May 14, 2016

In praise of the late Darwyn Cooke

In praise of the late Darwyn Cooke

One of my very favorite comic creators and artists, Darwyn Cooke, died today from cancer. He was only 53 years old. He was probably most famous for the DC New Frontier series, but he did so many amazing graphic novels and comics, Batman: Ego, Catwoman, The Spirt, and recently he brought Richard Stark’s Hunter series to life as graphic novels. Unlike the rock stars who have died recently, while Cooke was a “rock star” of a comic artist, if you’re not already a fan, you’ve never heard of him. So permit me a few paragraphs to explain just why he was such a unique talent.

Darwyn Cooke already had a career in design and animation before he became successful in comics. He didn’t have the “photorealistic” drawing style that was popular at the time. Cooke was more informed by the classic style of comic strips of the early form, but with a modern brush and color sensibility.

So whereas the “house style” of the big comic companies was hyper muscled, grim heroes:

He drew them more cartoon-like, and with a sense of joy:

I feel that joy in being a superhero is sorely missing today. It was one of the things that originally sold me on these characters to begin with. That’s not to say that everything was always sweetness and light in his books. He was as capable of capturing brooding darkness and anger as anyone, while still maintaining his retro-modern style:

He wasn’t limited to superhero comics, The Spirit and his recent Hunter series showed his range. He won lots of awards for Richard Stark’s Hunter, justifiably so.

There have been a few artists who have tried to work in his style, but they never quite get it right. And he was a great writer, coming up with some of the most pithy and remembered lines in graphic novel history, such as this one, in which Wonder Woman tells Superman she’s sick of his attitude:

He was one of the few creators I followed. I looked forward to every graphic novel and comic with his name on it. He was still working, still creating, still making appearances when he was stricken. I’m saddened that there won’t be any more Darwyn Cooke material, but grateful for what is out there. Thank you, Mr. Cooke.

BTW, if you’re curious about what kind of work he did, here are my recommendations: if you’re a superhero fan, DC New Frontier is his take on the 1940s — 1960s DC Comics characters, and is as close to perfection as any comic has ever come, in my (completely un-humble) opinion. You can buy the graphic novel as a series of two digital or paperback editions ($7-$10 each), a more expensive and complete Deluxe Edition (around $30), or if you’re like me, get the huge, gorgeous, hardcover Absolute Edition (you’ll have to look around, but you can get it for around $60 new, cheaper used). If you want a taste of his fun comic writing without the superheroes, The Spirit (two volumes) are excellent (and out of print, but if you look, you can find it). And if you like crime/mystery, you can’t do better than Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter.