Darwyn Cooke, the writer/artist behind projects such as “DC: The New Frontier” and “Before Watchmen: Minutemen,” led a rousing spotlight panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego dedicated to his critically acclaimed and best-selling “Richard Stark’s Parker” series for IDW Publishing. Joining him in the discussion was IDW Publishing’s own Special Projects Editor Scott Dunbier, who edits the “Parker” series.
This year’s CCI saw IDW and Cooke launch the latest volume of “Parker,” titled “Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score.” “We sold out of 200 copies of the regular edition and 175 copies of the limited edition,” Dunbier revealed.
Cooke added, “We sold out by Thursday. We blew through every copy we had. My friends are begging me for a copy and I don’t even have a copy.”
For all the critical acclaim the book has received, Cooke said it pales in comparison to Bruce Timm, legendary animator and co-creator of “Batman: The Animated Series,” telling him “The Score” was the best “Parker” book yet.
“You have to understand I used to work for Bruce, and he was just a merciless critic of my work,” Cooke said. “He’s the type of guy who would take a drawing from you and laugh at it — for him to like anything I’ve done is the measure [of success] for me.”
Dunbier announced that there would be a total of five books in the “Parker” series, not four as was originally planned and announced.
“Don’t tell Darwyn but I’m hoping for a sixth!” Dunbier joked.
Cooke had no problem with Dunbier’s hopes and said, “We’re in negotiations. We’re at five and a half right now. Truth be told, we’re gonna stick with Parker until they take it away from us.
“I get the feeling that this guy and I will be together all the way. Nothing would make me happier if when I’m done with this, I’m known for [‘Parker’],” Cooke continued. “If that’s the character I’m associated with, that would be the best.”
The fourth Parker book will be an adaptation of the novel “The Handle,” which comes after “The Score” in the original sequence of Richard Stark’s novels.
Cooke said he picked “The Handle” because “it’s an incredibly visual book. It concerns a casino on an island.”
“I promise it will be out in 2013, but after that we might make people wait a while,” said Cooke.
Cooke revealed he wants his last “Parker” adaptation to be “Butcher’s Moon.” Setting that book up is going to be two 48-page specials spinning out “Slayground,” the Parker novel that sets the stage for “Butcher’s Moon.”
Cooke then opened himself up to a lengthy Q+A session from the audience. Just as it began, a fan’s cellphone ringer went off, sending Cooke in to a slight rant about cell phones and how people are too attached to them. He said, “Honest to god, I hate those things. I’d have the biggest bonfire in the world.”
He forgave the phone’s owner a few minutes later, however, when the fan revealed he uses a classic rotary telephone at work. “You are redeemed, sir!” joked Cooke.
A fan asked how Cooke chooses what hue to use for each volume of “Parker” and what each one meant.
Cooke said, “The color itself is half the image. It’s incredibly important. When you’re only using one color, then it becomes absolutely critical. ‘The Hunter’ had a washed out teal color because it was a color so indicative of that time. That color was everywhere in 1962, it just invoked the era in a distinctive but neutral way.”
“‘The Outfit’ was a very urban type of crime story, most of it takes place at night or in dark rooms, so I went with a deep blue color because I felt it complimented the story and scene structure.”
“The Score” uses an orange color and Cooke said that “When I got to the third book I thought let’s really mix it up now, we’re going to be telling a story in North Dakota, during the day for the most part. It just occurred to me, we need a sunny color here. It’s such a nice switch-up from the dark blue in ‘The Outfit.'”
An artist’s edition of Cooke’s work is “something that we have talked about,” said Dunbier.
Cooke didn’t feel it was the right thing to do at this point in time, however. “I don’t know what we’d do an artist’s edition of. I can’t think of anything that’s complete or that’s properly scanned and colored — I always thought that stuff happens after you kicked off or when you retire. It feels a little early to be celebrating me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for all of it, but right now my time is best spent just telling more stories. Let someone else sort it all out when it’s done.”
A fan asked how Cooke acquires the visual references for his ’60s-set work. “It’s funny because ‘Parker’ was born the same year I was. We were both born in 1962,” Cooke responded. “My entire life has been a study of that mid-century style I grew up in.
“That whole era is like a sense memory of mine that I can’t get rid of. I spent an inordinate amount of my life research or studying it in one way or another. I’ve read every crime novel I could get my hands on, I’ve seen every crime movie since 1939. I was a graphic designer for many years, so these are things I’ve studied my entire life,” Cooke continued. “With ‘Parker’ I stopped doing that. I just close my eyes and whatever I think it looked like, let that be the look of it — the buildings, the suits, the cars, all of that stuff I just have burned in to my brain now.”
Cooke isn’t particularly interested in doing other noir adaptations but said, “[Ed] Brubaker pushes me around about this all the time. Truth be told, and I’m very serious about this, I’m working with the greatest crime writer that ever lived, Richard Stark.”
Cooke has numerous other projects he’d like to do, like a love story set at the end of the world.
“I’m also talking to Mike Allred right now. He’s one of my best friends and we are looking at doing something next year that’s creator-owned.”
Cooke added that between his work on DC Comics’ “Before Watchmen” — writing and drawing “Minutemen” and writing “Silk Spectre” for artist Amanda Conner — it’s a 16 hour a day job up until November. After that he has to work on the next “Parker” book right away but, “then I’m gonna have about ten years to start rolling out all these different things I have in mind.”
“Young people romanticize that period right before you grow in to your own. Most of them grow out of it and I don’t think I ever really did,” Cooke said of the reason he has yet to leave that ’60s aesthetic behind.
That said, Cooke feels people have stopped caring about being unique and different in their designs and things have gotten boring and “hive minded.” He cited cars as an example, saying that getting in to a 1957 El Dorado coupe is “like being blown by Audrey Hepburn.”
He added, “Every artist has their place, Mike Mignola’s place is obviously 200 years ago in a castle.”
Cooke called “Point Blank,” the “Parker”-based 1967 film, “one of my top ten movies of all time. I think it’s Lee Marvin’s penultimate performance. It’s one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen.”
The problem with movies like “Point Blank” and other “Parker” adaptations in Cooke’s opinion is that they try to “sentimentalize” the rougher nature of the character by adding a dog, girlfriend or a “hooker with a heart of gold.” The key to Cooke’s version is “not to shy away from that side of this guy. Present it baldly and be brave enough to let the reader decide.”
Cooke then took a moment to express his disgust with Bleeding Cool editor and muckraker Rich Johnston. Johnston recently used Cooke’s name in the headline for an article about Cooke’s good friend James Robinson’s CCI spotlight panel.
Cooke stood next to Johnston at a bar the previous night and “he finds an excuse to stick my name in a headline for every news story he can and he’s five feet away from me for an hour and a half and he won’t even look at me.”
Cooke disagreed with a fan who thought that the ’60s naturally lends itself to very damaged, almost-villainous characters like Don Draper and Parker.
“Our impression of that era led us to think of these guys as monsters. We have characters today like the Punisher. Look at the things he does, that’s a monster. These [’60s] guys seem like monsters because our impression of that era is that everybody else goes to church and that’s just not true,” Cooke said. “Monsters have always existed. The culture was just at a point where it was ready to start looking at reality. There had been an America they’d been selling since early World War II and it’s just around ’59 when popular culture starts catching up to that and questioning it.
“It’s always been a grim and gritty world. The beauty of our memories is that it weeds that out as we go. We’re left with what we want to remember which is always that yesterday is a good place. Today on the streets of New York you’d find dozens of Parkers. At any time in history.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Darwyn Cooke’s upcoming projects and continued coverage of Comic-Con International 2012.
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