Dave Cockrum, 63; comics illustrator popularized X-Men

Times Staff Writer

Dave Cockrum, the illustrator for the landmark 1970s overhauling of the X-Men that turned a relatively obscure Marvel Comics title into a 1980s publishing sensation and eventually a major film franchise, died Sunday. He was 63.

Cockrum, of Belton, S.C., died after a long battle with diabetes and related complications, according to a statement from Clifford Meth, a family friend and an organizer of fundraisers to assist the artist and his family during his protracted medical care.

Cockrum designed or co-created many signature characters for the popular comic book series, and some of them -- such as Storm, Mystique, Nightcrawler and Colossus -- went on to become part of Fox’s “X-Men” films, which have grossed $607 million at U.S. theaters.


“We did that so well that 25 years later it’s still the best-selling comic in the business and has become the basis of an entire financial empire based on toys, cartoons, action figures, video games and, recently, the big-budget film,” Cockrum wrote in an undated recollection posted on his website.

The son of an Air Force officer, Cockrum was born in Oregon in 1943 but moved around as a youngster. His interest in art was set aside during a stint in the Navy, but then he went to New York and eventually got his big break drawing the Legion of Super-Heroes for DC in the early 1970s.

He moved over to Marvel, DC’s major rival, and, along with writer Len Wein, was handed a group of moribund characters. The X-Men had been created in 1963 by comics pioneers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but the premise -- a group of young outcasts enrolled in an academy for mutants -- failed to capture fans the way Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four had.

Wein and Cockrum took the existing team’s mythology, added their own heroes and delivered “Giant-Size X-Men No. 1,” published in 1975, which became one of the most important collectors’ issues of the decade.

At Cockrum’s request, there will be no services and his body will be cremated.

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, donations be made to the Hero Initiative, a fund assisting comics creators in need. For details, go to