Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dave Cockrum

I wrote this two years ago, for a benefit book for Dave Cockrum:

For Dave Cockrum

The golden age of comics is when you’re twelve. The silver age is around fourteen, fifteen – that nebulous zone when comics still matter, but so does rock music and so would girls if you could only get close enough to one to actually do anything more than blush and stutter. After that comes the slow fall from grace, and then all the ages run together in one dark gulf. Nothing quite makes the magic happen in the way it did, back then, when the summers lasted forever, and the girl next door still had a pug nose and pigtails (the safety-pin in her nose and her mohawk wouldn't arrive for several more years).

I never quite clicked on Superheroes (TM Marvel and DC and how weird is that?) as a kid. I liked them well enough, but they always seemed to be slightly problematic. They didn’t do the important stuff.

The important stuff, the way I saw it was that super powers would allow you to survive school more easily. If I were secretly the Fastest Man Alive I’d never be late for school ever again. If I were invulnerable (and I could spell it and I knew what it meant) I wouldn’t be miserable and frozen out on an arctic football field, out in some defensive position where I could do the least harm. Even Aquaman didn’t seem to have it too bad: the hellish compulsory swimming classes in the unheated open air pool left me convinced that I would be prime drowning fodder without his powers, even if I couldn’t telepathically communicate with any of the local sticklebacks.

I think that was why I loved the Legion of Super Heroes, back in my own personal golden age. There were lots of them. They lived in the future. And their powers seemed made for surviving school with. (There were school meals put in front of me that only Matter Eater Lad could comfortably have disposed of.) They had a clubhouse. They didn’t fight bank robbers, either. (Mostly they seemed to fight each other, even if they had been brainwashed by intergalactic evildoers. This also made sense to me. I had lived twelve years, and had come to the conclusion that bank robbers turned up more infrequently than they did in the comics.) And, most of all, for just a little while – oddly enough, while I was twelve – they had Dave Cockrum.

I kept waiting for a time sphere to turn up, and to be invited to join the Legion. I had no particular power, not that I’d noticed, but then, you never know, I might get lucky.

I ought to Google and find out what the first Legion story Dave drew was; on the other hand, I still know the first of his stories I read. It was called “Curse of the Blood Crystals”, and it was inked by Murphy Anderson. (I have always been a sucker for Murphy Anderson’s inking.)

And, almost immediately it seemed, Superboy’s comic had become The Legion’s, and Dave Cockrum was the Legion artist (Cary Bates was writing), and suddenly it was cool...

When Dave started drawing the new X-Men, I already felt proprietorial, in a way that only comics readers can feel about artists whose work they love. I owned Dave Cockrum, just as I owned Neal Adams and Berni Wrightson and Jack Kirby and Jim Aparo. He was one of mine, and he owned a small part of my soul.

I was made foolishly happy, many years on, during the early Sandman years, at a New York convention, to be told by Paty Cockrum that she and Dave liked what I did. And, somewhere inside me, a twelve year old exulted: if I couldn’t join the Legion, this was easily the next best thing, and, for a moment, I was back in the Golden Age...

Neil Gaiman

March 5, 2004

Dave passed on today, from complications of diabetes.