Monday, May 16, 2016

Improving Upon Perfection: Darwyn Cooke, 1962-2016.

We were -- I was -- truly heartbroken to read about Darwyn Cooke's illness and passing this weekend.  On Friday morning, a message from Darwyn's wife Marsha was posted at Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog, announcing that the comic writer and artist was fighting an aggressive form of cancer and receiving "palliative care," a term that often implies that the patient is only being made comfortable.  Early Saturday morning, a few sites reported his passing, and midday the semi-official blog announced that he lost his battle with cancer early that morning, "surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida."


Darwyn Cooke was a singular talent, making his often deceptively simple line-work look effortless in the service of stories, written by himself and by others, that often become definitive takes on well-known characters.  His work was beloved by fans and other comic creators alike, but he seemed to inspire fewer followers than an Alan Moore or a Jim Lee, and that may be because his work cut against the grain of his post-modern contemporaries:  where most writers deconstructed the classics, he challenged the iconoclasts by distilling the same characters to their essence, and where many artists drew work that was often garish, his artwork struck the reader as immediately beautiful but never simplistic or clich├ęd.

Fans of Brubaker and Phillips -- and of crime comics in general -- should be quite familiar with Cooke's work, as it's been mentioned more than once on this blog.  His collaboration with Ed Brubaker on Catwoman redefined the character for today, one of his many striking pieces of cover art was a rare "ghost variant" for Fatale #15, and we believe his four comic adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker stand alongside Criminal as the best crime comics ever produced and excellent gateways between crime fiction and the medium of comics.

There have been numerous tributes to the man posted in the last 72 hours or so, including official press releases from his publishers at DC and IDW, and we would be remiss not to mention a few that Brubaker highlighted in his Twitter feed.
  • At PaperFilms -- the site for the collaborative projects of Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and others -- Patrick Wedge posted a moving four-page story that Cooke contributed to the short-lived Creator Owned Heroes title.
  • Comics Reported reposted a 2009 interview with Cooke and Brubaker in anticipation of the first Parker adaptation -- which we mentioned here way back when -- along with more than 100 examples of Cooke's brilliance.
  • Collaborator with both Cooke and Brubaker, Cameron Stewart posted a brief but very personal tribute via Twitter.
And Ed Brubaker's own tweets have been quite moving as well, with anecdotes told across several posts.  He writes, "We hadn't been close in years, but his loss hurts more than I expected it would. Our moment in time together changed my life." 

He elaborates, "One of the best things I ever did was convince Darwyn Cooke to revamp Catwoman with me. For about a year we were making magic together."

In mentioning just one project, Brubaker crystalizes what made Darwyn Cooke so great, whether he was tackling The Spirit or Jonah Hex, Catwoman or Parker, the Watchmen prequels or the Silver Age of the DC pantheon.
Now I'm going to read his Parker books again and appreciate what an amazing job he did, taking something perfect and making it even better.
Brubaker has finally retired his Twitter icon image of Jim Rockford for the first real look at Parker from The Hunter.

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I met Darwyn Cooke at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, where he was wearing a Winnie the Pooh costume, of all things.  One fan wanted a picture with him and asked him to lower his arms to show "Pooh" on the shirt, as if it wasn't obvious what he was wearing.  He signed my copy of The Hunter and drew me a sketch of Parker, shown above, a kind of complement to my sketch of Tracy Lawless from Sean Phillips.

He seemed like a very cool dude, even if it sounds like he wasn't always the easiest guy to work with.

And he died way too young.

--

The announcement mentions that donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society (where there is a goal to raise $4,295 in his name) and to the Hero Initiative which helps comic creators in need.

Brubaker recommends buying work from Cooke, "one of the best cartoonists ever" -- and he suggests, the more expensive, the better.  Original artwork is still available from his art dealer, and we notice that DC's Future Quest #1 is in stores this week, with a five-page preview already online: Cooke was responsible for the new character designs for the super-group of heroes from the Hanna-Barbara archives.

At the 2015 WonderCon, as covered in a report by Comic Book Resources, Cooke mentioned plans to return to Parker in 2016, to do as many more volumes as he could and end on Butcher's Moon, the series' masterpiece.  As we mentioned at the time, a mini-series called Revengeance was announced in January, 2015; Cooke's first fully creator-owned work was to be released that June, but the book was never solicited or evidently published.

Work will apparently be left unfinished, but what has already been published will be treasured by readers for years to come.

He will be greatly missed.

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