Lost and Gone Forever
In 2004 I was slowly but surely falling back in love with comics. I never really stopped liking comics, but in my late teens I had determined that my meager earnings from my part-time fast food job couldn’t sustain a comic book and music habit, so comics fell by the wayside. As the years went by, and as I had a bit more disposable income, I started picking up the random trade here and there. Mostly Hellboy at first, then catching back up with Cerebus (my how it had changed), and then Bone.
Bone was winding down in 2004 so I was catching up as fast as I could. I managed to get up to date with two or three issues left, which of course meant getting back into a comic store so I could get the new issues as they were released. It was on one of these visits that I noticed a comic called The New Frontier.
There were a couple of issues of The New Frontier on the stand of my local comics store that day, but unfortunately not the first issue. I’ve never been one to pick up in the middle of a story so I just thumbed through one of the installments on hand, and oh man I was blown away. The artwork was like a mixture of Bruce Timm and Jim Steranko, but with a style all it’s own. The name of the artist/writer was Darwyn Cooke. I made a mental note of this.
A few months later I picked up the first New Frontier trade. I read it in one or two sittings and immediately went out and got the second trade. I was hooked on the story (basically a re-imagined origin story of The Justice League focusing on Hal Jordan and set between the Silver and Golden age of DC Comics), but even more so, I became hooked on Darwyn Cooke as an artist and writer. I went and found anything else I could by him.
Darwyn Cooke was born in Toronto, Canada in 1963. After initially trying his hand at comics in the 1980s, he became a graphic designer for 15 years. In the mid 90s he decided to give the comics industry another shot. Not finding work in funny books initially, he got a job with Warner Brothers Animation where he worked as a storyboard artist for Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, and Batman Beyond (most notably animating the title sequence). His first major comics work was Batman: Ego which was released in 2000. He would go on to work on a revamped Catwoman series with Ed Brubaker and Mike Allred, and did some more freelance work on titles such as X-Force, before writing and drawing The New Frontier.
Cooke followed The New Frontier by restarting Will Eisner’s The Spirit as a monthly book in 2006. He would go on to do several comic adaptations of Richard Starke’s character, Parker, among other more mainstream work on Superman Confidential, Before Watchmen, and Jonah Hex. His most recent project was The Twilight Children with Gilbert Hernandez.
Cooke’s work was always infused with a great amount of style, and his superhero books brought back a sense of fun that was sorely missing for the greater part of the last three decades. An adult or a kid could pick up The New Frontier or The Spirit and enjoy them, albeit on different levels. In an industry that more and more caters to an older crowd, while at the same time being strangely sophomoric, Cooke was a beacon of hope in a sea of bland.
I had the honor of meeting Darwyn Cooke several times over the years. He, along with Jeff Smith, was one of the the nicest people I have met in the comic world. In an industry based around fan and creator interaction, Cooke seemed to understand this relationship better than most. He didn’t just glad hand you, he would sit and talk as if he had known you for years, all the while sketching away for whoever asked for one. I tell you this not as a star-struck fanboy (although calling me a Darwyn Cooke fanboy doesn’t upset me), but as a person who has been to many conventions over the years and experienced the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Darwyn Cooke was a class act, and the likes of him won’t be seen again for a while.
Darwyn Cooke died on May 14, 2016. It was a sad day for the comics world, but above all else it was a sad day for his family and friends. His family asks that if you want to do something to remember him, outside of buying all of his comics work, make a donation in his name to Hero Initiative or the Canadian Cancer Society.
I am saddened that we will never have any new material from Darwyn Cooke, but at least he gave us almost twenty years of great work. That’s more than most, so we can at least be happy for that.
Until next time…