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The Darwyn Cooke Interview

CONFLICT AND CONFRONTATION

NASO: You’ve admitted to having difficulty working with others in the comic business and you’ve been mentioned in several altercations over the years. In a recent Wizard magazine, you were portrayed as someone who just doesn’t always get along with people in the business. Was the article accurate? Are you as obstinate and opinionated as the article suggests, or is the portrayal a bit overblown?

COOKE: I suppose it depends who you ask. First, I have no illusions about what I’ve been doing the last seven years. I’m creating simple entertainment. It isn’t art or literature; it’s entertainment. That being said, I take the quality of my work very seriously and most of my problems stem from relationships where people aren’t pulling their weight. It’s as simple as that. If you do a mediocre job or you slough off the details or you simply haven’t the ability to walk down the hall with a voucher then I don’t want you on my team. It’s that simple. Too much time and effort go into cartooning a monthly to let it get rounded off by laziness or lack of care. Make no mistake: The mainstream comic industry is the most poorly run business I’ve ever encountered. Editors and creators often work from the perspective of this business being perfectly normal and professional, but that’s because they grew up inside it. They have very little experience outside the industry. Any other business I’ve been in, if you promise a man who wrote and drew 400 pages of a deluxe coffee-table book that he will get to proof it before it’s sent overseas to be printed and you send it overseas without showing him, well you’d expect that man to rip a strip off you for screwing him. Especially if a page of script ended up missing. Not comics. In comics, you’re the difficult one.

As for the Wizard article, it’s just entertainment. I think Kiel Phegley is a fine writer and the article is fair in what it looks at, but it is myopically one-sided. They zero in on the part with controversy, and everything else is ignored. They interviewed several people for the story that are my friends, but those quotes don’t appear in the article.

NASO: One of the altercations that seems to get a lot of attention is an incident with current Marvel editor, Axel Alonso. After the Wizard feature on you came out, a letter from Marvel editor Nick Lowe appeared in a subsequent issue accusing you of attacking Axel without provocation at a convention and said you should be embarrassed by the incident. What exactly happened between you and Axel that led to the altercation?

COOKE: There are four other people involved in the situation that caused what happened there. I can’t go into it out of respect for them, and the fact that it would take another 40 pages to explain the entire sleazy situation. I will say this about it: You don’t pour a beer on a senior editor in the hotel bar of a show unless you feel he has done something incredibly despicable. As for Nick Lowe, I feel for the guy. Back in the ’80s he was a pop star and now he’s a junior editor at Marvel. [Note to everyone’s lawyers: This is a joke.]

NASO: A few years ago you voiced an extreme dislike for Frank Miller’s work on Dark Knight Strikes Again, even going so far to attack the man himself. You apologized for what you said, but it was clear you had a strong opinion. What are your thoughts on the internet and the ease with which people can and often let loose?

COOKE: Regarding Frank, I seem to recall I apologized for where I made my remarks, not the actual content. I still contend that DK2 is a hateful piece of junk, I just shouldn’t have used the DC boards to sound off. It taught me to think before I type, that’s for sure.

NASO: Do you think your strong views and reputation have somewhat alienated you from the rest of the comics world?

COOKE: I would have to say yes. If you’re talking about mainstream comics and the sort of mass agreement to put out the notion that creating this work is some kind of fairyland where everyone is doing a wonderful job and things are going well, then yes. I do feel alienated from it, but that is a sort of badge of honor.

NASO: Do your views hinder your work in any way? Have your opinions affected your relationship with publishers?

COOKE: None of this hinders my work one iota. I choose what I do and who I do it for. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t but the choice is always mine. The work and the people orbiting it are completely separate issues to me. To this date, publishers seem happy to publish my work despite the fact I have a point of view.

NASO: In the Wizard article, your friend Jimmy Palmiotti said when people hang out with you, you are a madman, but your work is calm. Why do you think you embody such extremes?

COOKE: I’m a typical romantic who has been beaten down to a hard, flat and cynical composite. The real world is a heartbreaking bitch, but my romantic heart still tries to put it out there in my work. My partner back at the ad agency said I was “burnt on one side and raw on the other.”

NASO: Given the trouble you get in, I have to ask, can you actually fight?

COOKE: [Laughter.] It was a hobby all able-bodied lads in my neighborhood would partake in. I haven’t been in a real fight in about 14 years. I would say I’m a mediocre fighter, in that I lost as many as I won. I do know what it feels like to be repeatedly punched in the face or, say, kicked in the ribs with heavy boots and that helps get inside the action scenes, I suppose.

NASO: Until the Wizard article stirred up that old controversy, I hadn’t heard anything bad about you in a while. Are you concerned about the rumors and articles, and the effect they may have on your career? What kind of steps have you taken to avoid confrontations?

COOKE: I’m not that concerned. These are corporations that are in place to make money. They don’t hire based on likeability, they hire based on performance. You can cross the line and get blacklisted, or certain editors will avoid you but you have to go a lot further than unlikeable to loose work in this industry. Everyone wants to be liked to some extent, but I’m realistic. I’m far more concerned with the opinions of the folks in my community, my family and my readership. Editors and publishers are my business partners first and friends second. When it comes to my job, I am far more concerned about the work’s quality than whether I’m being politically smart.

NASO: I’ve read you felt typecast as an animation-style artist. How did this affect you? Do you think you’ve broken that tag with the successes you’ve had?

COOKE: I don’t feel typecast anymore, really. I think I was able to get past it with work like Selina’s Big Score and even Frontier, where I feel my strengths as a cartoonist got to be trotted out. I believe it’s the writing and drawing together that have helped distinguish me.

NASO: I don’t see you on the web much now. Have you made a conscious effort to keep yourself off?

COOKE: Monthly books take all your time. I’m serious. Also, we live so far out in a rural area, we only have dial-up service. We get high-speed for New Year's, so I think you’ll see more of me online in the future.

NASO: It seems like the Web has become a place for newer creators to get their work seen, and a lot of “indy” creators have moved from doing monthlies to doing webcomics because of costs involved in self-publishing. What do you think the trend toward online comics will be?

COOKE: Well, frankly, as far as I’m concerned it’s the future. Period. I think it’ll be the future of all serialized delivery. And I think it’s going to be the first place — and probably the regular medium — for most of the great cartoonists in the future. And I think we’ll see print products that are collections of popular material that’s available electronically first. It makes sense for pretty much everybody except the printers. A lot of the younger guys that I hang out with are involved in it. There’s a group here in Canada that just started a site called Transmission X and it’s Cameron Stewart. Stewart, Ramon Perez and Andy Belanger, a bunch of young cartoonists, all talented guys.

NASO: Do you have any projects in mind for the web?

COOKE: As a matter of fact, for myself, yeah, I see using it two ways, and one of them is going to be to release, say, the first chapter of a graphic novel so I can try to sink the hook with my story, and also to garner advance attention in reviews, you know, track response on the project. The other thing I’d like to do is very different, and it’s the kind of thing I’d been thinking that I’d like to do for quite a while. It’s more of an editorial thing, like a weekly editorial cartoon or strip that looks at … well, anything. From politics to the food we eat.

NASO: That sounds fun.

COOKE: To me that seems like the kind of project that would work for me on the internet, where I can, say, produce one really succinct cartoon a week that kind of nails something that’s going on in the world, that’s relevant to anybody who wanted to click on it. Not just, you know, Green Lantern fans — and hopefully stirs up a little bit.

NASO: Let’s talk about your wholesome, all-ages comics that you do. [Laughter.] Superman Confidential is a book that really brings back a classic sense of wonder to Superman, and what I find compelling in that series is the vulnerability in that character. He’s testing his powers, seeing what he can handle — and that he’s afraid. He seems human. So talk about exposing Superman and writing him at a period of exploration. What kind of possibilities did this open up for you?

COOKE: Well, Superman Confidential was a really interesting proposition, because A) As a character he’s an incredible challenge because he’s invulnerable, and he’s been so “storied” to death. There’s so little fresh you can do with him. So there was a real challenge there. Plus, it was going to be a challenge to just write full script for another writer because I was writing with Tim [Sale] on this. And as we began to shape the story, you know a lot of what I sort of ended up putting together was based on the kinds of things Tim wanted to work on and explore. And as we got the plot constructed I realized the one thing that I didn’t have was a hook or a handle for Superman.

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And one day it dawned on me — and it’s the kind of thing, when you think about it, you’re positive that you’re going to look into this and find that someone else has done it already for sure and you just didn’t know about it — he wouldn’t know he was invulnerable. So especially when he first became Superman he wouldn’t know what would kill him or wouldn’t. If somebody dropped, you know, a tanker of nitrogen on him he wouldn’t know if he’d survive that or not. He’d be scared to death because he doesn’t have the experience to know that none of that stuff could hurt him. And then I had something I could work with. Because I had a very difficult time writing the perfect characters. I’m much more comfortable with flawed characters or human characters. I’ve always looked at Superman and said, “Well it’s easy to be Superman, because nothing can hurt you. Shit, who couldn’t be a superhero if that was the case?” But then it occurred to me, yeah, but he wouldn’t have known that! He would be doing it thinking it might kill him, but he was doing the right thing anyway. And it just gave me a handle on him, and an admiration for him that I hadn’t had before I gave it the thought.

NASO: It seems like a lot of people say Superman is difficult to write. Because he’s so powerful and alien, they say they can’t identify with him. Was this something that came to mind when you took on the challenge of Superman Confidential — and did you kind of want to prove that notion wrong? Was it your goal to get to the human element of Superman?

COOKE: My goal was just not to look like an absolute retard while Grant Morrison was doing Superman. How’s that for an answer? [Laughter.] One of the reasons he’s such a tough write is he’s like the DC comics version of Mickey Mouse, right?

NASO: Uh-huh. The icon.

COOKE: So, you know, he has to be held in place to a much greater degree than other characters, just because he represents so much on a corporate level. But yeah, he’s tough. And I’ve always been more comfortable with characters like Selina, the human characters. It’s also why Batman is just a far more comfortable fit for me.

NASO: The Superman you write in Confidential is different from the one you write in New Frontier. Superman in New Frontier is a lot more aware of himself and his abilities. Do you view the Superman in Confidential as kind of a younger, more inexperienced version of the New Frontier Superman?

COOKE: Yeah, you know, I don’t think there’s anything that really does specifically connect the two interpretations. But I can clearly see the guy in Confidential growing into the guy in New Frontier. There’s certainly nothing to contradict that. When I sit down to do a Superman story, I can’t see the point of trying to subvert it. It’s just trying to tap into it somehow, you know? And the guy just is who he is. And I think in both of those books, he carries the stamp of my impression of what’s important to him. And he’s always going to do the right thing; that’s who the guy is. So you can look at him in different points in his career — he might have doubts or he might be confident or secure — but the base underneath it all is just this incredibly decent and giving person.

NASO: Is there another stage you see Superman fitting into in his career that you haven’t written, that you might want to?

COOKE: You know, there is a Superman story, an original graphic novel that I pitched maybe five years ago with David Bullock, the guy who actually directed the New Frontier movie. He did some cover work for Action Comics a few years back — again, very similar styles, that old-school Superman — and we were going to do a graphic novel together. We’ll see.

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NASO: Superman Confidential also explores the origins of Kryptonite. Why did you decide to focus on that, and why is Kryptonite so important in the mythology to you and to your story?

COOKE: Well, Kryptonite, metaphorically … it’s mortality. It’s his mortality; it’s a symbol that he’s the same as us just different. As opposed to different from us but a little the same. The Kryptonite I think, is the affirmation of his greatest hopes and worst fears all at once, you know? That he’s human, that he’s mortal. Also, Kryptonite is like a metaphor for weakness, and then we get into the whole notion of — each character in the book has a weakness. And for the most part, like Lex and Lois — their weakness is the same thing; it’s Superman. And Tony Gallo’s is wanting. It’s avarice and greed. So I kind of started looking at Kryptonite as representing the things that make people human. Because Lois is this incredibly confident and talented professional, but she’s a blithering idiot with this guy. So it seemed like a nice fit in that regard. And also because the book is what it is they wanted stories, classic stories about classic things. And it’s like Kryptonite is the cheesiest thing in the world. It’s been done to death; it’s been done so many times that nobody does it anymore.

NASO: They do it on Smallville.

COOKE: Right, of course, because it works. You’ve got to have Kryptonite or else shit, what do you got here? You can’t hurt this guy? So then I did something that I always do when I’m asked to look at these things that already exist. I skip all the retcons and I find the first story. And so I track down the very first Kryptonite story — I think it’s in Superman #61. It’s just in the most simple, Super Friends way imaginable. There’s this swami conman and he comes to town, and he’s fleecing Lois. And Superman comes to straighten him out, and the gem in his turban makes him weak. But nobody knows why Superman’s getting weak and this guy’s beating on him. So all the gangsters think this guy’s stronger than Superman, so he’s conning all of them and becomes the head gangster. Meanwhile, Superman is trying to figure out how the fuck this guy is doing this to him, and he figures out that it’s this stone in his turban. So he tracks down the jeweler who sold him the stone. And then the jeweler tells Superman about the prospector who brought him the rock. And then Superman is taken to the site that the prospector found the rock — and now, I swear to God, this is the best part: The prospector points into the sky, like, just points with his finger, and he goes, “It came from up there.” And Superman follows where he’s pointing to. He shoots into space and flies past the speed of light so that he can catch up with the comet trail and the meteor in the past — which takes him all the way back to fucking Krypton, where he finds out, “This is where I came from.” It’s like something Jack Kirby wrote with a load of cough syrup in him. It’s that, like, lame ’50s DC execution to it. And I thought, “Wow, it’s all here in this story. Everything’s here. It’s just a matter of making it convincing.”

NASO: Tell me he came back and kicked some swami ass.

COOKE: Oh, of course. Of course. The story ends up he dumps all this stuff in a lead box down into the river. And of course we find out there might be a stray piece still out there somewhere. So I basically took that, and that’s the bare bones I’m working with. Instead of a swami con man we’ve got Tony Gallo, casino entrepreneur with a green ring. And I basically follow that story. It’s written by Bill Finger. You know, that DC science fiction from back then. A prospector points and goes, “ I think it came from up there.” And yeah, so I’ll fly at the speed of light in that direction.

NASO: I’m going to follow your finger point to my home planet. [Laughs.]

COOKE: Where, for some strange reason, it’ll replay the last couple weeks of the planet’s existence — but only the shit that happened in the house where I was a baby. [Laughter.] And it will even edit out the boring parts. So what I do, and this is where a lot of fans, I think, get disappointed, because they’re waiting to see how this is going to line up with Birthright. [Naso laughs.] Right? And that’s where the trouble starts because it doesn’t. And this has been my rule, and will be my rule with this stuff for as long as I do it, I don’t mean any disrespect to anybody doing other stuff, but the only continuity I’m going to observe is the firsthand continuity that came out of the guys who put it together. And as long as everybody doesn’t mind that I’m going to observe that, then I go ahead and fashion the story.

NASO: Well, the other thing I really like about Superman Confidential are the newsroom interactions between Perry, Clark and Lois and Jimmy. Is that something you took from old stories? Was that something that you felt was missing from Superman stories?

COOKE: I think that one of my favorite characterizations of her was on the old TV show — the old George Reeves TV show. And I just kind of went with that, but spiced it up. And you want to see that on the other side she’s really vulnerable, especially when it comes to this guy. But I got to admit, some of the newsroom stuff — I wasn’t so much taking it from anywhere as I was just going, “Why the hell was it never like this?” Jimmy Olsen in particular. And I think DC got the message on Jimmy Olsen. The New Frontier? Superman wouldn’t hang around with an idiot kid that falls out of helicopters. He’d be hanging out with a cool kid that knows what the hell is going on. So I wrote Jimmy as a brave and resourceful young man, as opposed to some retarded foil. And again, people responded to it — to see a character dignified as opposed to made a fool of. So having gone through that in New Frontier I kind of had Lois and Jimmy figured out, and it was just a matter of adding Perry into the mix. And Clark as well, for that matter, because he doesn’t really appear in New Frontier. But I mean, I really like writing those types of scenes. Human interaction. I like glib characters; I like characters who can hold their own in a conversation. So whenever you get scenes in a work environment, it’s great because you can have characters really start to banter with each other.

NASO: And it seems like that’s the way it would be in that environment. Especially these reporters; they’ve got to be sharp, they’ve got to be on it. They’ve got to have a plan. It does seem like Jimmy has turned a corner because even in your book and in All-Star Superman he’s so much more resourceful and interesting than he has been for a long time if ever. There have often been complaints about Lois and how she’s portrayed in recent years. So how did you find the right balance for her character, and how important is that to your story?

COOKE: I think that I owe the greatest amount of debt to this type of thing. Just in the life I’ve lived outside of comics. I know a lot of women; I’ve worked with a lot of women. I love women as people, and I think I’ve got a healthy attitude toward their portrayal. And I take a lot of effort with the female characters that I write. And probably outside of Wonder Woman, Lois Lane’s probably the most iconic one you can tackle. So to me it’s very important, you know, that you put the effort in to try to capture the elusiveness that would make a woman like that so special. And it has nothing to do with her availability or the hem of her dress — how much leg is showing. It has to do with her attitude. And still that sultriness is there, that’s part of her. She knows she’s attractive and she uses that. It’s one of the tools she uses to do her job.

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NASO: So what’s it like to work with Tim Sale? What do you think his art brings to the story?

COOKE: Tim is a very design-oriented artist and I feel that a lot of the way he composes a panel can convey the emotional gravitas of the scene. And I believe when it comes to romance and longing and these types of things he’s unbeatable. I think that, you know, he’s kind of tailor-made for this type of story about these two when they were younger.

NASO: And even the feelings of dread that Superman has when he’s first encountering the lava or Kryptonite — it really comes through, I think.

COOKE: I’m usually way more intimately involved in a comic I’m working on because I’m writing it and drawing it, usually. And this is far more — I send the script off and I see some proofs here and there, but then the comic arrives and I see the whole thing put together. It’s amazing to see these things take shape that way. It’s been a really cool experience to write for somebody else. There were particular scenes where I would be writing something and I knew that he was just the perfect guy to draw it. And sometimes the guy had to draw things that aren’t native to him, because the story demanded it. But the Fortress of Solitude scene where he’s talking to the polar bear. I just knew he’s the perfect guy to draw this. And I don’t know if I would have thought of doing that scene that way, except that I knew Tim was going to draw it. And whereas with a lot of guys, it might have ended up feeling vacant and empty, he can get so much from the crest of a hill and the twirl of a cape, because of his understanding of negative space and where he places everything.

NASO: So having written Superman on more than one occasion, how do you think your version differs from other creators’ versions of Superman in recent years? What defines your vision of Superman?

COOKE: You know, in terms of comparing to other guys — I really think he is pretty much the same character all the way around. It’s one of the things about him: he’s so primary and the rules are so strict with him, he’s recognizable all the way through. I guess if there’s anything that defines him to me: He’s Clark Kent first in my head. And he’s Superman second. Superman is a role he plays in order to use his abilities in the way that, basically, his mother taught him. But I think that as a character, as a person he’s Clark Kent. And everything he experiences or anything he does has to be shot through that prism. I’ve never bought into the notion of him as the aloof, interstellar oracle know-it-all guy hovering over everybody. That kind of “Kingdom Come” Superman. I don’t buy him that way. I think too — and you can argue any side you want for it — his first real memories, his conscious memories et cetera, would be of his life with the Kents. And up until the moment where everything is revealed to him, that’s who he is. So it is who he is, you know what I mean? Because anyone who’s adopted — if they’re taken in as an infant and they’re nurtured in that environment, that’s what they’re a product of. There’s genetic things at work, obviously.

NASO: The way he’s raised is going to define him. That’s how he’s going to view himself.

COOKE: Precisely. Anything he experiences past a certain point has to be filtered through the way he was brought up. That person, that family — there’s too much humility for him to have ever taken on the mantle of a god. So I see him as a man. It’s funny, I don’t see him that much different from Spider-Man [laughs.] He’s just like this poor schmo, who can’t get a break in his life and who’s responsible for everything on the side. And could have everything very easily through that persona, but he knows somehow that’s a cheat. Peter Parker’s just a young Clark Kent to me — a teenage Clark Kent. They both have the glasses. There’s that wonderful Astro City that Kurt Busiek did where we see The Samaritan all day — zoom, zoom, zoom — three seconds to Cairo. He stops a tornado, stops a tidal wave. You know, he’s all over the world in a matter of seconds. Bang, bang bang. Hundreds of emergencies averted all day long. And when he gets home he falls asleep, and dreams of just gliding through the air without a care in the world. And I think it’s Clark Kent and he’s taking on a big job.

NASO: What do you think of the other Superman versions out there?

COOKE: I’ve found, when I’m working on a character I should stay away from the [other interpretations of ] character. Especially good interpretations of him. Come one, right now, there’s Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns and Richard Donner. Right? All I need to do is go read all that stuff. It’d cripple me.

NASO: The “3-D” issue that just came out was sweet. I’m geeking out on you again, yes.

COOKE: I’m sure the Journal will edit it all out.

NASO: Yeah, probably. They usually edit whatever I say [Laughter.] Did you see the new film, Superman Returns?

COOKE: Well. OK. Maybe it’s just me, but my Superman doesn’t, like, knock up Lois Lane and then disappear for five years and then come back once she’s married to a decent guy and try to steal her away. [Laughter.] I’m afraid that if you look at the plot in that regard — which I do — I don’t know who that guy is, but he ain’t Superman. He’s kind of an asshole. You know? Honestly. There’s something really weird and creepy about all of that. It was kind of inexplicable to me that that’s the way they would want to go with it. You’re obviously intimate with her. And what happened, your X-ray vision wasn’t working that night?

NASO: I know. You couldn’t hear the second heartbeat there?

COOKE: You didn’t see the bun in the oven there, big fella? [Laughter.] So on that level I think, you know, there’s lots of great bits in there, but it’s really hard to appreciate as a whole, because there’s something at the core of that, that doesn’t ring true to the characters to me. And frankly, I also don’t think Lois would take that shit from him for two seconds. If he had left her with a child and wandered off for five years? I don’t think she’s the type of woman that would have put up with that. I think she’s got enough self-respect. So it’s kind of like, there’s just a million questions in my head. Just, “why? why? why?”

SPIRITED AWAY

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NASO: Your work on the Spirit is a re-imagining of Will Eisner’s classic hero in modern times. How did the project come about? Were you nervous about re-imagining Eisner’s creation?

COOKE: DC contacted me shortly after Will had passed away. Will knew he was going in for surgery, and he had his affairs put in order beforehand. Licensing the Spirit to DC was a big part of that and this deal had been in the works for years. The Spirit was simultaneously the most exciting and horrifying offer I’d been made in my career.

NASO: You’ve developed new characters in The Spirit like Ginger Coffee and Hussein Hussein. What’s it like to create new faces in the Will Eisner sandbox?

COOKE: It has been the most gratifying part of the project. I particularly like Hussien. He’s my Peter Lorre from Casablanca.

NASO: You’ve updated the classic characters Ebony White and Ellen for the new series. Talk about the changes you’ve made and why they were necessary?

COOKE: Ebony was always a heroic character, he was simply an embarrassing caricature. He really just needed a dignified design and speech. Ellen is a character that I’m afraid didn’t get as developed as I’d hoped.

NASO: Frank Miller is writing and directing a live-action Spirit feature film. Given your criticism of Miller in the past, how do you feel about him helming the project?

COOKE: I think Frank is going to make an amazing crime film with all the visual panache he’s famous for. I just don’t know if he plans on mining the breadth of the material. His comments in interviews give me the impression that he has perhaps narrowed his focus to the violent crime and sexual escapades that drove many of the stories. I’ve always seen a tremendous hope and humor in The Spirit and I wonder if Frank still does. So I think it will be an outstanding crime film, but I’m not sure it will be definitive in regards to the strip.

NASO: At the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con, you announced you’d be ending your run on The Spirit after one year. What happened?

COOKE: The plan was to do year two with my collaborator J. Bone taking over full-time art chores. Ultimately, J had to beg off the project, and that was a real blow. He was the only artist I could imagine having the synergy to pull this off with. As we cast about for an appropriate artist, there was an editorial juggling at DC, and I was going to be losing my editorial team as well. I can’t overstate the importance of Scott Dunbier and Kristy Quinn on this book. They bent over backwards to accommodate my plot-first, pencils-second, script-third approach as well as my pathological need to proof every panel and color choice. They managed all this and still moved the book through a licensee and regular editorial channels. We all wanted to show that commitment and hard work are all it takes to get a quality book out on a regular schedule. Without J., Scott and Kristy I just couldn’t see pulling it off for another year. I don’t think I could bear to look back on a second year where things weren’t as good as the first year. Without my team, I’m nothing.

NASO: Is it difficult to market a book like The Spirit today, given its Golden Age roots and retro feel?

COOKE: It certainly isn’t burning up the charts, but I think everyone sees the real sales potential is in the collections and the fact that Will’s name carries so much weight in the book chains. Once you get away from the Direct Market, people seem far more responsive to classic cartooning and stories that aren’t about continuity.

NASO: When we talked a few years ago you were very excited about a 150-page creator-owned book that arose from a question in New Frontier. You said you wanted “to take the thoughts and themes of New Frontier and explore them in a world that young and old can relate to.” There was some mention of giant robots and a late 2005 release date. What’s going on with this project? Can you talk some more about what it’s about and when we might see it?

COOKE: The next couple years will see me releasing hopefully two creator-owned projects that I’ve yet to place with publishers. One is the story you refer to, and its title is The Big Blue. It’s an all-ages adventure with a grand scale. The other book will be more introspective and adult, in the paranoid vein of Jim Thompson and classic Martin Amis. It chronicles the (hopefully) humorous unraveling of a 30ish man named Joe Malarky as he tries to escape the machinations of modern urban life. This book is tentatively titled Thunder Bay.

NASO: You’ve also tossed out the idea of a New Frontier sequel called JLA: Bay of Pigs. What would the story be about and what characters would be in the sequel?

COOKE: If we ever did this project, which I highly doubt, the idea is to show the obvious fall from grace that occurs during the ’60s and early ’70s in America, and how it affects the DCU. But this is very unlikely, at least for a while. The New Frontier is a place with thousands of untold stories, but I often think it may be best to leave it that way, other than the odd little piece like “King of America” in my issue of Solo.

NASO: Your exclusive contract with DC is up in June. Have you been offered a renewal? What is your next move?

COOKE: I’m freelance again, and I hope to spread my wings a bit. I plan on putting together an online editorial cartoon and perhaps paint a calendar. I also hope to do more illustration. I recently did a DVD Box Set for Criterion Films, and projects for GQ and Nickmag. The other big thing is I plan on pacing myself and spending more time with my family.

monsters
NASO: You’ve received a lot of critical acclaim and fan appreciation for your work in comics so far. How do you feel about your body of work? What goals do you have for the future? What would you like to accomplish in comics?

COOKE: I suppose that if I was trying to sum up the point of the work I’ve done to date, it would be that mainstream comics can be engaging without having to go down the grim ’n ’ gritty road. I’ve tried to create books that remind us that stories should entertain, not stunts or character assassination. Up ’til now, I’ve done my best to remind us that superhero and adventure comics weren’t always the greasy affair they’ve become. It is by definition a hopeful genre aimed at the young at heart, and those are the stories I’ve tried to tell.

In the future, my goal is actually very simple. Do what I can to help recapture the mainstream audience. I’d like to join contemporaries such as Chester Brown and Bryan O’Malley (to name a couple of fellow Canadians) creating graphic novels that have a broader interest than the work I’ve done so far. I really just want to tell stories.

Markisan Naso is an editor and writer in Chicago, who occasionally does interviews with comics creators he likes. He enjoys pie.

Transcribed by Emily Stuart and Patrick Tesh

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