Many articles about Darwyn Cooke have appeared since his untimely passing ten days ago. Below are excerpts and links to some of the best, with a slight bias for mentions of his work on the Parker graphic novels. If you doubt the impact Darwyn had on fans, colleagues, friends and the comics industry as a whole, read on.
George Gene Gustines
New York Times
Among Mr. Cooke’s most celebrated works was DC: The New Frontier, a six-issue series published in 2004 that chronicled the experiences of superheroes including Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, in the 1950s. His adaptations, beginning in 2009, of four hard-boiled novels by Richard Stark, a pseudonym used by Donald E. Westlake, featuring the coldblooded con man Parker, also won praise.
Describing those adaptations in The New York Times Book Review in 2010, Douglas Wolk, an author who writes frequently about comics, said that Mr. Cooke “distills Westlake’s lean prose to concentrated bursts of scruffy chiaroscuro, looming negative space, pacing-tiger tension and ice-cold violence.”
The Globe and Mail
In his work and life, Mr. Cooke had a similarly wry sense of humour – sometimes appearing at conventions in the red dress serge tunic and Stetson of an RCMP officer (at WonderCon 2010) or on another memorable occasion (Dragon Con 2009) wearing a plush Winnie the Pooh mascot costume.
Mr. Cooke also reveled in the complex amoral universe of the anti-hero loner of hard-boiled crime fiction. He was especially a fan of the Parker novels, which were set in the 1960s and written by novelist Donald Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Although it took some work, Mr. Cooke persuaded the author to allow him to adapt the Parker books into graphic novels. Mr. Westlake died shortly before the first, Parker: The Hunter, was published in 2009. Three other Parker adaptations followed.
IDW Publishing special project editor Scott Dunbier worked with Mr. Cooke at DC on The Spirit and was also best man at his Las Vegas wedding in 2012. Because the date fell on Mr. Cooke’s 50th birthday, Mr. Dunbier wanted to arrange a special gift, so he contacted Abby Westlake, the writer’s widow, with a particular request. She agreed to part with an important artifact. Mr. Dunbier recalls the moment when the groom realized the gift wasn’t just any old, clunky Smith-Corona manual typewriter, but one of Mr. Westlake’s very own, used to bang out his books. On an otherwise jubilant Vegas weekend it was a teary moment, since the adaptations had been Mr. Cooke’s long-time dream project.
Los Angeles Times
The Cooke signature was rapidly becoming the high-water mark at DC Comics, and that would only grow when the 2004 books for DC: The New Frontier landed. Set in the 1950s, this six-issue miniseries would showcase Cooke’s abilities like no other, and earn him an Eisner Award in 2009 for best finite series/limited series (one of many Eisners he would collect throughout his career). By 2010 there were hardly any members of the DC Comics heroes’ Rolodex or rogues gallery that Cooke hadn’t touched, from the Spirit to Superman.
But not all of Cooke’s comic contributions came in the form of tights and a cape. Somehow the artist swayed novelist Donald E. Westlake into granting the rights for him to translate the 1962 crime novel The Hunter into the 2009 graphic novel Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter for IDW. Scott Dunbier and Cooke’s blue-hued, noir novel was dubbed a stroke of genius by many, including director Guillermo del Toro who wrote this online after the news of Cooke’s death broke: “Everybody remembers Darwin Cooke for his DC work. I remember him for adapting the Parker books with bravado and love.”
Cooke’s influences were easy to read: he infused retro-styled Rat Pack cool into everything he did, following the north star of mid-century comics minimalism evinced in the work of Alex Toth and Bernie Krigstein. But he never just plumbed nostalgia for its own sake. He was pulling the primal essences of the characters he worked on into the present, so that people would never forget what was inspirational or compelling about them. His Superman was never corny or overwrought; instead, he was all altruism, the avatar of humanity’s collective best self.
Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels cast the master-thief lead character as a force of nature, an apex predator you couldn’t stop staring at even though you knew he was trouble.
The Darwyn Cooke experience was the very best that the industry had to offer. His work made you happy, and made you remember why you fell in love with comics in the first place. To read a comic by Cooke was a cerebral experience that made it feel like reliving your first unforgettable comic-book moment.