Back in late 2000 I was in the process of accumulating original artwork from various comic book artists who were accepting commissions. I had a huge painting by Mike Grell, several black and white pieces from Thomas Yeates, and I was looking for someone to do an illustration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero John Carter and Carter's wife, the Incomparable Deja Thoris. I found that Dave Cockrum, artist and co-creator of the new X-Men, was accepting commissions through his website. Cockrum had done the inking on one of my favorite renditions of John Carter over Gil Kane's pencils for the Marvel Comics John Carter comic. I'd also seen solo illustrations Cockrum had done of Carter and Deja Thoris. He seemed the man for the job.
I contacted Cockrum and we agreed upon a price of $250 bucks. I dutifully sent him a check and he said I'd have the drawing in a couple of months. I'd had good turnaround time on the commissions from Grell and Yeates, so that seemed reasonable.
Four months passed and no drawing. I emailed Cockrum to ask what was up. He assured me that he was just a little behind on commissions and the drawing would be forthcoming. I said fine and went about my business. Another four months went by. I again emailed Cockrum.
Cockrum then told me that he was having some health problems and that he had been hospitalized for several weeks. I told him I could see where that would put him behind, but I did think that he could have contacted me and told me what was wrong. He agreed but again assured me the drawing would be done post haste.
Four more months passed. It had been a year since I had commissioned the artwork and I emailed Cockrum yet again and asked him to return my money if he didn't plan on doing the drawing. This time his email said that he had been in the hospital two more times, but he really thought he could get the drawing done if I would just be patient. I said okay.
A little later I began to hear reports of he seriousness of Cockrum's health problems through the fan press. He apparently really was in pretty bad shape and there was talk of a benefit comic to help pay his medical bills. More info trickled in. Cockrum had become diabetic and his eyesight was failing. I saw a few drawings he had done and I realized that I was never going to see my John Carter drawing and that Cockrum was obviously short of cash.
I sent one more email.
I basically said, don't worry about the drawing and don't worry about the money. You're obviously having a hard time so just consider the cash a gift for a lot of years of good comic books. You won't hear from me again. No hard feelings at all and consider all obligations canceled. He emailed back saying his eyesight was improving and he thought he could still do the drawing. I never wrote back.
Over the next couple of years my friends would rag me about hunting down Dave Cockrum. I'm known to have a pretty bad temper sometimes and a long memory, but oddly enough, I really had forgiven Dave. I thought he could have handled the situation better early on, but I didn't think a stupid drawing mattered much given his situation. Cockrum was a guest at the last two Comic Book conventions I attended. I passed by his table where he was signing comics for X-Men fans and never felt the urge to say anything to him.
Cockrum died two days ago. He left behind a legacy of good work and a lot of friends, family, and fans who loved him. He also proved that I'm capable of forgiving and forgetting. Rest in peace, Dave. No hard feelings at all.