On the final morning of the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo [C2E2], Dark Horse Comics Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie hosted a spotlight panel for Geof Darrow, whose intricately detailed art was integral to the worlds of “Hard Boiled” and “Big Guy and Rusty the Robot,” both co-created with Frank Miller, as well as his own “Shaolin Cowboy.” And while fans love his art’s intricacies and detail, his style, Darrow would reveal throughout the panel, has also caused no small amount of consternation for colorists through the years.
“Thanks for coming out, but why aren’t you all in church?” Allie joked to start the panel. “I’ve never been Geof’s editor,” he noted, with Darrow adding, “because he’s got too good of taste.”
The first slide was from the original “Dark Horse Presents” #19, Darrow’s first work with Dark Horse and the debut of Bourbon Thret. Darrow spoke about his conversations with Frank Miller, who wanted to do something outside of Marvel and DC and reportedly asked Darrow, “What about Dark Horse?” “I said, well, they’re really good people,” Darrow recalled, after his own experience had shown them to be “trustworthy and reliable.” He and Miller would ultimately create “Hard Boiled” together, Darrow’s first major US work.
Darrow, who has lived in Paris, Tokyo, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities, said “there was not much going on” in his home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After comics were pushed out of supermarkets, “you could not find current comics” without going to another city, though he was able to acquire some from a drug store.
Moebius, the pen name of Jean Giraud, was one of the first artists to make a real impression on Darrow. “I used to get this thing called [Comic] Buyer’s Guide,” he said, which had ads for importer Bud Plant. “I ordered ‘Lieutenant Blueberry’ by Moebius and a few other things. It was all in French, so I couldn’t read it. But look at the art!
“I thought there was a magic formula to drawing,” Darrow said of his early days drawing in high school. He cited follow-along television tutorials, which were never quite satisfying. “There was a kid in high school who could draw really well, and I’d watch him… When I got into art school, I thought they’d teach me this magic formula.”
While drawing “Hard Boiled,” Darrow worked in a comic shop on Saturdays, “kind of as a joke” and “just to see people.” He would prank call his boss to send her after Bathound comics, amusedly watching her search through the store’s stock.
Darrow segued from talking about being a sound man on an adult film to working for Hanna-Barbara. “You have to show your portfolio, and I swear to God, the name of the guy who ran the department was Harry Love.” Love would approach younger female staffers and pull a picture of his wallet, saying, “This isn’t my real face — I was in a horrible accident and this is my real face, so imagine this…”
He wound up drawing space ships for Hanna-Barbara, but had trouble with the 360-degree rotation. “I ended up working on ‘Richie Rich’ — no spaceships, but some robots.
“Jack [Kirby] would walk into the office once a week, his wife would drive him in,” Darrow said of their shared time at Hanna-Barbara. But the studio “would change everything; you couldn’t tell Jack had worked on it.”
While Darrow described Kirby as “sweet,” by contrast, Alex Toth “was very angry, because he felt like they weren’t paying him enough. He was a good one for asking for money.” Darrow said Toth asked him if Moebius “got a lot of money for working on ‘Tron.'” When Darrow said yes, Toth reportedly “stormed out of the room.”
Prompted by Allie to talk about how he got to know Moebius, Darrow said he dreamed of meeting the artist when Jean Giraud was working for Disney. “Disney — those guys were the real artists. We, at Hanna-Barbara, were so far below,” Darrow said, noting that HB had “some great artists,” but they were not allowed to shine. He mentioned to a friend at Disney that he’d just like to shake Moebius’ hand, and that friend set up a dinner. “He came to my apartment, that’s how we met,” Darrow said. “It turned out, he didn’t know anybody [in town]. He was happy to go out.”
While Darrow was reluctant to show Moebius his work, when Giraud ultimately asked, Darrow hesitatingly obliged. “He really liked it. He tried to get me work on ‘Tron!’ The funny thing is, he thought I was trying to work in geometrics, but it was just me trying to figure out perspective.”
Darrow said that, having only four pages for a Bourbon Thret short in “Metal Hurlant,” he drew it with 20 panels per page. He moved to France to work on a comic with Moebius about “this crazy sect” Moebius was a part of, but the comic fell apart because Moebius moved to Tahiti with the cult.
“This cult leader had so much control that, if you know Moebius’ work, at one time he was drawing a lot of crystals,” and this was because there were a number of things “you weren’t allowed to draw,” Darrow said.
The two artists did eventually collaborate, on “City of Fire,” which Darrow penciled and Moebius inked and colored, requiring Darrow to “send the pages to Tahiti.”
Allie said he watched Moebius drawing once at San Diego Comic-Con in a book for Michael and Laura Allred. “It’s like I was in church — which is where you should all be right now.”
Allie clarified that “Bourbon Thret is Shaolin Cowboy. It’s not two versions,” with Dark Horse recently announcing a collection of the original material with new coloring. Darrow said that the original colorist of the first ten pages quit because his work was too detailed, and the stories “ended up having about four different colorists.”
Darrow said he always liked Westerns but “didn’t want to do another guy who looks like Clint Eastwood.” He was also inspired by Japanese films and the idea of “stringing words together” for a title.
On “Hard Boiled,” “Frank was going to pay me to do it, a certain amount of money of month,” Darrow said. However, “I’m not that fast.” Darrow remembers adding details in order to impress Miller, but “I think it kind of freaked him out.”
Darrow and Miller’s next project together, “Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot,” came from Darrow talking with Marvel about wanting to do “Iron Man.” “I want to do the grey one who looks like a refrigerator,” Darrow said, which Marvel had no interest in.
“Shaolin Cowboy” began at Burlyman, a publisher owned by the Wachowskis of “The Matrix” fame, before shifting to Dark Horse, with a visual novel written by Andrew Vachss followed by a new comic series.
Vachss, Darrow said, “is a very serious man working in a very serious business. I asked him, do you ever write for fun?” Darrow, putting on a gravelly voice imitating Vachss, said, “No, I don’t do that,” but, since he liked “Shaolin Cowboy,” “I’d do that.”
Darrow said that the tagline for his Bourbon Thret series with Moebius’ Aedena company was “C’est fou,” or, “it’s crazy” — which was also Perrier’s slogan at the time. “Maybe because I’m so bubbly,” Darrow joked.
Allie and Darrow spoke about his covers for the current series of “Dark Horse Presents.” “Somebody got mad at me because I put a dog in a car,” Darrow said. “It’s a comic book. And people do that. It’s not my sport to put dogs in hot cars over the summer and leave them there.”
On the “Shaolin Cowboy” collection, Darrow said, “the whole story is on the cover.” A new, recolored edition of “Big Guy and Rusty the Robot” will be released in October. “[Dark Horse Publisher] Mike [Richardson] wanted to do an Artist Edition of ‘Hard Boiled,’ but I don’t have any of that.”
Next, Darrow introduced pencil tests for an animated “Shaolin Cowboy” feature from Madhouse Studios that was never completed, before playing it on the screen. “It wasn’t an adaptation of the comic; it was an entirely new story.”
The movie would have been called “Shaolin Cowboy and the Tomb of Doom,” and Darrow narrated the animation test, which did not have sound. As the hero fights a giant monster alongside a poodle, Darrow said the dog was named Sarko, after then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The dog talked and “was a real asshole.” (As if on cue, the dog flipped on screen, exposing its detailed backside.)
“He actually loves dogs,” Allie said.
“Not poodles so much,” Darrow clarified.
Darrow said that all of the film’s animals were of the talking variety, which did not thrill the Japanese studio. “The Japanese didn’t like talking animals, but I said, ‘It’s reincarnation, and everybody in this movie believes in reincarnation.'”
The movie also featured a villain called King Crab, a talking crab that controlled a human with its pincers in his brain and ran a strip club called Bush Gardens.
Sadly, Darrow said that it would take about $3 million to finish the film, and since the financiers backed out, it will likely never be completed.
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