Darwyn Cooke Takes Down ‘The Outfit,’ Part 3
“Darwyn’s adaptation of ‘The Hunter’ mirrors its main character: tough, no-nonsense, and deadly — no, elegantly — efficient. Not a wasted line anywhere, in the prose or the drawing, it’s a high-wire act. Darwyn was able to take Westlake’s novel and make me feel as though it were always a comic. It’s seamless. How many comics can you really, truly say that about? Maybe a handful, and none of them are also adaptation. Darwyn’s ability to digest and assimilate the source material AND stay true to it is nothing short of astonishing.”
Tucker Stone: How long does it take to put these books together? What’s your process like?
Darwyn Cooke: Well, the process, the part where I’m actually producing the books is shorter than most people would think. But a hell of a lot of time goes into figuring out what I’m going to do before I get started with the actual drawing. Like, killing that scene in “The Outfit” where Parker and Handy buy a getaway car from the hillbilly — I didn’t just decide “okay, strike that scene.” There was a week of back and forth on that, character design, exploring the scene because it’s got a lot of possibilities. Page count wise, is it less important than something else? Yes it is. It still takes time to make that choice. Figuring out the heist section, things like that, it can all take an inordinate amount of time.
But when I’m more or less fully prepared, I sit down and I do what I’m calling “live off the floor.” That’s penciling straight ahead, right onto the boards, lettering it and inking it, no white-out. If there’s a problem with something, I black it in. I’m trying my hardest to execute the artwork the same way Westlake made the scenes work. He sat down everyday until it was time to finish it. And then the next day, he’d sit down and do it again. He didn’t work off of an outline.
TS: Yeah, I’ve read enough of those books now to grasp how crazy that is. Making it up as he went along — that’s just insane to me, it’s amazing.
DC: Yeah! It’s stupefying. To a great degree, I’m trying to replicate that method myself, to leave it up to me and the brush. It leads to good and bad things, that method of leaving things as they stand. Anyway, that’s the long set-up. The answer is – -three and a half, four months of actual work. Before that, there’s six months where I’m doing thumbnails and character designs, re-reading the book, and watching Robert Duvall [in "The Outfit"].
TS: Of course. You know, I think that’s why I didn’t think too much about the loss of that hillbilly car scene. It’s one of the parts of the Duvall “Outfit” that’s they completely nailed. It’s so perfect.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, it was definitely gone only because of length. Blending in the “Getaway Face” stuff, something had to go. And while that sequence is one of the better written chapters, it’s one of the least necessary. The guy gets a car. There’s not much else about the character that we aren’t going to see in other spots.
TS: How did you feel about “The Outfit” movie? I felt like it just wasn’t “my” Parker.
DC: I never pictured Parker bald, with a belly, and wearing a wife-beater.
TS: Or sticking with a girl after she betrays him.
DC: Well, Westlake really enjoyed that movie.
TS: Oh, it’s a cool movie, don’t get me wrong. All those John Flynn movies from that period are. I don’t know why they’re all unavailable, but those movies are all awesome. That period of time where he made “The Outfit,” “Rolling Thunder” and “Defiance” — the guy couldn’t miss.
DC: It’s funny, because all the guys I know that are say, compadres, we’re all within about five years of each other’s ages, and there’s a dense band of us. And we all grew up in that era of cinema. It was awesome. To be 13 or 14, nihilistic, to have fascist responses to violent action — that’s fantastic! That was a great time to be a young guy going to see action movies. They weren’t cluttered up with a lot of regret, or emotion.
TS: Oh yeah, and they aren’t catalogs. That’s one of the most noticeable thing to me when I watch the action movies of today. John Flynn movies were never about the clothes they wear, they’re not about being attractive, nobody is styling their hair before they get down to business. It’s the way Westlake described Parker to you, that they’re “carpenters.” They go out to perform jobs.
DC: Exactly. Warren Oates in “Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia.” [Laughs] The kind of guy who actually goes into a department store and actually thinks that white suit, and those white shoes–that those are the shit.
TS: Those sunglasses too!
TS: How about Warren Oates in “Cockfighter,” going up against Harry Dean Stanton? Nobody is going to make a movie like that anymore, nobody is going to play that kind of story seriously. It’s all irony and satire, there’s no willingness to commit to the idea of taking cockfighters seriously, telling stories about guys who care only about using birds to settle scores.
DC: Yeah, I have hope for that Direct-to-DVD market one day, for it to be the place where that happens again. Because you know, there was some great shit, movies like “Pocket Money,” with Lee Marvin and Paul Newman, or “Emperor of the North.” That sh*t would never get made today. For good reason, maybe. But I’ve always enjoyed these things, where you see people trying to build stuff, really reaching for it.
TS: There’s a purity of creation to those movies. Sam Peckinpah was able to get away with it after a while, when people got scared of him. He was a lunatic cokehead, but he had that kind of commitment to his own vision, the power to force his own ideas out there. That kind of power doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
DC: I don’t know how true that is. I think there’s a half-life to the story, that the truth is classified for a certain amount of time. Every now and then, they’ll let it sneak out. Did you read Jane Hamsher’s book about the making of “Natural Born Killers”?
TS: The book about working with Oliver Stone, where they get really high and head out to find locations?
DC: Yeah, it’s the middle of the night, they’re in a limousine, they eat a bunch of mushrooms and go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don’t know if it’s really that different anymore. I think everybody just keeps their mouth shut about it until you start to falter. You know how society is, it’s like Stephen King’s “Long Walk“, where they wait until they see the guy stumble a bit, slow down… and then everybody pounces. [Laughs] So who knows. One day Oliver Stone will be on CNN, defending himself against a whole rash of crazy sh*t.
TS: What’s the promotional cycle that you have to go through for something like “The Outfit”? How would you say it differs from what you had to do for “The Hunter”? It’s clear from your conversation with Tom Spurgeon that you were suspicious of whether or not the book was going to find an audience, whether or not people were going to take a chance on a $24.99 hardcover, that kind of thing.
DC: Yeah, you certainly go into it with your convictions and your instincts right? I didn’t want to break out of what we refer to as the mainstream just with a creator-owned book that might have done pretty well but wouldn’t have been financially viable. I’ve got a deliberate way I’m going through this, and I knew in my gut, that if there’s one thing that I love, that’s really f*cking great, that really turns me on and probably hit the strata of readers that wouldn’t maybe pick up one of my comics necessarily, the Parker stuff was the thing. It seemed to me like a perfect fit, because you’re taking a readership — a very committed readership — from an author and a genre, and you’re bringing them into what YOU do. And I thought, sh*t man. I think this can work! But you never know, right? It’s all subjective. It’s all in your own head. So yeah, there’s a certain amount of concern about it.
As far as promoting it, IDW did a hell of a job with “The Hunter”, in terms of getting it out there, and making sure it had that profile, and enticing retailers. I think they did an amazing job. And — I think the notice for the most part — other than the Spurgeon interview, and a couple other little things… I’m not on the net chatting a lot. I’m an old man, so I’m going to use an old phrase here that I learned from Warren Ellis one time on a gramophone. Signal To Noise. There’s just so much stuff out there that I’ve sort of — I’ve learned from a few key people, and a lot of good friends that sometimes, it’s better not to be talking all the time. That way, when you do, people might actually want to listen to you.
TS: Don’t flood the sites with repetitive boilerplate interviews, boilerplate press releases.
DC: That’s sort of where a lot of the frustration came from, Tucker. Site A would see that Site B got ten questions. So the kneejerk was to email me to get an interview, and then they’d send me back the same ten questions. And you know, it’s like — it’s already out there. Just go cut and paste the other one. I much prefer to have a more involved discussion about it. People who want to look like pretty pictures, there’s pretty pictures to go along with the article. There’s always a soundbite to take and put on Youtube and make my life a living hell for ten days.
TS: Yeah. [Laughs]
DC: [Laughs] Yeah. But at least it’s within the context of a larger piece.
TS: I know when IDW sent out those advance hardcover review copies of “The Hunter,” that was almost as big a thing amongst the people who got those as it was to actually read the book. Nobody does that sort of thing. You might get a copy from DC Comics of something that shows up in a manila folder and is all beat up, there’s those advance black and white proofs, but for something that unique to show up — that was pretty audacious.
DC: Yeah, again… This is why I’ve never been a company guy. I’m a person guy. And that person is [IDW editor] Scott Dunbier. He was able to look at what I was doing, and see everything I’m vibing, and I’m saying, “Okay, I want this gauge paper, I want this color, I want it to look like a book, I want the kid in Barnes and Noble to open the book and put it in the mystery section, because that’s where it looks like it belongs.” And I think Scott picked up on that, and he’s thinking that if you’re reading it like a book, we should do an advance review copy, because that’s an old school book thing. So… fantastic.
In many, many ways, Scott is responsible for all that attention we got. The idea of doing a press conference in San Diego to announce “The Hunter,” on Wednesday, as soon as it opens — nobody does that! And so the press were able to go to a conference, for them. And of course, that motivates them to want to get it up on the site, right away. And we sort of stole the news cycle for the show, by getting out in front of it. With something that’s really easy to do, but nobody thinks to do it. I put all the energy into the book, and he comes up with all these great ideas on how to push it.
TS: It’s funny, because one of the things that I hear from a lot of cartoonists now is that they refer to their publishers merely as printers. They’re not publishers. The stuff you’re describing — that’s what the publisher should be doing, right?
DC: That’s an oversimplification, but… to a certain degree, there’s a bit of truth to that. But a certain type of publisher attracts a certain type of editor.
DC: That just hasn’t been the case for me at IDW. Ted’s got a vision, and an approach to the way he does things. Conversely, he’s got an ability to let Scott do his thing. But definitely, I know from a creator’s standpoint, their editor is their number one guy. He’s their guy.
TS: You were already talking about merging the “Getaway Face” story into one chapter of “The Outfit” months before “The Hunter” was even released. Was that something you had realized while working on “The Hunter”? As soon as you were finished?
DC: No, the original idea was just to do the first four books, because there is a continuity to them. By “The Mourner,” the continuity is pretty much done too. You can pick up any of the books after those four and more or less read them on their own. There are neat ways they connect though, like the Grofield book that comes out of “Slayground“, where they share the first chapter but then it goes off and takes on a completely different dimension. They locked things together, but never in a way that would keep you from enjoying them on their own.
So the idea was to do the first four. But when you think about it, you think: Sh*t man, that would kind of be a shame! Because there are stronger, more definitive books. What’s the point of the first four? To get a clear picture of the character. So what’s necessary to do that? One of the reasons I can be considered difficult to work with is that I think it’s a fluid situation right up until they switch on the printing press. Which is to say, better ideas come along and take time to incorporate. Nothing’s necessarily carved in stone. We said we’d do the first four, but let’s take a step back here. So then there was a gentle period over a few months, talking people through that idea and why it made more sense. “The Hunter” came out, it did well, and by then everybody felt like “whatever you think is best.”
TS: When you say talking to people, do you mean IDW? The Westlakes?
DC: Yeah. Talking to Scott, this gets through to Abby and Paul [Westlake], and that’s probably done by Susanna over at Literary Management. But again, I think I was blessed in this regard, I feel real lucky. Donald was supportive of this, and everybody was aware of that. It wasn’t broke, it didn’t need fixing, so they just let it go. Hell, even at this point, I’m wondering: should I do “Slayground” in 24 pages? Like a bullet to the head? Do “Butcher’s Moon” as the last one?
DC: “Butcher’s Moon” is the closest to literature. I definitely see why he couldn’t write another one for a long time after it. It’s sublime. “Slayground,” although it is tied for my favorite because of its virtuoso nature, the premise behind it… “Butcher’s Moon” completes the story started in “Slayground.” I think it picks up a plot point from Slayground and finishes up the initial run. And I’m wondering if I shouldn’t finish up on the last book. Because “Slayground” is one of those stories that could be done in a short number of pages and be incredibly effective. There’s just not much — you know the premise, right?
TS: Trapped in the carnival, doesn’t have a lot of ammo, right?
DC: Well, it’s incredibly involved. By this point in the series, you have to wonder if Westlake’s a bit of a sadist. Right? With what he’s put Parker through.
TS: Oh yeah, “The Sour Lemon Score” is… Jesus.
TS: When he’s sitting by the pool, and the guy across from him gets blown away. The rape. It’s so over the top.
DC: “Deadly Edge” is over the top too. That’s the one right before “Slayground.” I think they reflect the times a bit, those [Sam] Peckinpah years. Tom Jane, barking at the moon.