YOU MIGHT BE AMONG THOSE who vehemently disagree with DC’s decision to revisit the landmark work by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, as the publisher this week launches “Before Watchmen.” For you who decry prequels to one of Time’s top-100 “all-time” novels, writer-artist Darwyn Cooke has a very crisp, unyielding sentiment to share:
He respects you.
He doesn’t agree with you, but he respects you.
“I appreciate it — I understand it,” Cooke tells Comic Riffs. “I just happen to not be in that camp. Art is subjective. If someone feels that way, it’s legitimate because they responded that way.
“On the other hand, I just don’t see it that way.”
After passing upon the first opportunity, Cooke did a 180 and grasped fast onto the “enormous challenge” to participate in the six-issue prequel miniseries. And the writer-artist was first out of the gate this week with ”Before Watchmen: Minutemen.”
Comic Riffs contributor David Betancourt caught up with Cooke to talk about the influence of “Watchmen,” the allure of “Before Watchmen” — and why his artistic style is a good fit for the miniseries.
DAVID BETANCOURT: What do you say to the people who say that the “Watchmen” universe should be left alone?
DARWYN COOKE: Obviously, I don’t agree. However, I really appreciate and respect the fact that they feel that way about it. Different works strike different people differently. Some are going to think something wonderful, some are going to think it’s a great beginning. It’s something that’s worth taking another look at.
I appreciate it — I understand it. I just happen to not be in that camp. Art is subjective. If someone feels that way, it’s legitimate because they responded that way. On the other hand, I just don’t see it that way.
[BEFORE WATCHMEN: Should DC be revisiting the epic?]
DB: When approached to write and draw for the “Before Watchmen ”project, did you have any initial reservations?
DC: I did, actually. I’ve discussed this a bit already and so has [DC co-publisher] Dan [DiDio]. The first time I was approached, I said, “Thanks anyway,” just based on the strength of the material.
At first blush, I couldn’t think of anything I could do that could measure up or complement or stand beside the work. I didn’t have a story that I thought was worthy of it. I have a multitude of things offered to me or pitched to me, and they slide around in your head. You think about them. Especially the ones where you couldn’t come up with anything. At one point, I looked at the pieces that Alan [Moore] and David [Gibbons] put in place and I saw the story and saw how incredibly powerful it could be. Not like “Watchmen,” but in reverse. A more human story, but incredibly powerful.
DB: Did the original “Watchmen” series have any influence on you the first time you read it?’
DC: Yes, absolutely. I thought it was an incredible piece of work. An amazing story. I think I probably admired, above all, the breath and scope of the story, and the degree to which it had been deliberately planned and layered. I was stunned by that and completely floored by what Dave did with it. That was the first time you seen a mainstream comic where an artist sits down and deliberately goes against the grain, and the precision he showed every nine panels on every page is astonishing.
[THE INTERVIEW: “Watchmen’s” Dave Gibbons].
DB: What do you think DC Comics has to gain by making prequel issues to a universe that many thought would never be expanded upon? Is the goal [simply] new readership?
DC: At this point, I’m not sure what the strategy is. I’ve noticed from [fans] who came to “Watchmen” over the last five to 10 years, this might be something that brings them more into mainstream comics, but I can’t really say. I just have to shoot for the stars with the book, and I always thought the goal was that to make sure your readership appreciates what you’re doing, but hopefully [will] bring other people in. So many people are aware of the Watchmen that it might be enough to bring some new people around, and it should stimulate interest in “Watchmen” again. But that’s just me guessing.
DB: Do you feel that your art style, especially given the success of “The New Frontier,” which had a retro feel, is a good match for this project, given the time period during which it takes place?
DC: You know, [I’ve] got to go with what I’m told by everybody, so yes — it is. I do seem to have become the guy who is the midcentury guy between “Parker” and “New Frontier” and now this project, but it certainly is an era that I’m fascinated with.
It’s like the apex of the analog world. It’s like that last moment where men woke up in the morning knowing how to use a clawhammer. Most of the men walking in America had been in combat. Everything that got done, it’s amazing how quickly it got done. It’s a fascinating time because you look at these things we were able to achieve before everything changed.
DB: As a satisfying and challenging assignment, where does “Minutemen” fall for you with some of your other favorite works?
DC: There’s only two things [in comics] I like to do. Either something purely delightful because of friends involved or a particular type of romp. And then there’s the stuff that’s going to bust you — the real challenges. I dare say within the mainstream, the way it’s set up, those are the things that get my attention. People say, “Oh, money this, money that.” If it was about money I’d still be in L.A. doing cartoons. …
This was an enormous challenge for me, and I took it knowing I was just as apt to fail. But it puts me out there, and that’s the only way to be going after something like this. And frankly I appreciate being a part of the things where the challenge is great.