Hugo season is upon us and nominations for the 2023 Hugo Awards have opened, so it’s time for another Non-Fiction Spotlight. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.
For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.
Today’s Non-Fiction Spotlight is a biography of Dave Cockrum, a comic artist who should be better remembered than he is, since he co-created the All New, All Different X-Men in 1975 and helped to lay the foundations for what would become Marvel’s most popular title by the next decade.
Therefore, I am thrilled to welcome Glen Cadigan, author of The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum, to my blog today.
Tell us about your book.
The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum is a cradle to grave biography of the comic book artist best known for co-creating the All New, All Different X-Men for Marvel, and before that, for revitalizing the Legion of Super-Heroes at DC. It tells the story of how he went from an enthusiastic fan and aspiring pro in the ’60s to the driving force behind the X-Men reboot in the ’70s to a down-on-his luck-creator in the early 2000s, fighting for his life in a veteran’s hospital while Marvel was making millions off his creations as he made nothing.
It’s a story about justice and injustice, both on the page and off.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I started writing about comics twenty years ago, and returned — after a hiatus — last year. I’ve done volumes on the Legion of Super-Heroes (The Legion Companion, The Best of The Legion Outpost) and the Teen Titans (The Titans Companion Vols. 1 & 2), as well as articles in Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines and Comic-Con International’s annual Souvenir Book. I’ve interviewed literally dozens of writers and artists, and I’ve been doing it so long now that they’re starting to die on me.
In between, I’ve dabbled in fiction. I have two ongoing series, both humourous: Bedlam & Belfry, Intergalactic Attorneys at Law, and Tall Tales, Fairy Tales, and Bedtime Stories (For Former Children). About the latter, I say that the stories are for those young at heart but old enough to drink.
What prompted you to write/edit this book?
My association with Dave Cockrum goes back over twenty years, to when I was a regular on his message board. During that time of his life, he was a forgotten man. Editors wouldn’t hire him, and he received no compensation from Marvel for the use of his X-Men characters, which was a constant irritant to him.
It seems crazy to think that, while the X-Men are so well-known today, the names of the people who created it are not. Everyone knows Stan Lee, but not as many people are aware of Jack Kirby, the other creator of the original X-Men. When it comes to the All New, All Different X-Men (think Star Trek: The Next Generation compared to the original series, or the version with Wolverine in it), how many people who’ve seen those movies have ever heard of Dave Cockrum? Or know what happened to him, later in his life, while his creations were the bedrock of Marvel’s publishing empire?
I wrote the book because it’s necessary, and the story needs to be told. And it’s not the first time something like this happened to a comic book creator: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, had a similar battle in the ’70s. So for the co-creator of the version of the X-Men that was the backbone of Marvel for decades to end up in the same situation was just once too many.
Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?
If you’ve heard of the X-Men, you should know the story behind the most successful version of the team. You should know the story of the man who originated the new characters, and even modified the ones he didn’t. He was the first artist to draw Wolverine unmasked, and one of two people responsible for saying, “Hey, what if his claws weren’t in his gloves, but in him?” You should know how he fell on hard times while his creations were the cornerstone of Marvel for decades before they appeared in movies.
Today, all the Marvel movies and TV shows have a paragraph buried in the credits which list not only the creators of the characters, but also the writers and artists who came after them whose stories were incorporated into the adaptation. When Dave Cockrum sat in a movie theater in 2000 and saw Storm and Mystique (and Logan) on the screen, he didn’t see his name anywhere. He was as forgotten and neglected by the movie company as he was by the comic book company.
This book also treats every other aspect of his career with a fine-toothed comb. His years in fanzines are covered in detail, as are those spent on other comic book properties, such as his own Futurians (featured on the cover), T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and especially the Legion of Super-Heroes. His personal life is covered, as well as his professional career. His contemporaries (Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz) have had nice things to say about the book, and fans turned pros (Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman among them) have helped to spread the word. If people don’t want to listen to me, I hope they listen to them!
Well, there is one story that I couldn’t work into the narrative. When Dave Cockrum was a teenager, he was in a group like the Boy Scouts called the Air Explorers. Dave’s father was the group leader, and also a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. So one weekend, the kids are brought to this campground in Colorado, which is where the Cockrums were living at the time, to do whatever it was they went there to do.
There was also someone there with a couple of beagles, and they just started digging and digging and wouldn’t stop. So the guys go over to see what’s going on, and the dogs uncover a human hand. As it turned out, a local banker had murdered his wife and buried her there, and Dave and the other boys were on hand when she was found.
That story was told to me by another member of the group, who clearly remembered it. Oddly enough, Dave never mentioned it — at least in print — while he was alive.
SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?
The history of the field is important. No one would question preserving the history of Hollywood, or the music industry, or professional sports. People need to know where they came from, and who was there before them. Whether it’s a biography, memoir, behind-the-scenes book, or scholarly work, non-fiction is one of the legs on the table, and a three-legged table isn’t as stable as a four-legged one.
Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?
This is a great year for non-fiction SFF books, enough that they could have their own category with projects left off the ballot. Hopefully, one day they’ll get that at the Hugos.
Right now I’m actually reading a Hugo Award-winning piece of non-fiction called Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction. It’s Jack Williamson’s autobiography, and it’s SFF history right from the horse’s mouth.
If it’s not too forward, I could plug my upcoming biography of Edmond Hamilton, coming in 2024 in Alter Ego # 187. It’s an issue dedicated to arguably the most successful writer of science fiction’s Golden Age. He was the author who Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury read growing up, and Ray was even the best man at his wedding!
Where can people buy your book?
The softcover is available directly from the publisher:
It’s also on Amazon:
There’s a limited edition hardcover available:
And if people want to purchase a digital-only version, there’s a drop down menu on both the hardcover and softcover page at the publisher’s website where it says “Packaging” that allows them to do so (and save a lot of money!).
Finally, it’s also available in comic book stores, but you might have to get your local retailer to order it. The order codes are FEB221749 (Softcover) and FEB221750 (Hardcover).
Where can people find you?
My website is: www.glencadigan.com
I have a monthly (or so) newsletter at: glencadigan.substack.com where things are announced and behind-the-scenes stories are told!
I’m on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/glen.cadigan/
And I’ve started to dust off my Twitter account: https://twitter.com/glencadigan
Thank you, Glen, for stopping and answering my questions. Check out The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum, if you’ve ever been a fan of the X-Men or are interested in the history of comics and the people who make them.
About The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum:
From the letters pages of Silver Age comics to his 2021 induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, the career of Dave Cockrum started at the bottom and then rose to the top of the comic book industry. Beginning with his childhood obsession with comics and continuing through his years in the Navy, The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum follows the rising star from fandom (where he was one of the “Big Three” fanzine artists) to pro-dom, where he helped revive two struggling comic book franchises: the Legion of Super-Heroes and the X-Men. A prolific costume designer and character creator, his redesigns of the Legion and his introduction of X-Men characters Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Thunderbird (plus his design of Wolverine’s alter ego, Logan) laid the foundation for both titles to become best-sellers. His later work on his own property, The Futurians, as well as childhood favorite Blackhawk and T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents, plus his five years on Soulsearchers and Company, cemented his position as an industry giant. Featuring artwork from fanzines, unused character designs, and other rare material, this is the comprehensive biography of the legendary comic book artist, whose influence is still felt on the industry today! Written by Glen Cadigan (The Legion Companion, The Titans Companion Volumes 1 and 2, Best of the Legion Outpost) with an introduction by Alex Ross.
About Glen Cadigan:
Glen Cadigan was born on the planet Earth in the second half of the Twentieth Century. He used to write non-fiction, but now he just makes things up. His previous work includes The Legion Companion, The Best of The Legion Outpost, and The Titans Companion Vols. 1 & 2. His stories have also appeared in Cthulhu Tales Omnibus: Madness, Cthulhu Tales Omnibus: Delirium, and 49th Parallels: Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures. His very first professional comic book sale, “One Of Those Days,” was adapted into the live action film, Eldritch Code. In addition to the above, he also writes the ongoing series Bedlam & Belfry, Intergalactic Attorneys at Law and Tall Tales, Fairy Tales, and Bedtime Stories (For Former Children). When he isn’t making fun of lawyers, he pursues more literary endeavours.
Did you publish a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 or are you publishing one in 2023 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.