Friday, June 23, 2017

Dave Cockrum and Rob Liefeld: A View From the Throne

Difficult as this might be to swallow, there was a time when Dave Cockrum couldn't get work as an artist. I'm not talking about when he was just back from the Navy seeking that first soon-to-be-fabled assignment as a professional. That actually didn’t turn out so badly. Armed with a folded letter of introduction from Neal Adams, who saw something in the young Cockrum that the rest of us would soon discover, Dave’s early career was something America’s Got Talent legends are made of.

But two decades later, it was over. Just a single generation after Cockrum’s ground-breaking Giant-Size X-Men #1, which introduced his characters Nightcrawler, Storm, Thunderbird and Colossus to the world, there was a new Pharaoh. And suddenly Dave Cockrum couldn’t catch a cold at Marvel. He was viewed as old hat by the new turks. Stodgy. That’s the word Joe Quesada used for Dave Cockrum’s art.

Leap forward another two decades and Dave’s artwork is selling for stupid money. You can hock one of his original covers, if you have one, and buy a car with the proceeds. Fans have canonized his creations. A sure sign of that is their inability to accept anyone touching the Futurians.

Don’t get me wrong. When the announcement that Rob Liefeld would be taking on the Futurians was made, I didn't exactly expect old fans to wet themselves in anticipation nor trample the halt and the lame on their way out the door to buy a copy. I know how old guys are. I had one staring back at me in the mirror this morning, bleary eyed, slack jawed. It's not a pretty sight. Old guys don't like any manner of change. I get it. Give me the same bran cereal I've always eaten. Give me the same beer. And don’t expect me to segment kitchen garbage into compost piles and "legit" trash. Julie Newmar—now that was a Catwoman. Adam West is the real Batman. I get it.

We all hate change. Change is evil. Nothing new can ever hold a candle to what was. I don’t care when you were born—you know as well as I do it was better back then.

But tell that to young folks just graduating from school this month, or just attempting to break into show business. We don’t want young punks looking for work in the comic book industry. Comics represent the idyllic Golden Age of our fleeting youth—a plane of reality where good is good and bad is bad, and no one ever ages or dies.

Except creators.

It partially explains why the entertainment world seems to contain a finite creative well, a manifesto where 90% of everything is recycled or at least derivative. Is it because there’s so few fresh ideas or just a bludgeoned audience that’s unreceptive to novelty? Perhaps certain things really are worth revisiting? And revisiting. And revisiting.

I'll leave that riddle to you smarter people to solve. The old guy in the mirror doesn’t like to burden himself terribly much with things he has no control over, which is just about everything. But one thing he has some say in is the Futurians.

Years ago, Dave Cockrum took a chance on me and gave me license me to write a Futurians story. Some years after that, Steven Brown, the head of IDT Entertainment, took a chance on me and allowed me to write a Futurians screenplay.

Paty Cockrum—Dave’s widow—took a chance on undiscovered comics creator David Miller and allowed him to develop a comic series out of one of her husband’s Futurians characters. She took a chance on undiscovered comics creator Richard O’Hara and allowed him to pencil the final pages of Dave Cockrum’s last, unfinished, final Futurians.

Forty years earlier, Sol Brodsky and John Verpoorten at Marvel took a chance on Paty.

Sometimes you have to take chances.

The old guy in the mirror laments the abandonment of childhood pleasures that just don’t present themselves anymore. Worse, he misses his pal Dave, who just isn’t around to phone and shoot the shit with, or drive out to visit, or produce terrific new comics and characters. But the physical absence of Dave Cockrum does not mandate the absence of characters he designed and blew life into. You can be certain Marvel won’t let their Dave Cockrum creations die.

It’s up to the Dave Cockrum estate to make certain that intellectual properties Dave conceived continue to delight generations to come. Even if it doesn’t delight old guys who insist that Neal Adams was the only Batman artist or prefer Adam West wearing the cowl.

So maybe Rob Liefeld isn’t your favorite artist. He isn’t mine either. My favorite was Gene Colan. How dare David Mazachelli or Lee Weeks or Tim Sale touch old horn head after Gene had been on the book for a decade!

Rob Liefeld wasn’t selected because Paty Cockrum and I expected a clone of Dave’s artwork and writing style. He was accepted because he loves Dave's work enough to ask for the project. He’s been wanting this for 15 years. And Rob’s own accomplishments are vast. It would be demeaning to enumerate them.

When the announcement was made that Rob was taking on the Futurians, his fans were thrilled. But the old boy’s club held their midnight convention at the Dave Cockrum Appreciation Society on Facebook and I was unprepared for the vitriol that poured out of some of these codgers. One guy compared the announcement to Donald Trump winning the presidency. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. Another individual’s hysterical invective, which seemed to gather hysteria with each subsequent post, demanded a boycott of Liefeld’s Futurians. To be staged at the U.N., no doubt, or at least on the steps of City Hall.

“You could—you know—wait and see,” suggested unreasonably sane author Mark Ellis.

But that would be too easy. When change comes, it's better to rail against it, better to bash one's own head on the wall, to scream at the top of one’s Facebook lungs and proffer a call to arms, and perhaps take out a Senator or Congressman on their way to a baseball game just for good measure. Clearly, one’s level of ire must rise to the degree of the offense. A comic book drawn by someone else?! Heresy!

I thought about that as I stepped away from the old guy in the mirror and took the throne of indignation. And upon further pondering such, I concluded that those who spend so much energy bashing projects before they are even born have likely never struggled to produce anything beyond a good bowel movement. And even that was hard.


alxjhnsn said...

I missed the controversy - can't say I'm sorry about that.

I will say that I think you are doing the right thing for Dave's legacy and for Paty.

Rob Liefeld is a great guy, a terrific stiryteller, and one who truly loves this medium. He'll do a fine job.

Yes, Rob has his artistic eccentricities, but in the end he'll tell a good story.

Richard said...

Cliff, you and Paty are the guardians of the realm. I can't wait to see what's coming. Keep up the good work.