Thursday, July 23, 2009

Darwyn Cooke takes on Parker, as Donald Westlake Week continues!

{Parker, as drawn by Darwyn Cooke.}

I think I have to just give in: this week has unexpectedly become Donald Westlake—and thus Richard Stark—week. {There are worse weeks in which to find oneself.} Right after posting Tuesday’s news about the lost Westlake novel that Hard Case Crime is going to publish next spring, I picked up the new graphic adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter, by comics artist Darwyn Cooke--a book that, as a fan of The New Frontier, Cooke’s beautiful and thoughtful reimagining of the DC Universe’s Silver Age and the origin of the Justice League, I’ve been looking forward to for nearly a year.

With that series, Cooke showed that his style is perfectly suited to depict late 1950s-early 1960s America—the sleek, futuristic design; the skinny ties and tight skirts; the cocktails and hi-fis and wood paneling. But those of us who followed his work on Catwoman know that he also has a feeling for noir, taking pleasure in the accommodating shadows and odd angles that let a touch of Depression-and-wartime darkness leach into the shiny new world of jet-setters and playboys.

His Hunter doesn’t disappoint. Through page after page, Cooke translates Stark’s terse prose into imagery that, while never distracting from the action that is the heart of Stark's book, immerses the reader in a sort of visual tour of the details of 1962 New York City. The opening spread of the Manhattan skyline is marvelous, while the first page of the book, which depicts Parker crossing the George Washington Bridge, is a brilliant piece of visual storytelling--and if you're familiar with the illustration style of the period, that page will give you chills: it doesn't so much feel like Cooke has imitated the old techniques and approaches as that he's imbibed them, or even transported us back to when they were new, stylish, and full of endless promise.

Cooke’s Parker, meanwhile, moves through these panels with all the ruthlessness and danger that he displays in Stark's novels. If anything, his power and relentlessness are even more clear in this adaptation than in the original, visible in the reactions of bystanders, the quivering of his enemies, the efficiency and speed of his movements. If you're a Parker fan, you really don't want to miss this. A second volume--possibly interweaving the second and third novels--is scheduled for next summer, and I'm hoping beyond hope that Cooke sticks with this project at least long enough to get to the wild settings and grim determination of Slayground.

Meanwhile, this month also sees the publication of the next three Parker novels in the reprint series that my employer, the University of Chicago Press, embarked on last year: The Handle, The Seventh, and The Rare Coin Score--which introduces Claire--should be hitting the shelves of your local bookstore any minute now. They've even got a great introduction by I've Been Reading Lately favorite Luc Sante!

I recommend you make sure your hideout is well-stocked with gin and vermouth, take your phone off the hook, and settle in for the weekend.


  1. Anonymous6:09 AM

    You should check out Cooke's older graphic novel "Sabrina's Big Score" -- he actually has Parker in the book, naming him, iirc, Stark. The Westlake fan in me chuckled at the time, so this new series from IDW came as no surprise.

    Sadly, the Cooke/Stark collaboration is limited to the first four Parker novels. :( I know... who needs "the Mourner" right?

  2. Actually, I think the deal Westlake and Cooke worked out was that he could do four books, not specifically the first four. Last I heard, the next book will be split between The Man With The Getaway Face summarized in the beginning and the rest adapting The Outfit.

    Cooke announced the third book will be The Score and the last graphic novel will be Slayground.

  3. Patrick,
    Now that you mention it, I remember Cooke in an interview mentioning a plan to combined The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit. The Score is one of my favorites, and I hope you're right about Slayground being the final one--that would be fantastic!