This year the comics world lost a legend, Darwyn Cooke, who brought a uniquely retro style to genres as diverse as DC superheroes. He died in May after a battle with cancer, and since then, two of his best friends and fellow comic creators — Jimmy Palmiotti and Frank Tieri — have been hosting memorial panels at various comic conventions. Ahead of their panel at this weekend’s Long Beach Comic Con, Palmiotti and Tieri spoke to EW to share a few memories of Cooke, both as an artist and a person.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you first encounter Darwyn and his work?
JIMMY PALMIOTTI: I met Darwyn way before I ever saw his work. A few times, in fact, in social surroundings. It wasn’t until someone showed me the work he did on the animated series Batman Beyond that I put the man and the work together. As we became better friends I was introduced to a lot of his work, and one of my favorites being the Solo book he did for DC comics and DC: The New Frontier. After that I picked up everything he did, becoming a fan of his as well in the process.
FRANK TIERI: Well, I knew of Darwyn’s work. Who didn’t know of Darwyn’s work? The first time I encountered him was actually through Jimmy. I believe it was the first New York Comic Con. I was supposed to have dinner with Jimmy, and Jimmy’s like, “Yeah Darwyn Cooke joined us.” You heard a couple things, let’s say about Darwyn. I was like, “Oh jeez I don’t want to have dinner with this a—hole, me and him will be rolling around before the appetizers come out.” I can be a bit combustible myself at times. I was skeptical, let’s say. But as it turns out, we met him and me and him hit it off famously and it became one of the great friendships of my lifetime. I’m glad I didn’t miss that dinner.
What do you like about Darwyn’s writing and art?
PALMIOTTI: Darwyn caught the essence of the superheroes, the idea that they are here to help us and these colorful beings mean us no harm. His work reflected the joy of superheroes and in doing that made them timeless. His work stands out because of his easy to read narrative and storytelling. He also jumped genres with ease, from crime, to western to Sci-fi without missing a beat. His audience was widespread because of this.
TIERI: Darwyn was one of those guys, there’s a few of them in the industry, who could really do anything. Darwyn could write, he could edit, and obviously there was his artwork. I was always amazed at that. His ability, whether it was the Parker stuff or the The New Frontier, he was always able to capture that toughness. He was able to go back and forth from different genres. The Parker stuff is very different from the The New Frontier. The New Frontier is retro and modern at the same time, and with Parker, he captures that toughness. It was always amazing to me how he was able to do that. DC had a Darwyn cover month. It was amazing to me how he was able to capture the essence of all those characters on each of those covers. It’s not easy to do. Darwyn had a simplistic style, but that’s more often harder to do than a more detailed style. He was able to pull it off very well.
What are you favorite books of Darwyn’s? What would you recommend, especially to people unfamiliar with his work?
PALMIOTTI: My favorite Darwyn books are the ones we worked on together, the three Jonah Hex stories originally published in the Jonah Hex title and now collected in the hardcover The DC Comics Art of Darwyn Cooke. He did these stories because he believed in the work Justin Gray and I were doing on the title and he got to tell three stories that really define the character. The last book we collaborated on was also the last Jonah Hex story I ever wrote, about Jonah finding peace in his life and moving on from being a bounty hunter. The book is a masterpiece of storytelling and will forever, for me, say more about Darwyn’s work than anything he has ever done.
TIERI: Obviously, DC: The New Frontier. I think it was just revolutionary stuff what he did there. I have a fondness for the Parker books in particular, because I’m in them. One thing Darwyn would do is he would draw his friends into comics. I’m in The Score, and I make it through The Score but I don’t think I make it through Slayground. I think he kills me in that one. He would always do stuff like that. It’s always flattering and fun at the same time. I had a goatee for years and he would draw me with my goatee, even though I didn’t have it anywhere, because I have a bit of a baby face so he was like “you’re a scumbag, I’m gonna make it look like a scumbag.”
What do you like about doing these panels?
PALMIOTTI: I like remembering my friend. I love hearing stories I didn’t know about, or stories told by people that I already had his version of and comparing the two. Most of all, the panels give some closure to a lot of people that were not by his side when he passed and only knew the man for his work and not for the wonderful human being he was. I think these panels get everyone a little closer to him and I hope wherever he is, he is sitting in the back listening to all of us gush, cry and laugh as we talk about him, that wonderful bastard!
TIERI: They’re very emotional. I’m glad that all these cons want to do these panels and all these people want to talk about him, but for us, while everybody lost a legend, we lost our friend. The one in Long Beach will probably be my last one, and I think Darwyn agrees with me. We did one of these in Baltimore, and it got interrupted by a fire alarm. I’m telling you, it’s that bastard, man. He’s having a good laugh at us. That would be him to a T: Holding a martini in one hand, pulling the alarm with the other, and giggling like a schoolgirl.
What do you think Darwyn’s legacy will be in comics?
PALMIOTTI: His legacy is his art and the way he touched those around him and how his work will continue to live on forever, being rediscovered year after year by new fans and old. He made his mark and it is a mark that will live on forever.
TIERI: Darwyn is one of those guys you would look at, and you knew immediately it was him. Sometimes you’re like “who’s that?” Not Darwyn. You’d see Darwyn’s work and that was distinctively Darwyn. He came into this industry, he had a certain style and a way of doing things, and he’ll always be remembered. He was a legend in the industry. But for me and people like me, I just wish the guy was still around. I miss my friend.