This quite possibly is the hardest post that I have ever had to write. 2016 is turning into a year of insurmountable loss of talent in many mediums. While the loss of Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Guy Hamilton and many others the loss of Darwyn Cooke really hit me hard. This is a long post so please bear with me on it.
As you know by now I am a huge comic book fan and saying that Cooke is a huge loss for comics is an understatement. There are few that you can really call living legends in todays comics Neal Adams, Walt Simonson, Don Rosa, and a handful of others but Cooke was a creator that loved the medium of comics and was able to infuse a certain joy and hope in his artwork that few could ever attain.
Instead of telling his life story I though it would be better to say what his work meant to me, stories from friends and perspective from Darwyn himself.
My first encounter was discovering Darwyn’s seminal work in 2004 DC: The New Frontier that started my love affair with his work. Even back then there were virtually no mainstream superhero books that you could really call groundbreaking but Darwyn changed that. I started reading comics in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I discovered the Giant Sized New X-Men #94 and read that book till the covers fell off. There was Superman Vs Muhammad Ali treasury edition by Neal Adams that really blew me away with his artwork. When I first read Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans that was the beginning of reading a regular series. While there have been a lot of great comics over the last 10 to 15 years reading the first issue of DC; The New Frontier was like nothing I had seen in comic books in years. Gone was the dark and depressing superheroes that still plagues comics today. Darwyn’s approach to the DC universe was not only a grand epic tale that contained the best of DC superheroes but was fun and heartwarming.
The story was what had been missing from comics that I loved when I started to read them. Not only was his story great but his artwork was something that I had not seen in a long time. Not knowing at the time that he had come from animation his work reminded me of the great Alex Toth along with Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert that brought back a true sense of style and class that simply blew me away. I remember being reluctant to buy the book because of the $6.95 cover price at the time was quite high but once I read the first issue I was hooked. Each issue of the story simply blew me away and had me waiting for each issue with such anticipation that the wait each month seem to take forever. I really can’t think of any other story from DC that is such a love letter to the characters that are so beloved and Darwyn created a story and art that truly did them justice.
From that point forward I was hooked on Cooke. While his output of work was not huge and a lot of times you would settle for him doing the cover of a book, every bit of his work was cause for celebration. He started to adapt the Parker novels at IDW and while I was not familiar with them if Darwyn thought they were good enough to adapt then I was so there. Being a fan of noir was a real plus and he really nailed the tone of the novels in his beautiful style. While the books were not totally straight adaptations he only changed minor things to make them work in the visual comics medium. While he only got to adapt four of the eight novels those four books are very cherished and are a high point of my collection.
His last full series Twilight Children with Gilbert Hernandez was a great tour de force story and while I wasn’t overwhelmed initially with the ending, when I went back a read it in one shot it worked a lot better for me that time. There was also his cover month at DC Comics in December 2014 where he did 23 covers for DC books. The most amazing thing is that each of the 23 covers tells a story in just a single piece of artwork and that really shows the talent that Darwyn had.
There are many stories that fans and friends have said since his passing and mine is just remembering that I was lucky enough to meet his a few times. At Long Beach Comic Con he was there for the release of the Parker Martini Edition and not only did I buy that I dragged my DC: New Frontier Absolute Edition down to have him sign it. While I know that I couldn’t afford a real sketch and he was not doing any I asked him if he could do a quick one of any character of his choice in the book when he signed it. He said as long as I donated some money to the Hero Initiative he would so he did a wonderful Green Lantern (one of his favorites) and I walked over after and gave them $20 and told them Darwyn made me give you guys money. I went back to tell him that I gave them the money and he said that was too much for just a quick one and I said that it was more than worth it to me. The first time I met him was at SDCC where he was signing the first Parker novel and there was an exclusive cover. He not only signed them but it had a special plate that he would watercolor and sign in the book. He would take his time coloring it and loved talking to his fans. When I got to him I told him what a great fan of his work and told him I would buy everything that he would do including if he drew the phone book. He looked at me and called bullshit on that. I said do it and I would prove him wrong. He laughed and said well you would be the only one to buy it because it would never sell.
My friend Ryan Sieroty has a wonderful story of Darwyn and has allowed me to reprint it here.
In memory of Darwyn Cooke:
I’ve had the honor of meeting and working along with the late artist. I’ve experiences his smiles and bad side and everything between. I have 2 fond memories of Darwyn and they make me smile to no end:
First one was back in 2008 at Wizard World Los Angeles. Helping out at the Hero Initiative booth as always, I had a some free time to get my stuff done around the floor (sketches, signatures, etc). Going over to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s booth to get some books signed, Darwyn’s hanging around, talking and enjoying being a visitor and not behind the table. I approach him and begin to talk about New Frontier (DVD was just coming out at the time) and other projects. I sheeplishly ask if I can ask him for a sketch. He politely says he’s not drawing. Amanda then leans over and taps me the shoulder and says “Leave the book with me” I head back to the booth to work. Few hours late I come back and Amanda hands me the book and says look inside (see accompanied photo). Darwyn, in typical Drawyn humor, says “Thank goodness you had this lovely lady ask to draw in your book. If you had that goomba over there…” points to Jimmy, “you’d be shit out of luck” They he lets out a huge laugh. That’s how Darwyn was.
Second story was at Long Beach Comic Con and the Hero Initiative brought out Darwyn for the Parker Definitive Collection. He was painting blue noir photos for the fans. I was at the booth, corralling the fans and we’re talking Silver Age books and enjoying the show. He asked me the time and I gave it to him. “Holy Shit! My didn’t you tell me that. I’m 25 minutes late for a panel! I specifically told you I need a hard out…and let out a little color language at me. He leaves for the panel and I head to my car to sulk in the parking lot. I return to the booth and continue to do my business. Couple hours later, Darwyn comes back to me, puts his arm around me and says “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m trying my best to control my anger and didn’t mean to take it out on you.” He hugged me and then sat down and went back to work….
Jimmy Palmiotti is one of Darwyn’s closest friends and I can only imagine how devastating this is for him and Amanda now but he has shared a really great story of Darwyn on his Facebook pages that is simply touching.
It was Christmas a few years back and Amanda and I were shopping for presents for a few friends and decided that we would just recycle gifts and buy everyone presents from antique stores- the perfect fitting gift for each person, something that screamed out to us what might be appropriate to the individual’s personality, or what might just remind us of him or her.
We were in a large over packed antique shop in Tarpon Springs looking at the million shelves full of random timeworn items when I spied- right there, all the way in the back, a peak of a porcelain eyeball looking right back at me. I pushed my hand past some lead elephant paperweights, over a few art deco ashtrays and fished out the mug that was the mirror image of one of my closest friends Darwyn. It was shocking.
I looked at it for about a second and then my heart started to beat faster and my smile was spreading out so far that it contorted my entire body. I wanted to scream with laughter and yell ” I win” but I calmly walked over to Amanda and held this prize right up to her face like a winning lottery ticket on the day we were being evicted.
Amanda burst out laughing, shouting ” no way!!” and we both laughed…and laughed…till tears were running down our faces. I told her I don’t care what this damn thing costs, I would be willing to pay a kings ransom for it and I was not kidding. Unlike most of the other curios, this one wasn’t marked; it could have cost us anything. Maybe it was one of a kind done by a bygone artist that was now considered a genius and they forgot to put this piece in his latest exhibit at the metropolitan museum of art. My brain was on overdrive as usual, but I had a plan.
We played it cool and I nonchalantly handed it to the counter person asking him about another item on the counter. He answered me and then looked at the mug and turned it over and over, then eyeing the inside like the price might be hidden there, but no luck. He then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “ I don’t see a price. Is $8 bucks okay? “ Well, needless to say, it was and we ran home and sat on this for over a month, waiting for Christmas morning, when Darwyn and his wife Marsha would come over and we would exchange gifts. We wrapped it with care and it sat under the Christmas tree till that very morning. Amanda handed Darwyn the package and Darwyn, with that winning smile, looked right at us and the anticipation on our faces, which we looked like we were waiting for him to unwrap the Holy Grail. He opened it up, took it in his hand and started that Darwyn Cooke laugh, which is interrupted by his signature cough, and started to laugh again. It was at one point a few minutes later we took the photo attached to this piece. It gave us so much joy watching him parade it around to each and every person he met and post it on his website showing it off. Its rare you can get a gift for someone that special in your life and make them so happy.
It was a funny and lovely moment in time we had with Darwyn, one of about a few thousand that hopefully we can share with others as time goes on. He was the guy that you wanted to impress, you wanted to work extra hard to make laugh and you wanted to be a better person and artist around. He inspired the two of us all the time and I am happy to say I let him know more than once how happy we were to have him in our life. 14 years was just not long enough for me and Amanda and we feel cheated on so many levels that he was taken away from us so soon. The past few months have ben brutal for his family and close friends, and watching hope slip away is something that I would never wish on anyone.
I’m sorry in advance but my page here will continue to have me telling stories and showing photos and art about him for a while because if I don’t get them out, I’m going to continue to be a pathetic weeping mess, and not be able to get a damn thing done… and I know Darwyn would just hate that.
Cully Hamner tells a wonderful story about the last time he saw Darwyn.
I keep flashing back to the last time I saw Darwyn.
I would never be presumptuous or disrespectful enough to claim the closeness that some of my other friends had with him and Marsha; people like Jimmy and Amanda, Dave, Frank, Ben and Jeni, Tim and Molly… I’m leaving out probably 20 or 30 people, at least. There were many folks closer to him than I was, but we ran with the same crowd, orbited the same people. Technically, I’ve known him for maybe ten years—running into each other at cons, that sort of thing. It’s only really been the last two or three years that I think we *really* became the kind of friends that bear-hug on sight, that sit in the bar and shoot the shit until late, that bust each other’s balls the whole time, and that back each other up when we’re busting other people’s balls.
It’s a cliché to say that someone didn’t “suffer fools gladly.” But Dar certainly didn’t, and I would season that description by pointing out that he had an innate talent for spotting fools and not-suffering the hell out of them. So if he took you down the way he would sometimes, it might be worth considering that you were probably being an idiot.
But the morning after a really over-the-top dressing-down I got from him in a bar (Dar’s close friends know exactly the kind I’m talking about), he came up and sincerely apologized to me. Went out of his way to show me the respect he didn’t the night before. From then on, we were good, and really started to become friends. It’s hard to avoid some of the crazy stories about this character, but the reality of having him as a friend overrides everything. He was a prince. He was a man’s man in the most honorable sense of the phrase. And once he decided you were in the Circle, he would walk into a burning house for you, and that’s only barely hyperbole.
We were friends. We were good friends, even. I think that we were on our way to being *great* friends, and I have to admit that now I feel so *robbed*. That’s selfish, I know, but…
The last time I saw Dar was last September at the Baltimore Comic-Con. After the show closed on Sunday, a bunch of us went to a steakhouse next door and had a really chill, fun dinner. Jimmy and Amanda were there, Frank, JG and Dawn, Barry, and others. And Dar, who was in top form—hilarious, challenging everyone on whatever they said, like he tended to do. Afterwards, we all sat out in front of the hotel for a while, enjoying each other and listening to Frank riff on some minor thing until it became a huge comedy bit, and then we went inside to the mezzanine bar. At this point, we all mingled and dispersed, and I ended up talking to some people over near the elevators.
At some point a little later, I suddenly felt… I don’t know, *something* over my right shoulder. It was like the air pressure changed and suddenly the lighting was different. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it was Darwyn and he was *airborne*. Literally. He was leaping over an ottoman (or a couch, or something)—like, *really gracefully*. He landed, did a turn, and danced a quick little jig. I let out a burst of “holy shit” and laughed, because it was pretty cartoony. He saw me laugh, and ran back around to where I was. He did his leap *again*, with even more of a flourish, landed, danced an even sillier dance. He turned around, saw me doubled over with laughter, and he sprinted toward the glass elevator. It must have opened immediately, because he suddenly appeared in there, smiled a huge smile at me, waved, just as he—there’s no other word for it– *ascended*. That was the last time I saw him, and don’t think the symbolism is lost on me.
He did get to bust my balls one more time, though, just a little. He and Marsha were at a birthday dinner for our friend Mark (Aline’s husband), and I was getting a barrage of silly texts from Tim and Randy, who were also there. My favorite was this pic from Dar and Marsha, and I’ll keep it forever.
It’s hard to lose you, pal. I think everyone’s feeling a little lost right now. I know Marsha’s got it far and away the worst, and I hope to give her a big hug and tell her how much I loved her man as soon as I can. I want to raise a glass and listen to stories about you. I know we’ll all be able to laugh at some point.
But right now, all I can do is watch you ride that elevator.
Finally to end this I think its appropriate to pass along the wisdom of Darwyn from himself. While his body of work speaks volumes the man himself was very frank and spoke his mind. Speaking at the 2015 WonderCon spotlight panel;
“I don’t know that I actually do,” Cooke said. “If we’re talking about mainstream comics, I think there have been a lot of real tactical errors made in this century. I can’t really read superhero comics anymore because they’re not about superheroes. They’ve become so dark and violent and sexualized. I think it’s a real wrong turn. I don’t know how a company like Warner Bros. or Disney is able to rationalize characters raping and murdering and taking drugs and swearing and carrying on the way they do, and those same characters are on sheet sets for 5-year-olds, and pajamas and cartoons. I think there’s a really odd and schizophrenic thing that’s happened within the industry. Everybody’s writing books for themselves. The median age of a creator is probably between 35 and 50 right now. Once they abandoned the notion that these characters were all-ages characters, they really limited the market.
“I think the bravest and smartest thing one of these companies could do would be to scrap everything they’re doing and bring in creative people who would have the talent and were willing to put in the effort it takes to write an all-ages universe that an adult or a child could enjoy,” he continued. “If either one of these companies were smart enough to do that, I think they could take huge strides for the industry.”
When discussing his Before Watchman book he told the LA Times in an interview;
“It’s a very, very dark book,” Cooke told The Times that year. “I don’t know about you, when I was younger I used to be a lot more romantically attached to really dark work and I find as I get older I’m looking for work that offers, for lack of a better word, hope. Or a hopeful solution? Or the possibility of a hopeful solution?” It’s only natural that Cooke would turn to optimism for help; his work was ingrained with a sense of humanity and wonder pulled directly from his signature retro-touched style.
From a 2012 interview;
When asked to elaborate on why he was searching for hope back in the 2012 interview, Cooke responded, “Without getting too far out there, it all speaks right to the heart of our mortality. You start out drawing with crayons as a kid and if you look at Picasso’s work when he was 9 and when he was 90, he’s basically come full circle. And then there’s all that stuff in between. When you’re 20, you’ve basically come to believe that everything you’ve been told as a kid is a lie and you’re looking for material to support that. Then you start to grow out of that and you realize that’s not the case and that the dark things are just part of the picture.”
The void left by Darwyn’s passing is truly immeasurable and the loss is devastating. I can’t imagine how hard it is for his wife Marsha now and his close friends and my heart and thoughts go out to each and every one of them. The one thing that is really helping me get through this is the wonderful memories, photos and stories that friends and colleagues are telling about Darwyn. Of course his work will live on forever and that is a legacy that is the most important. Many generation to come will discover his work and fall in love with it just like I did and that is what make this very painful time have a hopeful light to it.
If there is one thing that I know Darwyn would love is that next time you see the Hero Initiative make sure that you give them a donation and tell them Darwyn sent you. He was a huge supporter of them and I know that whatever frontier that he has gone to he would have like that. You can also click on the link above to donate directly to them.
The other thing is go out and buy all of his work and you will see what a great loss of this talent is. Recently DC released Graphic Ink The DC Comics Art of Darwyn Cooke and you can read my review of the book HERE if you missed it. The majority of his work is currently in print and I do hope that the Image series that he was working on Revengeance! was finished or can be finished in the future.
The best way to leave this is with Darwyn’s artwork. Each one has story to tell and comes from his heart. R.I.P Darwyn Cooke.