Yesterday I alluded to an item which would explain the presence, all in one room, of people like Paul Levitz, Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort, Dan DiDio, Mike Carlin, Bob Wayne, Jim Shooter, Dan Buckley, Peter Sanderson, Mark Waid, Chris Claremont, Peter David, Steve Wacker, Danny Fingeroth, Jo Duffy, Jack C. Harris, Irene and Ellen Vartanoff, Al Milgrom, Ken Gale and Mercy Von Vlack, and Cliff Meth all in one place and not at a convention.
All these folks and more gathered in the Time Life Building’s 2nd floor conference center on Thursday afternoon for both a happy and sad occasion — remembering and celebrating the life of the late Dave Cockrum and his many wonderful contributions to comics.
Paul Levitz led off the event by recalling the first official memorial over which the comics family presided, that of Wally Wood. (The last one Robin and I attended before this was ten years ago, for Kim Yale. While I don’t actually enjoy these events, I’ve found great comfort in like-minded folk coming together to salute one of their own and thus strengthen the bonds that exist between us all.) Paul suggested the memorial tributes be done "open mike" style, where anyone who wished to share a story about Dave could come to the podium and speak about him, with Dave’s widow Paty being last to speak.
Cliff Meth, a very close friend of Dave and Paty, talked about how Dave’s love of comics shone through even in his passing (wearing his Superman pj’s under a Batman blanket) and cremation (in his Green Lantern t-shirt), and how strongly he felt Dave’s spirit still around, a feeling which would be echoed by Paty. Cliff also passed along remembrances from two Californians who couldn’t be there, Marv Wolfman and Harlan Ellison — who recorded his eulogy, the reaction to which there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and not from crying.
My first reaction to hearing Harlan’s cadence as he eulogized Dave was "When did he turn into Mel Brooks?" I ‘d never before realized how Yiddish the word "fecund" sounded. One can’t do justice to out-of-context phrases like "snubbed by the sanhedrin of comics" unless one was there but, like many things Harlan, it was unforgettable and provoked much catharctic laughter. Dan DiDio in particular repeatedly lost it. While Tim Leong notes that "Mark Waid jokingly pretended to cut his wrists halfway through," I was sitting right next to Mark and didn’t notice that at all, so it may be apocryphal. He is correct, however, in observing that the speech was "enthusiastic but long." The ostensible subject matter was some of Dave’s less commercially successful creations, like Fly in Amber and Floppy Disk. I thought this must be a put-on, but Paty’s reaction seemed to indicate otherwise, as she added, "He forgot Snoot — the sentient pile of manure!"
Jo Duffy (who I overheard telling Mike Carlin she was starting a book publishing company) recalled how she used to share an office with Dave and Paty, and also reminisced about Dave’s "little side work." Jack C. Harris passed on a terrific tale about returning to Dave the artwork from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #200. Paul Levitz added that the memorable splash page from that issue was done twice-up, at a time when everyone else at DC had switched to working 1½-up, because he loved the work so much he wanted to put that extra care into it. The non-return of that page, until Jack was able to rectify things, has been cited by many as the reason Cockrum left DC for Marvel.
Levitz also read a tribute to Dave by Roy Thomas, who referred to Cockrum’s prolific talent as a "human cornucopiea." Chris Claremont echoed that characterization, noting about Dave that "he would give you everthing — then he would give you more." Others would also touch on Dave’s never-ending wellspring of character ideas, costuming styles and so forth — as Chris said, his sense of play was "breathtaking."
After Irene Vartanoff expressed her gratitude that so many folks came out to share with Paty and her family their fond memories of Dave, Andy Yanchus spoke of Dave’s talent in designing model kits back when they both worked for Aurora. Ken Gale remembered visiting Dave at the VA hospital in the Bronx, and noted how sad it was that others couldn’t have done the same. (As Jo noted, many of Dave’s friends hadn’t been informed of the situation, despite Ken’s emails to general fandom. As I noted to myself, having visited Dave during that time, the weather was absolutely horrid with ice all over the area, which made it difficult and dangerous to move around, so I could actually understand more folks not schlepping out.)
Al Milgrom mentioned how he’d first seen Dave’s work in fanzines and how that work was instrumental in his decision to work in comics. Al and Paty also kibbitzed back and forth about Dave’s Futurians creation, which Milgrom edited (Paty noted that Dave had said "Milgrom is the perfect editor for me"). Next to Ellison’s speech, Milgrom’s remarks received the most raucous reaction, as he took no prisoners whether referring to Gil Kane’s prediliction for other people’s original art or describing Howard Chaykin as "something of a yapping little dog." It wasn’t hard to see how his frankness led to his firing from Marvel a few years back.
Following Levitz’s mention of how Murphy Anderson had wanted to attend but couldn’t due to the shingles (ComicMix wishes Anderson a speedy recovery and hopes he’s back in the pink well in time for the 29th annual Superman celebration which he’s scheduled to attend), Paty wrapped up the event by rambling about how she and Dave met in the old Marvel bullpen days, how he enjoyed fannish activities like "filking" (song parodies) — she even regaled us with a rendition of a YMCA filk, "It’s Fun To Be In The JLA" (Peter David noted to me, ""Fantasic Four’ would have scanned better") — the comics that Dave got a kick out of (he adored the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League run, particularly the Kooey-Kooey-Kooey storyline), and how Dave’s ghost seems to be very active in their South Carolina home, which is obviously a great source of comfort for her. She ended by graciously thanking event attendees and noting, re Dave’s ghost, "He loved comics. He’s not going to go away from them!"
And it was, of course, true. For many of us, Dave and comics will always be inextricably linked, and that’s how it should be.
[Just a reminder: the Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute is available in hardcover from Aardwolf Publishing. Edited by Cliff Meth, the book contains over 20 pages of new, original Cockrum artwork as well as art contributions from lots of comics’ biggest names, and 200 Special Editions include original Cockrum drawings bound in. More here about the book and the nascent Dave and Paty Cockrum Foundation scholarship fund.]