I was very sad to hear of the passing of the hugely talented comics creator Darwyn Cooke, struck down by cancer. Every page I ever saw that was drawn by him crackled with life and wit; he was also a gifted writer who had a knack for making complicated stories come alive in far fewer pages than one would expect. His two greatest achievements were probably The New Frontier (a retelling of the origins of the DC Universe) and his adaptations of the hard-boiled novels about the professional thief Parker. Both were tales set in the 1960s, but completely different in tone, artistic approach, and palette. I was lucky enough to spend an hour on the phone with Darwyn a few years back, mostly talking about Parker (we were both huge fans of the books and of their author, the late great Donald Westlake, working under the pseudonym of Richard Stark). This was Darwyn’s answer when I asked him why Parker was a character of enduring interest:
There’s probably a couple of reasons for that. One is society’s obvious attraction to criminals, frankly. That’s old ground, we don’t have to tread over that again. I know why I love the guy. It’s because he’s set up his own way to live in this world. He’s not politically affiliated, he has no purpose outside of himself, and he’s created his own set of rules that allow him to live the kind of life he wants to live. He doesn’t bitch or complain when that goes wrong. He attends to it. He carries his own water all the time. There’s some sort of, I won’t say code of right or wrong, there’s some sort of built in sense of fairness that he operates by. And he’ll violate that now and then, so it’s fun to think of him as somebody you know, but if you knew him, he’d be a terrifying person to be around. I also think he’s maybe enjoying a little resurgence of popularity because frankly, society’s not as moral as it used to be. I think he was a far more reprehensible character in the early 60s, versus most of the popular culture that was out there. Whereas against the backdrop of today, he maybe seems like a rational human being, with common sense. What seemed heinous about him doesn’t seem quite so much anymore. Although the misogynistic aspects of the character and the books can still get people going, for sure.