Like having a scorpion in the room: an interview with Darwyn Cooke on Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score

Introduction

Darwyn Cooke does one in-depth interview for each volume in his series of comic book adaptations of Richard Stark’s [pseudonym of Donald Westlake] Parker novels. (Here are the interviews for The Hunter and The Outfit.) For his new one, The Score, he was kind enough to invite The Violent World of Parker to conduct the interview. “I thought it was time I geared whatever big interview I did more towards Don’s [Donald Westlake’s] fans, rather than my own,” he told us.

For better or worse, he got what he asked for. Nick and I managed two conference calls with Darwyn across three countries, three time zones, and two continents.

There are minor spoilers sprinkled throughout, but nothing, I think, that will affect the enjoyment of the reader of either Darwyn’s great adaptation or its source material. (I did remove one major spoiler, although not for this book.)

Thank you for sitting down with us, Darwyn, and thank you for your immense contributions to the violent world of Parker, and to The Violent World of Parker.

Dear reader: Dig in. I think you’ll find it as fascinating as Nick and I did.

Interview

Nick: [Opening after some green room chatter] Speaking of The Score: How was it this time? How did you find it? How did you adapt to it this time out?

Darwyn: There’s sort of a built-in need to find a way to make each one better than the last. That usually adds to stress and anxiety and all sorts of things you can’t control, but the more I work with Parker, the more comfortable it gets. It’s a pretty easy ride now.

I know how I feel about the character and I know how people have reacted to it, so I feel really free just to go ahead with it? And, in every case with Parker I’m just out to please myself. And that happens to be pleasing other people, so that’s great.

I’m never sitting there worrying about what it is I’m doing. It’s just a very comfortable, really gratifying job now.

We’re like old buddies.

Nick: So is that different from things you do after awhile, with other projects?

Darwyn: You know, I like a challenge. A lot of the stuff I’ve picked over time sort of indicates that. You put a certain amount of pressure on yourself.

For example, when I did The Hunter, the pressure was immense.

Nick: I bet it was.

Darwyn: It was crushing. You know, it was just unbelievable. [Darwyn laughs, as do we.]

Trent: Especially with Mr. Westlake passing…

Donald Westlake (AKA Richard Stark) as drawn by Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn: Yeah! The burden became rather large, and I had gone into it with this comfort of knowing he was going to be there.

And…it really changed things when that wasn’t the case. The first book was a real pressure cooker for me. But the success we’ve had with the series has allowed me to relax and go, “You know, OK, at least I’m going about this in a sound fashion.” So I’m not second-guessing myself anymore, and that’s a big part of being able to enjoy the work.

Nick: It did seem with The Score that you kind you kind of enjoyed this one, that you kind of enjoyed adapting that novel. Because it’s, in a way, a quite simple Parker novel. The heist is quite complicated, but the story itself isn’t terribly complex.

Darwyn: It’s about as simple as it gets. But it certainly is one of my favorite of the books.

A book like The Outfit, for example. When you really hose everything off the skeleton of that book, it’s The Hunter.  Reread. So there was a real challenge there, with The Outfit, to try to distinguish it from The Hunter. It needed to be there to complete that part of the story, but I really had to find a different way to tell it.

That sort of led me to certain things in The Score. Because of its simplicity, it becomes a very character-driven piece of work. Once you get into that you can start having a lot of fun with it.

Trent: One thing I wanted to touch on was the characters. In the novel, of course, it’s about twelve generic white guys. Some of them have personalities; Wycza and Grofield of course. But some of them more or less exist to function. In a short novel like that, you can’t sketch everyone out, so you changed some of the characters. You added Cho and what was the other fellow?

Darwyn: Palm?

Trent: Palm. Yes.

Darwyn: Sometimes these things are done for different reasons. And quite simply, “Littlefield,” as a name? I thought that I would have talked to Don about this if he was around. I thought that when you have twelve guys, and one of them is named “Grofield,” why would you name another one “Littlefield”?

And if he had a good answer, I probably would have stayed with it!

But I wanted something different, and that leads to the other thing, there.

A lot of those heisters in The Score are caricatures of guys I work with.

Nick: Oh, right!

Trent: I did notice that in the end credits.

Darwyn: So, “Palm” is “Littlefield.” His name’s been changed to “Palm,” and that’s based on Jimmy Palmiotti. And “Cho.” Originally the dude was a cypher. So I thought it would be fun to put [Michael] Cho into this. Then it sort of led to a couple other opportunities, just to have a little fun. It was like, “Yeah, wow, it’s the mid-sixties and there’s an Asian guy in the mix.”

Trent: You had me trying to remember if you did what you did with The Outfit, which was incorporating characters from future volumes that I’d forgotten about…

Darwyn: Right. No…certainly there are so many that make their appearance here. That is one of the reasons why in The Outfit, we have Grofield show up, and why I made sure I kept the section with Wycza, because I thought at least I could get the main players in the next book introduced to my readers. And they can at least grow a little fond of them, so that when they show up in The Score, they’re like, “Oh, yeah! That guy.”

Nick: Because The Score is Grofield’s first appearance in a novel. The original novels.

But you still have the same intro for him in The Score. He hears music in his head. You’ve still got that guy in there, haven’t you?

Darwyn: Again, there’s a danger with this type of material. That it does, and it can, become incredibly repetitive visually. There’s always great character dynamics, and there’s different plot points that turn on themselves, but this notion of guys with small handguns robbing places can become a little mundane visually. And so wherever Donald has taken the time in the book to make a character note that’s that large and that broad, which is rare, I’m taking that as a cue for a more a fun or exciting way to tell that part of the story.

And, in terms of Grofield, I thought that was a really great way to show what goes on his mind.

Nick: That worked really well, actually. With the various roles he inherits. That came across really well in the adaptation.

Trent: I loved both of the ones that were pitched as war scenes. It’s so appropriate to the material. His overactive imagination.

Darwyn: Exactly. He’s an actor, and I completely understand what he’s saying about that [laughing]. He heard music. Because when I draw a comic, I’m always hearing music in my head. You’re picking something that complements or underscores the scene. And it just seemed like visually, this becomes a much more interesting and fun thing to consider if you actually let the visuals line up with the music.

Trent: I know it’s got to be difficult when you pick what to keep and what to leave out. Donald Westlake ended up dropping that music thing in the later books featuring Grofield. I don’t know why he did. It’s a great character trait. But by the time you get to the Grofield solo novels and Slayground and Butcher’s Moon, that’s entirely gone.

Would you try to keep that trait around?

Darwyn: Again, here we come to one of the differences between the two mediums. And what’s so neat about comics is that for a serious reader, someone who’s following the graphic novels, the next time Grofield appears in a book, all I have to do is show a few musical notes in the panel. And they’re gonna know!

And that’s the wonderful thing about comics, you know? You can create these sort of graphic cues that the audience can…they see it, and they remember it, and there’s that delight of ownership and discovery, you know?

So I will probably use it. I doubt I’ll ever use it to the extent I did in this book. I really went to town with it because it really is the reader’s first-blown exposure to him.  I wanted him to charm the readers. I really dig Grofield.

Trent: And the charm is the key. I’m not sure how much we want to spoil things for people who haven’t read the book yet, but without the charm, there’s a scene that would not sell to readers, with the telephone lady…

Darwyn: Yeah!

Trent: You have to convince people that this guy is so slick that he’s gonna meet this girl in a crime situation and end up with a future wife. Which is where it goes in the later books.

Darwyn: This is certainly one of the conceits of melodrama from that era, was that things like that happened fast. And generally speaking, in most above-ground entertainment in that time, if a couple was to lay down together to make love, it meant they had the intention of being together. And I think maybe some of that played into it.

But it is definitely the hardest scene in the whole book to swallow. The hardest scene to put over. And again, I think the musical device really helped it happen. Because it allowed me to show the moment where he falls for her. It makes it a more genuine thing for the reader.

I had to work really hard on that, because you have to create the basis for two people to take that chance with each other [laughing]. In the space of a few hours.

Nick: Westlake does spend a bit of time with her as well. Later in the book, later in the graphic novel as well, there’s that scene above the canyon, where Parker’s basically deciding what to do with her. That was one of my favorite scenes, the way you treated that. The way the characters were in the shadows a lot of the time and you get to see a bit of her…

Darwyn: I think that scene is excellent for a couple of reasons. Actually, everything about that scene is excellent. But I what I really loved is that is shows that Parker’s not an intractable thinker.

We start out with with him telling Grofield where to bury her. And by the end of the scene, he’s come around. Based on what he’s heard and what he feels.

I think scenes like that are important because they layer more complexity into the character. Again, a reader’s instinct might be, “Why doesn’t he just push her off the cliff?”

We also get to see that she’s a strong character. She’s a resourceful and intelligent person. And probably more so than Grofield.

And I think that really helps sell it as well, because as much as Parker is the ultimate loner, he would never admit it, but he cares about this guy. On some level. And he must see it as a positive thing.

So…you see some of Grofield’s strengths, standing up to Parker, telling him to keep his hands off of her; you see Parker in a more nuanced frame of mind than you would expect and you get to see the strength and the character of the girl that would make her worth taking that risk for.

Yeah, it’s a great scene.

Nick: At the same time, the way you’ve drawn it, a lot of the time with their faces are in shadow. You could just tell that you enjoyed that scene. The way that the light from the cigarette smoke…

Darwyn: When you have a scene like that, where there’s so much great dialog, and you’re staged like that, at night, in the blackness?

You’ve shown the readers your characters all the way up to this point. So now all of a sudden you take their faces out of it. And you just see their shapes in the darkness, communicating.

And the readers are filling the faces in for themselves. The reader’s deciding on the expression, at that point, that the character carries. And it becomes a more personal thing. By taking information away from them, you’re allowing them to fill it in.

Trent: There are two scenes in particular, well, there are lots of scenes in the book I like, but two scenes in particular that I thought were outstanding [beyond the one just discussed].

The first one is at the beginning of the book, getting back to “How do you make this visual?” Translating across mediums. In the book, they’re working [on planning the heist] with paper maps. Instead, you have them with Matchbox cars and army men and a model.

Darwyn: Yes.

Trent: Which made me laugh, because I think of Goldfinger, where Auric Goldfinger has this…

Darwyn: Yes!

Trent: …has this incredibly detailed model, which would have cost tens of thousands of dollars. [Darwyn and Trent laugh.]

Darwyn: Thank you for noticing. And you kind of nailed it. It’s a lot of complicated geographical exposition. How do you make this visually palatable? How can you make this more interesting and easy to understand?

And, how can you do that and reflect the character of Edgars? Who’s a full-blown nut case! But these cats don’t know it.

So I thought, yeah, a nut case sits there and buys all these army men and the little cars and he’d sit at the table for days. Lining it all up, getting it just right. And I thought, it’s early enough in the book that the guys can even make a couple of cracks about it. And we can indicate that this guy’s a bit of a loon.

And the reader will forget about it by the time we find out that he really is a loon! [Trent laughs.]

And then it just feeds into a bunch of information that they had, that all just knits together when they see Edgars finally pop his cork.

Trent: And the contrast between…I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other spy movies that use the same device…but this is what it would be like in the real world if…

Darwyn and Nick: [Something along the lines of “Yes!”]

Trent: …they’re small scale. These guys are not involved in things that are going to impact the next presidential election or lead to the fall of the Soviet Union or anything.

Darwyn: Exactly.

Trent: The book feels big but it really isn’t. It’s a story of a few guys and really small town. It feels epic because of all the various things that go on, but at the end of the day, it’s a one-day story in the paper that there’s a heist, and after that, everybody vanishes.

Darwyn: That’s one of the beautiful things about Parker and these guys. It’s the way they work in the crack. It’s a low-rent deal. It’s usually audacity and imagination.

Trent: There’s a [scene], I think it’s in Deadly Edge, where Parker gets a house, because Claire [Parker's lover] really wants a base of operation. And when Westlake describes the house, it sounds really lousy! Really run down, and not what you picture if you’re, “Oh, he’s a master thief! He’s got thousands of millions of dollars everywhere!”

Darwyn: He’s a totally middle-class master thief. [Nick and Darwyn laugh.]

That’s what’s so awesome about Parker…

Nick: I don’t know where I saw it, but I read it somewhere that if he was really clever, someone was saying, he’d just invest his money and sit back and let it accrue. [Darwyn laughs] But he doesn’t, partly because that’s not what he is, but also because it’s the heists that make him alive.

Darwyn: Yeah, I think that the thing about a guy like Parker is he’s obviously not being honest with himself a lot of the time. But there’s really no need to press that. But he clearly, despite all of the common sense and pragmatism he brings to his trade, he still needs an element of danger and risk to his like or he would do something a little more sensible. He certainly has the intelligence and will and resources to move into other areas. [Darwyn and Nick chuckle.]

Trent: The other scene that I wanted to draw attention to, also fairly early on in the novel, is when he purchases the guns from [Scofe]. You do it very faithfully, and your visual rendering is the creepy old guy with the nose hairs [Nick laughs] and he’s just saying all of this insane stuff. Part of me reading the book thinks it’s genius in both the original and your interpretation…he didn’t really have to put that in there at all! Westlake was just, “OK, we’re going to throw in this scene with this crazy guy…”

Darwyn: I think it was a delight for him to write, and, as I think Nick pointed out earlier, or it might have been you, Trent, this is a real simple story. He had chapters to fill.

That’s a wonderful moment that gets created, and, it’s funny, it’s like in The Outfit, it really broke my heart was that the scene I had to cut was the one with Chemy. The car-chopper with the brother, who’s got a wife. Who’s trying to seduce Parker.

Sheree North in the film version of The Outfit

Trent: I thought of that and I liked that you managed to include a reference to the scene that you had to cut in The Score.

Darwyn: You do your best, you know? There are things that just… It’s funny how something can just disrupt the pace of something in one medium in a way it doesn’t in another.

In the case of The Score, oddly enough, I got through the entire project, and I had cut Edgars’ girlfriend out of it. ‘Cause I thought, “You know what? Grofield’s girl is an interesting and different type of female, for a Parker book. And this other girl? What’s the point, man?” And I didn’t realize until I got to the end of it that without her, there’s no end to the book.

Nick: Yeah, that’s the payoff, isn’t it?

Darwyn: There’s no end without it. Unless it’s just Parker driving down the road again. And I realized that, when I reread those two chapters she appears in, early in Book Two and then at the end of the book, I realized they were very important. I also realized when I reread them that the girl’s an absolute riot. She’s a great character. [Nick laughs.]

And, so I ended up going back and working it back in, because by the time I got to the end I saw what I’d cut is essential.

Nick: Well, that’s the thing! There’s very little in the book that isn’t essential, one way or another. They’re so dense and so compact that even if a character isn’t particularly servicing the plot, they’re there to add something…they’re doing something in the book.

Darwyn: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And you can tell how spare the books are, because they come in at 110, 120 pages? And I’m able to translate them with what I think is a fair amount of clarity. In just 134, 144 pages each. And that’s a testament to how succinct they are.

Nick: In The Outfit, you had those scenes where you were trying out different styles, where there were the various scenes where they were hitting the Outfit. And you didn’t do much of that in this one. Was that a choice, or was that part of the appeal of doing this one that you didn’t need to do that, or on The Outfit, were you just trying to throw everything in there?

Darwyn: You’re trying to find solutions to problems as you move through the project, and, with The Outfit, the problem with that section of the book was that there was some fascinating process stuff for each of those heists. But at the end of the day, it was a couple of tough guys going into some seedy place, or an airport, doing some real low level…it’s not a lot of kinetic action.

Nick: Yeah.

Darwyn: Or violence. There was a redundancy to it, and as I’m sitting trying to break it down and lay it out and make it interesting, I came to an impasse, and I just thought this is going to drag on in the graphic novel in a way it doesn’t in the book.

And then it occurred to me, Parker isn’t in on these, and each of them has their own sort-of feel. Maybe if I was able to distinguish them, and then you start developing that idea.

And so it was a solution to a very specific problem in that book, and I certainly didn’t want to make that approach a signature of the books from [The Outfit] on. If I felt if it was going to work again somewhere else, I’ll definitely do it, but with The Score, it all moves at a clip, where that didn’t feel necessary. I didn’t feel it would really help the narrative, and I’d already come up with the device for Grofield and I’d come up with the cardboard town crazy-mad metaphor, which I was able to call back late in the story, as he’s thinking about how much he hates the town and what they did to him. That’s a lot of boring exposition, so I was at least able to place it over the images of his boots crushing the cardboard town like an infant would. And then burning it.

It just didn’t feel like going that far was necessary in The Score.

Nick: When you were planning this, did you just read The Score again or did you go back and read all the novels? Did you have to do that to be able to do this one?

Darwyn: I cross-referenced the books occasionally. Say, for example, Salsa and Grofield.

I’ll go and read The Handle and some of the other things I’ve got, just to soak up their characters a little more. Over the course of adapting it, I probably read The Score a dozen times. Over the duration of the project, I reread it constantly, because I don’t write a script out of the novel—I sit with the novel and break it out into thumbnail drawings.

I promised Don from the beginning, and I’ve never seen a need to deviate unless I have to, that I’d use his dialogue and his prose as much as I possibly can. So I’ve got that book open in front of me every minute as I go through the project.

Nick: You don’t follow the dialogue slavishly, though, do you? You do change things. For one thing, there’s more swearing in your graphic novels than there was in the original books.

Darwyn: Yes. What I’ll do is if I do have to add dialogue, I’ll generally throw a swear word in there.

Nick: Just throw a “fuck” in there. Yeah, why not? [Laughing.]

Darwyn: Three or four per book, [Nick laughs], just to keep Brian Azzarelo happy. For the modern reader, it’s just a little bite now and then to remind them that this is for reals.

Trent: You’re dealing with hard men, here. It’s unlikely that they didn’t utter profanity every now and again.

Darwyn: It’s absolutely, positively, [chuckling] for sure that these guys were all foul-mouthed men. In that day and age, that kind of book, that kind of book got shelved in a different way. If it got published at all. [Nick laughs.] So he’s [Westlake] working with societal constraints there. And I don’t want to take it all the way over the top, but when I do have to do a little work with dialogue, yeah, I’ll pepper it up just a bit.

I try not to be a slave to the dialogue, and quite often what I’ll do is I’ll cut what Don has in half. I’ll find the heart of the statement, and pull it out. Because trimming the dialogue even more for a comic book works. It makes it a little sharper and harder.

But I’m definitely following and transcribing his dialogue. You’ve got scene-to-scene transitions, and you’ve got different things you want to set up. Whenever I’m making an adjustment, definitely I’m having to write. I’m always doing that with a certain amount of trepidation. It’s gotten much easier, now.

I was reading The Score [the comic] before we talked, because I haven’t read it since I saw the proof, and there’s a big page with a shot of the diner.

There’s a splash page where the guys are in a diner, talking about whether they’re going to do the job or not. And I’ve got a bunch of narrative exposition, and the last line of the narrative I wrote myself, and the line is simply, “Grofield waxed romantic.” And I read that this morning, and I went, “You asshole! That’s [James] Ellroy, that’s not Westlake! What have you done?” It’s a humbling experience, let’s put it that way.

Trent: But it fits the character.

Darwyn: Yeah, it worked, but I’m not Westlake. And I see the scenes when I’m in there writing.

Trent: You’ve talked a little bit about how you’re feeling very comfortable with Parker, now. How has your evolution with the character been? Do you see things differently from when you started The Hunter?

That’s sort of vague…

Darwyn: No! I think with all great characters, he’s so well-defined, that when you come to him creatively, especially visually, there’s a great interest in him. And, so, with The Hunter in particular, every scene…I’m doing everything I can to build a visual icon that’s worthy of the prose icon. And everything is in service to that.

And it gets different because as you become familiar with that character and his iconography, as the stories progress, he becomes more like something everybody else is reflecting off of. And the stories become less about him than the characters he’s involved with. Because he’s this incredible constant. And you can place him in a room with eight men, and they can all be talking for two pages, and you only have to cut to him once to show the look on his face, to know where he’s at.

So, yeah, the relationship changes because I don’t have to sell him to the reader anymore. He’s so solid and definite that you don’t have to spend time from scene to scene explaining his feelings or his motivations. It’s like having a scorpion in the room all the time. [Nick laughs] You don’t need it explained to you! [Laughing] It just is what it is, and you know it. So you can focus your attention on all the other things in the room. And so, like you see in The Score, how much of the time is spent with the other guys. I think it keeps it interesting.

Because he’s a very simple, very boring person, outside of the way he manages people, and the way he thinks about his work. He’s an empty vessel outside of that.

Trent: Tell us a little about your history with the character. When did you discover Parker? What was the first book you read? How did it go from there?

Darwyn: I came into it backwards. I was crazy for crime fiction and crime films when I was young. I was a teenager in the ‘70s, so me and a few of the guys in my neighborhood, when Death Wish and Dirty Harry made it onto ABC, because we were too young to have gone to the theater to see them…It just blew our minds. And Taxi Driver? And all this stuff.

And I just started gobbling up these movies. Eventually you run across stuff like Prime Cut, and The Dirty Dozen. And I remember as a kid having seen Cat Ballou and then all of a sudden, one day, Lee Marvin, crime movie, Point Blank. Cool title. Angie Dickinson. Rowr. I’m gonna watch this! That remains to this day, it’s on my top ten list, I guess. That movie.

Point Blank came along at just the right time in my life, where I’d sort of exhausted all the conventional prose and Ted Post directed type crime crap, that somebody could without thinking, “Maybe I should move on from this.” And to see it interpreted that way reinvigorated me completely in terms of how I looked at that type of stuff.

And then, I guess I was reading the Stephen King book, The Dark Half, and I didn’t realize that the story was basically about a Stark analog that King had created. But in the afterword or foreword, whichever it was—I read those things after I read the book—he mentions Stark and the Parker books. And he made reference to the fact that the film Point Blank had been based on this, and that was it, I had to see what that was all about. And back then you’d go root around in a second-hand bookstore. Through mountains and mountains of paperbacks.

The first one was The Score, which was a pretty damn cool way to start. You [Trent and Nick] know back then what it was like? You’d get lucky every few months, maybe. You’d find another one. And you’d devour it, and you’d be out scouring away.

At the same time, I was going crazy trying to find hardcover versions of all the Mike Hammer books. All this crazy stuff that people like us collect. [All laugh.]

There were four or five really good used bookstores in Toronto at that time, and I would once every two weeks sort of make the rounds.

Selina's Big ScoreTrent: Your first homage to Richard Stark and Donald Westlake and Parker was [the Catwoman book] Selina’s Big Score. The character Stark is definitely not Parker or Richard Stark or Donald Westlake, although he does share a lot of tropes with them. Miami, and the cigarettes, and to an extent the tough-as-nails attitude.

Darwyn: The Lee Marvin-y look…

Trent: Tell us a little bit about, well, I don’t know, just freestyle it about that book for a little bit.

Darwyn: You consume this stuff on your path towards hopefully maybe creating it one day, whether it’s writing or comics or whatever it is.

You read, and you see, so many of these things as you’re developing your own thing and trying to get to a point where you can go out and do these things. So you take little bits and pieces from everything you see, you know? And you put it in a bag, and you go, “Man, that’s cool.” [Laughs.]

And you kind of have it in a bag, all these little pieces. The Stark books were my favorite crime novels ever written, Lee Marvin killed me in Point Blank, and these were things that were kind of orbiting around in my little bag, and when the Catwoman gig came up, one of the other things I’d had orbiting around for a long time was this idea of a heist where they rip off a train and the way they get away is when the train is going over a river on a bridge, they throw everything off the train and use parachutes, and they’ve got a boat waiting.

Which is a cool little plot gimmick that I hadn’t seen done before. So these things were all in my bag, and then we had the Catwoman character, and I knew I could get a graphic novel activated.

So you start looking, and you’re, “OK, I got a female thief, I’ve got this cool idea for a heist, she would need other people to do it with. Aw, shit, man, Lee Marvin in Point Blank!” [Nick laughs.]

That’s the guy! And Chow Yun Fat from The Killer! [Nick laughs again.] You know?

Trent: That’s one of my favorite movies ever and I did not connect him [Jeff] to Chow Yun Fat. Now I’m really embarrassed.

Darwyn: I weep like a baby at the end of that movie. [Hearty laugh from Nick.] The end of that movie’s so operatic and off the chart…I just…I love that movie.

I was just taking all of these things I had loved. And that’s why he’s called “Jeff.” And mashing it together, because at that time I had no hope, realistic expectation, or I don’t think I’d even consciously considered the notion of actually adapting a Parker book.

So I thought this would be my one shot at that type of thing, and I’d have fun with it, and that’s what bore it out. And it was like a year later that I realized, “Wait a minute! People license stuff all the time. Why not just do it for real?”

And here we are. [All laugh.]

Trent: Did Donald Westlake get to read that one?

Darwyn: Yeah, I don’t think he was too knocked out by it.

Trent: I like it.

Darwyn: Ah, you know, he was always kind to me. We had quite a few e-mails back and forth. He was always kind to me, but he was never less than honest.

He didn’t see the merit in this for quite awhile.

[Laughs] I really had to work to gain his support.

Nick: Was it the fact that it was comics? Was that why he was a bit leery of it?

Darwyn: You know, oddly enough, he was very open to the medium, and my understanding is that there was a point in time in the late ‘70s where Denny O’Neil tried to get him writing some Batman comics.

Nick: Really?

Darwyn: And there was negotiation but it never came to pass.

Nick: I didn’t know that.

Trent: That’s new to me, too.

Darwyn: There you go! There’s one to throw in there!

Oddly enough, because I think most of his contemporaries hold what I’m doing in contempt on some level, he seemed quite open to it. I just don’t think he thought I was the right guy. [Nick laughs.] To be quite honest.

I think he thought the concept was intriguing, I just don’t think he thought I was appropriate.

He helped refine my appreciation of the character, I guess. At first it’s really hard to accept that you may be off base with a few things when you care about something like this, but when the guy’s telling you, it’s like, “Listen!”

So I listened to what Don was saying. And what I realized is that I was having the same mental war in my head that John Boorman [director of Point Blank] and [Brian] Helgeland [director of Payback] must have had. Because there’s this almost…God…counterintuitive desire to humanize him somehow.

Because you want the audience to love him the way you love the guy. [Laughs] But when you’re faced with his cold reality, it’s hard to…it’s weird how the disconnect comes in, you know? So he ends up with a friggin’ dog. [Nick and Trent laugh.] Or a girlfriend.

Trent: That’s been the problem with most of the movies.

Darwyn: And it really hit me, really strongly that I’d just stumbled across the reason those things failed. In terms of putting Parker on the screen. I enjoy both movies [Point Blank and Payback], one more than the other, but, yeah, it was because they caved into that!

So I really took strict notice of what Don was telling me, and then…I remember when I was working on The Hunter, I came to the scene where he carries his wife out to the park. Cuts her face up and strips her, and leaves her there.

And I’m like, “I can’t draw this!” [Nick and Trent laugh.] I can’t have him do this!

The audience won’t accept this! And I was going to slink around it. It took a lot of time and back and forth, and I realized, “No, man, you’ve gotta do this!” You’ve just got to let him be.

It worked for you, it’ll work for everybody else. Don’t glorify it.

Trent: Speaking of movies, I don’t suppose you’ve managed to track down a copy of the one based on The Score [Mise à Sac]?

Darwyn: No! And it’s funny you mention that. I’ve a really good friend in Miami, Mark, and he just sent me a copy of the poster for the film. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got my guys looking into it.

Have you Googled that movie?

Trent: A million times.

Darwyn: That cat that plays Parker in that movie? When I saw the pictures, my jaw hit my chest. It was like, “Holy shit, that’s the guy.”

At least visually, that guy, that face! Holy mackerel!

 

Michael Constantin by Darwyn Cooke, from Parker: The Martini Edition

Darwyn Cooke interprets Michael Constantin in Mise à Sac. From Parker: The Martini Edition

Trent: I have heard from one French reader who has actually seen it, and he says it’s a pretty good flick.

Nick: Have you seen The Outfit, Darwyn? The movie adaptation of that one?

Darwyn: Oh, absolutely.

Nick: Because I saw that last year, actually, the first time I’ve seen it and it’s really good. Robert Duvall doesn’t look like Parker…

Darwyn: Yeah, it’s such a movie of its time. The sort of deliberately miserable world, and just fearlessly lensed. Everything just looks horrible. It’s like an American version of Get Carter. It just looks fucking miserable. It’s so perfect.

The clothes are miserable…everything’s terrible. You know, that barren patch of land outside his brother’s house? [Laughing] That shitty kitchen table?

Nick: It’s dreadful.

Dawyn: Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Nick: And he’s great [Robert Duvall], as well. Obviously, he looks nothing like him, but he does channel him in a way. He has that kind of taciturn sort of reined in sort of…

Darwyn: I think it’s a really great adaptation, considering. It was Westlake’s favorite. He thought it was by far the closest.

It feels like Buffalo, New York, and I don’t think that will translate to you. I don’t know which filthy British town would equate.

They all have some appeal on some level. The Split, even.

Nick: I haven’t seen The Split. That’s Jim Brown, isn’t it?

Darwyn: It is.

Trent: It’s terrible!

Darwyn: The problem with the movie is the director sucks! [Trent and Nick laugh.] Because the cast is off the hook! It’s Jim Brown, James Whitmore, Donald Sutherland, Jack Klugman, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates.

Trent: Diahann Caroll.

Darwyn: Yeah! It’s like a…for the mid ‘60s? It’s like a wicked cast! It’s a Dirty Dozen or Wild Bunch-level cast. And the guy does nothing with them.

And we’re supposed to believe in one scene that Ernest Borgnine could kick the shit out of Jim Brown.

Trent: [Laughing] That scene’s hilarious, and not in a positive way.

Darwyn: It’s like Kato fighting Robin in the old ‘50s show.

[Note: I was hoping to find the scene we’re talking about on online, but couldn’t. You can see a snippet of it in this trailer.]

Trent: So, the dedication on The Score is “This one’s for every poor son of a bitch that’s ever had to work with me.” [Darwyn laughs.] Are you that hard to work with?

Darwyn: You know, [laughing] it’s probably more aimed at editors and writers than at fellow artists. I don’t know if I’m that hard to work with, but I’m a pretty particular guy to work with. I definitely am making an effort, and I’m old enough now that I like to know that the people on the team are all making an effort, too. So I can be difficult if you’re not making an effort.

And, yeah, if you’re a writer handing me a script to illustrate, then I’m just terrible to work with. Because, I’m “This scene here! Wouldn’t it better if we put it here? Would this guy really do this? C’mon, isn’t this out of character?” [Nick and Trent laugh]

So, I don’t know, maybe I am! But, to that end, like I said, most of the guys in the book are all friends of mine that I either have worked with or worked side-by-side with at shows and stuff. They all seem to get on with me OK, actually.

Nick: How does it work with Scott [Dunbier, Special Products Editor at IDW Publishing], then? Is he quite involved in getting the Parker graphic novels together? Do you talk through ideas with him? How does the process work on that end?

Darwyn: Scott’s a…he’s the wellspring of everything that I don’t put down on the page. He’s there for me to organize my thoughts. He’s always there pointing out things he thinks can be strengthened, or approaches that might make a point I’m trying to make. He’s really hands-off in terms of…if I have the instincts and convictions, and am just working away on it, he stays out of my way.

But we’re in constant contact, and I’m always going over what I’m planning to do, and how I’m planning to do it.

Because he didn’t come into this as a die-hard fan, he’s kind of like a perfect guy to collaborate on with it. Because he’ll be going through the material, and he’ll say, “But why is he doing that?” And it’s…I’m assuming everybody knows.

He helps me tighten up my game. And remember that not everybody’s read all 24 of these books, or devoted a website to it, et cetera. [Nick and Trent laugh]

He’s also very clever in terms of spotting certain weak points. And very diplomatic about pointing them out.

Scott is a celebrated editor in this business and has been for a long time. His other great passion is the art book side of publishing. This past year, he started producing these books called Artist’s Editions. For example the Wally Wood EC Artist’s Edition. It’s the exact same size as the original art. And every page is shot from the original art. So you can see every pencil mark, every stamp, every little blue pencil. Amazing books.

He’s got so many of these in production right now, I probably couldn’t rhyme them all off.

So he’s dedicated to comics as an art form, so then we get into things like [Parker: The] Martini [Edition], that type of stuff. That’s all Scott, right? Scott had a particular vision for what we’re going to do with all of these books.

Everything he touches turns to gold, so I just say, “OK, man, whatever!” [Laughter all around]

…And then I get really picky once I get into it.

Nick: Have you converted him into a Parker fan, now? Is he reading the novels?

Darwyn: Oh, absolutely! He’s…I think he’s more of a Grofield fan though. [Trent and Nick laugh.] Deep down. I don’t think he’d ever admit that to my face. He’s read a couple of the Grofields and I think he likes Grofield a little more. You can’t blame him.

But, no, Scott and I have…it’s one of those relationships that I don’t want to spew a lot of clichés about, because it cheapens it. It’s been many years now, and he was my editor at DC for the last year and a half he was there. As soon as he moved on, I knew he and I were going to do something else with his new publisher.

He’s the kind of guy who has the organizational ability and the people skills to go out and, you know, I said to him, “Look, I want to adapt these books. We need the license.” And two weeks later he had it worked out. He’s that kind of man. That’s a partner you can count on.

Nick: He must have had a certain amount of faith in you, because not knowing the novels himself, he must have had a hell of a lot of faith in you and your vision for it in order to do that.

Darwyn: At that particular point on the curve, IDW Publishing was an upstart, still. They’d definitely made an impression. But from a comic creator’s standpoint, I would have been a real catch for them. So I leveraged that as opposed to them coming to me and saying, “How ‘bout this or this,” I said, “Fine, if you guys want me, this is what I want to do, and if you can arrange this, then I’ll commit to four books.”

Nick: So how long had you been thinking about adapting the Parkers before doing it?

Darwyn: Since I finished the the Catwoman book [Selina’s Big Score]. That’s when I started seriously thinking, “Why would I just do an homage, here?” Maybe this stuff’s available. At that point, there had been some Stephen King adaptations, and I really wanted to move into doing that type of work, as opposed to superhero stuff.

Crime fiction was my favorite entertainment, so it just sort of seemed logical to check and see if it was available. Because, moving away from a big-named mainstream character, it’s very difficult to sell something original. The numbers and the readership, it’s very hard to make it work. To make a living, pay the bills, and all that stuff.

And I thought, “Well, if I had Donald’s readership and my readership together, then it’s a way more viable thing.”

So at the time, two friends of mine in Canada were starting a comic book company called Speakeasy. I prepped some material, did some cover mockups and a one-sheet, and gave it to them. ‘Cause they were pursuing me, and I said, “Look, get the rights to these books, and we’ll do these.”

They were amateurs, they were great guys, but it didn’t go anywhere with them, and I just had the material sitting there.

And when Scott got to IDW, he said, “So what are we gonna do?” And I said, “Well, how ‘bout this?”

So I’d been thinking about it, but it had sort of come and gone, and you never know when something’s actually going to spring to life. When you’re going to get to work on it.

Nick: These days it’s working the other way, because your work on the Parkers is bringing new people to the novels…

Darwyn: That’s actually…I do a lot of the shows. I’ll be in San Diego in a couple of weeks. That’s one of the really cool parts now, is you’ve got guys like twenty? Twenty to thirty? Coming up and they’ve been turned onto the books because of the graphic novels. That’s the best part, is introducing this whole new young readership—to these mind-blowingly cool books. [Laughs]

Trent: We do get a lot of comments and I get a lot of e-mail from people who discovered them through your work. They start asking me, “Which one should I read first?” and [telling me] “This is the greatest thing ever!” I can see the impact that these great adaptations have had.

Have you talked to anybody involved in the upcoming film project?

Darwyn: Ah, no. No I haven’t. I wouldn’t know where to start there. Jason Statham, I like the guy. He is kind of like the Michael Caine of kickboxers, now. [Nick laughs.] Or the Samuel Jackson of British guys with no hair. [Nick laughs heartily.] He just shows up for anything. And I can’t help but feel but that this is not the passionate project that you’d like it to be.

I don’t know! I could be completely wrong, right?

Trent: I do know from the very, very limited conversations I’ve had that their hearts are definitely in the right place, and apparently Jason Statham has become a huge fan of the books. So, you know, knock on wood! From my perspective, if it’s good enough that it brings a few more people to the originals and to your comic books, then I can accept that. I’m not as purist as a lot of my readers are. [No offense, dear reader!]

Darwyn: Neither am I. It’s not going to fizz on me either way. I’m not going to go out of my way to see it. If I read on your blog and the New York Times and a few other places that it’s this astonishing achievement, and the singular best visualization of the character, then I’ll rush out and see it.

Trent: You can accept a British accent?

Darwyn: Ya know? I don’t know. [Trent laughs.] You know what I would like to do is see the movie start and see that the actor took the time to develop the proper accent for the part. That’s what I’d like to see. But we’re not dealing with an actor, we’re dealing with an action star, factotum.

I remember the days when actors would just..act! [Laughs.] So, yeah, I wish…because he certainly has the look for the part. And he certainly, physically he’s got all the characteristics. It’d be great to know that he spent three months with a dialogue coach, getting it proper. Properly vague, sort of east coast American accent for it.

Trent: It’s possible he did. I don’t know. I’m just assuming he’s still got a British accent.

Darwyn: He’s a brand, right? I don’t see him moving on from it. He’s certainly got the range to act. You look at his earlier films, and you can see it. But one of the problems with a character like Parker is he was like the prototype for everything that’s come in the last fifty years. So Statham’s been playing a Parker-esque variation in the last ten movies he did. Just osmotically. [Nick laughs.]

So for him to play this character…you know it wouldn’t be the same as seeing, you know, God forbid, off the top of my head, say Vince Vaughn play the character. [Laughter] But when he’s a little more further to seed, a little more Michael Madsen-y.

That would at least be interesting, because it’s not like Joe Killing Machine playing Joe Killing Machine. So that was a horrible example I just gave [Trent and Nick laugh], but the notion of taking an actor, and putting him through those paces…it’s way more interesting watching Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence than it would have been if it was somebody like Statham.

The movie would have seemed perfunctory with Statham in it. But when it’s Kevin Bacon, there’s more on the line because he’s not that type of an actor. And that’s a brutal, horrifying movie! [Laughs]

Trent: I’ve read the book [Death Sentence, by Brian Garfield, sequel to Death Wish], but I haven’t seen the movie.

Darwyn: It’s like a ‘70s film. Just like Drive is an ‘80s film. It’s so harrowing, and depressing, and violent. It’s just not the kind of movie you expect to see a guy like Kevin Bacon in.

So it kind of works, where if it would have been a typical super-jock actor, it would have seemed just average.

Nick: I always thought Parker needed a good character actor, someone like…in The Outfit, you had a character actor playing him there. Somebody who didn’t look like him, but he was a proper actor. He actually managed to capture some of what Parker’s about. So I think he kind of needs that really, doesn’t he?

Darwyn: Yeah. It’s interesting, because it really would, I think, cinematically, I don’t think it can be a familiar face that acts mean all the time.

And we’ve seen a lot of great actors make that turn at a certain point in their career. Where they take a darker role. And they do it to great effect, because the audience is used to them as a different type of person.

Trent: I would’ve like to see Fred Ward do it, but that would have had to have been…

Darwyn: Fred Ward!

Trent: …fifteen or twenty years ago.

Darwyn: Fred Ward was the shit, right? [Nick laughs.] Yeah, that guy had a face! Oh, my sh…yeah, if you’re getting into dream casting, sure.

Trent: That’s one of the most popular topics on the site for discussion. [Laughs.] Everyone who first starts reading the books, the next thing they do is say, “Hey! Who do you think the best person would be to star in a movie!” Robert Mitchum comes up a lot. Obviously, a little too late for that.

Darwyn: Yeah, if you could cross-pollinate through the eras, sure. Because I definitely think of actors in my head. To me Grofield is Burt Lancaster, just real young in his career, like Crimson Pirate.

Carefree, handsome guy. Big teeth.

Salsa, I think of Benicio Del Toro in Usual Suspects. Not so goofy, but I just see this kind of suave yet sloppy smooth guy, and you’d start building around those things.

But Parker? He’s an elusive face. My father went into it. A lot of it’s my Dad. In The Hunter, anyway. Once he has the surgery, it’s markedly different.

It’s [Jack] Palance and my father and a few other things blended together. [Westlake has said that he pictured Parker looking like Jack Palance in Panic in the Street - Ed.]

And now that he’s had the plastic surgery, Bruce Timm is telling me he looks like Don Gordon.

I took that. I said, “OK, I’ll take that!”

You know who else would be good? I don’t know his name, he’s one of the cats that was in Inglorious Basterds. He’s the guy who uses the knife in the underground bar. I don’t think he has any dialog. Kind of looks like young Charles Bronson.

Trent: Hmmm…I saw the movie but don’t remember it well enough. I’ll see if I can find a YouTube clip and embed it in the interview so people can get a visual of that.

Darwyn: Yeah, that cat really has the look, but who’s to say? He’s a really elusive character, and I don’t know that the actor is as important as the director. Because the actor, for one thing, if we learned anything with Payback, the director has to have more power than the actor. [Nick laughs.]

Or you’re fucked.

Trent: Oh, yes.

Darwyn: Or the next thing you know, you’re making Lethal Weapon 6. [Nick laughs.]

So, the actor doesn’t supply the vision. That’s what the movie needs.

Trent: Unfortunately, the story behind that one [Payback] was that, so far as I understand it, is Mel Gibson just chickened out. I think the director’s cut is really solid and I even like the theatrical cut, but…

Darwyn: No, I agree!

Trent: At the time [Mel] was riding high, and was like, “Oh my God, I can’t possibly be this nasty. I can’t do it.”

Darwyn: And that’s the thing. In the end…

Trent: The same decision that you’ve had to make, going way back to beginning of the interview, with the face cutting and the body in the park.

Darwyn: Well, I’d never done that type of material before. And it was…on a creative level, it was going to redefine me to a certain degree. So you do stop to consider it.

Trent: Let’s go down that alley a little bit. You’ve been on this project for…four years now? Since you started?

Darwyn: Yeah!

Trent: What impact has it had, from your point of view, on how you’re perceived and your general reputation in the field?

Darwyn: It’s funny, because in some ways, it’s really made a big difference, and in other ways, that I think are perhaps more important, I don’t think guys are noticing the way they could be. And what I mean by that is, The Hunter got a lot of really incredible mainstream attention. The New York Times and the LA Times both gave it a full page on the front of their entertainment sections.

That week, I sort of was…I was next level. Based on that. That type of thing, it’s the kind of thing certain people who don’t really take the time to get to know people mark off their checklist, and it adds credibility, you know?

The books are succeeding! We’re not struggling. We’re making a living off of these things.

On that level, it’s changed a lot for me, because there are generally two avenues you can pursue in this business. One is an independent, completely creator-owned, ground-up approach. And that’s fraught with a lot of peril.

I got into this business late. I’ve got a wife and my Mom’s old and stuff. I have commitments.

I couldn’t afford to just go off and do that. And wait it out for five or six years to see if it worked. If I was going to be able to move away from the mainstream companies, where I was able to make a decent living, I had to have a plan that was going to work. And I think this is the part that hasn’t been noticed, as much as I thought it would? I thought when people saw the success of this, we would have seen more of it. Taking a great cartoonist and pairing them up with some literature that they would really be passionate about. ‘Cause it’s a business model that I think is sound. It’s good. It reaches into two markets and brings them together in a unique way. We’ve had a great deal of success with it.

And Parker, as much as we all think he’s the greatest, he is not the biggest fish in the pond by any means.

I think there’s…the business model we’re using here is an opportunity being missed by other cartoonists and publishers.

Trent: Who would you like to see…what writers would you like to see get adapted into that art form?

Darwyn: For example, imagine James Bond, the Ian Fleming books, adapted my friend Phil Noto. I don’t know if you know his work.

Nick: That would be quite cool.

Darwyn: You look at Phil’s work, and you just go, “Wow. Huh. Yeah.”

Past that, I don’t know, I can sit and cobble together names and combine them, but to me it’s more of…the mainstream comic industry is very worried about superheroes.

They’re missing the boat, right? There’s a whole wide world out there!

People love all types of genres of fiction. They aren’t being serviced! They love comics. They love horror. There’s The Walking Dead, there’s that, there’s a few here and there. The crime side of it, there’s me and Brian [Azzarello] and Eduardo [Risso] and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Matthew Southworth, and [Greg] Rucka. There’s a few of us working that side of the street.

But there’s a great demand from readers. Filmgoers and comic readers that love genre material. So you get into whatever floats your boat. Fantasy or science fiction.

I’m just surprised that other guys haven’t jumped out and tried this.

Nick: It does baffle me that, say, take crime fiction for instance, that there aren’t more crime comics. Crime fiction is probably the biggest genre in books going. And movies, for that matter. You just don’t see that many crime comics. There’s the people you mentioned, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, people like that. They’re few and far between. There’s you as well, of course. You just don’t get a lot of it, do you?

Darwyn: It’s because most comics are sort of placed in this container called the direct market. And, again, it’s not a slag on the direct market, it’s more…it’s a place where they sell 90% of what they sell and what they try to sell involves superheroes. It’s not wrong.

But, I don’t take hubcaps to try to sell them at the tire store. They’re kind of related, but people go to the store for tires, not hubcaps.

So the problem is, these crime comics are being produced, these hubcaps are being offered to people who are only there for tires.

And that’s the problem. There is no…well, there is one, but it’s taken them ten years to notice it exists, there’s been no distribution mechanism to connect the guys who would create such material with the large mainstream audience.

These things, I think, have changed radically in the last little while. And a lot of it doesn’t necessarily pertain to crime fiction, it’s more, you look at stuff like Scott Pilgrim. By Bryan O’Malley.

 

There are all kinds of opportunities out there, for these different types of stories, and you see things like American Born Chinese or Fun Home. Or, Blankets, to go back a little ways, there.

People love comics! They love all kinds of comics.

I think it’s natural to pair really smart prose, really evocative prose, with really great visual storytelling talent. It’s just natural.

Nick: There’s a history, there, too. You think of Alex Toth, the Zorro stuff that he did…years ago, newspaper strips, you’d get that sort of thing all of the time. The James Bond strips, for example. All the Bond stories were adapted as newspaper strips years ago. So it’s not like there is no history, there. It’s just that people seem to have forgotten that you can do that.

Darwyn: I think that, in that regard, we did something really smart. [Laughs.] I try to stay humble, but I’m going to say, if I may, I think Scott [Dunbier] and I did something quite brilliant.

And I don’t think very many people have caught up with it. Imagine Bernie Wrightson taking on [H.P.] Lovecraft.

[Technical difficulties temporarily end the interview.]

[Resuming a few days later…]

Trent: The last major question I had, was where you’re going with the future of the character, both in terms of new material and in terms of projects like The Martini Edition—cool new editions and fancy stuff like that.

Darwyn: I think my involvement with the character is going to continue for a long time. Probably as long as they’ll let me. We started out with a contract for four books and we’re now up to five. We’re tentatively looking at five, plus a 48-page one-shot.

It continues to grow as we go along. I know that right now, my intentions—just because I’m talking to the guys who run the sites where I’m going to find real fans—I have no intention of introducing Claire [Parker’s lover beginning with The Black Ice Score]. She won’t appear in these books. [Trent laughs.]

[Darwyn laughs] Yeah, OK, thank you for that! [Nick laughs.] I’ll take that as that’s OK with us!

Trent: Yeah.

Nick: I dunno, I kind of like Claire! Gotta lot of [unclear].

Darwyn: Claire’s necessary if you’re doing 24 books, I think. Claire is Parker’s Robin. Batman needed Robin ultimately. But in the finite context [in which] we’re dealing with the character, I don’t think I need to bring her into it.

That will require a certain amount of editing, in order to do Slayground without her.

I’m telling you now, Trent, this is how much I love you…I talked to CNN for an hour today about Parker, and I didn’t tell them this stuff.

Trent: Oh, wow! Why thank you very much! [Darwyn laughs.]

Darwyn: We are definitely doing The Handle next.

And then we are probably going to be doing a 48-page real boiled down version of Slayground in order to—I was originally going to do Slayground as the last book, but I really want to end on Butcher’s Moon.

Because Slayground is such a stripped-down story, I can do that really effectively in a shorter format. And it sets up Butcher’s Moon, which will probably end up being the longest, simply because the novel is. So that could be coming in closer to 200 pages when we get to it.

And of course my editor Scott is pushing me at every turn to find new ways to get more of this out of me. [Nick and Darwyn laugh.] He has plans regarding the collections, absolutely. Martini was Scott’s idea. He drove that whole thing. That’s what he lives for is to produce books like that. So everything we do will eventually end up being collected that way.

Scott’s trying to talk me into doing two 48-pagers, so that I end up telling the Grofield story concurrent to Slayground. The notion being that both of these 48-page comic stories would start with the same five pages in the front, same as the books did. And then we’d follow both characters.

[Slayground and the Grofield solo adventure The Blackbird open with the same chapter, whereupon the characters are separated and go on separate adventures. –Ed.]

Trent: I was going to ask if you’d considered [the final Grofield solo adventure] Lemons Never Lie.

 

Darwyn: It’s one of Stark’s best books. That fucker is brilliant. I mean by the time I got to the end of it I’d forgotten about [major spoiler omitted]. That’s what I need at the end of a book, you know what I mean! [Laughs.]

I thought, “That’s brilliant.” Some of the Grofield books I find a little weak, but that one I thought was sterling.

Nick: Why The Handle? Is it because of Grofield?

Darwyn: There’s a few reasons. Grofield’s one of them.

Although it is the only book I’m going to have to do some serious rewriting in. Because Grofield gets hurt, and Parker has to save him. And that’s the same thing that happens in Butcher’s Moon. In The Handle I’m going to modify the ending.

So Grofield’s a big part of it. The other big part of it is Salsa. Also, there’s a really strong female lead in that book, and Parker has to work with her.

Also, it’s got a callback to Karns, from The Outfit. He’s the guy who hires Parker.

And then, unlike most of them, there’s a lot of visual opportunity with this story—because it’s on an exotic island, there’s a casino filled with beautiful people, the whole thing gets burned to the ground, the FBI is all over the place with helicopters, we end up in the desert after a boat trip. It’s got a lot more visual [unclear] than a lot of the other books in that same stretch, and I didn’t want to leapfrog. I wanted to make sure that Slayground and Butcher’s Moon end us out.

So if we decide to do another book between here and there, it’s probably Plunder Squad.

Deadly Edge is real strong, but it’s too…

Trent: It’s got Claire!

[Darwyn laughs heartily, Nick and Trent join in.]

Darwyn: It’s got Claire in it! And torturing women, God, it’s got to be really important to the story for me to do it, let alone be excited about it.

The Handle just worked for me for a lot of reasons. The right character mix, a real great backdrop I’ll be able to play with. All the casino iconography…yeah, it just works.

I love [The] Green Eagle [Score], but it’s a really stationary book. Some of them just lend themselves better to being what they are, I think. The last thing I want to do is get into one of them and then have to tear it apart to make it exciting. The minute I’m doing that I’m making a mistake of some sort.

Because of the visual aspect of a graphic novel, that is a part of it. It becomes an effort—the fortieth scene in a story where two guys are standing in a room talking? It becomes harder and harder to present that in a fresh way.

So, yeah! Parker’s alive and well. We’re three full books in out of a four book deal, but I’d say we’re only about halfway through at this point, considering all of the things we’ve got planned.

Trent: We very much look forward to what’s coming next. It’s exciting for us fans out there. Thank you very much!

I think that’s a wrap!

Conclusion

Thanks to Darwyn Cooke for granting The Violent World of Parker this interview. If he had one-third as much fun as Nick and I did, then he had a blast, and I hope he did. And I hope you did as well, dear reader, in perusing it.