This is an article that I had written for my university newspaper, The Sheaf, aroundabouts 2001 or 2002. I conducted a lengthy and entertaining interview with Canadian cartoonist Darwyn Cooke at the time [unpublished in its uncut form to this day] and used a smattering of material from it to pen this piece mostly discussing his brilliant one-shot, Batman: Ego, and the launch of the all-new, less egregiously sexist, Catwoman [the latter with writer, Ed Brubaker] for DC Comics.
I remember talking to Darwyn years later and apologizing for never publishing the interview as I had intended. He told me that someone had shown him the article and that he had been satisfied with it. While that was mildly reassuring I still regret never having posted our full conversation which, I believe, gave a really nice portrait of a cartoonist at a specific moment early on in his comic book career and I am resolving myself to getting it up here on the site sometime in the future.
Toronto born artist Darwyn Cooke is anything but a household name, in this country or any other, but he is steadily building a reputation for himself in the comics industry as a singular talent. At the age of 39, he enters the field at a point where most professionals have already accumulated a couple decades of experience in the industry, but that doesn’t intimidate him at all. “One of the things I’m really grateful for in retrospect is that I spent my 20s doing something else. I’ve designed magazines, I’ve designed products, so I have all these other influences,” he admits. “[But] by the time I was 30, I felt like I’d made a wrong turn because [comics are] what I really wanted to do.”
The wrong turn he refers to is actually a string of professional jobs he held previous to his four-colour epiphany, including stints as a magazine art director, graphic designer, commercial production designer and editorial illustrator. And that’s not even counting the large number of animation work he’s done.
After founding and leading the award-winning Brotherhood Animation Company in his native Canada, Cooke decided to take a chance with an ad he saw in a trade magazine looking for animators. Warner Bros. Animation was looking for fresh talent to come and work on one of their shows, and with nothing to lose, he submitted his demo reel. “I see this ad, I put a sample together and BANG! I was working on the show a week later.”
Darwyn spent the next three years in Los Angeles, storyboarding on The Batman/Superman Adventures, then Batman Beyond, and is credited with designing the brilliant and kinetic main title sequence for the latter (arguably the coolest 30 seconds on television).
Batman: Ego was Cooke’s magnum opus, an inkling of an idea he had that he had always wanted to develop further. “Batman is probably my favourite character and I’d come up with this idea of him having a conversation with himself. The idea of these two sides of the character and I thought, ‘This is so weird.'” He had tried to sell the story to DC Comics and had submitted a proposal to them long before he ever got involved with the Warner animation group. Ego sat on an editor’s shelf for six years before it was accidentally discovered on its way into a garbage bin, and after some detective work on the part of the submissions editor at DC, Darwyn was tracked down and given the go-ahead.
Since its release, Ego has been met with almost universal acclaim garnering favourable responses from fans and peers. Cooke’s minimal linework and cinematic storytelling really drive the compelling tale of a boy and his father, a man and his most terrifying enemy; himself. “There’s something deeply wrong with Bruce Wayne, and I think that’s what makes him right,” adds Cooke. “I’m just astonished at how well it’s been received by the people who have read it.”
With his foot firmly in the door, Cooke has no intentions to rest on his laurels. He is currently hard at work in the Batman corner of the DC Universe developing a new Catwoman series with writer Ed Brubaker and is having a great time doing so. “Unlike most people, I don’t want to be on the best books. I don’t want to follow the best guys. Catwoman is a great character that has been horribly treated for a very long time. And [DC was] allowing a redesign, so everything about it was right.”
Brubaker and Cooke plan to revitalize the character who has fallen into disrepair over the last few years and, along with a new direction and purpose for Selina Kyle will come an updated look. For those of you thinking skin-tight vinyl and a whip, think again. “Visually it’s completely different,” explains Cooke, “and I’m very interested in what people are going to think of it. I daresay that I think it’s one of the smartest costumes that she’s ever worn and it’s going to be a no-brainer thing like, why didn’t she look like this from the get-go?”
“I want to be proud of this and I want to know that women can maybe pick it up and appreciate it,” says Cooke. “I don’t want to devalue Selina Kyle as a person and if Ed and I can do anything that would be worth a damn to anybody, it would be to attract some women to this book.”