Yesterday, it was announced that animator and cartoonist Darwyn Cooke was suffering from aggressive cancer and receiving palliative care. This morning, his family shared the news that Cooke had died. He was so damn talented, and he died way too young.
Cooke's work has been hugely influential; many people who don't even know his name have seen and enjoyed his storytelling work. He started as a storyboard artist on the phenomenal Batman animated series, and then he went on to work on the Batman Beyond cartoon, including the iconic title sequence for the show.
From there, he made the leap to comics, working on Spider-Man and Catwoman. His best superhero work was The New Frontier, a magnificent comic that recast the DC comics universe in the optimistic early 1960s. In a just world, The New Frontier would have been just as influential as many of the darker, grittier, supposedly more "realistic" superhero comics of the last thirty years, but the truth is that it's easier to imitate something depressing and dark. It takes real talent to make something beautiful and hopeful and inspiring, and Cooke had talent to spare.
My favorite works of Cooke's were his stellar adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker novels. It's telling that Donald Westlake, the author who wrote as Stark, gave Cooke permission to not only adapt his novels, but use the Parker name in the adaptations; many of the film adaptation of the Parker books had to rename the protagonist because Westlake did not feel that they got the spirit of the story right. Westlake was right to give his permission; Cooke understood those novels inside and out. They rank as some of the most deft novel-to-comics adaptations in history, and they're impossibly gorgeous to look at. Cooke's decision to tell the story in black and white with spot colors made the books timeless and unique.
Cooke seemed as though he had thirty or forty more great works in him. His art was deceptively simple, because he trimmed away anything that didn't matter. His writing was a perfect pair with his art: economical, vivacious, and fun. Everything he touched came to life.