Friday, December 01, 2006

A secret power none of us can match

I've wanted to say something worthwhile about Dave Cockrum for days now...but I just can't find the words. So many things are caught up in this: the way in which Cockrum's career intersected with a shift in the way comics companies treated their creators...what comparing X-Men and The Futurians says about the challenges of creator-owned comics versus corporate properties...and what it says about the tension between comics writers and artists...why Cockrum's advent on the Legion of Super-Heroes and the X-Men had so much impact at the time...how much I loved those Superboy issues...how the death of a once-favorite creator makes me feel like a treasured part of my own life has just been put away in a sealed box, never to be opened again to prove that I'll never be able to go back to it again...

...and something about the condescending and inappropriate "Story Highlights" from the AP coverage, affirming every crass stereotype of comic books as kid stuff and comics creators as overgrown kids, though when I reread them in just the right skewed angle they reveal something oddly touching.

But do I really have anything worthwhile to add that hasn't already been said? Fortunately, Charles Yoakum does, from both the perspective of a fan who knows what Cockrum's presence meant in comics and the perspective of an artist who actually worked with the guy and got to interact with him. I don't know that I ever met or even saw Dave Cockrum in person, even at a convention; it seems like I must have, given the years of my convention-going coinciding with the peak of his convention appearances, but if so, why don't I remember it? Possibly I saw him and was too shy to say anything, not being able to find the words to convey what a big fan I was...which is right where I find myself now.

Grant Morrison has said in interviews that for him, Superman is more real than Grant Morrison: Superman existed long before he was born and will exist long after he's gone, and is known to many millions of people who'll never know the name of any of his writers. The same goes for DC and Marvel themselves. Characters like Nightcrawler and Storm and Colossus and Wildfire are more real than the tiny publishing houses which put out comic books featuring them. It doesn't matter that these characters owe their fame to commercial exploitation by publishers -- however they got out into the world, they're out there now, and they have an independent life in the minds of people all over the world. No action or policy by a publishing company can undo that. Those characters are effectively immortal. A company -- a collective entity of contracts and licenses and copyrights and marketing strategies -- doesn't create immortality, but a person can. Dave Cockrum, with his intuitive sense of what would catch the eye and work its way into our brains, was that kind of person.

Anyway, go read what Charles has to say.

2 comments:

  1. charles.yoakum12/01/2006 10:26 PM

    thanks for the link. I'm glad taht you liked the entry. I struggled to not go off into dave's work and where it all stands in the pantheon and just how he was right on the cusp of the changes in the industry. Futurians, seeker 3000, the great MOKF cover with the "unstoppable sumo" (#46), what ownership of just Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus would have meant to Dave financially.... the list goes on.

    he was a great guy. and I hardly knew him.

    Charles

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  2. More than being on the cusp of changes, Cockrum helped spark those changes. You pointed out what X-Men did for Marvel's fortunes; Mark Evanier raises the point that Cockrum's LSH work contributed to a shift in DC's attitude towards creators. Cockrum didn't benefit from the shifts in attitude he provoked, but isn't that always the way?

    Even if you hardly knew him, you still spent some time with the guy...and the fact I didn't may be why his death is so weird for me. Over the subsequent years I've had the chance to speak or correspond with folks like Roy Thomas, Len Wein, your old boss Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, and Steve Gerber, whose work meant so much to me as a teenager (and still does!) and when I think of those people they're people in the real world, not just impossibly distant names attached to favorite stories. But my view of Cockrum (a favorite artist even at a time when I focused almost exclusively on writers) stayed unchanged, because I never had any other experience of him. I don't mean that it's idealized -- I have a warts-and-all impression from lots of people who worked with him -- but his name is filed away under the category that will always be "1973" in my brain.

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