Make Room for Richard Stark’s “Parker”

15721._SX640_QL80_TTD_Editors note: In the wake of the artists untimely death, we’ve decided to rerun Josh’s article on Cooke’s fantastic Parker adaptations. Be sure to check back for more Cooke coverage in the coming days from NBC

There’s a man, a man with a mission. Nothing, broads, booze, bullets, will stop him from completing it. His name is Darwyn Cooke, he is adapting Parker to comics, and doing a damn fine job at it.

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If you’ve never heard of Parker, don’t be ashamed. Neither did I until I listened to a certain podcast discuss the first book at length. I had seen the books at my local library and decided to give them a try. I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not doing it sooner.

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Rendering of Donald Westlake by Cooke

Parker is a creation of Richard Stark, the pen name of Donald Westlake, who is a prolific crime fiction writer. From what I understand of Darwyn Cooke’s four adaptations, Parker is not a hard character to understand. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s a career criminal, and he has rules that he seldom breaks. Observant readers may recognize at least several dozen film characters share these traits, and it is my theory that this demonstrates Westlake’s influence on the crime genre.

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Nonetheless, Parker is a heist man. Planning and carrying out robberies whenever his previous score has diminished. Only once he’s completed a job does he allow himself to relax with the company of a beautiful woman. He has very few friends, mostly he has people he trusts to assist him on jobs. Sometimes those same people cross him, and always they get what’s coming to them.

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As I said, Darwyn Cooke has done four graphic novel adaptations of the Westlake’s books. Thus far, all of them seem like heist stories to me. Usually, when I think of heist movies I think of a person or group going after something or someone, then having to follow through and/or escape with their lives and acquisition. You can read any of the four in any order, although Book 1 and 2 follow each other in plot, and those deal with Parker fighting with the mafia. The other two are straight-up “crook pulling off a robbery and trying to escape” stories. Book 3 is my favorite, with Parker and a large group of associates robbing an entire town in one night.

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Cooke handles the art duties himself, and produces some of his finest work. His style gets a bit more simplistic, but also more fluid in movement. He uses ink wash instead of standard comic book  art, and uses a different color in each book to establish tone. Cooke also has an uncanny attention to detail of the Mad Men era: capturing clothes, cars, and even ads of the early 1960s. It’s clear from the art that these adaptations are a true labor of love.

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The fifth (and rumored to be final) book comes out this year, and I encourage any Darwyn Cooke fans, Crime fiction fans, or even people looking for something new to buy it. The cost of each book is the average price of a hardcover trade, but well worth the price. If you’re skipping DC and Marvel’s summer events, take your weekly budget and buy Book One “The Hunter” to try it out. These are stories that can sit on your bookshelves for years to be enjoyed instead of floppies rotting away in a long box.

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