Revered Comic Book Artist Darwyn Cooke Has Passed Away
The creator of 'DC: The New Frontier' and the 'Parker' graphic novels was battling an aggressive form of cancer
Last week, news reached the world that Darwyn Cooke, creator of DC: The New Frontier and the graphic novel adaptations of Donald Westlake’s ‘Parker’ novels, was in palliative care due to combating an aggressive form of cancer. Yesterday, this bout came to an end when he passed away at the age of 53.
Darwyn Cooke started out as a comic book artist at DC Comics in the ’80s, but left the industry not much later. Perhaps his reasoning at the time can be found in advice he would give to Ed Piskor, the writer and artist of Hip-Hop Family Tree: “Ed, you can either make the best comics you can, or you can be a good boy for your editors.”
Cooke moved into animation, where he rose to prominence as one of the huge talents behind the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series that ran in the early ’90s, and would continue to work on the similarly styled Superman: The Animated Series. His clean lines and emotive artwork lent itself superbly to animation, but Cooke’s love for comic books remained and he would eventually return to the field.
The love for comic book lore and his incisive understanding of it was evident in the magnificent DC: The New Frontier, a rightly revered modern classic that won him an Eisner, Harvey, and Shuster Award. In it, he built a bridge between the end of the golden age of comics and the beginning of the silver age, setting the book in the DC Universe of the ’60s and ending it with the formation of the Justice League. The cool, retro charm of his drawings were a perfect fit for the era he portrayed, making the aesthetic and content of the work build upon each other in a way few artists in any genre manage.
Besides that seminal work for DC, he also spearheaded the modern incarnation of Catwoman together with writer Greg Rucka, wrote and drew the first year of the relaunch of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, created a multitude of short stories, and a slew of covers. In December of 2014, DC even had a Darwyn Cooke variant covers month, in which he drew a lenticular cover for every single comic DC published that month, and knocked each one out of the park. A year before that, DC Entertainment had released the animated movie adaptation of DC: The New Frontier, making his work come full circle.
The last years of Cooke’s career, he had tired of superhero comics, feeling he was done telling stories in that genre for a while and disliking much of its current grimmer direction. His own work at the time didn’t shy away from gritty scenes either though, although his noir-inspired adaptations of Donald Westlake’s ‘Parker’ novels certainly put them in a wholly different context. His linework was slightly, purposefully rougher for these books and he often rendered scenes taken from Westlake’s prose completely silent, especially in Slayground, the fourth and final installment of the series. It greatly underscored the rough demeanor of his antihero Parker, who’s about as far from a chatty character as you can get. Together with his vintage style, form and subject were once again elevating each other in his work, as only a true master of his craft can. And a master of his craft he was. Darwyn Cooke was one of those comic book artists who understood that “cartooning” isn’t a dirty word, and that a cartoonier style often conveys both action scenes and emotions much more effectively than rigid realism does. He was without a doubt one of the top comic book artists of his generation. While it’s a shame he won’t get the chance to share more of his gift with the world, his fans can surely celebrate all he has given us.
His family shared that “he was filled with your love and surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida.” If people wish to make donations in his honor, they point to the Canadian Cancer Society and Hero Initiative.
Oh, and #FuckCancer.