RIP Darwyn Cooke: 2006 interview with comic book artist

Batman/The Spirit (2006-) #1 by DArwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Batman/The Spirit (2006-) #1 by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the comic book cover above.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday brought the news that one of comics’ most inventive and stylized modern artists, Darwyn Cooke,was “receiving palliative care following a bout with aggressive cancer,” according to the blog Almost Darwyn Cooke. Fans of his work barely had time to absorb that catastrophic shock when we awoke today {May 14, 2016} and discovered Cooke lost his fight overnight.

(I interviewed Cooke a decade ago following the original publication of my authorized biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Cooke had brought Eisner’s character, The Spirit, back to life for DC Comics and I wanted to talk to him about the challenge of following in Eisner’s shoes. This interview was originally published online on August 6, 2006, at the book’s official website, A Spirited, and appears in the book’s 2015 deluxe second edition, published by Twomorrows.

(For fans who want to know more about the man and the artist, this extended conversation is as good a place to start as any. Rest in peace, Darwyn. Thanks for the brilliance you brought to the four-color landscape.–Bob Andelman)

If you’re a fan of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, these are heady days. Frank Miller is writing and directing a big screen adaptation of the character, with production slated to start in Spring 2007. And you’re now a few seconds of scrolling away from a first look at sample pages from Darwyn Cooke’s upcoming monthly Spirit series for DC.

Below, Cooke — who is writing and drawing The Spirit — reveals in great and entertaining detail how he was chosen for the assignment. He admits approaching it with trepidation and ultimately accepting the wisdom of Brian Azzarello in his approach to the project.

If you don’t know Darwyn Cooke’s work, check out some of his credits. He got his start in the industry as a Warner Bros. Animation storyboard artist on “The New Batman Adventures” and Batman Beyond: The Movie before accepting his first DC Comics assignment in 2000 with the one-shot, Batman: Ego. Following that, he’s enjoyed a steady stream of work including: Catwoman; Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score; and the six-issue, 384-page epic, DC: The New Frontier. And if you want to read more about Cooke’s non-Spirit projects, surf to Markisan Naso’s Q&A at Silver Bullet Comics; Newsarama interviews from 2002 by Cliff Biggers and 2005; The Critical Eye; and this bibliography at Read Yourself RAW.

The Spirit Vol. 1 by DArwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
The Spirit Vol. 1 by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

But for now, enjoy this peek behind the curtain on the upcoming The Spirit series and the Batman/Spirit one-shot.

BOB ANDELMAN: Let’s talk about you and The Spirit. How did this project come to you? What was the first that you heard of it?

DARWYN COOKE: The first I actually heard of it was shortly after Will had passed. DC — actually Mark Chiarello — contacted me and asked me about whether I had an interest in doing the project. I can remember the day pretty clearly and finding it hard to believe or absorb what he was asking me.

ANDELMAN: What exactly did he say to you?

COOKE: He asked me if I would be interested in doing The Spirit as a monthly project. It’s a remarkable question to be asked, because it’s probably the only question you kind of rule out ever being asked. It’s something you kind of break your heart over when you are 25 and you let it go. So, it was really an incredibly unexpected situation, especially considering the fact that Will had just passed on. It wasn’t until I sort of had it explained to me that this had been in the works for quite a while, and they had discussed it at length. It was something that Will had squared up before he went in for the operation, because he wanted to have certain things in order, I suppose.

I will be quite honest: I remember the only thing that mattered about this to me was that Will approved of the idea and that it was something he wanted done. Denis Kitchen is my touchstone in regard to anything like that.

DARWYN COOKE interview excerpt: “I met Will once, at San Diego Comic-Con, a couple years before he passed. It was kind of typical me – somebody I think the world of, and I am marching across the con floor, and I have my head down looking at something, and I bang into this guy, and I almost knocked Will Eisner on his butt! I grabbed him and went, “Oh, my goodness, I’m sorry.” I don’t do the whole, “Oh, Will Eisner, gee whiz!” I just said, “I’m sorry, are you all right?” He said, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” And he looked at my nametag, and I was working for Warner’s Animation at the time, and he said, “You work with those guys?” And I said, “Yes, story department.” And he goes, “Come on,” so we walked together back over to his booth. I don’t know if he would ever have remembered it, but it was one of those blunders I have made, God knows how many times, but we had a wonderful “Will” moment.”

ANDELMAN: It’s amazing that no one had been asked in over fifty years if they wanted to do an ongoing Spirit continuity.

COOKE: Yeah. Which explains the horror and exhilaration I felt at the time the project was offered.

ANDELMAN: Where does The Spirit or Eisner’s work fit into your comics background? I have read some interviews and some stories on you, and prior to 2005 San Diego, I don’t recall that I actually saw it come up in anything.

COOKE: As far as Eisner?

ANDELMAN: Yeah. Your background and your interests, influence, that kind of thing.

COOKE: It is interesting, because I think everybody who is consumed by storytelling within this medium has had some profound schooling from Will, and I have never had the opportunity to express that in a manner I’d find comfortable. I have basically been doing work for hire during the time that I have been in comics, and I have never been able to slot Will into that category. I think to a great degree I guess I never felt that it would be appropriate, you know? “Well, the way I framed things in Catwoman… I owe it all to Will.” Sounds kind of ridiculous, you know? I don’t think I did it with the other guys that meant a lot to me, like Harvey Kurtzman. But in terms of how Eisner’s work affected me, I came in contact with it — as I think a lot of guys my age did — through the Warren magazines. I can remember it was one of those days when I was thirteen, and I was in a comic store, and there was nothing that I wanted to get. On the wall was a copy of Warren’s Spirit magazine. I think it’s number three, where he is running down the elevated track straight at you, and the train is behind him. It’s just one of the most exciting images I have ever seen, and I remember at the time I thought it was too cartoony for my taste, because I was thirteen. I liked Neal Adams and that type or work, but I kept coming back to look at this thing and eventually bought one of them. From then on in, I just tracked them down one by one.

ANDELMAN: It really stood out. If you were thirteen at the time, I am going to guess that we are pretty close in age. I am 45.

COOKE: I’m 43.

Catwoman Vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Catwoman Vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews

ANDELMAN: So we are pretty close in age, and I remember seeing it on the newsstand in the magazine section and thinking, “What is that?” Not having the history or being too young for the Harvey Comics and having missed it entirely, but yeah, and I remember buying it myself and looking at it and saying, “This is really different than anything else and having to come back to it a few times to really grasp the humor and the difference in the style, the way it was written and drawn.

COOKE: When people are asking me about the art, my influences regarding the art, Alex Toth is another giant that I mention, because he is the guy who also took me a while to come to. It is like, God, the ice cubes he drew, were just squares with light blue in them. It was so simple, you know? It took me a while to figure that out, and with Will, it was the same thing. The stuff was so superior on a story level and in terms of the different ways you would come into each and every story, that even at that age, it was beyond any artwork or any narrative string for me. I could see that this thing was being orchestrated by an incredible mind.

ANDELMAN: I can tell you that Will would have found that to be the highest compliment you could have paid him, because what he would say was that he knew the art was good, but what he really appreciated was when people complimented him on the writing and the construction and the structure, so I think he would have enjoyed hearing that from you.

COOKE: I met Will once, at San Diego Comic-Con, a couple years before he passed. It was kind of typical me – somebody I think the world of, and I am marching across the con floor, and I have my head down looking at something, and I bang into this guy, and I almost knocked Will Eisner on his butt! I grabbed him and went, “Oh, my goodness, I’m sorry.” I don’t do the whole, “Oh, Will Eisner, gee whiz!” I just said, “I’m sorry, are you all right?” He said, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” And he looked at my nametag, and I was working for Warner’s Animation at the time, and he said, “You work with those guys?” And I said, “Yes, story department.” And he goes, “Come on,” so we walked together back over to his booth. I don’t know if he would ever have remembered it, but it was one of those blunders I have made, God knows how many times, but we had a wonderful “Will” moment.

ANDELMAN: I was going to say, how great to have that moment now.

DARWYN COOKE interview excerpt: “(DC Comics art director) Mark Chiarello asked me if I would be interested in doing The Spirit as a monthly project. It’s a remarkable question to be asked, because it’s probably the only question you kind of rule out ever being asked. It’s something you kind of break your heart over when you are 25 and you let it go.”

COOKE: I have to tell you, I think that these anonymous moments are the ones that you can really cherish. I mean, if you are not coming at it where people are introducing you as fellow professionals, sometimes you meet by accident, just as people, and that’s pretty cool. We ought to go out and bang into old guys more often.

DC: The New Frontier Deluxe Edition by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
DC: The New Frontier Deluxe Edition by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

ANDELMAN: Let’s come back to your conversation with Mark Chiarello. Will passed in January of ‘05. Do you remember about when you and Mark had your first conversation about this?

COOKE: Yeah, I would say it was in February.

ANDELMAN: It really was soon. Okay.

COOKE: It was pretty late in February, and it wasn’t so much, “Let’s get going on this great guns,” it was more — and this is what I took as the greatest compliment — that they were interested in making sure that I would be interested and willing to make a real commitment to it, it was going to go. They certainly had no intention of trying to rush something out, and I remember even then that it was important to them that we waited until San Diego, which was Will’s turf, and make the announcement there.

ANDELMAN: Did you say yes immediately, or was there some back and forth?

COOKE: Well, you know, you have a tape recorder going, so I will tell you the truth. I didn’t exactly commit wholeheartedly. I made it very clear that I was incredibly interested and flattered and honored and probably, for sure, but let me sort it out a bit in my head. And I have to be honest with you, for the first day, it really looked like maybe I shouldn’t do it. I was really worried about the notion that everybody would want an homage or a replication in regard to specific things that had already happened. I thought, that’s ridiculous. That’s like refilming Psycho. And I am not going to be the guy who does that. It’s not needed.

ANDELMAN: It also killed the career of the guy who did do it.

Spirit Vol. 2 SC by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Spirit Vol. 2 SC by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews

COOKE: You know, I think so. Coming off of The New Frontier, I had had a certain game plan in mind, and I started working on an original graphic novel. It’s far more a fairytale, I think. By that, I mean, there’s life and death and giant robots, but it was way more out there for my own sake, something that I was really interested in pursuing. So the idea of coming in to do The Spirit, I don’t know how you could top what Will did, so I didn’t even know how to start with that kind of thing. It also seemed like it would pigeonhole me as a certain type of creator, and I think it’s like, gosh, the stories are there, reprinted now in glorious color. Why would you do it?

ANDELMAN: Were you familiar at that point with the Kitchen Sink “New Adventures”?

COOKE: Yes. I really enjoyed them, to be quite honest. It is a very mixed group of creators, but I found it provocative. And I think in that arena, where a couple guys or one guy is coming in to do eight pages in an anthology, they want to hit certain notes that mean something to them about the strip. I think where it got different was the notion that this was going to be an ongoing monthly that has to live and breathe today. That creates a different set of rules. We’ve actually structured it so there are probably going to be specials twice a year where some very carefully selected creative talent does eight-pagers.

ANDELMAN: Oh, great!

COOKE: So you will definitely see that twice a year. The idea is Christmas and in the summer, which is a lot of fun, and it takes the load of two issues a year off my back. I think it is very much in keeping with the spirit — it’s almost impossible not to say that, the spirit of the strip.

ANDELMAN: You are stuck with that, I think. When it was presented to you, were you offered the monthly as well as the Batman/Spirit one-shot at the same time, or did that come about later?

COOKE: The strategy that DC had put together was to lead off with Batman/Spirit, something that Will apparently had also agreed to.

Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

ANDELMAN: Well, yeah. I wrote about this in A Spirited Life, that he and Denny O’Neil had worked out something, had agreed to do it twenty years ago, so he was game to do it for some time, but it never quite happened.

COOKE: It just didn’t gel then. I think it’s pretty obvious that Batman has the widest possible reach with their audience, so it’s kind of a great way to kick off. But, it’s the only crossover we are going to see at least for a year.

ANDELMAN: I give talks about Will, and at the end I talk about how you are doing the series, and I say, “The Spirit will be meeting Batman, and I would think Superman would be in that universe, but more likely, he will probably be more interested in meeting Lois Lane.”

COOKE: You know, oddly enough, I really want to see if we can just have a series that stands on its own, and just to that end, there is a wealth of new characters being generated in terms of people within Central City, and of course, some bold new villains. It’s very crime-oriented in that regard, what we set up, and I am hoping that we will be able to capture readers with some fresh new ideas in regard to characters as opposed to having to have the Spirit’s plane crash on Amazon Island. Although, let’s get Adam Hughes on the phone; that would be a great comic.

ANDELMAN: So the big question: the Spirit meets Batman, is that in that netherworld like Batman would meet Daredevil, or is there a door opening a crack there to what might happen in two years, where he might meet some other DC characters?

COOKE: Well, with having worked with Jeph Loeb on that, he’s got a real knack to placing things like that, and I think the way he saw it is that, this happened a while ago, it didn’t happen today. He was very interested in its having a very classic feel. So I definitely styled it in that regard. It’s also the best way to kind of mesh both of their worlds, because there is a heck of a cast in that book. I mean, it’s huge.

ANDELMAN: Can you give us any hint of that?

COOKE: Well, you definitely see all the major players in both of their worlds, and we sort of found a novel way to sidestep the old notion of they trade cities and trade villains, which every crossover is, right? I think we have found a way around that that is kind of neat. But I don’t give away stories.

ANDELMAN: No, no, I understand.

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Graphic Ink: The DC Comics Art of Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Graphic Ink: The DC Comics Art of Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

ANDELMAN: So the Batman/Spirit story is forty pages?

COOKE: Yeah.

ANDELMAN: Has there ever been a Spirit story that was forty pages, twenty pages even?

COOKE: Well, gosh, I was reading your interview with Denis. It sounds like there is a fifty-pager out there.

ANDELMAN: Oh, the one that Will did.

COOKE: Exactly.

ANDELMAN: Yeah, that’s true. “The Last Story,” or “The Last Night,” what was it called?

COOKE: “The Last Hero.”

ANDELMAN: “The Last Hero,” that’s it.

COOKE: It’s an incredible title. I went nuts when I read about that.

ANDELMAN: Apparently, and I am sure Denis would share it with you, but apparently it was quite awful. Denis had begged Will, and this is in the book, but Denis had begged Will for years to come back to the character and do a story, and Will finally said, “All right, I’ll do it,” and he did it, and Denis had the unfortunate job of saying, “You know what? We can’t publish this.” It’s doesn’t live up to the past that he had done, so they just put it away. Now, in the ongoing, in the monthly, how long will the stories be?

COOKE: The stories are all single-issue stories, which is twenty-two pages, I suppose.

ANDELMAN: So they are full-length stories.


ANDELMAN: Okay. It’s not three eight-pagers.

COOKE: No. What we’re doing is what I think is the best way to go these days. People jump onto a new book. Give them single-issue stories. Give them something to read as opposed to something that can be flipped through in three minutes, so we are actually doing real content, heavy, twenty-two pagers. But I don’t think that the dramatic structure has changed much, it’s just now, when the Spirit decides to tear apart three security guards in the hotel lobby, he can take three pages to do that. Later in the book when those guys catch up with him, they can take two pages to paste him, paste him into the ground. So yeah, it allows for a little more visual room in the action, but we are keeping the stories very spare.

ANDELMAN: Was it hard structurally? The stories had always been, even in the Kitchen Sink, The New Adventures, still basically eight-page stories. So there had never been that kind of exposition that you would get in Batman or The New Frontier, for example.

Superman Confidential (2006-) #1 by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Superman Confidential (2006-) #1 by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

COOKE: No, exactly. It creates a couple opportunities and a couple limitations, to be quite honest, but I think one of the great opportunities is that there is a little more room to spend with the bad guys in these stories. We have a few extra pages to really get to spend with some of these colorful bastards that inhabit the city. So yeah, they definitely can’t be as concise, but again, with decompression and everybody writing toward graphic novels these days, it just seemed instinctively to me to go with solid single issues. Certain characters reappear over the course of the first year. There are a few characters that become key as we go along, but I never want people not to pick the book up and have to know what happened last issue to enjoy it. The stories all have to stand alone the same way Will’s did.

ANDELMAN: I understand that P’Gell and The Octopus make appearances?

COOKE: Absolutely. I mean, actually, The Octopus is going to be in the first ten issues. He is going to show up around number eight.

ANDELMAN: And Ellen and the Commissioner?

COOKE: Oh yeah. Everybody is there. Ebony is there. That’s been a heck of a project.

ANDELMAN: What do you do with Ebony? Not to give away the plot, but how do you deal with an Ebony? A lot of controversy there, potentially.

COOKE: Yeah, absolutely. In order to explain any of this, the first thing I should say is to explain what made me actually say, “Yeah, I want to do it,” and that was that, this has to take place in basically Neverwhere, but it’s today. It’s not 1944, it’s not 1953, it’s 2000 – and — whatever. It’s a Neverwhere, but it’s today, the same way I think Batman Adventures was. They had computers and portable phones, but they were styled, so it looked very much like the Max Fleischer world, but it involved issues and stories that take place today.

When we sat down and talked about it, I said, “I think everybody knows how careful I am with the properties I work on and with honoring the original creative intent, but I really want to just place it today.” At first, some people were like, “That’s sounds fine,” and other people were like, “Why would you want to do that?” But it is the only way you can do anything new and move forward.

The Twilight Children by Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
The Twilight Children by Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

I had to look at Will’s work on his strip, and I had to say, “Now what is it about this? What does it boil down to for me?” And the best way for me to describe this is when he did Olga Bustle, the girl with the big, big eyes . . . he did that Jane Russell parody the month that her movie, The Outlaw, came out. His stories reflected the world he lived in, and did so on a weekly basis for his readership, and I don’t think The Spirit would have worked at that point in history if it took place in 1910. Will could tell any kind of strip he wanted and make it work, but it wouldn’t have been The Spirit if it had taken place in 1910 for the readership of the newspapers in the ‘40s. I hope that makes sense. So I thought, what could you possibly do, if it is 1950, what can you possibly do with The Spirit that Will didn’t do better before you?


COOKE: He definitely exhausted every possibility there was within the analog world it was placed in. When I was able to see this as taking place in a world that has changed over fifty years, I saw there was room to work. It is very much the same; there are still good guys, bad guys, and treacherous women, but there is a plethora of new story ideas and themes to explore and different graphic approaches that can be applied. I began to look at what The Spirit really was, and every week Will went at it, it was a new thing. It was very much of that moment. He used new techniques as soon as they were available, before anybody else. As soon as I was able to put my creative mind into it in that regard, then I saw hope for me to actually do something worthwhile here as opposed to just echo something that I could never touch.

ANDELMAN: Will the ongoing have a consistent logo, or will it change?

COOKE: The way it is going to go down is the comic book itself will have a consistent logo, and the spread that opens every story will have a completely custom logo.

ANDELMAN: That makes sense.

COOKE: Yeah, so you get both. Because, again, I want this book to succeed, and it’s not coming with the newspaper. So I think the idea of the consistent motif for the cover is a good idea in terms of being able to create recognition and getting readers to be able to locate it, and definitely we will go as far as we can with it inside the book creatively.

ANDELMAN: The original announcement was that the Batman/Spirit book would be out in December and that the ongoing would probably start this summer. Can you address the delay in both?

Solo: The Deluxe Edition by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Solo: The Deluxe Edition by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

COOKE: Good food takes time! Actually, this has been such an important project that maybe we went at it a little slower and more carefully than we should have. We had a couple of things delay us as we went, but again, everybody was kind of committed to making sure we got it all right before we started and also that there is enough of an inventory that once we do go, it goes… My number one concern is that this is a monthly product, that we don’t get into the situation where the book is delayed for two or three months at a time, because we get behind. So it has taken us longer than we thought it would.

A couple of other things, like the Absolute New Frontier book and another little project regarding New Frontier that I am not supposed to talk about yet, took a certain amount of time, and we just felt it would be best to make sure that we have everything loaded and ready to go.

ANDELMAN: We are recording the conversation in mid-July, and this interview will run sometime in August. When will the first book actually hit the stores?

COOKE: Batman/Spirit is slated to hit the stores in November, and The Spirit is meant to launch out of that in December, or there is a possibility they might load them both in November to really try to hep it up. At this point, I am not sure which way they want to go. I do know we are at a point now where we have the material for either scenario.

ANDELMAN: That was my next question. As you sit there now, how far ahead are you? What is complete? I assume Batman/Spirit is done.

COOKE: Yeah, as far as I know. That’s been a while now. My partners, J. Bone (inker) and Dave Stewart (color), have done some of their best work on that book.

ANDELMAN: And then how far are you on the monthly?

COOKE: I am working on the pencils on number four, and we have scripts with Denis Kitchen’s approval all the way up to ten. So the first year is worked out and is rolling. By November, we will be completing number eight or nine. The first year will pretty much be complete by the time we launch, and that is just a great position to be in.

ANDELMAN: Can a licensed product like this be as lucrative to you as something you do that is creator-controlled?

COOKE: If you are confident that you can produce something that people are going to respond to, then I would say long-term, no. However, I have only spent just about six years in comics full time, and frankly, this was the only thing that would have kept me sort of on the track I was on. So it is not as lucrative at all, this is just something, it’s like, man, I don’t know. It’s like Brian Azzarello told me. He said, “Man, you are going to fail, but you are going to fail beautifully.”

ANDELMAN: He said that with reference to this project?



COOKE: Well, hey, trying to top Will Eisner? It’s like not very likely, so….

Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Richard Stark’s Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

ANDELMAN: I have always enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s comment about when Will and Denis were after him to write a story for The New Adventures, and he kept saying, “No, no, no.” I guess Will and Neil were together at a convention in Barcelona, and Will said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Will could walk and walk and walk. He was incredible; he could go on forever. Finally, they reached a point — and Neil can talk forever, and Will could walk forever — where Will kept saying, “I really want you to do this,” and Neil said, “I don’t want to do it, because any Spirit I do would just be a second-rate Spirit story.” But Will finally said, “Yeah, okay, but I would like to see what you could do with it.” So ultimately Gaiman caved. But is that a daunting part of it? I guess there are two sides of it. One is that the character is so old that the generation of people buying comics today, I have seen this first-hand myself, everyone seems to sort of know the character and sort of know Will, but they really haven’t read it, they haven’t spent a lot of time with it, so you have a great opening there, because there is a great character and a great background, but most people don’t know it.

COOKE: I firmly believe that a lot of people are going to really enjoy it, and I think that it is going to drive them to the archives and collections if I can tell decent stories. Yeah, I think it is just going to lead them to the real thing.

ANDELMAN: Is your ego prepared for the purists who may not like it so much?

COOKE: You know, yeah, I think that the last six years, I have learned a fair bit about that, and I have never discounted the stuff that I hear, and frankly, it’s really only the negative stuff that you can get any real value out of. If it’s constructive and negative, there can be very valuable stuff if you are up to taking it.

Evan Dorkin slashed me apart one time, and he’s one of my favorite creators. He’s the kind of guy that, when I read his books, I think, “Boy, I would love to go have a beer with him,” and he just savaged a book of mine. It kind of breaks your heart, but also, reading it, he had a lot of good points, as well. I will keep an eye on what people have to say, but at the end, I have to make a decision creatively based on what I think is right.

ANDELMAN: I would think you would have to be pretty comfortable in your own skin at the beginning to even take on something like this.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Darwyn Cooke, Mr. Media Interviews
Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Darwyn Cooke and Paul Dini. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above.

COOKE: Well, yeah. I think going in you just know there is going to be a certain percentage of people who are not going to groove on this no matter how I do it. He is certainly not a hero of mine, but Donald Rumsfeld, on TV one day, said, “The minute you decide to act with conviction in regard to anything, on any side of any issue, you are automatically alienating yourself to half of the people around you.” Unless you are on the fence, you are on one side or the other if you take action, I guess. I had to block out the idea of ever trying to top Will Eisner, and frankly, the first three issues I noticed I even dampened down . . . I have a certain bag of tricks that I use, and I found that I consciously kind of left them at the door and concentrated on the stories. That’s probably going to loosen up over time.

ANDELMAN: Did it help that Jeph Loeb wrote Batman/Spirit before you had to start the ongoing? Was that useful, or was that not a factor?

COOKE: Yeah, of course. I won’t even say it was like a warm-up, because it was far more than that. It was like a really great opportunity to take these two guys and put them together, and there is a lot of great stuff that came out of that. Just knowing that a star like Jeph had the confidence in me to pull it off goes a long way. But it was really Denis, I guess, who kind of convinced me that I could do it.

ANDELMAN: What kind of feedback have you gotten from him to story ideas and pages, and have there been some things where he said, “Naaah, I wouldn’t go there”?

COOKE: I got to meet Denis in San Diego last year, and we spent a couple of hours just going through it in general. In talking about it, I was able to quiz him a bit, like what are the no-nos? Show me the absolute caveats. We went through the general approach and a few of the stories, and I think it went really well. I was very nervous about it but enthusiastic, and I think he could see that I am coming at this without the need to deconstruct it. I want to embrace everything that I think it was about for Will and try to turn a bunch of new readers on to that. Denis gave me the feeling that he thought I was on the right track, I guess, and he is such a great guy to hang out with. He really puts you at ease. A truly stylin’ gent.

ANDELMAN: Where does the movie fit in with what you are doing in terms of not necessarily the story but just the fact that they are getting set to go into overdrive on that? I thought that maybe the delay in getting the book out might have been to help coordinate with the movie plans.

COOKE: No, I don’t think so. I think if anybody who has followed my work looks at Catwoman — the relaunched book and the movie — they know that there is very little synergy!

ANDELMAN: And thank God for you on that part.

COOKE: Well, yeah, I think I came off looking okay on that one.

ANDELMAN: If only they had paid a little more attention to you.

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DC Comics Designer Series Batman by Darwyn Cooke Action Figure. Order yours today by clicking on Batman above.

COOKE: I tell you, to me, it’s very important to keep your focus on your own horizons.Everybody’s entitled to their shot at interpreting it, and the minute you get proprietary with things that are not yours, I think you are setting yourself up for a lot of heartache.

ANDELMAN: I don’t know, I think those Catwoman filmmakers could have withstood a big slap of proprietary.

COOKE: Well, you know, what happened there is that I believe when Halle Berry was attached to the project, it was totally up to her. It basically comes down to what she thinks is right at that point.

ANDELMAN: The TV “Spirit” movie was pretty much an abomination, too, so what are you going to do?

COOKE: Well, you know, it’s a great movie project. With the right talent attached to it, the sky’s the limit. If there is a lot of excitement in that regard, it is just going to reflect onto the book.

COOKE: They are doing a direct-to-video of New Frontier over at Warner’s.

ANDELMAN: Congratulations.

COOKE: Bruce Timm is executive producing it. They only have seventy minutes, but I think they are going to come up with something excellent, and that’s getting announced down there, as well.

ANDELMAN: Pretty exciting.

COOKE: Yeah, it’s really something. To have Warner’s Animation producing a DVD of my book? Fantastic. Between that and the toy line, I have gotten quite a kick out of how New Frontier worked out.

ANDELMAN: Since you have been working so much on The Spirit, are you able to be working on other books at the same time? I don’t know how much work you produce in a day, but are you pretty much just doing The Spirit?

COOKE: No. There is one other project that I am involved in right now. That’s a Superman book that I am writing for my pal Tim Sale. It’s a six issue look at Superman’s first encounter with Kryptonite. As usual, I don’t know where things fit in the continuity stream, so I went back and read the very first story, which was by Bill Finger and Al Plastino and I loved it. I said, okay, we’re jumping off of this. It’s some of the best stuff I have seen Tim do in a long time.

ANDELMAN: When is that scheduled to come out?

COOKE: It is also scheduled for November.

ANDELMAN: Big time for you.

COOKE: It’s like I have been off the shelf for a couple years, but yeah, this fall I think I have four different things. Superman and Batman/Spirit in November. The Spirit in December and October sees Absolute New Frontier, with a dozen new story pages, annotations, unpublished art and the like. The book itself took forever. So there has been a lot of work to get done. Basically, The Spirit is my full-time job now. Writing for Tim on Superman is a lot more difficult in a way, but it doesn’t take anywhere near the same time as cartooning a whole book.

ANDELMAN: Is your Spirit, is it closer to the animated Batman than say New Frontier if you had to put it somewhere on scale?

COOKE: No. I think it’s more me. The closest thing I can think of that I have done, that is out there, would be the “Slam Bradley” stuff I did in Detective and the Catwoman graphic novel. Yeah, it’s more in that vein, which is sort of my natural realm. I am much more comfortable with crime drama and human characters, and New Frontier was a real stretch for me in another direction. I have never really done the super-jock thing. That’s why I ended up with Cat Woman and characters like Slam, or the misfits in X-Force, because it was close to what I think I am suited to.

I remember last year in San Diego I took it in a portfolio with me, and I bumped into Paul Levitz in the booth, and he asked me if I was excited about The Spirit. And I brought down an illustration board I had done in first year college where I reproduced Will’s splash for the story “River of Crime.” I brought it out, and it had the old date on it, and I said, “This is how excited I am. When I was twenty, this is what I was doing on a Friday night, sitting at my drawing table trying to capture it.”

ANDELMAN: It sounds great. I am sure people are very eager to see it. There has been a long build-up.

COOKE: Yeah, that’s another thing that is satisfying and terrifying, the whole long build-up thing. Again, I have found that my saving grace in this business, because I don’t think the style of work I do is the most easily marketable for them, I find my saving grace has been in storytelling. I concentrate on that. All the draftsmanship, all your shot choices, all your technique should come out of that, and if it does, and the story ends up working, then everybody else will think everything is fine. How many places in the mainstream comic market can people go for a single issue that is going to make perfect sense to them and tell an exciting or dramatic or, in a couple of cases, humorous stories?

ANDELMAN: Will the Spirit get a fresh origin story?

COOKE: Yes. Issue three.

We will see how a tangential person is affected by it, and that leads to another story, but yeah, we are definitely sticking with what’s there. It couldn’t be more timely, could it?


COOKE: A crazy guy is going to poison the water supply is at the behest of the terrorists. The other thing was that, Holy Moses, the whole dynamic of these characters that Will set in motion all those years ago speaks so clearly today.

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