On Character: Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter
March 2, 2010
"I'm a comic book writer, artist, and storyteller," Darwyn Cooke told us when he spoke recently at the McEvoy Auditorium about his first graphic novel, The Hunter, an adaptation of the famous crime novel written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Throughout his nearly ninety-minute presentation, Cooke shared stories about his conversations with Westlake, his artwork for The Hunter, and tales of life on and off the page.
In a way, Cooke was born for the job. Both he and The Hunter came into this world in 1962. Westlake's book became a classic, and Cooke began to cut his (baby) teeth on crime fiction from an early age. When he was twenty-three he published his first comic book, and Cooke went on to become a successful author and animator—in addition to art director for a magazine in his native Canada.
Westlake's "stark" prose style appealed to Cooke. "I'm a visual person," he told us, "and if there's one thing I hate, it's three pages describing how the room looks." Once Cooke acquired the rights to The Hunter, Cooke began to correspond with Westlake whom he called, "a marvel of a man." He praised Westlake's enthusiasm but had a little trouble getting the author to tell him what the main character, Parker, looked like. "I don't want to interfere with your concept," Westlake told Cooke, but the author was not pleased with the direction Cooke was heading. Eventually, Westlake revealed the image that he had in his mind, "It's Jack Palance from the movie Panic in the Streets. That's what I saw in my head when I wrote it."
With that, Cooke was off and running. He brought his own high style and visuals, which recall 1960s America and combine cool with a sense of the new: the cars, the clothes, even a certain swagger. "I wanted the reader to feel immersed in the period," Cooke said. The Hunter is done in a simple palette of black and white with a blue watercolor wash on top. On December 20, 2008, Cooke FedEx'd some of his drawings to Westlake so that he'd get it in time for Christmas."Can't wait to see it," Westlake told him, "but I won't see it till January 3rd," after his family would return home from vacation. Unfortunately, Westlake died on that trip and never saw Cooke's drawings. "It took me about six weeks to get back to work," he told us, choking up a bit as he spoke. "If he were still here today," Cooke added from the podium on stage, "he'd be up here with me."
Cooke's second of four planned Parker books, The Outfit, will be published this summer—and will even be available as a download on iTunes.
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