Canadian comics legend Darwyn Cooke mourned at Ottawa Comiccon

Canadian comics legend Darwyn Cooke was remembered as "one of the kings" at the Ottawa Comiccon artist alley this weekend.

Cooke died of lung cancer at the age of 53 Saturday

Darwyn Cooke is shown in this undated handout image provide by DC Comics. A Canadian called one of the "true innovators" in the world of comic books and animation has died. Cooke was 53. (DC Comics via Canadian Press)

Canadian comics legend Darwyn Cooke was remembered as "one of the kings" at the Ottawa Comiccon artist alley this weekend.

Cooke, 53, died of lung cancer on Saturday.

"My heart's broken right now. I'm in shock," comic book illustrator Keith Grachow told Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio's  All In A Day. "He forever influenced me as an artist."

This image provided by DC Entertainment on Saturay, May 14, 2016 shows work by Darwyn Cooke. The comic book artist best known for his vibrantly imaginative work on DC superheroes and noir crime stories died on Saturday following a battle with lung cancer, his wife, Marsha Cooke, said. He was 53. (Darwyn Cooke/DC Entertainment via AP)

His adaptation of Richard Stark's Parker novels influenced Grachow as he worked on his Concrete Martians, which is set in the 30s.

"The colour scheme, the style of art was something I wanted to represent. I was a fan of his since his Catwoman days but his Parker books were something that influenced me," Grachow said.

"He was able to, in fairly minimal line and shape, get these beautiful illustrations that set a time and period."

Tom Fowler, who has sat next to Cooke at many conventions, was both a friend and a fan.

"His work was so bold, with a lot of nuance. A ton of character. What he understood was the construction of comics —how to tell story, understanding of visual language that cartoonists strive for. Darwyn was one of the kings."

'Critiques that actually mean something'

Cooke challenged the "illustrational vibe" that became prominent in comics in the 90s, Fowler said.

"Everyone was doing a lot of lines, a lot of detail with every panel photo-realistically rendered — and that's not what comics is about. Darwyn slammed that book down in the middle of the table and said, 'No, this is comics.' And he was right. He allowed us to be cartoony again."

Fowler said Cooke will also be remembered for his work at guiding artists with feedback and critiques.

He allowed us to be  cartoony  again.- Cartoonist Tom  Fowler

"He was one of the few cartoonists who'll give critiques that actually mean something. Darwyn would come back with something constructive. He could be harsh but he had a lot of knowledge he wanted to share with the world. It's something I've aspired to," he said. "That's his legacy."

Illustrator Deena Pagliarello cried when she heard the news of his death on Saturday.

"He'll be so sorely missed. He was more than gracious to share with me. I'd brought him so many things to sign, and he was always willing to draw a sketch in there for me," she said.

Portrayal of women in comics

Pagliarello "loved" Cooke's version of Catwoman. 

"Making sure this is a practical outfit, something she can wear when she's stalking like a cat burglar. She's not going to wear high heels. He was so specific about it. It resonated with me. It showed he cared," Pagliarello said.

His portrayal of women struck a chord with many fans and artists. Cooke once said while working on his award-winning New Frontier series, he got flak for making Wonder Woman taller than Superman. 

But his Wonder Woman was among the favourites on artist alley in Ottawa.

"Any time I see a Darwyn Cooke Wonder Woman drawing — oh!" said illustrator Amy Spaulding, whose work often conveys female heroes in a retro style.

"Strength, emotion, sensitivity, vulnerability and beauty. I always admired his work and him from a distance. I wished I had taken the time to talk to him now."

Ottawa comic book writer and artist Janet Hetherington also loved Cooke's Wonder Woman.

"She was a true Amazon. She could pick up a flagon of ale and drink it with the best of them, fight in the field with the best of them. That was the thing with Cooke: each character he treated so individually."

Comics for all ages

Hetherington was also impressed with his introduction for the Batman Beyond series.

"Those clean lines ,strong characters. It was so fabulous, so influential. It struck a chord with so many people," she said.

Jack Briglio, the Ottawa comic book writer who co-created the True Patriot series of Canadian comic book heroes, said Cooke was influential in helping get that off the ground.

"Darwyn was with us as we were lamenting the state of the industry. In his own inimitable way, he was wishing comics weren't limited to the old adult fan base. Why can't superheroes be more widespread? Accessible to all, for kids of all ages?" he said.

"Read New Frontier or any of his books. It was great stuff for adults but kids reading his stuff would be in awe. It was stuff for readers of all ages."

Briglio looked down as he thought about Cooke being gone.

"I am gutted," he said.

Fowler lightened the mood with a story about Cooke dealing with a man at a convention who was aggressively lobbying for a deal on a portrait. 

"He'd been browbeaten by a particular gentleman who wanted to cheap out on a commission with him. And Darwyn didn't want to do any commissions and he'd explained it as nicely as he could and the guy wouldn't leave him alone. And as he was leaving, the guy said, 'Well, do you have a business card?' And Darwyn looked him straight in the eye and said, 'What business would we do?" And I just lost it. The two of us laughed about that for the next hour."