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So long, Master Cooke

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Earlier today it was announced that cartoonist Darwyn Cooke has died. Even though I never met the guy, I feel like I’ve lost a friend, somebody who was there when you needed him and offered advice and comfort.

Allow me to elaborate. I started reading comics fairly late in life, having been raised on Franco-belgian bandes dessinées for most of my youth. By the mid-80s I discovered American comics, which by then had decided that they didn’t have to cater to kids. And so super-heroes, those colorful mirages of the past, became broody and gritty and bloody. Computer coloring introduced a huge new palette of mostly greys and sombre tones. Any situation was threat to the very existence of human life and required intimate knowledge of some fifty years of backlog. Comics, in a word, became tiring and bland, the opposite of the excitement I’d felt when I read my first BDs.

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I kept reading Batman, though, and came across Ego, in my opinion the best Batman book ever written. And I mean ever. Ego is a child of its times, focusing on Batman’s (and Bruce Wayne’s) psychology and the almost freudian aspects of his motivation. But that art! Those layouts, those amazing settings, it was like a super-stylised noir movie had come to life to discuss Bergman.

And then came The New Frontier, Darwyn’s masterful retelling of the origin of the Justice League. Against the threat of ugly, dully colored flesh monsters, he put real humans in colorful costumes, with a background of slick 50s design, years before Mad Men made it mainstream. And like only a true genius can, he also managed to combine global political and social trends and evolutions with individual psychological strains and burdens of his character. But never, ever was this a dull comic. The moment the Martian Manhunter enters the story still gives me goosebumps.

I can go on. His Parker adaptation must be the only real hard-boiled crime book series I’ve ever read. And his take on the Minutemen was, in my opinion, about the only Before Watchmen story that actually was on a par with the original (again focusing on psychology and internal motivation).

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I simply love Darwyn’s pages, the way he draws his comics as if he’s directing a 70 mm cinemascope movie. The New Frontier‘s typical page only contains three frames, about the size of a widescreen TV, and still he manages to play with the rhythm of the story. The playful, almost sketched lines in Parker insinuate more than they show, and the single supporting color adds depth, meaning and atmosphere at the same time.

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A giant has passed, who was able to turn any “property” into something valuable again by adding a touch of humanity, history and pizzazz. Hats off, gentlemen!

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Niemann gets all animated on the New Yorker

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For the cover of the New Yorker magazine’s May 16 issue, illustrator and cartoon genius Christoph Niemann created an augmented reality animation that for once is actually good. When viewed through the lense of a smart phone with the special UnCovr app, the two versions of the cover, showing a New York city dweller boarding the subway, actually come to life with a vibrant animation of the city and the subway that runs through it like a blood stream through a beating heart.

I’d seen endeavours like this before, but never a stylish one like this. Which only shows that the tools don’t make the master, it’s the master using the tools.

ps – since Uncovr looks for the cover’s images to trigger the animation, you don’t really need the actual magazine to sample this little visual treat. All you need is an adequate image of the cover, and the app (iOS or Android).

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Mark Zuckerberg is a comic character

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A while ago Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg published the above photo of his wardrobe, and the internet went into a frenzy. How can anybody be so bland as to have only the same shirt and hoodie? At the same time, efficiency experts were quick to tell us that many successful people use the same technique so as not to waste time making choices.

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As is so often the case, comic readers simply had a vague sense of deja vu. After all, French journalist-detective Ric Hochet has been wearing the same turtleneck, denim pants and grey jacket for more than 70 albums (and a reboot) now. Even the character’s creators, Tibet (pseudonym for Gilbert Gascard) and André-Paul Duchâteau admitted as much quite early in the series. In album 10, Les 5 Revenants, Hochet has ended up in a river while pursuing the bad guy. Luckily he has a spare jacket…

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In Zidrou and Van Liemt’s reboot, RIP, Ric, the villain only has to put on said jacket (and have some plastic surgery) to very convincingly take the place of the hero. That’s a level of iconic that even Zuckerberg can only dream of.

Note: I understand that four months is an eternity in internetdom, but it took me a while to track down the actual book. And I really wasn’t intending on re-reading all of Ric Hochet, thank you very much.

(illustration Tibet and Simon Van Liemt, Ric Hochet © Tibet – Duchateau / Editions Du Lombard)

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Better Aging With Olivier Schrauwen

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Belgian cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen uses his trademark bleak-yet-intriguing colour palette for these illustrations for an article on the benefits of exercising to battle the symptoms of aging. From the April 29, 2016 issue of the New York Times.

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The perils of taking a cab

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Illustrated PEN is a weekly feature on the PEN America website showcasing some of the best non-fiction and reportage comics around. The latest installment is a funny comic by Eric Orner about the joys and risks of taking a cab in Israel when the bus isn’t deemed safe enough for foreigners.

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Robotic Interview

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Swedish illustrator Mattias Adolfsson rarely uses the comic form in his very prolific work, but when he does, he likes to be interviewed by one of his little robots.

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A case for canabis

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Adam Bessie is an American writer specializing in essay and reportage comics, often with an autobiographical slant, which he then runs in publications like The Atlantic and The Boston Globe. In one of his most recent strips, No Shame in Staying Alive, he explains how medical marihuana helped him fight the side effects of cancer treatment, but also how he struggled with balancing his drug use with his role as a father.

The wonderful art of this comic (from Fusion) is by cartoonist and educator Marc Parenteau. Check out Adam Bessie’s website for a full list of his comics.

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