Comic book creator Darwyn Cooke passed away this morning from cancer. He was only 53 years old. Cooke was an amazing artist, and his death at such a young age is a tragedy.
The first time I ever noticed Cooke’s name was in 1999 for the credits of the animated series Batman Beyond. He designed the stunning title sequence for the show.
Cooke’s work with writer Ed Brubaker on the first four issues of the revamped Catwoman series for DC Comics in 2001 was amazing. Cooke both wrote and illustrated the epic, beautiful DC: The New Frontier miniseries published in 2004.
There was a quality to Cooke’s work that stood out for me. He successfully took the colorful, upbeat qualities of DC Comics in the Silver Age and blended them with a hardboiled, noir sensibility, resulting in a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Cooke’s art was both atmospheric and fun.
Cooke also rendered incredibly beautiful women. I love how he depicted both Catwoman and Wonder Woman. His drawings of Selina and Diana were sexy, confident, strong and graceful.
For all of their titles cover-dated February 2015, DC Comics published variant covers illustrated by Cooke. He created some incredible images for these.
To me, the timing of these covers was so weird. DC’s New 52 reboot was entering its third year. Most of their titles were grim and downbeat, bereft of joy, featuring busy, hyper-detailed artwork. The variant covers by Cooke for these issues were a complete 180 degrees apart. They were colorful and exciting and fun… yes, I used the “fun” word again. I remember looking at these covers by Cooke, then looking at the interiors, which paled by comparison. I found myself wishing that DC would ask Cooke to work on an ongoing series for them.
One of my favorite of these Cooke variants was Supergirl #37. It was such a cute depiction of the Maid of Steel and the Super-Pets. I especially loved Cooke’s adorable Streaky the Supercat.
Another one of these variants that stood out for me was Batman / Superman #17. For the past three decades, ever since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the relationship between Batman and Superman has been characterized as adversarial and tense. Numerous stories have seen the two of them butting heads over ideologies and methodologies. It would be fair to say that they fought each other more often than they actually worked together to save the world.
In contrast, on his cover for this issue Cooke shows the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel as close friends, allies in the war on crime who, in spite of their differences, like and respect one another. In that one image Cooke perfectly encapsulates how the relationship between Batman and Superman should be. I’m not saying they should agree with each other all the time, but neither should they be at each other’s throats the instant they both enter the same room.
Last year Cooke illustrated The Twilight Children, a four issue miniseries from DC / Vertigo. It was written by Gilbert Hernandez, with coloring by Dave Stewart. As he had done in the past on Love and Rockets, Hernandez blended elements of sci-fi and magical realism for this story. Cooke’s artwork was excellent, very much suiting Hernandez’s sensibilities.
Recently talking to Comic Book Resources about their collaboration, Hernandez had this to say…
Working on “The Twilight Children” with Darwyn Cooke was perfect timing because they asked me to do it and I took a look at Darwyn’s work — I know his work, but I looked at it closer and I go, “This guy knows how to make a comic.” He doesn’t need me, but let’s do this. Let me write this story, but I was gonna write it as simple as possible, As directly as possible, mostly dialogue, not a lot of description of what’s going on, just letting him know it’s a little fishing village, it’ll move along at a certain pace and this and that. And he just ran with it, beautifully, he just knew what to do. So the synergy was there, and he hooked up with his friend and colorist, Dave Stewart, who just made the beautiful colors. It was just an ideal situation because we let it happen. A lot of times when people collaborate who have their own careers separately collaborate there’s a lot of head butting. We were head-less. [Laughs] We basically just let it happen. Let it happen the script, let the art happen, he just let himself do it. That worked really well. We’d like to do another project together later on where he writes and I draw, so we’ll see about that.
Cooke’s artwork on The Twilight Children featured very powerful layouts and storytelling. He invested the characters with real, palpable emotions.
I was fortunate enough to meet Cooke last October. He was in town for New York Comic Con to promote the upcoming release of The Twilight Children. Cooke and Hernandez did a signing at St. Mark’s Comics. Cooke was definitely very friendly, laid-back, and possessed a really good sense of humor. He made us fans feel welcome.
I had brought along my convention sketchbook with me, just in case Cooke was willing to do sketches. I asked him and he said okay. I handed my sketchbook to him and asked him to draw whoever he wanted. He did a nice head sketch of Catwoman in my book. I really appreciated his generosity.
From what I have heard, this was typical of Cooke. Everyone regarded him as a genuinely nice guy. Reading the online reactions to his untimely death, it is apparent that his passing at such a young age is all the more tragic because not only was he an immensely talented artist but also a good friend to many people. He will definitely be missed.