Okay, I have to tell my STORY OF COMPLETE AGONY AND PAIN regarding New Frontier. You will likely be amused at my complete inability to make a simple decision.
First, I’ll set the scene.
Darwyn Cooke had just come off of some well-respected works, and was a favorite with creators and a cult favorite with fans, but he hadn’t yet broken through to anything like the level of success and respect he has now. Simply put, the guy was (and is) a genius, but at that point, he hadn’t yet had that breakthrough smash.
On top of that, he had a reputation as being intimidating, someone who didn’t suffer fools gladly and I remember some editors actually being scared of him.
I had really enjoyed his work, Catwoman and Batman: Ego. I thought he was great, a cross between Jack Kirby and Ed Brubaker and Bruce Timm, but with a viewpoint all his own. I had mainly seen his art, but reading Batman: Ego showed he could write like a bastard, so I was a fan.
But nothing, NOTHING, prepared me for the first issue of New Frontier. I had gotten the impression from some of the solicit material that people at DC were excited about it, but not positive what it’s commercial chances would be. But that first issue blew my socks out of my head (or however that phrase goes). I hadn’t read anything like it, it felt epic and fresh, and it was very clear immediately that this was one of those books, like Dark Knight and Watchmen and Kingdom Come, that not only tell a thrilling tale in a new way, but set a new touchstone, a turning point somehow, for what superhero stories could be.
In short, it’s a comic that looks like a comic, reads like a comic, but FEELS like a novel, in a way that most of the big epic books of the past could only dream of.
It’s hard to remember this now, but incredibly, reaction was VERY mixed in the first couple days. Quite a few reviewers and commentators did not get it (at first reading, many came around later, to their credit). They seemed to feel that the book was not what they had been expecting, I guess. I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy. I felt this was the best new comic in years.
So it was kind of my mission. For a couple days online, it was all I could talk about. I argued with reviewers, I posted links everywhere, and generally made a total jackass of myself (what ELSE is new?) trying to tell people to get this book because DAMN! It’s amazing.
Don’t get me wrong, cream rises to the top and my ranting likely only turned people off from the book. I claim no credit for changing even a single mind. The book is just so good that I think it overwhelmed people at first. In fact, I vastly prefer it to Watchmen…it’s not even close.
Anyway, somehow, Darwyn found out about my ranting everywhere, and he sent me a short but sweet note, just saying that I was the only pro who was going around talking about the book and it meant a lot to him. I had never met him, but I sent back a typically gushing fan note.
Then we were at a convention together. I THINK it was WizardWorld LA. He was in the booth and I was in the booth and we both had crazy lines and I didn’t get to introduce myself or say hello right away. A little while later, he’s behind me, and he says, Hi, Gail, I’m Darwyn, and gives me a little smooch on the cheek, and tells me that it meant a lot to him, what I’d said, and he had a present for me which he would bring by later. It was such a sweet gesture, and he was so soft-spoken (Darwyn has a crazy sense of humor and once terrified Dan DiDio by waking Dan up from a dead sleep wearing a Winnie the Pooh costume, but he was terribly kind to me that day).
I was kind of on a cloud. I hadn’t been a pro all that long and I knew that Darwyn was one of those rare guys who makes masterpieces in his spare time. Just that he knew who I was felt very, very cool.
So, later that same day, Darwyn comes up with his huge art portfolio, and he says, “Gail, you have to choose.”
What? Choose what?
Here’s what he did. He had drawn me a gorgeous, gorgeous drawing of Black Canary, just her head and shoulders, on a huge piece of artboard, bigger than a page of comic art (which as most of you know, is much bigger than a comics page, it gets shrunk down for printing). It was simple but stunning, and he’d drawn it just for me. It’s glamour style, like a Lana Turner headshot or something.
He’d drawn that just for me.
I could choose ANY original page of art from New Frontier.
I want you guys to think about that for a second. Remember, I had only been a pro for a while, and had only JUST let my cosmetology license lapse. And here was this genius saying, go ahead, any page you want from your favorite comic. You want the Wonder Woman in Asia page? You want Superman? You want the Thanagarian spaceship? Adam Strange? Steel as John Henry?
You know that scene in Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi points to his yard full of cars and tells Daniel, simply, “Choose”? This was that, exactly. I mean…guh buh duh? What? Are you freaking KIDDING me?
I looked through the folder and it just seemed like every page was better than the last and wanted to go home with me and sleep on my pillow. Some of these pages really spoke to me, but on the other hand, he had drawn the Black Canary sketch for me specifically.
I must have looked like an idiot. I asked my husband, who also loved the book, what I should do and he had this look like, “Good LORD, don’t look at ME!”
In the end, I took the Black Canary sketch. As much as the New Frontier pages meant to me, they belonged to the world, and the BC sketch was meant to be mine, it was a gift from a master to someone just learning, and the kindness of the gesture has lasted ever since.
Every day, I pass this little gallery of original art that artists have given me, people like Ed Benes, Michael Golden, Eduardo Barretto, Alvin Lee, Nicola Scott, Talent Caldwell, and Bruce Timm. And every day it makes me happy to work in this industry with people like that, talented people who are so generous and amazing.
Thank you, Darwyn!
Funny couple postscripts.
First, I had hubby buy the sturdiest clear page protector we could find, and I didn’t trust the airlines so I carried that huge sketch everywhere I went from the moment I left the hotel, to the airport, on the flight, and on the way home. People kept stopping and saying, “Oh, it’s Marilyn!” and by the end I was saying, “No, it’s better, it’s the goddamn BLACK CANARY.”
Made it home without a bend or crease!
I forgot to say the best part, Darwyn said, “We HAVE to work together on something.” It hasn’t happened yet, but that’s on my comic book bucket list for sure.
One other story I read recently that’s funny. I know this sounds obnoxious but the comp books we get from dc can really pile up over the course of the years. Apparently, Alan Moore had been receiving these books and finally said, “Please don’t send any more DC comp books to me, thank you, they are cluttering up my home.”
"Except New Frontier. You can keep sending that."
Alan was right.