“Do you have a light?”, the man asks me outside of the Metro Toronto Convention Center as I wait for a buddy to come out.
“Sorry man, but I think the guy in the Darth Vader suit might.”
And thus was my first meeting with Darwyn Cooke in a moment that can only happen at a comic book convention. It was brief and at that moment I didn’t know who he was other than some guy I had seen around the convention floor who politely asked me for a light as I was standing outside not too far from a group of smokers.
It’s a very small anecdote but it was a bit of a trend with Darwyn and I. I would see him for a few minutes as I would get books signed or as he was at one of the tables one of his many friends had at the convention (I can honestly say that I’m sure I’ve talked to Darwyn more at Jimmy Palmiotti’s table than Darwyn’s own), we would talk briefly about something, a laugh would be had and we would part ways. My take on him after every meeting was “He’d probably be fun guy to hang out with at a bar.”
Darwyn Cooke’s career in comics wasn’t a long one, sixteen years, but the impact he made was tremendous. If I had to sum up his style in a sentence it would be “clean, no bullshit”.
His art and writing were straightforward and amazing. He could get to the core of a character and strip away the unnecessary baggage, leaving you with just a pure representation of who that person is. That’s not to say it didn’t have detail or nuance. He just seemed to be able to get rid of everything you as a reader didn’t need. You could hand a copy of any his books to someone, comic fan or not, and they would be sucked in and immediately know the characters they were reading.
The New Frontier is a great example of this. It’s a series that had a huge amount of characters in smaller roles but he managed to make everyone distinct, interesting and clear cut within a few panels. On paper it sounds like it’s an easy thing to do but so many writers and artists miss that boat in an attempt to put their signature or stamp on a character. Darwyn could take a character back to it’s roots AND still be distinct. His redesign of the Catwoman suit is a perfect example of that. He got to the root of Selina Kyle in distinct Darwyn style and has the look has become iconic. When The Spirit came to DC Comics, Darwyn was a natural fit and he managed to create some work that would have made Eisner proud.
For many, The New Frontier will be listed as his high point and in fairness, I can completely understand that. It’s Darwyn’s love letter to characters that he has a great fondness for and when you break down the best superhero books of all time, it’s in the top ten with little effort. But, for my personal tastes, it was Darwyn’s work adapting the Parker novels that I would consider his best.
The Parker adaptations just seemed to have Darwyn in his purest form as an artist. From layout, to pencils to the different colour pallets that were utilized for each book, it really seemed like Darwyn was just made to make these books. No punches were pulled, nothing was off the table, this was Darwyn going all out on a project he obviously loved.
The last time I talked to Darwyn was at TCAF a few years ago. IDW had released a new edition of the prose novel of The Hunter (the first Parker novel). The TCAF edition had a TTC inspired dust cover with an illustration of Parker in front of Toronto city hall by Darwyn. Despite the fact I’ve owned a few copies of this novel over the years, I had to have it due to the illustration. I lined up for the signing, got to Darwyn and the first thing I said was “Because of you, this is the fifth copy of this book I’ve had to buy.” He laughed and replied back with “I think I’m up to six.” We chatted for a bit about our mutual love of Westlake’s books. Half joking, I brought up if he would ever adapt the Dortmunder novels. “No, but someone should!” I think we concluded that Drowned Hopes or The Hot Rock would be the best candidates for someone to turn into a graphic novel. With that, we shook hands and I left feeling like I was leaving a buddy as opposed to a hero.
From an industry standpoint, we’ve lost a creative voice that comes once in a generation. He was a guy who really got comics as both an art form and entertainment. We will never get the rest of the Parker adaptations or Revengance, a creator owned book announced from Image.
More importantly, we have lost a creator that had respect for comics and its fans, something that isn’t as common as it should be in the industry.
My condolences to his family and friends as he seemed to be a very loyal and loving guy to those he was close to.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!