As a teenager, Dan Cooney visited the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, and he knew he had found his path as an artist. He went on to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and also learned on his own many of the skills involved in creating graphic novels and comic books. After completing an internship at Marvel Comics, Cooney went on to a corporate job as an illustrator, but kept up with the work he was passionate about.
He has since written and illustrated a number of comic books (one of which was optioned as a film in 2010), and is now working on book two of a noir graphic novel series called “The Tommy Gun Dolls,” set in the Prohibition era and featuring a female gang led by a cross-dressing grifter who fights it out with crime syndicate members and others in the San Francisco underworld.
Images from “The Tommy Gun Dolls” novels, as well as illustrations of movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, are currently on display at the Oak Bluffs library, providing a very different type of art exhibit from those normally found in Vineyard galleries and other venues.
The selection of drawings hanging at the library features flappers, gangsters, and the machine-gun-toting burlesque dancers that populate the scenes of the cover art and other illustrations from the graphic novels, along with 1930s and ’40s movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The images are rich in detail, and often full of action. The Hollywood portraits do a wonderful job of capturing the personality and glamour appeal of the stars of a bygone era.
Cooney explains his process, which incorporates both digital and hand-drawing techniques: “I illustrate traditionally, first with pencil, sketch out all pages based on a plot I’ve outlined into a graphic novel layout, then tighten up the pencils, before inking with India ink, a brush, technical pens and fine-line markers. I scan the original pages, edit them in Photoshop, and letter the dialogue, word balloons, and most sound effects in Adobe Illustrator.”
Cooney moved from his home state of California to the Vineyard in 2011. After teaching at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco for 12 years, where he created an entire curriculum devoted to illustrating for comics and graphic novels, he is currently finishing up his master’s in education, and now works as a social studies teacher at the West Tisbury School.
“Social studies encapsulates a lot of the things that go into comics,” says Cooney. “I love learning about U.S. and world history, and how it encapsulates art, literature, politics in prose, graphic novels, films, television, and documentaries. My passion for what I do is shared with my students.” The artist/teacher has published three educational books on comics’ creation. Cooney also leads an afterschool art club for West Tisbury School students.
Although he’s very busy these days, between a full-time job, his studies, and raising two young boys, Cooney still finds time, mostly in the summer, to work on “The Tommy Gun Dolls” trilogy. He raised the money for the first two graphic novels through crowdfunding platforms, and notes that the books’ popularity has grown since he released the first one two years ago. He notes that graphic novel fans span generations, and include both men and women.
This is the first time that the artist has shown his work publicly on the Vineyard. “I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to share some of my original work at the Oak Bluffs library,” he says.