Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016)
It is with pride and a great deal of sadness that we are immediately inducting Darwyn Cooke into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame, whom the world lost to cancer in the spring of this year. A friend and supporter of these awards, Darwyn Cooke was a singular talent and one of the giants of Canadian comics – in talent, passion, and heart.
Hailing from Toronto, one of three brothers, he began his path to working in comics in 1985 with an issue of DC’s New Talent Showcase, but it would be a winding path to the medium. He worked for a time as an art director and graphic artist in Toronto before moving to Los Angeles to work with Bruce Timm and his team on Warner Bros animated properties like Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Men In Black: The Series. The opening sequence to Batman Beyond is pure Darwyn. Then it was back to comics.
It started with Batman: Ego, then redesigning Catwoman, instilling a bit of himself into detective Slam Bradley (co-created by Joe Shuster), there were a couple of visits with the web-head, and he brought Canadian hero Wolverine back to Toronto for an adventure in Toronto’s Little Italy and then it was onto the project for which he will be most fondly remembered, a passion project that those of us in Toronto watched come together in a manner unlike any other. At art shows, parties and social events Darwyn and collaborator J. Bone would be there showing images for a comic in a manner akin to advertising pitches – storyboards, a printed synopsis, powerful, iconic images of Superman with an exploding bomb, or heroic test pilot Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris kissing by the ignited tail end of a fighter jet. At a show in Las Vegas near launch time for the first issue he showed up with a full team in 1960’s flight attendant uniforms, and he was, of course, the captain. DC: The New Frontier would earn many awards, including the Joe Shuster Cartoonist award (his first of 11, now 12, Joe Shuster Awards). It would go on to be adapted into one of the best and most enjoyed DC animated movies, and he was there to shepherd his baby into another medium that he loved. DC The New Frontier is one of those timeless, essence-defining character pieces that remind us why people love superheroes, scratch that – heroes.
He would follow it up with a Superman series written for friend and artist Tim Sale, called Superman: Kryptonite. Slam Bradley was merely a glimmer of his love for noir, that he would explore at first in a revival of Will Eisner’s Spirit for DC Comics, at first in a fun crossover with Batman, but then in a year long series of mini-masterworks honouring Will Eisner but infused with his own unique sensibilities. This was followed by a series of brilliantly illustrated graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s (nom-de-plume of author Donald Westlake) Parker books. These books stood out from nearly everything else being published during those years by their unique design, their unique use of black white and painted with a singular colour. By that time Darwyn was the darling of the Will Eisner and the Joe Shuster Awards, producing iconic covers, short stories and he was a regular face at events like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and the San Diego Comic-Con. In 2014 he produced a series of iconic “widescreen” covers for DC Comics that earned him another Joe Shuster Award in 2015.
A lover of the form of comics, he would talk of taking comics into different mediums, such as webcomics. A strong critic of the industry but also a big cheerleader for it, he would always give it to you straight if he didn’t agree with something you said or did but was quick with praise if he approved. You knew where he stood on things and where you stood with him. In the months since his passing there have been so many stories, so many unique moments shared and re-shared.