small crow 'The Crow' small crow
T H E    G R A P H I C    N O V E L Crow - horizontal line

James O'Barr, author of The Crow James O'Barr

James O'Barr was born in the January of 1960. He grew up in the area of Detroit and was raised in institutional and foster care. O'Barr has been a self-taught artist since his early teens - he learned his craft through direct observation. He studied Renaissance sculpture (particularly Michaelangelo's works), live models and photographic still lifes.

There were many influences on O'Barr's work, including such people as Will Eisner, creator of the 1940's comic strip The Spirit. This strip about a wisecracking masked crime fighter was really the first to bring cinematic visuals into comic storytelling. O'Barr learned a lot from Eisner's work, as well as the work of other artists at the time.

In 1981, he started work on The Crow, while he was stationed in Berlin.

"I joined the marines after someone very close to me was killed by a drunk driver. I just wanted to stop thinking about it and have some structure in my life. But, I was still filled with such rage and frustration that I had to get it out before it destroyed me. One day I just began drawing The Crow; it came pouring out."

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. At first, no-one was interested in The Crow, so it sat on a shelf for seven years, but at last someone wanted to publish it: Gary Reed of Caliber Press.

Musical Influences

3 masks The first part of The Crow was dedicated to Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band Joy Division. Curtis hanged himself ,aged 23, the night before the band's first US tour, apparently because of his worsening epilepsy. The four comics contain many references to music: Some of the chapter names are Joy Division songs, there are quotes from rock poet Jim Carroll and lyrics by Robert Smith of The Cure throughout - even Eric's body movements are inspired by punk icon Iggy Pop. O'Barr listened to many bands' music when in Berlin, but it was in Joy Division and The Cure's music that he found most inspiration.

Eric himself is actually based on Peter Murphy from the group Bauhaus, who O'Barr saw in Berlin. Eric's makeup is based on Irony from British theatre's three faces of drama: Pain, Irony and Despair.

The Crow In Print

Cover of graphic novel The first issue appeared from Caliber Press in February 1989. Four issues were released until financial problems forced the book to go on hold. It had been planned to end the series with a double sized chapter, Death. O'Barr turned to Tundra Publishing Ltd. to complete the story. Tundra repackaged the now out-of-print Caliber books (together with some re-written material) into a three-volume graphic novel ('Pain & Fear', 'Irony & Dispair' and 'Death'), the first of which appeared in early 1991. Death was released in May, 1992 and became the best selling single issue in Tundra Publishing's history.

In 1993, Kitchen Sink Press Inc. aquired The Crow, and released the three single issues as a 244-page graphic novel, together with unpublished art and an 8-page colour gallery (the currently available version of this is available from Titan Books). Finally, The Crow was truly complete.

A Little Piece Of Trivia...

There is a German passage in the book. It reads:
ICH BENDÜRFNES JESUS CHRISTUS HANGELENK
MEIN GEBEIN WEINEN
ODLAND, KRIEGSBIET, LEBENWEISE
GESCHWINDIGKEIT, HALBMESSER, ABSTEIG
GNAPENSTOB
It translates to:
I need the wrist of Jesus Christ
my dead body cries
wasteland, warland, land of the living
speed, measurements, going down, 
release of pain.

Some Final Words From James O'Barr

"I don't believe Eric is a hero. He can be absolutely cold-blooded and ruthless at times. When he goes into a room to get one person, everyone else in the room is probably going to die as well. I think what he's doing is terribly romantic, but I wouln't call him a hero." The Crow dramatises O'Barr's belief that "an absolute, pure love does exist," and that "there are no boundries between good and evil where love is concerned."

pic from graphic novel

The following extracts are from the Boston Phoenix:

O'Barr on the graphic novel;
"Writing The Crow didn't help at all. I thought it would be cathartic, but as I drew each page, it made me more self-destructive, if anything. There is pure anger on each page, little murders. I was more messed up by the time I was done with the book. There was a rumour going around when there was a delay between the third and fourth issues that I had committed suicide. I was annoyed by that, because God's had his elbow on my nech for this long, I feel I can stick it out. I'm not ready to put a period on that sentence yet."

On the death of Brandon Lee, and referring to Brandon's fiancé, Eliza (Lisa Hutton);
"I relived the same pain and anger as before. I wished I had never written the thing, though if I hadn't, I probably wouldn't be here, having been consumed by my very self-destructive behaviour. I was fueled by rage and fury for years and years. My soul felt like a hurrcane. I was raised in orphanages and foster homes, and I felt, like, "When is God gonna give me a break?" When Brandon died, I felt like, "Is God trying to test my limits or what?" Why let me become best friends with the guy and take him senselessly from me? God is a bastard, if there is one."

"Brandon and Eliza helped me make something positive finally come out of this. The helped me a great deal. And I had a lot of guilt associated with the money I made from this movie. It felt like blood money to me, so I've kept nothing for myself. I used the money to help a lot of people; international children's organisations, and hip replacement surgery for a 10 year old Brazilian girl who thinks I'm some big rock star or something over here - some money to my family."

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