but both of his remarkable runs on X-Men was what topped it off.
BEFORE THEY WERE STARS: DAVE COCKRUM
Tom Toner: Thank you Mr. Cockrum for doing this, it means a lot to me. It is a huge honor to get the privilege to interview you. Now, I notice that you've had your hand in writing, penciling, AND inking. I was wondering which one came first for you? Out of those, which do you enjoy doing?
Dave Cockrum: Penciling came first, I guess, though I remember writing a science fiction novel when I was about fifteen. It wasn't very good, though. Inking was hardest to learn, it requires a precision and coordination of hand and eye that takes a lot of practice to learn.
I actually think I enjoy writing most, and if my ideas solidified faster, I'd probably try to make a career of it. I had a collection of short stories published in VERY limited edition, and I have two story fragments, which could become novels.
TT: How exactly did you land the job at Marvel?
DC: When I got out of the Navy I came to New York and approached both Marvel and DC. I'd corresponded with Stan Lee while I was in college, and I hoped it would give me a bit of an in. Stan was glad to see me, but didn't offer work.
TT: That’s a shame. But what about DC?
DC: At DC, I'd written to Julie Schwartz over the years, and even sent artwork (some of which inspired the covers of Green Lantern #40 and Hawkman #11), so I hoped for some work there. No such luck there either, though Julie was glad to pull out a number of bad drawings I'd sent him, to embarrass me.
TT: Yikes. So both Marvel and DC were a bust. But now wait a minute, how DID you get into the comic biz then?
DC: Neal Adams sent me to Warren Publishing. I got work there for my first year in comics. Then, after another year of inking backgrounds for Murphy Anderson, I landed my first strip, The Legion of Superheroes.
TT: A-ha, so there’s the DC job I heard about.
DC: After a year and a half of drawing The Legion, I had a disagreement with DC editorial and went over to Marvel, where they put me to work on Giant Size Avengers #2 and #3; they recruited me into their Merry Mutant Empire.
TT: Say Dave, do you mind if I call you Dave, why get into comics? Of all the things to do in the world, why get into comic books?
DC: I like comics. I like to tell stories. I like to draw. Doing comics is as close as you can come to doing movies or TV, complete with fabulous mind-blowing special effects--and all on a budget of a few bucks.
TT: If not comics, what would you be doing right now?
DC: Writing novels or directing movies.
TT: Dave, I was wondering. Giant Size X-Men. How were you chosen to draw this issue?
DC: I'd been badgering then-editor Roy Thomas for a regular series. He liked what I'd done with Giant Size Avengers #2 and #3, so he offered me the job.
TT: You have had a hand in creating some of the most recognized characters ever in Giant Size X-Men. I was wondering how about they had been made.
DC: I simply have a talent for character design. Nightcrawler had been a fan character of mine, first created while I was still in the Navy. I later offered him to DC as a prospective Legionnaire, but editor Murray Boltinoff thought he was too funny looking and rejected him.
TT: Whoa. I wonder how things would have changed had he been a Legionnaire rather then an X-Man.
DC: Good question. I'd have been less inclined to leave the Legion when I did, if he was a member. And there are some people who refer to him as 'the heart of the X-Men'. I think a lot of things would have been different. There would have been no Storm, no Colossus, Thunderbird, Phoenix, Starjammers, Shi'ar Empire, Imperial Guard, and on, and on...there would've been no new X-Men--at least not the ones we know. And since Carmine Infantino once told me DC was grooming me to take over Superman when Curt Swan retired, *that* book would have been a lot different too.
TT: Very interesting there Dave. But please, continue.
DC: Colossus had been loosely based on a character I came up with in college, named 'Mr. Steel'. Storm was an amalgam of several characters: her costume had been designed for a character named the Black Cat (not the one I later designed for Spider-Man); the cape came from a rejected Jean Grey costume; her powers came from an unused Legionnaire design called Typhoon; and her face was a combination of two others: another unused Legionnaire named Quetzal, and my cat, a tabby named Sheba.
TT: Last thing about Giant Size X-Men before we drop that topic. How does it feel to have had that issue honored as one of the 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time?
DC: Well, I'm pleased, of course, but I'd feel a lot better if Marvel saw fit to share a little of their Mutant Millions with the guy who created a lot of them.
TT: How was it like to work with your wife on Marvel Comics Presents 76?
DC: Which one was that?
TT: I think you and your wife’s part was about Woodgod.
TT: In doing comics, did you ever have any role models, people you followed, etc?
DC: Yes, of course, lots of them. Wally Wood was probably my first comics hero, because I loved his work and he *signed* it, so I actually knew who he was. I also loved Joe Kubert's Hawkman in Brave and Bold. Gil Kane. Murphy Anderson. Jack Kirby. John Romita Sr., John Buscema. Reed Crandall. Joe Maneely. Will Eisner. The list goes on.
TT: You ever get to meet any of them?
DC: I met all of the above named artists except for Reed Crandall and Joe Maneely who, alas, like Woody, Gil, Jack and Big John B, are no longer with us.
TT: Of all the characters you got to play with during your tenure, what character would you do a mini on (minus Nightcrawler. We all know your love for Kurt and that you would do a mini on him)?
DC: Storm, Phoenix, Colossus, Thunderbird.
TT: Thunderbird? The deceased John Proudstar?
DC: Yeah, that one.
TT: Well Dave, it has been an honor to interview you. Is there any thing else you'd like to share before we end?
DC: No, but if you have any more questions, feel free to let me know.
TT: Thanks for the offer Dave, but I think I’ve taken enough of your time. I’d like to thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to interview such a legend as yourself. You take care of yourself bud, and we’ll see you at your X-Fan Forum, Classically Cockrum.