Writer and artist James O’Barr created his character The Crow in the early ’80s as a response to a personal tragedy. A self-taught artist, O’Barr first worked on his story of love, death, and retribution while stationed in Berlin with the Marines, where he was on loan to the Army to illustrate hand-to-hand combat manuals. (Warning: Don’t get James into a fight; he knows which bones to break.) Inspired by such diverse sources as the French poets Georges Bataille, Antonin Artaud and Arthur Rimbaud, musicians like Iggy Pop, Ian Curtis and Robert Smith and the writers Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe and A.A. Attanasio, James O’Barr conceived the character of The Crow as a supernatural force driven by equal parts love and revenge.
“After someone very close to me was killed by a drunk driver, I joined the Marines. I just wanted to stop thinking 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. My character Eric is able to return from the grave because some things just cannot be forgiven; and I believe that there could be a love so strong that it could transcend death, that it could refuse death, and this soul would not rest until it set things right.”
“Writing The Crow didn’t help at all,” he says. “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 rumor going around when there was a delay between the third and fourth issue that I had committed suicide. I was annoyed by that, because God’s had his elbow on my neck for this long, I feel I can stick it out. I’m not ready to put a period on that sentence yet.” (“Reliving the Pain” by Lisa Susser, May 13, 1994)
No stranger to life’s adversities, O’Barr had a series of odd jobs, including auto detailing for a Detroit body shop. Some time later, James showed The Crow to the owner of a small chain of comic book stores who was thinking of starting his own line of titles. Subsequently, the first issue of The Crow appeared from Caliber Press in February, 1989. Three more issues appeared that year before the book went on hiatus; during this time, O’Barr also painted covers for other Caliber titles, including the popular Deadworld.
O’Barr eventually left Caliber, finding a home for The Crow with Kevin Eastman’s Tundra Publishing. In early 1992, the material from the four Caliber comics was reprinted as the first two books of a three-volume graphic novel series. O’Barr finished telling the story of The Crow when the third chapter, entitled “Death,” appeared in May of that year. The movie adaptation of The Crow, starring the late Brandon Lee, became a #1 box-office hit in its first week of release.
“I always saw The Crow as a fixed story, never a continuing character like in the superhero books. With every one of the people Eric kills who perpetrated the crime against him and his fiancee, he is erasing his reason for being.”
O’Barr credits his distinctive visual style to his study of classical Renaissance sculpture, ’40s noir crime films, as well as two years of medical school.