PhxCC2014: Spotlight on James O’Barr

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During the 2014 Phoenix Comic Con, James O’Barr sat down for a panel in which he discussed the history and future of The Crow and himself. The following are only a few of the many topics O’Barr covered during his presentation and Q&A.

At the age of eighteen James O’Barr experienced the most profound and tragic event of his life. After all these years, it’s still difficult for O’Barr to talk about the loss of his fiance who was killed in a drunk driving accident. In order to escape from this reality, O’Barr enlisted in the military. Because O’Barr knew Latin, he worked as a translator. During his tours of duty in France and Germany, O’Barr picked up local graphic novels and was inspired to painfully scratch out his first graphic novel, The Crow. James O’Barr explained it took eight years to finish because, “it felt like fucking an open wound”.

It’s fascinating how the iconic crow was almost a rabbit because James O’Barr was fascinated by the Alice in Wonderland phrase, “crazy as a march hare”. However, his artistic representation of the rabbit didn’t fit the style and mood he was aiming for. Instead, O’Barr settled on using The Crow. Because crow feed on the dead, he felt they more symbolically represented his tormented protagonist Erik Draven and himself.

When discussing his philosophy towards himself and his work, James O’Barr talks about how everyone is damaged to some degree. He just wears his on the outside. He further explains that in order to grow as an artist, one must learn to fail. It’s only through failure we learn to grow as a person. When looking back, failure, anger, and self destruction had defined most of O’Barr’s life.

During the Crow’s publication O’Barr also worked at Spin Magazine. He would go onto befriend brooding musicians, such as Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. Reznor and other artists would often talk highly of The Crow and it came as no surprise that record stores rather than comicbook stores would carry issues of The Crow. One can’t think of The Crow movie without remembering the moody soundtrack. With the exception being The Cure, everybody on the soundtrack was a personal friend of James O’Barr.

O’Barr is still an angry old man, but he may have finally found peace with some of the ghosts which have haunted him since his youth. He has learn to focus his self destructive energy into his art style. In addition, he is developing a kinship with his fans. James O’Barr understands that The Crow has resonated with millions of people around the world by helping his fans through their own darkest moments. Unlike the times from his youth when O’Barr’s brooding and anger made even his contemporaries like Mike Mignola nervous, O’Barr welcomes people to approach and engage him in discussion and opens his panels thirty minutes early with dick jokes and laughter.

So, what about the Crow reboot? James O’Barr is hopeful. As great as the original was, this time the audience may get a more faithful adaptation of the original Crow graphic novel. There is no doubt the original Crow movie was a great representation of the underground 90’s culture, but it would be nice to see a truer adaptation of The Crow. To make that happen O’Barr has kicked away royalty checks in favor of being an executive producer. O’Barr is currently entitled to work closely with the director, screenwriter, and production staff. They have also agreed to let him call back his musician friends to help with the soundtrack. The look and style is suppose to emulate 70’s movies such as Taxi Driver. So much so that they are currently looking for 70’s film stock. Nevertheless, perhaps one of the important aspects is the reboot’s depiction of violence. As O’Barr spills out another anecdote about driving to the hospital with his stomach bleeding out, he reminds us that the depiction of violence and pain should be brutal and honest. Besides, isn’t that why we love The Crow after all these years?

Update

Due to inaccuracies, the information on Gary Reed and his Caliber Comics has been retracted. If you would like to know more about Gary Reed and the History of Caliber Comics, please visit Reed’s blogs where he discusses Caliber Comics in great depth

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