The last time Supa-Star James O’Barr touched down in Australia, prior to Supanova 2020 – Melbourne and Gold Coast, he was met with a lot of confusion.
“I got to the airport in Brisbane and I’m outside, looking for the person who’s picking me up, and there’s a huge group of tourists there and they’re pointing at me and they look mad for some reason and one guy’s yelling, ‘Nick Nolte! Nick Nolte!’” O’Barr recalls, speaking with Supanova TV host Bec.
“I’m like, ‘What is he saying? Does he think I stole his luggage? I don’t understand.’ And then they all come over and they’re yelling ‘Nick Nolte!’ in my face and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying. Clearly this is my luggage, it has my name on it.’”
One of the tourists then pulled out their phone, held it up and showed O’Barr an image of Golden Globe Award-winning actor Nicholas King Nolte a.k.a Nick Nolte.
“I was like, ‘Absolutely, I am Nick Nolte and I will sign everything you have!’”
Of course, James O’Barr is the creator of the iconic 1989 graphic novel The Crow.
“Initially, for the first 10 years, I thought, because it’s very much set at a specific point in time – the early-to-mid-‘90s – and so there’s a lot of cultural references, I wasn’t sure it would age well,” he reveals.
It’s since become, as O’Barr describes, “this kind of weird cultural touchstone,” something he attributes to its universal themes of justice and retribution, love and loss, the latter of which he drew on personal experience for.
Sharing something so personal with such a wide audience was a strange experience for O’Barr.
“It was a very delicate subject at the time, as I didn’t want to be exploitative of what I went through for entertainment purposes, so I just tried to be as honest as possible, and the fact that it’s still in print means that I did something right.”
And as for a potential reboot of The Crow film?
“That reboot thing has been going on for almost 12 years now with different studios trying to make it. To me, it’s not necessary,” he says. “The Crow still holds up remarkably well. For a 10 million dollar film, it looks astonishing… it seems kind of pointless if you’re just going to be repetitious.”
So, what makes The Crow such a classic? Supanova contributor TC Phillips takes a closer look…
It’s hard to speak of James O’Barr and his heart wrenching independent comic series, The Crow, without paying due heed to the tragedies that surrounded both its creation and ongoing legacy within the pop culture landscape. Most people who are familiar with the story of Eric Draven, the broken soul who is raised from the dead and guided by a Crow to avenge the callous murder of his fiancé, know well enough the real-life tragedy which befell the production of the ’90s film adaptation.
In a stroke of extraordinarily bad luck, the film’s star Brandon Lee, son of the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, was fatally wounded on set by a prop firearm. Whilst Australian director Alex Proyas was ready to abandon production altogether in respect to Lee, it was Lee’s family who urged him to finish the nearly completed film using CGI and stunt doubles to fill in the small handful of shots Lee was unable to complete himself.
In 1994, the finished film was released, dedicated to both Lee and his fiancé Eliza Hutton, becoming an instant cult classic still beloved to this very day, and was regarded by many as the finest film of Lee’s brief career. O’Barr, who had befriended Lee during the production, would eventually fill in for Lee during the movie’s promotional tour because “he was my friend and I was proud of the work and wanted people to see it and not for ghoulish reasons.” (Dallas Observer).
Yet as tragic as this incident was, it was not the first or only tragedy linked to O’Barr’s bleak yet uniquely beautiful tale. Originally published in 1989 as a six-part graphic mini-series, the original story of The Crow began when artist James O’Barr’s own fiancé was tragically killed in an accident. O’Barr commenced work on the comic in 1981 as a means to cope with her passing, and was also inspired, in part, by the news story of a Detroit couple who had been attacked over a $20 engagement ring. It would eventually take O’Barr a full six years to complete the series, as “it was very painful to work on”.
Dark, emotional, yet possessed of a curious and inexplicable beauty, O’Barr had managed to transform all his personal pain into an incredible and visually stunning story, one which has gone on to be continuously in print for over 30 years and has inspired millions of fans. Moreover, its success in the world of independent comic publishing continues to be a source of major inspiration for thousands of other independent creators toiling away on their own beloved projects.
Since the release of The Crow, O’Barr has remained active as both an artist and writer in the indie comic sphere and has also released a number of additional books furthering the mythology started by his 1989 masterpiece. The most recent continuation of The Crow mythos to be penned by O’Barr himself is The Crow: Curare, published in 2013, in which a former Detroit police officer is driven to the brink by the murder of a young girl, who herself is returned from the dead to aid the man in his quest for vengeance.
In the same year of Curare’s release, it was announced that a new film reboot, based more closely on O’Barr’s original comics, was in production and they had signed him on as a consultant on the production. After cycling through a number of leading stars, eventually Aquaman’s Jason Mamoa was announced as the actor destined to become the next Eric Draven, and an October 2019 release date was set. Unfortunately, in 2018 Mamoa himself broke the news to fans that the reboot would not be going ahead and apologised to both fans and O’Barr alike.
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I’ve waited 8 years to play this dream role. I love you @corinhardy and @sonypictures unfortunately I may have to wait 8 more. Not our team. But I swear I will. James O’Barr sorry to let you down I won’t on the next. This film needs to be set free. And to the fans. Sorry. I can’t play anything but what this film deserves and it needs love. I’m ready when it’s right. Love u Corin aloha j
However, this news aside, the amazing legacy of O’Barr’s chilling story, and the impact it has had on the world since its original 1989 release and 1994 film adaptation, still continues to speak to fans on an emotional level few other franchises have been able to emulate. After all, “Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.”
Lead image: James O’Barr at Supanova 2020 – Melbourne. Photo by Bruce Moyle.