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An appreciation of Parker

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2014-04-03


The character of Parker has been around in one form or another for more than a half century. Created by author Donald Westlake under the pen-name Richard Stark, there's been 23 original Parker novels since the first was published in 1962 as well as a total of eight films based around the Parker character.

But even with all these books and movies and me first hearing about Westlake from an introduction Stephen King wrote for his book The Running Man I read years ago, I really only discovered Parker through a series of graphic novels adapted and illustrated by artist Darwyn Cooke and released by IDW Publishing starting in 2009.

Parker is a criminal living and operating in an early 1960s black and white world where there are people who steal and people who get stolen from. Parker's motives in each story are simple; to get enough money in order to maintain a nice lifestyle for a little while longer of resort living along the Florida coasts. And when his funds begin to dwindle he takes another job be it stealing money from gun runners or heisting an armored car or even, in my favorite Parker story, robbing an entire town.

When Parker has enough money his criminal side goes back into hibernation until the money runs low and the whole process starts over again.

On the surface the Parker character is pretty shallow, it's only when we've had the chance to spend some time with him that his nuances become more apparent.

Parker is a man without a past. He seemingly springs whole from the nothingness with the first Parker story The Hunter. When we first meet him he's broke, destitute and is just finishing a long journey to cross the US by whatever means necessary. Parker's disheveled, has to bum a smoke from a waitress and literally scares someone with just a glance in the street.

Here, Parker is not a hero, he's not even an anti-hero. He's more of a run of the mill dangerous dirt-bag. But as we spend more time with Parker and get to know him, we come to see that he might be a dirt-bag, but he's anything but run-of-the-mill.

Parker will kill, but only when absolutely necessary. And while Parker is loyal to those who are trustworthy and loyal to him, if someone crosses him or doesn't seem up to the task Parker won't hesitate to leave that person behind and in the lurch or murder them in cold blood.

It's like there are two Parkers; the working Parker and the relaxing one. The working Parker can be cold and ruthless. Cross his path and do the wrong thing and you'll end up dead. Working Parker is exacting, doing just what needs to be done on a job and no more and only taking just enough risks to successfully pull a score. Relaxing Parker is a bit reserved and likes to hang in the shadows while enjoying the finer things in life; food, drink and women.

The world of Parker is sort of a counterpoint to that of the TV series Mad Men, both of which are roughly set in the same time period. In Mad Men, at least things are outwardly good for characters like Don Draper. In the world of Parker, good is mostly absent. Instead it's the darker forces that are the driving factor of the Parker universe where even the cops are corrupt.

After I'd read the first Parker graphic novel a few years back I fell hard for Parker. He's a throw-back to a different time and there aren't too many (any?) characters around these days who have Parker's unique sensibilities. The graphic novels, adapted by Cooke, present the world of Parker in stark contrast. The art and design of the books is 1950s chic retro cool, but the stories within are downright dark and nihilistic.

All four Parker graphic novels The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score and Slayground are available at comic shops, book stores and online. The original Parker novels are set to be re-released with illustrations by Cooke later this spring. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

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