Discussing James Robinson And The Parker Books: The Darwyn Cooke Spotlight At Comic Con

Dean Butters attended San Diego Comic Con for Bleeding Cool;

I thought I’d start this article at the end, as I managed to have a brief private chat with Cooke following his spotlight panel. We talked a bit about James Robinson, and Cooke recounted that he was a dear friend, and what a talented writer he thought Robinson was. I agreed, his Starman series having changed the way I saw comics. In the course of this conversation Cooke pointed out that the page of art Bleeding Cool had run as evidence of a Vigilante collaboration between the two, was in fact not from the fabled project, but a page from the Shade issue that Cooke had worked on. Cooke said it was because they had so much fun working on that issue together, that the idea of the Vigilante short came about. While Robinson confirmed, during his Spotlight panel the previous day, that he had written the three-part story, I’m unsure following my conversation with Cooke how much, if any, of the story was actually drawn. Hopefully we will get to see what I can only imagine would be a great collaboration, sometime soon.

We talked for a bit more about journalism, comics and Bleeding Cool, then Cooke had to head off to other engagements. As I said, while we did discuss Cooke’s thoughts on Bleeding Cool, I’m going to leave that out of the article, because I want to focus on Cooke’s work, instead of seeking to sensationalize the conversation we had.
The Darwyn Cooke Spotlight was a discussion between Cooke and his IDW editor on the Parker books, Scott Dunbier. Dunbier opened by revealing that he thought that the latest Parker book, The Score, was Cooke’s best so far, something that Cooke was reticent to accept, after all Dunbier was his editor, it was his job to say that with every book. It wasn’t until Bruce Timm said that he thought it was the best one yet, that Cooke began to pay attention to the praise he was getting for his latest work. It is because, for Cooke, the measure of success is Bruce Timm’s praise, having worked for Timm on the Batman Animated series, knowing what a hard taskmaster he is to please, when he does praise something you know that he is genuinely impressed by it.
It was noted that the series was now projected to be five books long. The two then joked that they were currently in negotiations on if it would be extended further, Dunbeir said that he was hoping for 6, but Cooke said he was still only at 5 1/2 in the negotiations.
The next book in the series will be The Handel, which follows The Score in the original Stark novels. Cooke picked to adapt The Handel because it is an incredibly visual story. It is set in a casino on an island; it’s very dynamic, there are explosions, the FBI, road trips to Mexico, it’s a very flamboyant story that will allow Cooke to cut loose. Cooke noted that we probably wouldn’t see this volume until very late 2013.
The current plan for the series is to end with Butchers Moon as the final book in Cooke’s run, making it the fifth book. However, to tell that story Cooke says the reader first needs to know the story of Slayground, so they will be telling that story as a 48-page book, similarly, I imagine, to what was done with The Man With The Getaway Face. So, that is where the 1/2 book comes in. At that point Dunbier joked, that there was also the Grofield story that runs parallel to Slayground, which Cooke would also have to tell as a second 48-page book, so maybe they were up to six books already.
Joking aside, it would seem that the series will probably continue beyond even six books, Cooke suggesting that he would probably stick with Parker until they take it away from him. His plan is to start putting a project in between each Parker book, part of the idea behind this, is to help keep the Parker books special, so that it doesn’t just become a regular thing they are churning out once a year, it will build that anticipation for the next book.
One of the questions asked during the panel was about Cooke’s choice of color for each of the books. Cooke talked about how important the color choice was to the image, especially when you are choosing to use only one color. The teal in The Hunter, was indicative of 1962, it was a color that was everywhere that year. The Outfit, is a very urban story and a lot of it occurs at night, So the deep blue worked well with the story and its structure. Then in the Score, the story is set in North Dakota, it primarily occurs during the day, so a Cooke wanted to reflect that in a sunny color, and went with an orange, which also nicely switch from the dark blue of The Outfit.
The use of color also effects the story telling, so for example in choosing the color orange for the score, it meant that, for those scenes that did occur at night, Cooke had to use ‘buckets of black ink.’ Cook also chose to hand ink, letter and even color on the boards, as would have been done if the books were produced in the 1960’s, giving a sense of authenticity to the process.
In discussing that sense of authenticity, Cook said that one of the things he chose not to do was extensively use references. The majority of the building, suits and cars all come from his memory, so while they might not be 100% accurate, the sense of authenticity within the work comes from the singularity of vision that Cooke is presenting.
In discussing Parker, one of the thinks Cooke talked about was how the character had been adapted in the past. One audience member asked about Point Blank, and whether Cooke had been inclined at all, to make Parker more like Lee Marvin had appeared in the film. Cooke said that Point Blank was one of his favourite movies, and Lee Marvin’s penultimate performance, but in talking with Westlake he discovered that Westlake saw it more as a Lee Marvin film rather than a Parker film. Cooke believes that the problem with the previous Parker adaptations is that people have never let Parker be Parker; they tend to instead want to sentimentalize the character. This is an impetus that Cooke at least seems to understand, as he initially questioned how he could present the scene in The Hunter where Parker cuts up and dumps the body of his wife, after finding her dead, but ultimately he decided not to shy away from that aspect of the character, to present him as he is, and be brave enough to let the readers make their own assessments of Parker.
For the first time with The Handle, Cooke will be changing one of the Stark books for his adaptation. The reason being that it’s end is the same as Butcher’s Moon. In doing so, Cooke expressed a degree of hesitation, worrying how his own dialogue would hold up in comparison to Westlake’s, a writer who Cooke believes to be the greatest crime writer that ever lived. While anyone’s hesitation in such a situation is understandable, I think most fans of Cooke’s work would consider that, any changes he feels he does need to make, are in good hands.
Another member of the audience asked Cooke about his thoughts on Mad Men, being that the show and Parker occupy the same time period. To which Cooke replied ‘Thank god for the show.’ He called it a case of ‘entertainment synergy,’ and was thankful it hit the way it did, as it helped people come into Parker thinking of the time period as cool. Cook also said that the show was very accurate in representing the period.
Two other projects were discuss during the panel, one was a creator owned project that he had been discussing with Mike Allred, that may occur next year. The other is a romance story set at the end of the world, which Cooke has discussed previously, the project will be designed specifically to be digital only and is currently on hold, waiting on the technology to catch up. What he is wanting isn’t achievable yet, for a while he thought they had found the technology to do it, but it turned out to not be the case. The story is all written, and he has thought about bringing in another artist to work on it, but still wants to do it himself.
A member of the audience asked about the possibility of an Artists Edition of one of Cooke’s works, being that Dunbier edits both projects. Cooke said it is something that they have discussed, but then joked that he felt too young for such a project, questioning whether it would be better to hold off on such a project for after he retired, or kicked off. He was really grateful that there was that level of support for his work but felt that, at this point in his career, he was better served by focusing on telling more stories.