James O’Barr’s epic tale of love, justice and revenge returns in June with “The Crow: Curare.” The title, scripted by O’Barr with art by Antoine Dode, marks the creator’s second “Crow” miniseries since bringing the property to
CBR News: What’s the gist of “The Crow: Curare?”
James O’Barr: Curare is one of the most deadly poisons in the world. It’s what the natives in Africa used on their spear tips, and it’s a play on one of the characters names, her name is Carrie. It’s a metaphor for how her death poisoned the life of this one other character.
The basic premise is — and it’s based on a true incident — is that a nine year-old girl was raped and murdered and a cop spent the next ten years of his life trying to solve the case. Literally, he became obsessed with it to where he eventually lost his job and his family. Every support system he had he lost pursuing this case. In reality, the case was never solved. But the Crow tends to get justice in a world where usually there is none.
When did you first hear about the case?
I read about it in either like “Life” or “Time.” It happened in 1973, so it was a while ago. I like to play with period pieces. I mean, ’73 isn’t that long ago, but I don’t have to deal with cell phones and computers and things like that. Plus, that’s the era I grew up in and the era I know best.
So “Curare” is set in 1973?
1973. Yeah. ’73 – ’83. The entire story takes place over a ten-year timespan.
When you come across crime stories in the news, how do you decide which ones could make a good basis for “The Crow?”
Usually, it’s a story that sticks with me that is really either heartbreaking or profound. [With “Curare,” it was also] the fact that they did not even know this little girl’s name. I think it says Jane Doe on her tombstone. It really affected me, especially after I became a parent. I can’t imagine the loss of a child in that way.
This is without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I was not expecting that, either. It was almost impossible for me to not relate that incident to my own daughter, how I would feel. It’s definitely some of the best writing I’ve ever done in my life, but I walk away from the drawing board feeling sick to my stomach afterwards.
Is Joe Salk, who is mentioned in solicitations, the new Crow in “Curare?”
Actually, the premise of the story is ten years later. Joe has been forced into retirement and he’s literally just sitting in an empty house because his wife and kids have left him, drinking himself to death. The ghost of the little girl comes to help him solve the case. The girl is actually the Crow figure in this one.
This is your second “Crow” miniseries with IDW Publishing. What’s it been like working with them?
I have nothing but praise for IDW. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like I was working with a company and not for a company. They essentially tell me, “James, you go do what you do.” The editorial input has only been, “When can you get the pages in?” It’s been a great relationship. I have nothing but praise. Chris Ryall is my editor, and he’s been phenomenal.
“Curare” and [“The Crow: Skinning the Wolves,”] I wrote them, but they’re drawn by other artists. [IDW] readily acquiesced to both artists, even though they’re unknowns in the US. They’re not name artists, but they’re artists that I admire and I think have a great deal of potential.
Are you providing breakdowns for the art in “Curare?”
I provided breakdowns on the first one for Jim Terry, the one set in the concentration camp. Antoine Dode, who’s doing the “Curare” book, is French and it’s just been easier for me because I don’t use computers a whole lot. I don’t even have a scanner or anything like that, so I write him full scripts and he emails me his own breakdowns.
How many more series of “The Crow” do you think are left?
The really nice thing about “The Crow” is that it uses universal themes. Love, justice and revenge are universal themes. They can be set in any place or time. As long as the emotional content is valid, I think the book works really well. “The Crow” isn’t a fashion statement; it’s more about romance and retribution.
That being said, everything I do is going to be dark, brutal, gothic and romantic because that’s who I am. That’s what appeals to me, I have no desire to draw unicorns and rainbows. That stuff just seems kind of shallow to me. It takes so much effort for me to do a book that I have to have some kind of personal vested interest in it. I want to go on a journey with these characters. It’s equally about telling a good story and kinda probing these dark places in my head and my soul. If that doesn’t sound too elitist.
Do you think you’ll ever illustrate another “Crow” yourself?
That’s the reason I actually picked some other artists to do these, because I’m doing one all by myself, next. Writing, penciling, inking and even doing all the lettering because I’m very old school.
Like I said, I don’t use computers or anything. If it’s on the printed page, it’s on the original artwork. Including Zip A Tone. I don’t use Photoshop. I think I’m one of the last of the craftsmen in the business who does everything by hand, just because it’s more rewarding for me to play around with the page.
I think the problem with people who rely on Photoshop and Wacom tablets and these other things is that it doesn’t allow them to be fearless because there’s that undo button. I like that about myself. You have to be fearless and dive into it. If it doesn’t work, you scrap it and start over again. I can’t see myself changing my working method anytime soon.
The two issues that I’ve written for other people are all self-contained books. That’s my deal with IDW. There’s no ongoing series — they’re all like short stories, three to five issues long. The one I’m doing is probably going to be six or seven issues long, just because I like to have a lot of room to play.
When do you think that’ll come out?
I’m just about finished with the third book. I don’t want there to be any kind of time lag in between issues, so I figure by the time I get the third one done, they can solicit for it. It’s called “The Engines of Despair.”
Can you reveal any of its premise?
Absolutely. This one stars a woman. The genesis for it was actually a sequel I wrote for a “Crow” film after the first film came out. It was obvious they were gonna do another sequel, even though that was the last thing I wanted because I felt, that was Brandon Lee’s legacy. Just leave it alone. But when they insisted on making another “Crow” film, I thought, let me try something and take it in a completely different direction. This was like ’94, I think. Or early ’95.
So I wrote a treatment about a woman that gets killed at her wedding and then comes back. They paid me for it, but they said, “This is useless to us — no one’s gonna go for a female Crow. There just isn’t a market for that.” So they essentially just shelved it.
Astonishingly enough, [Laughs] six years later, “Kill Bill” comes out from the same movie company. I don’t want to say it’s the exact same story, because I didn’t have any of that Kung Fu nonsense in there, but the stories are so similar that I can’t believe Tarantino or one of his assistants didn’t see it or read it.
Are there specific plot points in “Kill Bill” that mirrored your story?
There were, but I’ve altered them so it takes them in a completely different direction. I still have the production art that I did.
In my book, the woman’s in her bridal dress through the whole thing. As the book progresses, the dress gets more and more distressed. It gets burned up and covered in blood and it’s held together by wire and nails and electrical tape. It definitely has that kind of gothic fashion element in it.
I purposefully steered it away from anything that would point towards “Kill Bill.” And I also plan on running a disclaimer saying, “Look: this was written six years before ‘Kill Bill,’ and here’s some of the artwork I did to prove it.”
Not that I don’t think “Kill Bill” is a phenomenal movie. It’s just I don’t want anyone thinking I cribbed anything from [Tarantino.]
Speaking of movies, what’s been going on with the latest “Crow” film?
I’m so hard divorced from Hollywood that I really don’t know. I just prefer to stay away from it.
I kind of feel like I made my “Crow” movie. I have nothing else to say with it. It’s not a “Star Trek” franchise. It’s not a fucking James Bond franchise. It has a definite ending. It wasn’t meant to be this ongoing series — especially if you’re just gonna repeat the same elements over and over and over.
My attitude is, do whatever you want — just send me the check. I still own the character and the publication rights, and they own the film and TV rights. So they have to pay me regardless.
Their choices of lead actor have just astounded me. From Marky Mark to Channing Tatum and Bradley Cooper. James McAvoy was the latest one I heard attached to it.
What do you think about McAvoy potentially portraying the Crow?
I think he’s a phenomenal actor, but he’s like five feet tall and I just cannot see him doing the physical end of it. I wish him the best, but I don’t have great expectations. I think the reality is, no matter who you get to star in it, or if you get Ridley Scott to direct it and spend 200 million dollars, you’re still not gonna top what Brandon Lee and Alex Proyas did in that first ten million dollar movie.
Do you have any non-“Crow” projects coming up?
I’m working on a couple other projects. I’ve been wanting to do a war book for a long time. My father was in World War II. I feel like between “Sgt. Rock” and “Saving Private Ryan,” the World War II movies have kinda been strip-mined.
I want to do a Korea story. I’ve been reading tons of research on Korea and some of the stories are just astounding. So I’m putting together a book on one company, Fox Company, in Korea. They are actually the real “300.” The real 300 Spartans. It was 235 Marines holding off 20,000 well-armed Chinese soldiers in this sub-zero mountain pass. It’s all based on fact. Every character in the book is a real character. As soon as I finish this “Crow” book, that’s the next book I hope to jump into.
Is there anything else you have coming out? Anything to share with your fans?
For some reason, people think I’m a recluse and that’s just not the fact. I do 15-20 shows a year. I’m not one of those people who sells things on eBay or on a website or things like that. I do these conventions to meet the fans. I have to show my gratitude because they allow me to do what I love for a living. Anytime I’m at a convention, I hope people will come up to see me. They can see some new artwork or pick up some sketches and things.
I’m very friendly, charming, approachable and affable. [Laughs]
“The Crow: Curare” #1, by James O’Barr with art by Antoine Dode, hits shelves this June from IDW Publishing.