The Darwyn Cooke Video

I was going to wait for Shane write about this first, but he's super busy. So, Darwin Cooke gave a brief, passionate convention interview at Fan Expo last weekend and caused controversy on some of the comics blogs. You can watch the 1 minute video here and scroll down a little bit to see his follow-up comments. There's also some polite opinion about Cook's comments here and some not-so-polite comments here. I encourage you to at least watch the video before reading my reactions below. Go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back. (The video is bleeped, but it and some of the reactions are arguably not safe for work.)

I think what irked me about Cooke's comments was not the alleged disrespect to lesbians, which really isn't there if you watch the video instead of reading a transcript (although I maintain he should have been smart enough to know that using "lesbian" and "something decent" in the same sentence was going to come back and bite him), it's the disrespect for his fellow creators. I mean, I'm a big fan of not caring whether people like you or not, but there's no reason to be a jerk about it. Maybe he'd have a point if there were any "characters that have been straight for over 60 years becoming lesbians", but I think it's a thoughtless comment to make about Greg Rucka and JH Williams' exquisitely crafted new character. I assume Cooke is just reacting to the lesbian idea, maybe from the NY Times article, because I can't imagine a professional who's actually read the book calling the people who worked on it "stupid" or "uncreative". (Not that everybody has to like the book, but you can't argue with its level of craft.) Plus, it's just a crappy way to treat a couple of colleagues. I respect Cooke's passion, but if he's going to badmouth fellow pros in public he ought to have at least read the work. Would he want Rucka criticizing "New Frontier" after only watching the cartoon? That said, Cooke does seem to have read "All-Star Batman and Robin" and he's right about how excessive it is. I don't think it should have been marketed under that name compared to "All-Star Superman", which is about the showing the best that character can be. (And see also the Comics Alliance article I posted earlier about how Grant Morrison's Batman inspires others to be heroic.)


I agree with the idea of creating new characters that are gay or lesbian instead of imposing someting on existing charcters that doesn't fit (though this blogger has a good point about that), but I can't work up a lot of sympathy for the original Batwoman who was an embarassingly outdated female stereotype even when I started reading comics as a kid in the '70s. (She carried a "utility purse" with lipstick gadgets and the like and her goal was to marry Batman.) I could see his point if it was Dick Grayson or someone like that, but it's not like the original Batwoman has an illustrious publishing history. She's been "dead" since 1982. She's an anachronism. It's like complaining that there's a new Bat-Mite and he's an imp instead of a sprite.

Yes, there are characters like Obsidian and Northstar that have been made "retroactively" gay (and Shatterstar I guess, though it seems he just wants to shtup everything that moves), but Cooke is an old school DC guy and I can't imagine he gives a crap about those characters. And remember, until not that long ago all DC characters were generic white people. (Yes, I know Brainiac 5 was green and Shadow Lass was blue in the '60s. Sorry, doesn't really count.) In order to make them interesting to a modern audience, you have to invent new things about them. Colossal Boy was made retroactively Jewish years ago. So what? It made him more interesting. (Marginally, but you get my point.) Is that what his creator intended? I doubt he even thought about it. (Same with Obsidian, whose personal life was basically a blank slate before Marc Andreyko came along.)

The argument, in Cooke's follow-up comments, that creators should be making new characters instead of mining the old ones is a good one. Of course, the current market won't buy new characters, which is why I agree with his point that it can't survive on the tastes of the 40-something nostalgia readers -- Mike Manley derisively calls them "babymen" -- even though I am one. (In age if not in attitude -- I like to think I embrace the new instead of expecting things to be like they were when I was a kid. And I don't think I'm "perverted".) Clearly, all of Cooke's comments come from passion, which is cool. I love comics too and I want them to survive after I'm gone (even if the print medium doesn't). If that means they have to outgrow me, I'm OK with that. And who knows, maybe I'll grow with them. (Certainly all the great people I've met through comics have enriched my life beyond measure, but that's a topic for another day.)

Postscript (one day later): Gail Simone said online today that Cooke was actually referring to Renee Montoya, but that doesn't change my argument. Renee's not a 60-year old character, she was created for "Batman: The Animated Series" in the '90s if memory serves. She was pretty much a cipher, other than as a foil for Harvey Bullock, before being established as a lesbian years before she became The Question. The Question isn't a 60-year old character either, and the version that Renee replaced was not the original Steve Ditko version. To me, that's just good long form storytelling. (Albeit not planned from the beginning.) Again, if you picked up an issue of "Nightwing" someday and Dick Grayson suddenly decided to stop dating women then Cooke would have a point. But nothing like that has happened.

PPS (two days later): I'm pretty much over this now. Actually, I feel bad about the whole thing. I said often during the last presidential campaign that nobody could stand up to having their every word parsed for meaning like everyone did to both candidates. So, I'm disappointed in myself that I got caught up in the moment and did the same thing to Darwyn Cooke over a one minute sound byte. Still, I think it's worth exploring that it (however briefly) elicited a strong reaction from me so I decided to share what I had written anyway and see what you all think.

Comments

  1. I just spent 30 minutes writing up a comment only to have the web server kick me right out when I tried to submit it.
    Maybe it happened because I previewed it more than once and also edited it more than once. I was being careful with my wording and comments - - unfortunately that was something Darywn neglected to do when that microphone was stuck in his face. Nobody likes that kind of pressure.
    I can't re-write it all over again - - not at this time. Maybe I'll come back to this later, as long as I can gather my thoughts together again.

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  2. From Dan: "Having seen the Darwyn Cooke video, I can see the many ways it can be interpeted. The way I saw it was that Cooke, with some 30 years experience in the animation/ illustration fields, has had his share of run-ins with talent both creative and not. I see his anger at creators not building or expanding the natures and growth of characters because it just seems easier to throw on a descriptive label ( gay, AIDS-stricken, druggie, etc.) to said character than doing the actual work. Look what JMS did for Thor and Spider-man.

    But lets not just blame the creatives. They just can't do what they want. They have someone that they MUST answer to: the editor. If a writer says, "I want to bring back "Brother Power, The Geek" but I want to make him a flesh-eating zombie" and his editor says "Yes", who do we blame? The writer. Especially if the title bombs. If it's smash, then all we'll hear from is the editor.

    Making a character gay doesn't make a book a best seller. Alpha Flight was cancelled despite Northstar's sexual preference. When you make a female character, either known or new, a lesbian, the "40 boys" as I refer to older male collectors will eventually want to see some form of visual stimulation between two women, be it a kiss, a hug or any form of tenderness. And once that happens and the everyday public gets wind of it, that particular issue will be not only a sell-out, but a very big nail in DC's coffin."

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  3. Thanks, Mike. I agree that Cooke's comments were from the heart and off the cuff. That's why I felt bad after excoriating him. On the other hand, he is an influential public figure (in a small pond, true) and as such I think has an obligation to conduct himself responsibly. Absolutely say what you think and damn the critics, but leave the innocent writers and groups of readers out of it.

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  4. I agree wholeheartedly . . and that was part of my comments that got deleted by the ghost in the BC machine.
    I feel bad and not sorry for Cooke at the same time. Bad because he said those things when a microphone was stuck in his face and the questions asked randomly,without warning. I doubt that he would have answered it the same way if the question came up in the course of an agreed-to formal interview. However, when somebody sticks a mike in your face you ought to know your comments are going to show up on the internet somewhere - - and act accordingly. Yeah, he does have a responsibility to give a more careful answer.

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  5. There's another good, thoughtful, analysis of this here.

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