Darwyn Cooke, one of the most popular artists working in comics over the past two decades, died this weekend. He was only 53 years old. His wife announced Cooke's illness on his blog just the day before his death, under the heading "Fuck cancer." My sentiments exactly. I've been touched by it personally and that feeling of anger at it, even all these years later, never fully goes away. Cooke had so much more to contribute.
From graphic design to animation storyboards to writing and drawing comics and graphic novels, Cooke did it all. He also did more with less and I don't mean less talent. What I mean is he used very few lines and they were clean and direct. He conveyed joy and exuberance through his classically Art Deco/animated cartooning style. The popular sentiment among comics fans is that no one draws the classic DC pantheon of heroes as well as Cooke. There's a reason for that: he drew these larger than life characters with a dynamism and energy befitting their stature as pop culture icons. Also, Cooke's Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are not afraid to smile while saving the day. In Cooke's work, they move with grace and confidence and leave no doubt that they are indeed heroes. His versions of the characters remind us of the possibilities in life, of the will to persevere in the face of adversity. His work was the antithesis of the current DC interpretations of these characters, which reached it's nadir in Batman v Superman. On the surface, Cooke's work is decidedly retro, a nostalgic ode to a supposedly simpler time in America when heroes were very clearly heroes. But within that retro appeal Cooke has always found room to include a subversive wink or a nod to the reader who's paying close attention.
His work has influenced me and never failed to inspire my own efforts at making lines on a page come to life. Whenever I'm overdrawing something I remember Cooke and how his art does more with less. I try to consciously use fewer lines and to make them sharper and more focused. It's challenging, to say the least. In struggling with that over the years I've gained an even greater appreciation for Cooke's art. He did what all artists dream of doing: he maintained full command of his talent and translated it into his own unique style. Having an idea about how much work actually goes into it, I'm amazed at just how effortless he made it seem. After reading of his death, fans were only left with a few options for processing their sadness. The obvious one is to pull his work off the shelf or bring it up on your tablet and just let it wash over you. Let his art's boundless enthusiasm and majestic sense of wonder take hold of you. Immerse yourself in it so that for an instant you forget how the rotten fucking spectre of cancer touches us all. Cooke still had more to give to family, friends, fellow artists, and fans. Cynics like to bemoan our celebrity death obsession, often asking how we can care so much about someone we never met. As a cynic, I get that, but it's missing the point entirely. With someone like Cooke dies, I'm saddened because his work has been so vitally important to me and to my own art pursuits. That's why most of his fans are grieving a man they never met right now. Thankfully we'll always have his work to remind us of his artistic brilliance. I'm including some of that brilliant art below.