Remembering Darwyn Cooke

Strange Adventures honours the late comics legend.

Wonder Woman, kicking ass. - DARWYN COOKE
Darwyn Cooke
Wonder Woman, kicking ass.

Darwyn Cooke Days
November 17-19
Strange Adventures, 5110 Prince Street

Sometimes we're in the company of a legend and most of us don't even know it. So it was with comic artist, writer and designer Darwyn Cooke.

His career started in his hometown of Toronto, working as an art director in magazines before moving into animation and comics. He was probably best known for the 2004 DC series New Frontier, a reimagining of the Silver Age versions of heroes like Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. It was turned into an animated film in 2008, for which Cooke was nominated for an Emmy. The comic was translated and published internationally, into languages including Spanish, German and Korean.

With writer Ed Brubaker, Cooke redesigned Catwoman for the 21st century, ditching her big hair and stilettos for chunky boots and aviator goggles, a look that continues to this day. He adapted four of Richard Stark's Parker crime stories as graphic novels. He won 13 Eisner Awards, the Oscars of the comic industry, and pretty much every other accolade you can receive in the business, including a passel of Shusters, the Canadian comic awards named for the creator of Superman.

His clean, open style was influenced by the work of Frank Robbins, Milton Caniff and Jack Kirby. Some called it retro, but only if optimism is retro.

"It was simpler, less hyper-detailed," says Mike Crossman, the proprietor of Monster Comics Lounge on Gottingen Street. "His characters just looked like people, athletes who could be heroes."

Cooke's work was respected by creatives from both within and outside the comic world. When he died from lung cancer in May of this year, he was eulogized on social media by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro and Mark Hamill.

For the last 10 years of his life he lived with his wife, Marsha, near Sheet Harbour. He appeared in town at the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival and for signings. He was good friends with Strange Adventures owner Cal Johnston—Cooke dedicated the Parker adaptation The Outfit to him and drew him in as one of the book's hard-boiled antagonists.

"His work had a sense of hope," says Johnston. "It was always looking to the future, about the people doing their best. We both grew up reading comics, and much of what that ingrained in us is that you should be trying your best. It's the old Spider-Man motto, 'With great power comes great responsibility,' to help people other than yourself out of a sense of duty and sense of honour because it's the right thing to do."

Strange Adventures will be celebrating Cooke's birthday week until November 19, displaying his art, offering giveaways and collecting donations for Cooke's charities of choice, the Canadian Cancer Society and The Hero Initiative. On Friday, November 18, there'll be a gathering for friends and fans at The Old Triangle at 7pm.

Johnston remembers his friend as a guy with a sharp sense of humour, someone who enjoyed meeting people at conventions, especially children.

"At a signing in Toronto and a kid came up and asked him, 'Can you draw Spongebob?'" says Johnston. "Obviously this kid has no idea who he is. Darwyn's like, 'I dunno, let's find out!' And so he drew him and the kid was satisfied, and so was Darwyn. 'Yes, I can draw Spongebob.'"