James O’ Barr Interview
About James O’Barr: James O’Barr is commonly referred to as, ‘an accomplished’ artist and writer, who is best known for creating the story of The Crow. Only the word ‘accomplished,’ is quite a vast understatement!
Born in Detroit, Michigan on January 01, 1960, the history of James O’ Barr comes from less then very humble upbringing. As he often likes to lament, that he was born in a trailer in Detroit just in time to see Marilyn Monroe and John Kennedy die, but claims no responsibility for either. He spent his first seven years in an orphanage and foster care where he spent most of his time drawing.
When he was adopted he brought along his crayons and has been using them ever since.
In 1978, O’Barr’s fiancée, Beverly, was killed by a drunk driver, and James joined the Marines in an effort to cope with the loss. He was stationed in Germany and illustrated combat manuals for the military. While living in Berlin in 1981, O’Barr began work on The Crow as a means of dealing with his personal tragedy. O’Barr was further inspired by a Detroit newspaper account of the murder of a young couple over a $20 engagement ring. After his discharge from the Marines, O’Barr continued his painting and illustration as well as doing lots of odd jobs, including working for a Detroit body shop. The Crow took nearly ten years to finish and sat on a shelf, with no publisher interested in its (“too gloomy, too confusing…”) tale, until, on a whim, Gary Reed of Caliber Press published the first issue in 1989. The first issue titled “Pain” with the following books being titled “Fear”, “Irony” and finally “Despair”.
In The Crow comic book, the protagonist Eric and his fiancée Shelly are murdered by a gang of criminals. Eric then returns from the dead to hunt their killers and take revenge for what has happened to them.
O’Barr’s own hope that his project would result in a personal catharsis went unfulfilled, as he told an interviewer in 1994, saying, “[A]s I drew each page, it made me more self-destructive, if anything….There is pure anger on each page”. The Crow has sold more than 750,000 copies worldwide. It is currently the best-selling independent graphic novel and black-and-white graphic novel of all time at over 1 million copies sold.
In 1993 his book The Crow was adapted into the cult classic film of the same name starring Brandon Lee. But The Crow legend would suffer even more tragedy as lead actor for The Crow, Brandon Lee was accidentally shot to death on the set of the film during a stunt filming. Leaving many to mourn the unexpected passing of the actor, especially friend, James O’ Barr.
The Crow movie franchise went on without James O’ Barr, as they pumped new sequel after new god-awful sequel. James would like to point out though, that nearly all of the money made from the original film The Crow was donated to children’s charities and he had nothing to do with the subsequent 3 sequels or TV show. But as we will reveal here in our exclusive PopCultHQ interview, James will be a consultant on the new Crow movie that will go into production in March of 2016. We’ll let you know more details on the movie as they become available!
PopCultHQ’s interview with James O’ Barr, from Wizard World Chicago 2015
PopCultHQ: Before I came to the convention I was told by Wizard World in a press release, that James O’ Barr would be here at this years Chicago convention and that we should talk to him about a new movie project.
James O’ Barr: “Do you do everything you are told?”
PopCultHQ: Actually, NO! But, in order to meet James O’ Barr, I think I would have done anything.
(both of us laughing)
PopCultHQ: What we do here at PopCultHQ is find future trends in what people deem as ‘HOT’ in the pop culture world and we bring knowledge to the fans about what we really love. I feel that over the years, actually decades now, younger generations of fans only think The Crow, as Brandon Lee. It’s time for people to think The Crow, as being James O’ Barr’s!
James O’ Barr: “Right.”
PopCultHQ: Not that there is anything wrong with Brandon at all, mind you. It is just time for The Crow to go back to where it came from. When I grew up with The Crow, it was from your comic book. I respect your work like no other person in this industry, just from what you created.
PopCultHQ: How do you feel when people think of The Crow, they are only just thinking, Brandon Lee?
James O’ Barr: “Most of those people have not read the book, they’ve seen the film but not read the book. The book is something, not entirely different, but there’s a lot of different layers and metaphors that were not in the first film for some reason or another. It was a small budget film, they didn’t have a lot of time or the funds to expand on the story like it was in the book. This new film, is a chance to do it much more faithful to the original book.”
PopCultHQ: How much of a say do you have in this new film now?
James O’ Barr: “Everything I had on the first one, so I’m working with the director on EVERYTHING. They’re not making any decisions without me.”
PopCultHQ: Alright, that’s great to hear!
PopCultHQ: That was something I was not too clear about, was if the director might have done any changes that might have upset you? I thought it was a pretty good representation for its time.
James O’ Barr: “They did the absolute best they could do with the amount of money they had. It looks liked the book, it felt like the book but it’s not the book itself.”
PopCultHQ: Do you by chance remember the actual budget for The Crow?
James O’ Barr: “The first film?”
James O’ Barr: “10 million dollars. Which is not even an hours worth of TV money.”
PopCultHQ: Since that time we have had Frank Miller and Sin City. Frank was able to work hand-in-hand with Robert Rodriguez and Miller was given screen credits as a co-director. That is something I didn’t see with the original Crow movie. Will that change with the new Crow film?
James O’ Barr: “I’m not really too interested in getting credits. I just really want a film that is very faithful to the books. And each director most often has his own set crew that he works well with, that he trust. I wouldn’t want to get in the middle of all that. So as long I know and respect his abilities at what he does, I’m fine.”
PopCultHQ: We know that you were a very young man when you first started writing The Crow. Just how old were you at the time?
James O’ Barr: “It was in my early 20’s when I started but it wasn’t till my late 20’s by the time I finished it. Just because it was so very difficult to work on.”
PopCultHQ: Obviously, as you can tell it was a deep labor of love and hurt at the same time. Which is why I have such profound respect for this story and how it changed me personally. I have read comics for 30 years, I’m 38 now. That’s why I have such admiration for this comic book industry and those that work in it. I know just how difficult it is to be a creator.
James O’ Barr: “It is very difficult. You have to absolutely LOVE what you’re doing if you really want to try and make a living at it.”
PopCultHQ: It’s not quite the glamorous life it was made out to be in the 90’s?
James O’ Barr: “Not glamourous at all. Most of your days are spent ALONE at your drawing board. So, you have to LOVE it. It’s the least glamourous job that I know of. Other then digging ditches or digging bodies up.”
PopCultHQ: I seen on social media you had meet a mutual friend in Ashley M. Witter from Squarriors fame and you really liked her artwork. Is there any other new artist that you see out there that has also caught your eye?
James O’ Barr: “Oh yeah, she’s really something else! I really loved the whole anthropomorphic thing (anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities), where it’s very difficult to draw animals, especially realistic animals with body movement and such emotion. She’s actually really good at it, yes. I haven’t had a chance to read it but I was thoroughly impressed by it.”
James O’ Barr: “There are artist I follow but not necessarily younger ones. It seems to me the younger generations are more copying their influences rather then developing their own styles. I love a guy named Jordi Bernet a Spanish guy, I like Boris Karloff stuff and the whole Warner Bro’s animation crew, they’ve done something exceptional. “
PopCultHQ: Like I said before, I’ve read comics for over 30 years and the one thing that always lets me know that a creator has some thing uniquely special, is just how emotionally moving a piece makes me feel. I was just a young teenager when I read The Crow but that story was gripping to me ever since.
James O’ Barr: “It never occurred to me, NOT to be honest.”
PopCultHQ: It was brutal honesty. No doubt about it, it was.
James O’ Barr: “For some reason, in comic books, people don’t want to approach those king of things. Everyone hurts, everyone cries, we’re all going to lose somebody eventually. Those are universal themes you know, through love, we’re going to deal with these things. Either they want those things or not they will experience those things some point in their life so why not write about them in a truthful fashion.”
PopCultHQ: One of the themes I remember the most from the book, and I have not read The Crow since high school about 23-24 years ago. But it is so deeply seared in my mind, is of how emotionally brutal the rape and death scene was in the story. In the comic, if I remember correctly, was by a car near a field where the young lovers were viciously attacked. It was traumatic! That’s the kind of work I would love to emulate.
James O’ Barr: “It just tell me that I did my job well. Because you really don’t see anything. It’s suggested in dialogue, in subtle images but you never really need to see the actual violence in that part.”
PopCultHQ: Very Hitchcock , in the way that you let the audience do the worst in their minds and not necessarily needing to be so overtly graphic for no real reason.
James O’ Barr: “Yes!”
PopCultHQ: Many people who have followed you know that the story of The Crow is very personal. Just how personal can you tell us?
James O’ Barr: “It was very deeply personal, almost unbearably autobiographical. I had lost someone and it was truly my only way of trying to work it out.”
PopCultHQ: Have you ever thought of other comic book properties ever using your story of love and returning from death in order to find that love again in such a tragic matter? Spawn, comes to example.
James O’ Barr: “I’ve never really thought about that or paid attention to Spawn. I’m just not a superhero person so I kind of don’t pay it no mind. I’ve heard it over the years, maybe Todd was influenced, I don’t know.”
PopCultHQ: Did you do any research on maybe tribal or ritual resurrection when you wrote The Crow?
James O’ Barr: “No not really. That’s one of the main differences from the movie and the book is that there was barely even a crow in the comic. It was more of his personality, so the crow itself didn’t have any ideology or spiritual references. It was just there, this dark part of his persona.”
PopCultHQ: So the whole crow and resurrection thing came right from your own mind. Outstanding!
PopCultHQ: There is a drawing I seen of one of the scenes during The Crow movie where Brandon is jumping out of the circle window but grabs the window frame to launch himself back into the apartment. I was wondering if you did that artwork?
James O’ Barr: “Was it of Brandon?”
PopCultHQ: Yes, it had Brandon’s face on it.
James O’ Barr: “No, that would not have been mine then. Brandon Lee was a friend of mine and since his passing I would never draw him.”
PopCultHQ: I did not know that. That is so respectful in so many ways, especially in this industry. It just speaks volumes of your character Mr. Barr.
PopCultHQ: Thank you so much for this interview Mr. James O’ Barr.
James O’ Barr: “Thank You, it was a great interview.”
James O’Barr has worked for every major publisher. In Italy, 1995, he won the Academy Award of comics, the Yellow Kid award for best storyteller. O’Barr was the second American to be awarded the “Storyteller Award” by the International Comic Festival held annually in Angoulême, France. Recently returned from a record breaking signing tour for the Italian Edition of “The Crow,” his most recent book is a the new sketchbook from Eva Ink Publishing “James O’Barr: Uncoffined.” You can order your copy of The Crow from James O’ Barr’s official website.
Corin Hardy ,director of the hot indie horror film The Hallows who was tapped to helm the long-in-the-works reboot of The Crow, despite production studio Relativity, had put all its projects on hold as it attempts to emerge from bankruptcy. Hardy told Den of Geek! during a phone interview, “I’m absolutely involved. It’s been frustrating that we’ve had this delay, but it’s something that I’m looking forward to continuing the work that we were all in the thick of when the Relativity situation occurred. It’s a movie that I’m incredibly excited and passionate about, and something which had a big effect on me as a 17-year-old watching the original film and reading the graphic novel.”
Special thanks to go out Wizard World