Eisner Award-winning artist Darwyn Cooke will adapt the first four Parker novels by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America) as graphic novels, IDW announced today. The adaptations will be released at a rate of one every two years, starting in 2009 with The Hunter.

Parker is a cold-blooded thief created by Westlake in 1962 in a grim tale that has been filmed twice, first as Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, then as Payback with Mel Gibson. Since then, more than 20 Parker books have appeared at regular intervals, most recently Dirty Money.

Cooke, best known for the award-winning The New Frontier miniseries from DC, recently completed a run on The Spirit and is no stranger to crime fiction. Four books in eight years is a large chunk of time for Cooke (he'll continue to work on other projects at the same time), but he believes the subject matter is worth it. Cooke was much attracted to the fact that the ruthless thief Parker is in no way a hero. "[It's] a character that is as amoral and coldhearted as fiction has ever seen, yet Stark has made him elusively compelling and within the context of the dark world he inhabits, oddly sympathetic. The prose is as stripped down as one could afford to make it."

The project came about when special projects editor Scott Dunbier joined IDW, and he and Cooke started kicking ideas around. When Cooke suggested the Parker books, a licensing deal was quickly struck. Cooke has contacted Westlake and discussed the character in depth. "He and I ended doing a lot of back and forth," Cooke reported, while reassuring the author that the approach was a respectful one.

Westlake also gave Cooke a primer in Parker's character, "Parker is ambivalent about any moral issues. He has a job he likes to do and he likes to do it well. Everything else is secondary to that. Westlake told me that when he started the books, it was an exercise in achieving a sense of character without describing an emotional state. Every cue comes from an external action."

The challenge for a cartoonist, Cooke says, is to keep the precise structure and tone of the books while eliminating narrative description and achieving the same effects visually. "There are long sequences, as long as a quarter of the book, where not a word is said between characters. I'm going to do everything I can to achieve the tone of those sequences visually."

Adaptations of the first four books—The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, The Outfit and The Mourner—will each run 120-140 pages. Cooke is using a duotone art style that goes back to the more illustrative art he was using before New Frontier. Although there was some discussion of serializing the books in comic book periodical format first, it was decided to stick with releasing them as graphic novels first for the book market, where Westlake has a sizable fan base.

Cooke was more open to the idea of potential Web serialization when the time comes, although it's all theoretical at this point. "It's funny, because I have so little presence on the Web, but a few weeks ago I was giving a talk at the Kubert School with Jimmy Palmiotti, and I told the students to abandon print. 'Don't even think about print at your age.' You have to make your way on the Internet, and printing is something that will come later. If your work finds favor, people will want to collect it in a tactile form."

Stark/Westlake has certainly achieved that status over his long and venerated career, "The early Parker novels were genre defining and ushered in the era of the antihero, or in Parker's case the non-hero," said Cooke. "Stark/Westlake is lauded by greats such as Elmore Leonard, Stephen King and filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh. I can't think of a project or collaboration I'd be better suited for."