Darwyn Cooke Takes Down ‘The Outfit,’ Part 5
Tucker Stone: After seeing the large format of “The Man With the Getaway Face” comic that you and IDW put out, I started to wonder if you’re going to end up with a bunch of new versions of this series down the line. Part of the culture nowadays seems to be a constant cycle of reproduction, reprinting and new formats. But when I look at these Parker books — they’re weighty, heavy books. There doesn’t seem to be any sacrifice, down to the designs on the actual book under the dust jackets, and I can’t help but hope that this is it. That there isn’t some cheapy softcover omnibus coming. These are the books, this is how much they weigh.
Darwyn Cooke: Oh god, Tucker Stone’s precious little life!
TS: Pretty much!
DC: [Laughing] Yeah, well. My editor is the guy who came up with the Absolute format. Scott loves nothing more than playing with the stuff after he gets his hands on it. So yes, much to your horror, you’ll probably see the thing in different formats and configurations. None of them will be done without the idea of making things special in a certain way. It’s not going to be cut-rate.
TS: Will it be your thing too? Do you get to have a complete hand in it?
DC: Scott is kind enough to give me a free hand. They send the books to Korea, and they do the proofreading, and the design department helps me with a few little things. But every page is designed by me, the covers are designed by me, the colors are picked by me.
TS: The prints on the endpapers?
DC: All of it. I used to be a graphic designer, so I can’t help myself. I tend to have a really strong idea of how I want the look and the feel, so it’s just easier for me to do it than to explain it some poor f*cking kid.
TS: What are your plans while you’re waiting to start on the next Parker book, “The Score”?
DC: Well, there’s a lot of stuff I get offered that is actually pretty good work, but its ground that I’ve already covered. So when something comes in and I haven’t done it, like — there’s nothing more fun then bashing out a pin-up of some cool looking characters. I just did a Thunder Agents variant cover for one of the issues of that relaunch, and hey: I would never draw a Thunder Agents book. But to draw them all once, sure. Great fun. “Weird War Tales” was a book that I loved as a kid, so Joey had me on the sentimental level. And it was kind of divorced from everything else, so I could do something fun and make it absurd. So yeah, you like to have those things come in. They’re nice little palate cleansers.
I can sort of tease the fact that I’m talking to DC about something ambitious. But things move at a glacial pace there, so it’s premature to get into. I hold out hope that we’ll all get to work together again. For me, it’s very important that I’ve factored out as many variables as possible before I lock into anything. I think it’s allowed me to work on quality stuff that’s at a certain level.
I’m not going to be working hard the next year. It’s going to be a lot of recharging, cutting down trees and painting. Hanging out with Miss Marsha. Right now, it feels like I did those two novels back to back. There was a little time in between, but it really felt like boom-boom-boom. So I want to take a step back, do a couple of other things. That’ll make me miss Parker. It sounds like an old shopworn cliche, but it’s a lot of fun to work on him. There’s very few days where it’s like “oh, f*ck me.”
TS: You’d talked about doing a digital strip at one point, right?
DC: Yeah, the next thing you see from me will be a digital book, in between “The Outfit” and “The Score”. I’m still trying to work it out, I’m doing a lot of research on it right now. Getting back up to speed on some things. I’m not sure how long it will be, but it will be exclusively digital for an indefinite period of time. That’s probably the number one thing I’m going to be concerned with. It will probably be 48 pages, a romance story. It’s got a bad ass plot driving it, but it’s definitely a big romance. That’s probably going to be my creative focus until I get around to doing “The Score,”
TS: Will it be through a publisher? Or Do you plan to set up a site and do it yourself?
DC: That’s what I’m exploring right now. There’s going to be a big announcement in New York about a big media concern getting involved in this stuff. But if you look at it, most of them are going through comiXology or something like that, basically middlemen. They take a piece. The question becomes “what do you get for that piece?” Do you get more exposure from being with them? More promotion? Is it more accessible to a broader audience? Because to me, that’s what it’s all f*cking about, trying to reach more people. Fighting this whole contraction that’s going on. Every project that I do now, it’s about that, how you reach more people. And so right now, I’m asking what would be the best way. I can do it direct, I could do it through comiXology and that’s certainly going to be enough for people who want my work, but what about the somebody else, who might not already know about it?
TS: It’s not about pleasing the people who are already at the party, but finding more people for the party. Not pulling the same money from the same group over and over again, expecting them to fund and support every comic that’s available.
DC: And that’s an almost impossible thing to do, within that market.
TS: You released “The Hunter” direct through the IDW app, right? How’d that go?
DC: I believe it’s available in a couple of different spots. People certainly haven’t any trouble accessing it in that way. I remember when the Transformers film came out, the IDW app was all over the top ten. The public doesn’t seem to be having trouble finding this stuff. With “The Hunter”, I think they did a really great job. I’m not objective, I look at it and know that it’s something other guys did — it’s not bad, but it’s not all mine.
TS: I’m curious to know if you’re interested in doing more stuff where yours is the only name in the credits, more work with your own characters, your own creations.
DC: To a certain degree, I don’t know if that’s important to me as it is to some. I think a lot of people around me find it a lot more important than I do. A lot of it too, if I’m brutally, sincerely honest is that I’ve got the opportunity to work with Donald Westlake, the writer, or Darwyn Cooke, the writer. That’s it, okay? I’ve always looked at myself as a director. I was a magazine art director, I was an agency art director, I’ve been a production designer, I was a storyboard artist and an animation director, and… I’ve never been that concerned about that notion of “sole creator.” I think more like a film director, I tend to see stories that I love, that I think would really work in the medium that I love. I explain this to [Ed] Brubaker all the time. You got a choice of writers, Richard Stark or Darwyn Cooke.
So I don’t know. I do a lot of shorts, and I’ve certainly written up a lot of stuff like that. But there’s circumstances that come up, you know? When I’d finished my issue of “Solo” at DC, that was going to be it for quite a while. I was starting to put together a lot of stuff that I had in mind for myself, things that were all mine. And that’s when I got the call: “There’s this Will Eisner thing.”
And it’s the last thing in the world that I wanted to do. But it’s kind of a weird situation, because I can remember being in high school and tracing those panels. I can remember when I was younger, it used to give me a pain to think that I would never get to draw this character. Eisner’s the only one who gets to do it. And all those old memories are buried, and then they give you this call and it’s like “hey, we’re doing this”. Now I’m not just thinking about doing it, I’m thinking about what happens if I don’t do it, that somebody else will get a hold of it and do it, and ultimately, I end up taking on that responsibility, that challenge. Because it was tough.
That’s two years right there, that I hadn’t planned. But when you’re looking at something you love so much, and you know they’re going to pull the trigger on it no matter what, you end up involved. It sets you back a little bit, but during that time on “The Spirit,” I took a look at how things sell. What’s breaking out, what’s breaking through, and by the time I got to the position to go out on my own, I thought it would be smart to take somebody cool with me here. To work on the Stark books, the Parker stuff — I feel different, more like a film director than I do when I write a Batman story. Because there, I am writing it, even though it’s someone else’s character. But I actually have to sit down and plot it, conceive it. I consider the Parker books somewhat differently, and again, I’m hoping that I’ve built a certain readership over time that’ll follow me over, and hopefully it’ll attract a certain number of new readers, and hopefully, between all of these things, they’ll be enough readers to sustain what I do, if and when I get my act together.
You gotta keep in my mind that you’re talking to a 47-year-old guy. I gotta have my sandwiches. My heat. My phone, my gasoline. I starved most of my adult life, but I’m at a point now where I have to consider my responsibilities to my wife, my life. I can’t just go off on a flyer on something that isn’t going to make any money for three or four years. It’s baby steps, I guess. And the other thing is, yeah, I love working with good writers. There’s a lot that are better than me.
That being said, I do have a couple of stories that I want to put out there. And the first one is an ideal fit to go at in this new, digital way. I’m also constantly dealing with the fact that I’m “the retro guy,” that I’m this old-timey guy. So I want to do something contemporary, something that sets that on its ear a bit. The new format makes that kind of ideal.
So I’m doing it, I guess. But I’ll tell you, from my standpoint, it’s a lot easier to draw than write. I find writing to be completely soulcrushing. A horrible, horrible process of embarrassment and shame. There’s nothing more horrible than having to read your own work.
TS: Can you describe why it’s important to you to have everything in this project be under your control?
DC: I guess it’s the mindset of the art director. It’s sort of a horrible taint to get in your blood. You’re walking down the street, and you’re seeing some girl thinking “those pants aren’t cut for her body type” and “what’s that dude doing wearing that shirt, doesn’t he realize it makes his skin look green” and “god, that building sucks” and “who the f*ck thought that copper was a good color for a car?” [Laughing]
So you find yourselves always thinking that way, thinking things could look a little cooler, a little better. And for me, the greatest experience of things like books is that when you pick up a book you love, one where every detail has been attended to, and all of it is in harmony from a design standpoint, everything is there in service of the book. The old Mr. X books were one of the first times I felt like it was ever really done, full bore. You could see graphic design applied to a comic in a way that was completely sophisticated. It cemented the proposition, to see something that was totally separate from all those comics that had ads for seed packages and bicycles with banana seats.
I’m happy with stuff that i’ve sent in, but I can remember seeing the finished product and thinking “oh, i would’ve done this differently” or “what a garish logo.” The Parker books were my opportunity to make it as perfect as possible. And I get to love that feedback, when somebody mentions liking the way the whole thing looked, when people compliment the package.
I’m looking at the book right now — I just rip the dust jacket off, just looking at the book — and I’m thinking that if it was a softcover, with that Marvel Pontiac design… What’s the point? The back was all covered in nonsense? I’d still be proud of the book, but… It wouldn’t be finished. It wouldn’t be mine.
TS: Beyond the design, what’s the mission statement behind doing absolutely everything in these adaptations?
DC: One of the things that’s rarely discussed in this industry is the marriage between content and execution when you’re cartooning the whole thing. I don’t write dialogue until I’m finished. I can sit at a blank screen, writing dialogue for myself, but why? I know the basic scenes, the plot, the emotional pitch. The twenty minutes I spend drawing the person emoting are a time when I can run through twenty different lines. And half the time, you’ll get the drawings finished and realize you don’t nearly as many of the words as you thought you did. You end up with something that’s more organic because it’s created in a more organic way. With a script, it’s cut and dry. It comes in, gets drawn, it goes out the door. Then a different point of view takes it and goes away with it.
TS: Do you have a response to those criticisms you mentioned, the “retro-guy” stereotype?
DC: You become distinguished for certain things, to start with. I think in terms of any sort of entertainment or popular culture, that’s bound to happen. Hopefully it’s something you’re comfortable with. As for whether it’s relevant or not? In the long run, absolutely.
If you look at the bridge in time between “The Hunter” and now, it’s about the same time difference between the Wild West dying and John Ford making those great Westerns. It’s about the same amount of time. And comics are a really weird substrata of entertainment where this kind of thing is somehow viewed in a particular light. When you look at filmmakers, people don’t look at “LA Confidential” and criticize it for being “retro.” Because it’s a f*cking period piece. We seem to attach that word retro to what we’ll call pop culture if it looks backwards at all. But if you make a movie, and it’s set fifty years ago, nobody gets up in arms about it not taking place together. I don’t know. “Catwoman” and “The Spirit” took place in the here and now. There’s certain aspects of my style and approach to storytelling that are specific, but I don’t know that they’d seem out of date to the average citizen. To the audience for the Big Two, for what’s coming out every wednesday for the last eight years. But in a bookstore? On a bookshelf? In ten years?
All this stuff that’s being generated right now is going to look specifically dated. I think will my work will still stand. I think it’s easier to tell certain types of stories in a retro time period, to tap into that sense memory of a society that believes the past was a simpler time. It’s also a lot easier to do allegorical work. I don’t know. I love drawing that era, which may explain why I gravitated toward my approach on Frontier, or why I’m attracted to the Parker books. I want to leave it intact, so that means it gets set in 1962, so that’s what we’re doing. I think in the future, the work will look a little more timeless. Most of what i’ve done can be collected into complete stories, finished books, graphic novels. I think it will outlast some of the contemporary stuff, but that could just be my ego talking.
I don’t know man. None of that really gets to me. It’s very unlikely I’m going to do another story that takes place in that era, outside of the Parker stuff. I can see maybe one down the road. But that’s a long ways off.
I never really thought I had the broadest reach. When I got into this, I thought the best I could do was make a humble living at it and get enough work to stay at it and enjoy it. So I feel like I’m way ahead of the game. I have a strong and faithful readership, and it’s hard to worry about that. In terms of criticisms that are leveled–there are a lot of guys who get way more shit than me. There’s a lot of stuff that I think sucks, so I can’t get too broken hearted about the fact that some people think I suck.
I think my work gets off easy. But on the other hand, I don’t think I’m trying to do “Fun Home” or “Infinite Crisis”. I’m not reaching for anything more than telling you a good story in an inventive way. I’m not sure it deserves that much awe or ire.
TS: I think it deserves a fair bit of awe.
DC: God bless you, young man.