Dana Valentine is a pensive young ex-con who is offered a life-or-death opportunity to join a covert society of assassins that rights the wrongs of a broken criminal justice system. Her creator is Dan Cooney of West Tisbury, who began writing Valentine while studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York city in the 1990s. “I had two semesters to write, illustrate, and letter a self-contained comic book story,” he says. The series grew into four volumes, published over the course of the next 15 years. “The underlying theme in creating a comic in the crime fiction genre was and still is — ‘Can violence be a force for good?’” Cooney says.
Now, that story is being adapted for the screen. “I have been following Dan Cooney’s work at San Diego Comic-Con for almost 21-plus years as Dan developed and published ‘Valentine,’” says Michael Mendelsohn, CEO of Patriot Pictures, who has produced over 400 films, including “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Matrix,” and “La Femme Nikita.”
“I have for years wanted to make a movie and TV series based on Dan Cooney’s Valentine. I am grateful to have been entrusted with his creative work,” he says. Dan is working with the writer as a consultant for the screenplay adaptation, to be shopped around to a director and actress. “What Michael Mendelsohn loved about the character was the grit and resilience of a woman facilitating her subdued rage through a weapon to balance the scales of justice as it not only failed her, but others as well,” Cooney says. “I’m enjoying this journey with all its challenges in being produced for film.”
Cooney’s inspiration for Valentine draws on everything from Athena in Greek mythology to Modesty Blaise, a British comic series, and many more. His interest in comics started at a young age. He wrote serialized mini-comics beginning in elementary school, including a comic about a character called “Superperson.” In high school, he frequented a local comic book store located up a rickety stairway wedged between two biker bars. There he met comic artist Art Adams, and asked him what it took to have a career in comics. Art advised Cooney to do the work, not to rest on his laurels, and always be looking for the next job. Cooney took that advice to heart. In addition to working on his own projects, he has illustrated licensed characters for Marvel and DC Comics, “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” trading cards, and commissioned work.
Throughout Cooney’s life as an artist, he has also been a teacher. As president of the art club at his high school, Cooney discovered that he liked facilitating a place for kids to draw. After completing his bachelor’s of fine arts at the School of Visual Arts, he taught visual narrative, writing, and the history of comics for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He moved to the Vineyard in 2011, and taught remotely until 2016, but missed teaching in the classroom. He began substitute teaching at the West Tisbury School, where his two sons are students. He now teaches middle school social studies, a subject that draws on his college minor in art history, and he is currently completing his master’s in education at Fitchburg State University. “I love teaching the subject, which encapsulates history of the arts, culture, literature, music, government, civics,” Cooney says, “using graphic novels as one of the learning tools and multimedia enriching students for critical thinking and engagement in the classroom.” He has also taught comic book workshops at libraries, public schools, and the Featherstone Center for the Arts. After 9/11, he was involved with a comic book project, “Emergency Relief,” that benefited the American Red Cross. “Examples like this in the context of a graphic novel can teach students about history,” he says.
Cooney’s first Dana Valentine comic debuted at San Diego Comic-Con International in 1997. The cons are a place where he can connect with a community of comic writers, artists, and fans, as well as marketing his work. This year, he drove out to San Diego again to promote Dana Valentine’s 25th anniversary. In between the other demands of his life — parenting, teaching, and summer work — he compiled a 25th anniversary compendium edition of Valentine to bring to the convention. He also plans to exhibit in artist alley at New York Comic-Con this October, with more of his work, including his current series, “The Tommy Gun Dolls.” It’s a 1920s crime story set in San Francisco, which draws on Cooney’s interest in history, crime fiction, and film noir.
For updates, and to buy or check out Cooney’s books and art, see dancooneyart.com.