Cooke Heads West with "Jonah Hex"

Eisner Award winning comic creator Darwyn Cooke is back in the saddle again this week as the artist on "Jonah Hex" #50. The celebrated writer and artist behind critical hits like "DC: The New Frontier" and "The Spirit" last provided covers and interiors on DC Comics' monthly Western series in 2008 for "Jonah Hex" #33.

A long-time fan of the character both as a kid and an adult, Cooke likens Hex to another antihero he's been working with of late, Richard Stark's Parker.

Last summer, IDW Publishing released "The Hunter," the first of a planned four graphic interpretations of the crime fiction novels, to great fanfare as the New York Times best-selling book has already appeared on a number of Top 10 of 2009 lists and has been well reviewed in "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times," "The Washington Post" and "Entertainment Weekly."

CBR News tracked down Cooke to discuss this week's anniversary issue of "Jonah Hex" and also received an update on the next book in the "Parker" series, "The Outfit."

CBR News: What is it about Jonah Hex - the character - that made you want to come back and draw him again for the double-sized 50th issue?

Darwyn Cooke: I'm old enough to have read the original "Weird Western" when I was kid. So I was already really well-versed in Jonah, and when those guys started doing it, I was like, "Wow, more power to you." And as soon as the chance came, I got one [issue] under my belt, and it went really well. So, soon after we were done that one, we started making plans to do something else, and by the time we got around to it, it looked like #50 would be a great place to do it. Jimmy knew he could get us some more pages to do a more involved story, so there we were.

I mean, I love the guy. He's a lot like this other fella, Parker. He's a very seductive character. He's easy to start admiring and liking. And then you see him so do something horrible and it snaps you back out of it. There's a schizophrenic nature to these characters that I really get into to.

What is it about Hex's look that you love? Is he a difficult character to draw?

He's really tricky and really complicated. The minute you start putting a big rope of skin in front of a person's mouth, you are creating a very complicated situation, especially when you're trying to get the character to emote. There is a certain lack of flexibility to his face because of the disfigurement on the one side. So yeah, he's very much a character that you want to stage just right.

On the flip side, he's wonderful because depending on what side you shoot him from you're giving the audience a different look at the man. And that can be really effective once you get into actually telling the story.

We'll be speaking to Jimmy and Justin as well, but can you share any details about the story? Is it set in Canada again, like "Jonah Hex" #33?

No, I said, "This time, let's do a good old cowboy story."

It could have been set in Calgary.

Yeah, I guess it could have been in Canada in the summer. The minute they're writing about Canada, it's got to be snowing, even though that S.O.B. Justin lives up in New York and gets just as much snow as we do. It's somehow different.

This one is a much bigger story. It's an epic kind of story, and it spreads out over a lot of time. I'll let those guys talk about the story but it was great fun. I had every type of outdoor location imaginable in every climate imaginable at every different time of the year. Knowing you're working with Dave Stewart makes it kind of easy. You can really get into it.

Also, at least for me, I made a fairly significant sort of technique switch-up for the finished art. It's more of a crafted work, like a John Severin or a Jack Davis. I don't know, it suits the Western story better, and I love it, when I get a chance, to switch it up a little bit. It keeps you from getting stale. So it was nice to go at it and do such a completely different finished look. It presents different challenges, so it keeps it exciting.

Are you penciled in to do "Jonah Hex" #67, or will we have to wait for the next anniversary? Maybe "Jonah Hex" #75?

It's funny, we're already talking about it. Definitely, I want to do it again, but who knows when. But #75 sounds good. There are so many great artists on this series, as well, and it's pretty far ahead, unlike most comics. The boys work pretty far ahead, and it would be a while before I could get another one, anyway. They have all kinds of great stuff coming up, not the least of which is Dick Giordano, who is doing the one after [issue #50].

And Jordi Bernet's full-time on board with "Hex." I consider him the definitive "Hex" artist from this run. I think it's Jordi's all the way. Whenever I'm doing the character, I'm always thinking, "I'll never do it as well as Jordi." I just love that guy's work. But yeah, there are so many great artists, when I can get in, I'll get in.

Another project obviously very dear to your heart is the "Parker" books you're doing for IDW. "The Hunter" was a critical and commercial success, and you're following that up with "The Outfit." Can you give us an update how that book is coming along?

I'm just getting going on the second book now. It's a lot easier going into this one. Wes sort of got the impression that we're clicking with some people, and ["The Hunter" has] certainly been successful enough for us to be able to pursue another. So right now, it's pretty great because it's less "prove-this-is-viable." Now it's, "OK. Make it sing."

But I'm pretty enthusiastic about it. It's funny, I've done a fair degree of larger projects and graphic novels - "New Frontier," for instance, was 400 pages - and you can get bogged down. But not with "Parker." I have such a great time doing it. I know that sounds like a cliche, everybody says that. "Oh, I'm having so much fun drawing 'Teen Titans,'" or whatever it might be. But this, for me, is pure joy. The era and the prose just speak to me completely, so I when I sit down to work on this, there is never that day when I go, "Ugh. Crap," or, "God, I have to get through this to get to a good part," or anything like that. It's really wonderful work to do.

How do you pace yourself on a project that large? Do you set daily page count goals?

Yes, I'm very mathematical about it. I block an interior's time. I make a decision about how many pages I'll generate per week, and then I stick to it. That's the tricky part, right? Sticking to it.

"The Outfit" will probably take me four months once I actually start drawing the pages. Right now, I'm thumbnailing everything out. There are a lot of characters in this book, so there is a lot of character design. And a lot of different locations.

Why the decision to move right to the third Parker book, "The Outfit," and skip over the second one, "The Man With the Getaway Face?"

We're using parts of "Getaway Face," so the story has continuity. But when we sat and looked at the fact that we've got four of these to do, those two just really seemed like they could be put together for one. And the second two we do are two of the strongest books he wrote, and we want to make sure we're doing the great stuff.

In "The Outfit," we're tying up the whole premise, and everything is sort of laid down in stone. Then, the other two books concentrate more on an actual robbery.

I know you're not ready to share what the next two will be, but what what's to come for Parker in "The Outfit?"

Parker is getting ready to slip into the groove that he's been into for much of his life, and there's a hitch. There's a problem that comes up, and Parker, being the kind of guy that he is, he can't sleep with a loose end. He's always thinking about how it's going to jump up and bite him in the ass at some point. There's a whole book, later in the series, where he drives up to Alaska just to kill a gut who knows who he really is. He's dying, and Parker's afraid the old guy is going to get delirious and talk to somebody. He's ultra-paranoid in one regard. So this one is about him going about creating a situation that forces the people who are out to get him to reevaluate him and try to find some way to make some peace with him.

I don't like to give away the story. A lot of the people who want to read these, have already read the books, but all the same, I find it hard to get too much into the plot, especially a year before the book comes out.

I think we just live in a society where so much is laid out. I'm thinking of going to see a movie, and they put a commercial on, and in 30 seconds they manage to spoil every major plot twist in the show. Because they are afraid people are too stupid to go to the movie and be pleasantly surprised by that stuff. They think it's got to be in the advertising. That drives me nuts. I love to just have a story come at me cold and see what it really can do.

"Jonah Hex" #50, written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray with art and covers by Darwyn Cooke, will be in stores Thursday, December 3.

Check back on Thursday for CBR's interview with writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

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