Darwyn Cooke Takes Down ‘The Outfit,’ Part 2
"I think Cooke is doing some really interesting stuff with very specific framing and stage blocking -- moving the reader around the page AND in a style that is built for such a movement. it's a 'language' that has gone the way of the Dodo in comics, and Cooke manages to do it without it feeling like a 'throwback' style, yet it fits perfectly with the material he's adapting."
Tucker Stone: There are only a few more days before the world gets a taste of "The Outfit." How are you handling things?
Darwyn Cooke: Man, I'm forcing myself to relax. It's always a weird week, that last week before a book drops. You've been done with it for a couple months, but you still don't know if it's any good or not yet.
TS: Who has seen it so far?
DC: Some of the usual suspects. My editor, Scott Dunbier, as well as everyone at IDW. George Gustines at the New York Times, Geoff Boucher at the LA Times. Everybody in f*cking Britain.
TS: Yeah, I saw that reviews had started pumping out of there. I'm guessing that wasn't planned?
DC: Nope! Over here, Diamond holds the actual release a week so that bookstores can have a fair shake, because bookstores get it a week later. That apparently didn't get through to Britain.
TS: Selling them early in Britain still has to be a better problem than what happened when The Hunter was released in the US.
DC: Yeah, I know. When "The Hunter" came out, it was right around Cinco De Mayo and they had one of those "heightened terrorist activity" alerts going on. So the container with the f*cking shipment of books was stuck in the port. They held it for "inspection", and we didn't have copies of the book for the first ten days. Meanwhile, there's the New York Times review sending people looking, and nobody could get a copy. Hopefully we'll have what we need this time.
TS: And after that, there was a pretty long period of time between when the first printing sold out and the second printing arrived.
DC: Yeah, nobody expected what happened there. Nobody did. We literally printed 40% of the pre-orders as overage, which is pretty unusual. Over at DC, they usually stick to a 10% overage. Ted [Adams, IDW's CEO] took a pretty courageous investment by overprinting the way he did, but they were gone within a week. Nobody expected that. We had to start all over again in Korea. That delay hurt too.
TS: Do you know how much you overprinted this time?
DC: Hopefully enough, right?
TS: Well, and you hope people know what they can sell this time.
DC: Yeah, I don't know how they factor out their thresholds or what they expect. You just want to have copies in stock. At the same time, selling out in a quantity you didn't expect isn't a bad thing. [Laughs] What's most important is that the sales are enough to make it viable to continue publishing them. It certainly isn't going to make me rich, but that's not what I care about. I just want it to be viable.
TS: You're not saying that the success of "The Outfit" determines whether or not IDW will publish a third and fourth book, are you?
DC: Oh no, IDW is committed to all four. It was just a question of whether I was going to have to draw the f*cking Flash or something to make a living while I do them. [Laughs] That's the rub. It's all good.
TS: You used the phrase "we can only do four" when you spoke with Tom Spurgeon prior to the release of "The Hunter." Does that mean you can only do four books because that's all you agreed to with the Westlake family, or that you only want to do four?
DC: I don't know that necessarily. One of the big things about this kind of work is not committing to too much. Right now, I feel like he's a character I could stick with for a long time. At the same time, I've got two more of these books to do. My plan is to finish the fourth one for my 50th birthday. At that point, I don't know what my head space will be like. If it's still chugging along, I'd certainly be amenable to doing more. Maybe I'll do agree to do another two of them five years later. I'm not sure what it means yet, but I feel like there's a big shift going on as I come up on this milestone. I'll have to wait and see how Parker fits into that. Maybe I'll do The Mourner in 2448 someday, I don't know. I can tell you that it's not wearing on me, working on this character. I can see him being a part of what I do for a long time. Maybe not constantly, but he's going to be there.
TS: What's the nature of your relationship with the Westlake family on the project? Do you deal with them at all, with the story or anything?
DC: Well, no. They seemed very happy with the way "The Hunter" turned out. It was a really proud day for me when the New York Times covers it. See, in Donald's house, that was the paper. Shortly before he died, I had linked him to a bunch of the press that the project was getting, and he wrote me back and said, "That's nice. Tell me when the New York Times covers it." So the day they did cover it, his wife Abby emailed me to tell me how thrilled she was. That meant a hell of a lot.
They've been great about this one too. They signed off on "The Outfit" with complete support. They haven't changed anything, but they don't really get involved on that level. I think we have their trust.
TS: How did it differ doing this one without Donald Westlake around? [Westlake passed away in December of 2008]
DC: It sucked. I really relished the fellowship, that he was going to be able to guide and collaborate with me and help put it together on a certain level. It was a drag. There's certain things I came up against while working on "The Outfit", things that were in the book that I definitely thought would benefit from a change. I wish he'd been around to discuss those. I think I could have convinced him, because the changes were based on character, on key things that were based on the characters. It would have been wonderful for him to have been able to provide the dialog for the new scenes. Who knows. I have no idea whether he would have liked "The Hunter" or hated it, right? If he'd been down with what was going on, than I would have loved to work with him on this one.
And now, every time I step away from the book, what I've got in front of me...I do my best, but I can't help but feel that there's a certain amount of subtraction. It's a little less pure, because I ended up with scenes that I wrote, and I'm writing HIS characters. I can't help but think they would have been better with his help.
TS: Did you tell talk with Donald about those feelings when you were working on "The Hunter"?
DC: I didn't want to be a pest. He was an older guy, you know? I tried to think about it as if it were me, if there was some young guy making, God forbid, New Frontier motion comics or something, and he was a total fanboy...that would drive me up the wall. So I just said to him, look: as far as I'm concerned, if you're wondering, I think the books should take place in the period in which they're written. That's going to allow me to maintain as much of the prose as possible. The minute I update these stories for cell phones and alarm systems, all that kind of stuff, I'll have to re-write the entire books. I've got to maintain as much of the prose as possible. Maybe you can help me out when we get into a spot, to re-write and fill the gaps.
That seemed to make him happy. From that point on, his tone seemed different, you know? He just seemed a lot more on board after that, he understood that I was working more as an editor than a writer, that I just wanted to bring this work to a new medium. It's not like I read the books and said "F*ck it! How about twenty killers and a big f*cking gun at the end of the Hunter? They're flying out with guns blazing!!" Anybody can do that. "He needs a dog! He needs a girlfriend!"
TS: Hey look, the Punisher showed up!
DC: Yeah! That's where adaptations fall apart. When they can't resist that kind of stuff. "Lee Marvin's gotta have a girl. Let's have him f*ck Angie Dickinson. We're paying her this much to be here." Sticking to what Donald did, as much as I can, that's the way I had to go. With "The Outfit", there were things I played with, but when I look forward to "The Score", it all seems pretty straight ahead. It's all in a neat little box, there's no real continuity to deal with.
TS: The book doesn't have the words "f*cked up" in it, does it?
DC: No, that's added. I don't go overboard with it, but these books were all written at a time in an era when you just couldn't use that language. So when I have a scene where I'm writing a little bit of dialog, I'll usually throw one salty word in. There's maybe four of those spread amongst the books, just to give it a flavor. The complete absence of them seems somewhat suspect. Just using it here and there as an accent reminds the reader, that yeah, that's who these guys are.
TS: These books do seem to be as close to a pure adaptation as the stories have ever had.
DC: Absolutely. There are things--well, spoilers ahoy! We're only doing four books, and Donald had twenty books to roll out that huge cast of characters. We only have the four. And in the next book, "The Score," we have twelve guys to deal with.
So, I'm looking at that scene in "The Outfit," where Parker stops at that hotel all the criminals used, so he can spread the word about hitting the outfit. It's a fine scene as it is, but you know what, I'd rather insinuate characters like Grofield into the book earlier, so I can familiarize readers with him, Dan Wycza as well. If I can introduce the characters to the readers now, and give them a sense of ownership, they can come into the third book and recognize a couple of the guys from the last book. And because there's only four books, there's a couple of spots in the Outfit's original text where the specific characters Donald used weren't really important, so why not put a couple of guys in the comic that will be showing up in the next one?
TS: I just read "The Handle", the island casino one, and I really got into Grofield, almost as much as Parker. So turning that page in your Outfit, and seeing that character washing off the sign, bullshitting around at his goofy theater -- I loved that guy, I felt like you really nailed him.
DC: Yeah, I didn't catch him the way I wanted too. I wanted Burt Lancaster in Vera Cruz. I got Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity. He's not swarthy looking enough. I want Grofield just a tad swarthier, not quite as clean cut as he ended up. That was just a first thought. In the next book, I'll try to do better by him.
TS: I'm curious about Grofield -- you changed his name just a little bit? You took the "i" out?
DC: You know what, I'll just cop to it right now. That was a complete mistake on my part! Just a blunder, a total blunder. And it's funny, because there's a website, The Violent World of Parker, and Trent gave it a quick review. He nails the reason for it, he said "he changed Grofield to Grofeld. I can't imagine why, but I don't think it will bother many people because that's how most people say it anyway." And that's exactly what it was! I'm just hand-lettering onto my page, and in my head, it's Grofeld. Nobody caught it. So yeah, it was just a complete screw up, and I'll just cop to it now rather than come up with an elaborate lie.
TS: When did you actually catch it?
DC: When Trent pointed it out.
DC: See, because to me, it just looked right! [Laughing] On some sort of spastic level, I'm dyslexically lettering it over and over again, so it just looked right over and over again. I guess now the big question is whether it becomes Grofield or stays as Grofeld in the next book.
TS: What went into the changes you made with Bett Harrow's appearance?
DC: I wanted to leave it open. It's part of this game I'm playing...is the casual reader going to be worried about how important she's going to be? Is it because some of us who know the book and know the way these things are put together that we think "she's there for a reason"? I don't really know. I just wanted to leave it open, I guess. And I didn't like the fact that the Outfit ended with Parker and Handy acting like Archie and Reggie. It's basically them going "Off to another adventure. Together!"
TS: "Handy, you're my best friend."
DC: I'll tell you one thing: I didn't want to end the story with him going back to Bett, because that really implies something. That was important to me, so that's why I decided to go with that scene in Lake Tahoe for the end. We infer that he's going back to Miami, but I don't really want to imply that he's in a big hurry to get back to Bett. There could be a room full of women right down that road. Maybe he'll hang there for a bit. Parker needs to be alone.
I don't know how far we should go into this, but -- should the story really close the way that it does? With Parker leaving Quill alive? A guy who works for the bosses, and now he's the only one who knows what Parker looks like? Would Parker let that guy live? I don't think so. That would have been the one thing where I would've been brave enough to say something to Donald. There's nothing about Parker that explains that decision. In "The Jugger," he goes up to kill an old man who is a friend of his. It's hard for me to imagine a guy like that letting somebody like Quill live. It's so wildly out of character.
TS: And Quill doesn't show up again later on in the series, he never uses the information he has against Parker in later books.
DC: No. If he had, I would've had to leave it alone.
TS: So you're just tying off a loose end. Same thing Parker would do.