I don’t write a lot about comics on here, partly because it’s a business thing for me, however tangential, but also because … well, I just don’t write a lot anymore because I write a lot for work. But Darwyn Cooke died today and I felt the need to write something about him and what his work meant to me.
I met Darwyn maybe once, but I talked to him on the phone a couple of times for my job, for interviews on two projects he was working on that fit into our shows. One was the DC Universe Animated Movie for WB Animation, DC: The New Frontier; the other was when he did a new version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. I loved his work. Cooke had a style that was part WB Animation (and by that I mean Bruce Timm) and part Jack Kirby, with a smidgen of Alex Toth thrown in for (very) good measure. Like Toth, Cooke seemed to always be looking for that sweet spot in his art, where there was just enough drawn to show you the emotion, thrust, or action needed to tell the story. His clean, open style of cartooning loosened up a bit as he got older, but I always felt his work was incredibly precise, too, even when it was at its most sketchy. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but what I mean is his work never had a wasted line. Everything you needed was right there on the page, without a lot of hoopla or fanfare, just good, solid, precision storytelling.
When he did DC: The New Frontier, he made a conscious effort to control his panel layout. Look at it: Most of it is 3-panel pages, with the occasional bravura full-page, or 2-page spread, or an extra panel or two on that 3-row grid. It simplified his storytelling process by making this decision in advance. On his incredible Parker series for IDW, he worked in two colors for each volume, eventually doing his original art as 2-page spreads.
I own two Cooke originals, a page from New Frontier (it’s page 297 in DC’s current edition of the book, featuring Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and one of the Challengers of the Unknown), and the other the Parker sketch adorning this post. I wish I had more of his work, because sadly now it won’t continue. I hope there are some unreleased pieces in his Parker series that were to accompany the novels IDW was reprinting, but only one of those (The Hunter) ever came out.
Cooke was a guest at WonderCon Anaheim in spring of 2015. Now just a little more than a year later he’s gone. It’s hard to believe. Ironically, I bought the trade paperback collection of his final (I’m guessing) work, The Twilight Children just this past Wednesday. It’s a Vertigo series he illustrated, written by Gilbert Hernandez. It wasn’t Cooke’s greatest, but it did showcase his incredibly charming way of drawing women, and his wonderful cartooning style, augmented by great coloring by Dave Stewart.
I’m going to miss Darwyn Cooke. It was a dream of mine to someday have him do a cover for one of the publications I edit and design. That will never come to pass now. But I can go back and re-read all his wonderful books. In fact, I think I’ll go look at his Parker graphic novels right now.
RIP, Darwyn Cooke.