VERTIGO COMICS editor Shelly Bond was contemplating collaborations for a new line of Vertigo titles and she decided to reach out to Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier). Cooke, the writer-artist so known for his unique visual style, recalls that Bond asked him what he’d like to do for Vertigo.
Cooke likes to joke that when it comes to project pitches, he relishes resisting almost everything that comes his way. So with Bond offering a little creative freedom, Cooke decided to ask for a long shot:
He didn’t want to write. He only wanted to draw. And he wanted to work with Gilbert Hernandez of Los Bros Hernandez (Love and Rockets), another writer-artist who also has an instantly identifiable style.
“I thought: That’s the end of that. Gilbert will never work with me and now I can say, ‘Well I would have but… ,’ ” Cooke joked to The Post’s Comic Riffs.
But then came the plot twist. Bond contacted Hernandez, who was all for the high-profile team-up.
Thus was the path that led Hernandez and Cooke to create Vertigo’s “The Twilight Children,” the first issue of which hits stands physical and virtual today.
The story focuses on a small Latin American village, three children from which are rendered blind by frequent white orbs, and a beautiful woman who might be an alien. At the center are personal relationships that aren’t quite what they seem.
Hernandez isn’t one for revealing too many plot details, preferring that readers jump into the story and come to their own conclusions. But he does describe “The Twilight Children” as a low-key kind of magic realism set in a simple town, with surreal elements happening with a sci-fi feel.
Hernandez also shared that working with Cooke was like having a creative partner who doesn’t need much verbal guidance. Because Cooke is such a brilliant visual storyteller himself, Hernandez doesn’t have to get overly descriptive in conveying what he wants for the narrative.
“He basically doesn’t need me, but since I was there, and we’re working together, I put down a story that I thought would work on his strengths,” Hernandez said ,”if I gave him just enough information and description and then put in my usual characterization that I have in all my stories.
“I tried to simplify it, as well,” he continued. “And what I mean by that is, I don’t want to clutter characters and clutter the plot. Or clutter the images. Especially since [Darwyn] has a smooth and likable drawing style. I’m going to put in my strengths and step out of the way and let [Darwyn] interpret [the story] himself, which he did beautifully.”
Cooke told Comic Riffs that he enjoyed the “openness” of Hernandez’s scripts for “The Twilight Children.”
“I just made sure I was honoring what Gilbert had written and wherever there was room, I tried to make sure I was adding something that might put another layer into it for the reader, or might create a juxtaposition that wasn’t expected,” Cooke told Comic Riffs. It’s “a real treat to work with a cartoonist writing a script. It’s a very different experience.”
Hernandez remembered a particular moment while working with Cooke, when he forgot to include descriptions for a splash page. He thought about reaching out to Cooke, but decided against it, convinced that Cooke would come up with something just as good for the story.
“I just stopped myself and said: Let’s see if he can come up with something. And he did,” Hernandez said. Cooke is “doing all the heavy lifting. People are going to look at the book and –when you have the reader or the browser looking at the book and it just looks so good, and the reader can absorb, simply by looking at the pictures, that this might be something that [the reader] wants to read, then you’re in.”
One of Hernandez’s narrative gifts that especially struck Cooke was his ability to make the small town feel like a character itself.
“There’s an enormous cast. We have these wonderful scenes between characters and then a character will walk away, and we see that character walking through the background with another scene beginning. You really get that sense that this is all going on in this one little place,” Cooke told Comic Riffs. “And these people are all interacting together. You get this great sense of community that comes out of it.
“The transitions between different scenes are really neat because the way characters are moving through the town sort of carries the story.”
Putting art to Hernandez’s words on a project outside of mainstream superhero comics is an opportunity Cooke has been trying to create for some time now. And for at least the past five years, he said, he’s been hoping to come onboard something like “The Twilight Children,” yet there was always something that “kept me in the game doing the type of books I do. This is like a deliberate move on my part to embark on another path.”
And Cooke said that this “great experience” with Hernandez and Vertigo has opened his mind to new approaches to his craft. “Working on this project is starting to unlock a few things in my mind, in terms of storytelling and maybe where I want to go,” Cooke said. “It’s helping me open doors in my head that have been more or less closed.
“When you’re working on a mainstream book, there are certain criteria — there are certain things you have to do and you have to hit. And this has been really liberating in that those rules don’t apply here.”
And he hopes that he and Hernandez live up to fan expectations.
“It was really fun just to see the reaction [to] the idea of Gilbert and I teaming up on this,” Cooke said. “So yeah, hopefully we don’t let them down.”