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August 2, 2007

First Person: Darwyn Cooke’s Comic-Con International 2007 Report, With Photos


By Darwyn Cooke

This was a big year for Marsha and I at Comicon, and I thought it might be fun to do a brief report of the show and maybe clear up a few questions I've read the last couple days.

imageThe trip from Halifax to San Diego is a killer. Two planes and twelve hours with a four-hour time change, but we survived the flight into Los Angeles. We arrived on Tuesday in LA to meet with Gregory Noveck, DC's man in Hollywood. Marsha was much impressed to see the Warner's Lot had an actual water tower and before lunch I gave her a quick walking tour. We met Greg and his brilliant and personable assistant Will in their office and Greg treated us to a first look at the New Frontier teaser and footage. The piece looked great and I have to admit, hearing Kennedy's actual voice lead the piece off was electrifying. After a fab lunch in the commissary Marsha and I said our goodbyes and headed for the fun part of our LA overnight. Ever since True Romance, I've always wanted to stay at the Safari Inn. The rooms were no big deal, but the place is straight out of New Frontier. A quick swim and then we had dinner with my pal David Bullock and his lovely gal Kellie. Dave is a friend from back in the day at Warner's, and he directed the New Frontier DVD. We're close friends and it was great to skip the fancy stuff and drive over to Ribs USA and gorge like proper Americans.

Wednesday morning found us up and onto the highway for San Diego. Marsha had never been down the PCH, so we took the relaxed way down, digging the beaches and seaside vibes. A little sun and a little Amy Winehouse and before we knew it we were parking at the Hyatt in SD. Another quick swim (this time crashing the Marriot's superior poolside) and we shot out to the Mission Bay area where our Canadian buds had rented a condo near the beach. Dinner and drinks and just a mellow start to the show with Cameron Stewart, Michael Cho, Karl Kerschl, Scott Hepburn, Ramon Perez, Brian McLachlan, Steve Manale and of course my man J. Bone and his man Kimball. Rian Hughes was a surprise addition, and it was a wonderful evening of chat under balmy skies.

Thursday morning it was time to hit the ground running. After a quick bite Marsha and I made our way on to the convention floor to give Jim McLauchlin and the Hero Initiative a piece of artwork for auction. It's the duoshade piece I did for the Eisner tribute issue of Comic book Artist, so when you see it come onto the market, bid generously. It's for a great cause. Frankly, the con floor freaked me out. Dry ice and lasers are a bit much for me before noon. After hooking up with Jim, we made our way to our first panel.

Had a fun hour talking story with Carla McNeil, Cameron Stewart and the darling Colleen Coover. It was a shame the panel was anecdotal instead of demonstrative. I do hope the incredible mass of people who attended got some sound advice out of our ramblings.

After a quick chat with some folks we made our way to the part of the show that hard me a little nervous; my spotlight panel. I'm a fairly opinionated person (no, really?) and I try to avoid the kind of "pr" approach to panel. That kind of makes me nervous, 'cause sometimes you're handed the tough questions. I was absolutely stunned to see how many people attended and was buoyed up by the sight of several friends and colleagues, not the least of which was my ever-lovin' partner, J. Bone.

J. moderated the panel, and after some kibitzing he turned it over to the floor for questions. I really prefer this approach, because you get to speak to the audience about the facets of all this that they are curious about. The problem is you have no road map for the panel, and basically have to follow the tenor of the questions.

imageI suppose the part that made me most nervous was breaking the news that we would be wrapping up The Spirit after #12. I hate to let people down when it comes to my work, and I hope that everyone understood that my reasons are the best imaginable: we want to stop while we're doing well. I can't do it without J. I didn't realize that until I was faced with the possibility of it. I hadn't ever considered doing The Spirit without J. and when I did, I realized it was a losing proposition to try. We'd exhausted a search for the right talent and other tangential issues deepened my concern for the ability to keep things on the quality level the Eisner name demands. To balance the downer of that news, I was thrilled to be able to finally break my plans for some creator-owned projects. That is something J. and I are both very excited about, and I hope it came through. Right now I feel as though I'm at the beginning again, filled with the excitement that comes from staring up a new mountain and getting ready to climb.

There are a few things I'd like to kinda clarify because as I said, the questions drive a panel like that, and certain angles of certain stories get lost.

Off the bat, I'd like to say there's no rift between DC and I. DC has been the home of my work for hire projects and always will be. My comments regarding what they want and don't want weren't an indictment, simply a statement of what is happening right now in the market. That's why, if you want to own a brand new creation, you have to look elsewhere. That isn't me leaving DC, it's simply me going elsewhere to do a different type of comic book.

To hammer this home, I'll simply say that this spring you'll all be seeing a special one-shot from me and DC that will make our readers as happy as pigs in... truffles.

I guess the other thing I wanted to say is that when I say "Direct Market" I don't mean "Retailers." I mean the entire system, from soup to nuts. Publishers, creators, readers, retailers and distributor (singular intended). The retailers I've met over the last seven years are among the most dedicated and resourceful members of our industry. But I want them to grow and evolve with the forces around us, so they will continue to thrive and survive as we all move forward. Change is constant and the direct market is running on material from the '40s and '60s. We have to diversify our in-store content and broaden the appeal of the actual experience. James Sime, Cal Johnston and Peter Birkemoe are three men who jump to mind as leaders in how to move forward. So any retailers who felt I was dumping, sorry. Not my intention at all.

Finally, I've read a lot of comments that suggest I was bailing on The Spirit because of low sales. Well, check my sales overall -- my books are never chart toppers. Where I make it work for DC is in the collections. My work seems to sell outrageously well collected, and DC and I have known for a few years now that the monthly figures on the floppies are only the tip of the iceberg.

The highlights of the panel for me where being able to shout out to Glen Wong and Adam Van Wyck, two of the mad geniuses that helped make the NF DVD sing.

Before you could say Please Sign My New Frontier Absolute Edition with Slipcase the panel was over. Saw my pal Steve Hurley and dozens of others after the panel, and got a quick moment with Tom Spurgeon, who has the snappiest stationery this side of Doc Allred.

Bam! Upstairs to sign for the rest of the day. Again, I was completely knocked over by the number of folks that were lined up. Several had to be given Robaxacet for the searing lower back pain caused by hauling ANF around the con all day. You're the real heroes! Great signing, made better by the fact that J. sat in and everyone got both our sigs on their Spirit books. My man Jake Bell stopped by with the other Arizona boys and the signing was complete.

Yay. We made it through the day. Back to the hotel for a quick shower and such.

Played it cool and had dinner in the hotel with friends Andy B, Manale and the rest of our Northern cronies. Stayed local that night and jawed with all the friends I never get to see like Justin, Jimmy and Amanda. Went to bed feeling good and ready for Friday.


Breakfast at Lael's, a San Diego tradition. Broke bread with my friend Mike Stratford from Sony and just caught up with the last year. First up for me was a sketching session at the Hero booth, which was some kind of Gametap booth. Jen kept things from getting too insane and I powered through as many as I could. I took a list for the rest of the folks and promised I'd have them done for Saturday am. Did I ever fail there! Didn't finish 'til 4 Sunday, and still have three to do and send out. Ah well, it just isn't San Diego unless you let someone down. Sorry guys.

Stopped to see my art dealer Albert Moy and say hello before I hustled to the Eisner Legacy panel. I was thrilled to be a part of this as it was my first meeting with Ann, Will's lovely wife. To be seated with her on such a panel was an absolute tonic. A wonderful woman whose love for Will seemed bigger than the show itself. My brief time with her and the words we shared are memories I'll keep with me. Thank you for your kind words, Ann. Also on hand was another man who I greatly admire, Mr. Denis Kitchen. The panel was a great time, and the fans were especially pleased to hear about Frank's upcoming picture from producers Michael Uslan and Deborah Del Prete.

I would like to note that during this panel a Comicon staffer came up on the stage to discretely ask me how many were in my party for the Eisner's. I told him four: Myself, J. Bone, Marsha and Kimball. He wrote this on an expansive ream of lusty paper and said they just wanted to make sure everything was set. This is meaningful later.

Done for the day! I bid Ann and Denis goodbye, knowing I'd see them later that evening at the Eisner's. Little did I know that it wasn't to be.

Back at the hotel, we took a little more care getting ready for the evening, 'cause it was Eisner night. We were joining friends for an early dinner, and then the awards. Marsha had bought a killer dress for the awards and looked every inch the blond Audrey Hepburn. Off to Fleming's Steakhouse to meet up with Jimmy P., Amanda, Justin Gray, Billy Tucci, Dave Mandel, Phil Noto et al for an Olympian beef festival.

J. Bone and Kimball met us there and the four of us headed across the tracks to the Eisners.

This part is still hard for me to understand, but we arrived a few minutes into the show, so it had started. When we got to the door, a staffer asked me who I was and referred to her list. She looked up when she found my name like something was gravely wrong. "I'm sorry, Mr. Cooke, but you're down here as one." Which is to say, my party wasn't on the list. No big deal, right? We're all con pass holders and the show is free. "I'm sorry Mr. Cooke, but we don't know if there is seating for your party up front. I'll tell you what -- why don't you go in and look around and if you can find four seats you come back and get your friends." I looked at my lovely wife and my friends. Then I looked back at the three staffers on the door that were going to stand there while I went into a dark hall that seemed just slightly larger than Shea Stadium to try and locate seating without a floorplan. I said thanks anyway. Without incident we left (contrary to some crazy stories we've heard) and since we were all blinged out we headed for the DC party thrown by Greg Noveck over at Deco's.


Great bash! Marsha and I get to both geek out. She sees Paul Reubens and I see Neal Adams. We had a terrific night, and I even got up and danced a bit with Miss Marsha. Had "that drink we never had before" with my buddy John Cassaday and things went kinda celebratory as the Eisner text messages hit the party. Dan D and Paul Levitz kept me updated and something I never could have imagined occurred. Hat trick! By some horrible mistake, I won three Eisners. I'm still not certain this actually happened. What a night to end up unable to attend.

My apologies to all, especially Ann Eisner. Wish I'd been there.

Back to the party, which had now flowed back to the Hyatt. The lobby was a monster. A quick trip to the room for some drinks (can't handle the bar line at the Hyatt) and then back down. The elevator doors opened at lobby level and it was like the belly of an aircraft carrier or football stadium full of people. The hum of the voices was like some huge turbine purring through the hotel. More celebrating with all our friends, and Marsha even treated the patient to a few Newfoundland reels.

Another night to remember. When we got back to the room I couldn't sleep, despite the physical exhaustion. I kept catching my ugly reflection in the window over the harbor and my beautiful wife sleeping peacefully and I don't think I've ever felt luckier or happier in my life. At 6 AM, my body finally shut me off for a couple hours.

Saturday. I went out of my way to schedule nothing at the show Saturday. Can't handle the crowds and I promised Miss Marsha a day at the beach. After a quick lunch with my pal, Steve Hurley, it was off to Cameron and J.'s condo to hook up with the gang and head to the beach. Had an incredible day bodysurfing and laying in the sand. Total recharge, and a lot of laughs. We must all be twisted because the biggest laugh of the day came when Scotty was stung in the face by a jellyfish. The poor guy had us in tears describing his ordeal. I am also fairly sure I saw two small boys from Missouri tandem surfing on top of Nick Derrington. Few know it, but Nick's height and natural buoyancy make him a fantastic longboard for a certain weight class.

Sunset and we're walking back to the condo. I must be getting punchy 'cause everything I see is beautiful. For a long moment, best shared with old friends, the world is simply beautiful. Thanks for having us out that day, guys. It was a real time.

Dinner finds Marsha napping while J., Kimball and I brave the gaslamp for sushi. The less said about that, the better. At least our bellies were full. Back at the Hyatt things are in full effect, and David Bullock has finally reared his swarthy head. So many great friends. A blur of happy talk and good cheer. What's keeping me awake? John Cassaday's twinkling eyes? Red Bull? Brian Azzarello's Wilfred Brimley-like moustache? Amanda Connor's hypnotic silver pendant? J. G. Jones and I share a few good laughs and The Lohan debacle prompts me to coin the phrase, "the only men left in Hollywood are twenty year old women." I make a mental note to use that in Spirit #10 on the back of the only scrap of paper up there that isn't completely covered with incoherent scribbles. Jimmy P. makes with the funny and I surrender to the party.

Sunday finds Marsha in top form after some rest and me still propped up by some artificial energy I'm becoming happily suspicious of. First up was a meeting I can't talk about just yet, but something has been put in motion that I hope will blow some heads off some shoulders when it's announced. It is the big news for me at the show, and I promise my readers and fans that it is going to make them very happy. There is actually a clue to what this is sprinkled in one of my panels from the weekend, but that's all I can say. Tease complete.

The crack of 10:30 has me on the panel I've been waiting for, the Kirby Tribute that Mark Evanier has turned into an annual event. I'm totally humbled to be up there with Neil Gaiman and Erik Larsen and did my best not to seem stupid. Shame Mike Royer wasn't able to make it, but we had a great time celebrating the King. Cannot wait for Mark's Kirby bio-opus. In the insane crush that occurs after an SD panel, I barely got a chance to say hi to John Morrow. Sorry John! BTW, I have something for you... guess I'll send it along this week via FedEx. Also met John Hitchcock, author of Dear John -- the Alex Toth Doodle Book. I was thrilled to hear that John had shown my story about Toth ("The Alex," from TCAF's Comics Festival) to his family and they were quite touched by it. We made a deal to supply John with the story to post on the Tothfans website.

imageUp next was lunch with Dan Didio and Jan Jones. Besides the food being incredible, we had a great straight ahead chat and made a commitment for a one-shot special this spring that will make some folks mighty happy. So much for me leaving DC. I have to learn to be more clear at my panels. I'm the type who is happy to talk about our troubles as an industry in an effort to move past them and I sometimes forget the obligatory disclaimers such critiques should carry. So don't worry fanboys. This Spring we've got it covered.

Speaking of things that have been blown out of proportion, Axel Alonso stopped by during lunch and said hi. As some of you know, Axel and I haven't seen each other in a couple years. We chuckled and I suggested Jan catch a pic on her phone to send it to Newsarama so we could all get over it. If there's one thing I love about Dan, it's that he doesn't screw around. Lunch is 55 minutes and I shoot back to the hotel to grab some artwork and the sketchbooks I have to fill.

I hit the booth where Amanda and Jimmy are stationed. It's like a who's who of the modern masters there. Phil Noto, Art Adams, Tim Sale, J.H. Williams, and on and on. Finally see Tim and we share an hour at the table while I finish my sketches. Tim looks great (the bastard) and having never seen him sketch before, I'm just knocked out watching him swing that wash brush. As the con finishes, the gang asked if I'd like to join the booth next year. I'm kinda stupid, but even I could see that I was way outclassed by these artists. So of course I said yes. Always good to be seen with the best.

With the con over, we had one more celebration. J., Kimball, Mar and I headed out for dinner with our editor this past year, Scott Dunbier. Scott has been an instrumental force behind our work on The Spirit, and saved our asses countless times as we tried to make the most out of the book every month. Met his lovely family and bid a bittersweet adios to Denny Colt. God bless you, Scott. I've never worked for a guy who had what I needed creatively so well figured out. You are the best.

Sunday night at the Hyatt. It's winding down and most people are at Chappie's Dead Dog party. We play it quiet and hang out at the hotel. As the evening wound down, Steve Manale, Mike Cho and I were getting ready to call it a night. It seemed it would end on a quiet note. As if reading my mind, Bob Burden appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Steve and I with a gregarious hug. I wanted to go to bed. I ordered a drink. Y'see Bob was launching into his pitch for a miniseries titled "Rollerbarn." Bob had arrived like a toreador in the final moment of truth, and drove his sword through the heart of the teetering monster. I attended to his final flourish and excused myself. For the first time in five days, I slept like a baby. Rollerbarn. I love you, Bob Burden.

Marsha and I would like to thank everyone at Comicon who made this the greatest year imaginable. To all the Comicon, DC and Hyatt staff, fans, readers, critics, cosplay freaks, and to our many friends old and new; thanks and God Bless. See you at Wondercon.


all photos supplied by Mr. Cooke except the one up top, taken by me and manipulated in some terrifying Latverian knock-off of Photoshop. The covers are to Spirit #11 and Absolute DC: The New Frontier. The person in the party photo with Cooke is John Cassaday. The other couple in the photo of two couples is Jimmy Palmiotti/Amanda Conner.


Jackie Estrada's letter in response.
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