Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke 1962-2016

If Darwyn Cooke had only given us DC: The New Frontier, it would have been more than enough. I mean, that whole thing is a masterpiece from start to finish. The book starts out with the Losers on Dinosaur Island, for crying out loud. And it gets better from there. An amazing achievement from start to finish that really captures the mid-century zeitgeist.

Just one example of his impeccable
design sense.
Mid-Century. It's kind of one of those buzzwords, now, and it refers to the design aesthetic that emerged Post-WWII to roughly the late sixties. Mod furniture. Boomerangs in the design. The 1966 Batmobile. Surfboards. Mid-Century.

There was a light side and also a very dark side to that time period. And that was where Darwyn's artwork was situated. A lot of people compare him to Bruce Timm, (and don't think I'm dissing Timm, who is an amazing artist), but that's not a fair comparison. Darwyn's artwork, to me, was closer in tone to Alex Toth, or maybe Will Eisner. It's hard to put a finger on. But there was an elegant simplicity to what he did that looked effortless, fun, and occasionally whimsical.

If he'd only done Catwoman with Ed Brubaker, it would have been enough. If he'd only done cover illustrations, it would have been enough. But he did something else that will be regarded as his critical zenith.

He gave us Parker.

Richard Stark's Violent World of Parker series are my favorite caper novels. And I'm not alone, either. And now, thanks to Darwyn Cooke's brilliant adaptations, they are favorites of so many others, too. When I worked at bookstores, I often took it upon myself to foist these books onto people who were looking for something good. Many of my friends are Parker fans because I put these books in their hands. I used to have to give them this succinct elevator speech about the book, the character, the series.

Monochromatic, nihilistic, and elegant.
The Parker Graphic Novels are some of
the best crime comics, ever. Period.
Now I can just point to Darwyn's brilliant, pitch perfect, couldn't happen any other way, or in any other medium, graphic novel adaptations of these novels. That Mid-Century aesthetic has a dark side, and it's the world Parker lives in. Darwyn did things in adapting the Parker novels that you can only get away with in comics. They are a master class, the kind Will Eisner and Alex Toth used to teach, on how to tell a story in words and pictures.

I got to meet him, once, a few years ago, the last time I went to San Diego. The Score had just come out and I was giddy with excitement. I know a bunch of comic book creators, and I long ago stopped getting excited to meet them. There were exceptions, of course. Joe Kubert. Will Eisner. And now, Darwyn Cooke. I could not understand why I was so nervous, waiting in a line that flat-out wasn't moving, to meet this guy.

My friend Joseph McCabe, an excellent pop culture journalist, kept me company while the line inched forward. We were both pretty stoked about meeting him. And when it finally, by degrees, inched around to where we could actually see him, he looked tired. The signing was supposed to be an hour long, and we were in hour two.

At last, I got my chance to speak to him. "Thank you so much for doing these books justice," I blurted out. Nothing cool. Nothing suave. "I hope you're not stopping at three."

He smiled. "I really want to do Butcher's Moon."

That stopped me. If I had had gum, I would have swallowed it. "Butcher's Moon" is the last of the original Parker novels, and it's a sort of a Parker's Greatest Hits, where he calls in every thief he ever worked with to pull a massive heist the likes of which have not been done before. It makes Ocean's Eleven look like Waiting for Godot. Unfilmable. But not un-comic-able. It would be sublime.

I thought all of that in the span of a heartbeat. then I tried to say it all out loud. What came out of my mouth was, "Holy Shit!"

He smiled again.

"That would be--so--" Words failed me. I stopped trying to talk and just smiled and nodded. He personalized my book, and I shook his hand. It was an amazing moment, one I haven't forgotten. Not profound, but just nice. I think he understood what his books meant to me.

He was one of my favorite artists.

It's not fair that he's gone. He was too young, too talented, too nice, too...too...ah, dammit.

Fucking cancer.

And rest in peace, Darwyn Cooke.

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