By: Arlene R. Weiss
In December 1994, I was honored to interview acclaimed author and illustrator, James O’Barr, well known in comics and film circles for writing and illustrating the graphic novel, “The Crow”, which was adapted and made into the 1994 motion picture starring the late, great, legendary actor, Brandon Lee who was accidentally killed during a tragic accident on the movie set.
O’Barr, known for being a relatively reserved, quiet, and private man, was making the rounds at a local comics and memorabilia store while on a national book signing tour to cross-promote the graphic novel version of “The Crow” at the height of the media frenzy surrounding the film’s release. O’Barr took time to do this interview, and still sign every adoring fan’s book and pose for photographs during a severe December ice storm, with grace and insight.
“The Crow” was a personally cathartic creative and life experience for O’Barr, who penned the story as a means to deal with his own despair and anguish from losing his fiancée, who was killed by a drunk driver, only to then have to suffer the death of his then friend, Brandon Lee, during the making of the film.
The title character, Eric Draven, portrayed by Brandon Lee in the film portrait, is a rock guitarist and musician, who returns from the dead as a tortured and dark, yet compassionate and benevolent spirit seeking justice after he and his fiancée are murdered. Eric’s spirit deeply touches and saves the lives of several central characters while avenging his and his fiancee’s murders, ultimately bringing and restoring hope.
Author and artist O’Barr is also a guitarist and musician whose 90’s metal band, Trust Obey, was signed at one time to Trent Reznor’s Nothing Label. His many music influences continue to play deeply into his many career works including “The Crow.”
O’Barr was heavily influenced by The Cure and Joy Division in writing “The Crow”. The graphic novel features an entire page with the lyrics to The Cure’s song, “The Hanging Garden” and several chapters of the book are named after Joy Division songs.
O’Barr also fashioned the book’s illustrations of Eric from his Goth music influences, Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and The Cure’s Robert Smith, all which were also heavily drawn into the film realization, as well as Brandon Lee’s wardrobe, look, and acting characterization. The film’s multi-million selling soundtrack on Atlantic Records featured the haunting “Burn” written and performed especially for “The Crow” by The Cure and an eerie cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” performed by Nine Inch Nails.
O’Barr unfortunately lost many of the film rights to his original book of “The Crow”. Though adamant about the film being a one time release after Brandon’s passing, O’Barr has seen the release of several film sequels, (some fairly good and some which never should have been made they were so bad), a TV series which ran from 1998 to 1999 starring actor Mark Dacascos based on the book and film which was actually very well done, and in 1998, Gibson ran an SG promotion tied in with the short lived TV series. Currently, there is talk of the original 1994 film version of “The Crow” being remade with actors Mark Wahlberg and Channing Tatum being hyped to potentially inhabit the role made so iconic by the wonderful Brandon Lee.
O’Barr has since gone on to do several graphic novel comics series, illustrate amazing artwork, attend film and comic conventions, and was awarded the prestigious “Storyteller Award” by the International Comic Festival held in Angouleme, France.
Here’s a fond look back with the creative visionary behind “The Crow”, James O’Barr.
Arlene R. Weiss – September 26, 2011
In May 1994, a popular cultural phenomenon swept the nation when the motion picture adaptation of The Crow was released. A brilliant and starkly vivid visual realization of the adult underground cult graphic novel by author and illustrator James O’Barr, it became something of an instant legend due to the tragedy of it being the final performance of the truly gifted and eloquent actor, Brandon Lee, (son of martial arts actor and legend Bruce Lee). Lee was accidentally killed by a malfunctioning prop gun on the film’s set during the making of the film.
What lingers, however, is the artistic legacy that both actor Lee and author O’Barr have given the world forever, a work that stands on its own in great storytelling as a transcendental myth of good triumphing over evil. In a world that at the onset is filled with desolation, darkness, and despair, it is ultimately justice, faith, and love that ring true and prevail to create a future alive with hope and promise.
Now that the film version of author O’Barr’s work has brought him into the mainstream spotlight, this private, quiet man who based The Crow on his own personal tragic life experience has found himself becoming a celebrity of sorts. Yet, O’Barr has continued to graciously delve into the same traumatic inner sanctum demons over and over for the press, something that must not be easy to constantly be reminded of.
So it is time that the demons lay to rest, at least for a momentary hiatus and to allow Mr. O’Barr his day in the sunshine, to move forward…and discuss what he has and always will be: an artist, both as a prolific and gifted writer and illustrator.
To people & comics fans & organizations reading this I am the journalist who conducted this copyrighted interview with James, and I need and want to clarify that this interview was conducted in December 1994..with James..when he was on a National book signing tour to cross-promote both his novel of “The Crow” and the 1994 film.
This interview has never before been published, and so this is the very first time that this interview has been published and has seen the light of day. I am honored that James so graciously did this interview with me which is so insightful and sheds light on his many music & artistic influences & projects….
….but again this interview, now published for the very first time, is from December 1994. Many Thanks to James & to everyone! Arlene R. Weiss-10/5/2011
Arlene R. Weiss: I’d like to start with the Cure’s influence on the writing of The Crow. How did Robert Smith and company influence your written characterization and artwork of the main character of Eric Draven?
James O’Barr: He actually wasn’t a big influence on the visual aspect of the character. It was just listening to a lot of the early Cure records when I was writing it, like Seventeen Seconds and Faith. So the idea that the look has been inspired by him has really been overblown. It was more Peter Murphy [of post-punk goth rockers Bauhaus] and Iggy Pop than anybody else.
Arlene: What about Joy Division? I know that they had some influence on it as well.
James O’Barr: Yeah, I kind of discovered Joy Division right in the time of my life when I needed to hear something like that, and Ian Curtis, the singer and the vocalist and the guy who wrote all the lyrics, he was a really big influence on me. There was a lot of truth and honesty in his lyrics. Because you know, in truth he was a terrible singer, but it was the only tool he had to communicate what he wanted to. So he went out there and did his best, but it’s really, really, ugly, sad music and he committed suicide in 1980. But he was a real big influence on me.
Arlene: Your novel made no mention of Eric’s background, what he did for a living, but the film made distinct reference to his being a rock guitarist and musician. What are your feelings on this?
James O’Barr: You know, that was something the producers came up with. First they had him as a rock star and I said absolutely not, that that kind of alienates him from the everyday person. Doing that instead makes him an icon and puts him up on a pedestal. And in the book he’s intended just to be like a blue collar worker. I mean hey, I wanted to do some more scenes with him, just, like walking around with his lunch pail and the tool box and stuff, but I just didn’t have room for things like that. And…I just wanted to keep him very every day, the common man type of thing.
Arlene: So that the general public, just everyday people could relate to him.
James O’Barr: Right, right. Yes. There wasn’t supposed to be anything all that special about his life other than his relationship with his fiancée, the young girl Sarah, and Officer Albrecht.
Arlene: What about the metaphor of hope through the song that they had chosen for Eric’s band in the movie? It’s the theme song of the film, “It Can’t Rain AllTheTime.” How do you feel about that song and what it means?
James O’Barr: I like it a lot. The lyrics were written by Graeme Revell and Jane Siberry, and it was the first time either of them had worked with any other musician. They weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, but it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Arlene: Same here. It’s such a meaningful, emotional, and poetic song. You’ve always been well known to underground cult fans of the comics genre and of The Crow, but now, with the milestone success of the film version of The Crow, you’re enjoying mainstream success. Is this affecting you and your life in any way, and if so how?
James O’Barr: Not at all. I’m the same person I was before. I don’t do anything special now that I didn’t do before. I drive the same car, and I live in the same house.
Arlene: Though in the past you’ve been adamant in maintaining The Crow as a single, one time, complete novel unto itself, there are now rumors that due to its vast success, you are planning both a written and filmed sequel. Is there any truth to that?
James O’Barr: No, no. I’m still adamant about there being no sequels. It was a closed, ended story. And when Brandon was alive, we did talk about doing sequels because I just thought he brought a nice vitality to the character and I could see future films with him as the character, but….all of that was buried with Brandon. I can’t see anybody else doing it. He put his own mark on the character and it would just….It would be really gratuitous to have some other actor come in and try and duplicate it.
Arlene: What other artistic ventures are you currently working on?
James O’Barr: I’m doing a book called Gothic for Dark Horse, and it’s a twelve issue series. It’s Blade Runner meets TheWizard Of Oz, and we’re working on the film of that at the same time, with the same producers who did The Crow. And I’m working on the screenplay and really heavily involved in the film. On this one, I’m picking all the actors and the artists for the soundtrack.
Arlene: So they’re giving you a say in the cast choices and so forth?
James O’Barr: Yes, yes I am.
Arlene: How does that feel for you emotionally and creatively, being involved in the actual casting and music soundtrack of Gothic?
James O’Barr: I had a lot of input on The Crow, too. I mean they were kind of lost as to what kind of character actors they should get for the parts, and so I had a lot of heavy input on that for The Crow and luckily, they listened to me. So I feel pretty confident about all my choices and I got about 70% of what I wanted out of them the first time. And since I’m so heavily involved this time, I expect that ratio to go up.
Arlene: As an artist, which do you prefer, writing or illustrating?
James O’Barr: I don’t know. They’re both pretty much tied together for me.
Arlene: Which gives you more personal fulfillment, creatively and artistically?
James O’Barr: Probably the artwork. I’ve always considered myself an artist first, and the records and the writing, secondary. So, it’s…I don’t know, it’s pretty strange, because I get more compliments about the writing, but I think that’s just because I know when to shut up and let the picture tell the story.
© Copyright 1994, 2011 by Arlene R. Weiss, All Rights Reserved