Twenty three years ago, a young Detroit Marine veteran created The Crow, a comic series fueled by the tragic death of his fiancée from a drunk driver, and that comic series came to be one of independent comics’ definitive works. As the years went on, James O’Barr’s The Crow transitioned to be a part of the American psyche with the success of a 1994 film, which prompted several sequels, spin-offs and comics work by others. But now, IDW had brought back together The Crow and it’s creator James O’Barr to tell his first new Crow story in over a decade.
Launched earlier this week, The Crow: Skinning The Wolves is a three-issue miniseries that follows the vengeful avian spirit guide the Crow as it finds a host in a World War 2 European concentration camp. It’s a story O’Barr had been hoping to tell for almost twenty years, and one he’s finally able to do thanks to IDW acquiring The Crow license. Promised as the first in a line of books based on The Crow franchise, The Crow: Skinning The Wolves sees O’Barr teaming with artist Jim Terry to make this vision a reality.
Newsarama: After all this time James, what brought you back to do a new Crow story?James O’Barr: It was pretty much IDW. They wanted my involvement once they got the license to do The Crow comics.
Over the years other companies have worked with The Crow license… I don’t want to say they failed, but most didn’t last long. When IDW got the license earlier this year however, they were pretty adamant about having my input on the comics. Apparently the other publishers really didn’t understand what the premise of The Crow was and what made it work. They reverted to John Woo action films, and that’s not what it’s about. When done right, The Crow stories is about romance, justice and retribution. Pretty much in that order.
So IDW asked if I would kind of oversee the license, and I told them what I’d need to be involed and they were really easy to work with. I gave them a couple basic premises for books I wanted to do, and a list of artists I wanted to work with. And IDW’s Chris Ryall pretty much said “Okay James, do what you do!” and so far it’s been really great.Nrama: So let’s get into the new book; What is The Crow: Skinning The Wolves about?
O’Barr: It’s set in a nondescript World War 2 concentration camp; I didn’t want to narrow it down to one specific ethnic group, as a lot of people were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Essentially, if there’s a tagline then it’s about a man who went up in the ovens, came back and is very unhappy. So essentially the Crow kills every German in the camp and the dogs too. It’s a chance to go and get justice and retribution in a storyline where none existed in real life. And Jim Terry, IDW and I have been very careful about not trivializing the occurrences that happened at the concentration camps.
Nrama: The original Crow Eric Draven was quite memorable. Can you tell us about the person the Crow picks to make his vengeance known?O’Barr: There isn’t a lot of background about our Crow in this one, Chris. He’s intentionally mysterious, enigmatic and anonymous. It could be any one of the millions who went into the ovens. There isn’t a lot of backstory for our Crow here, but Jim Terry did help me develop more backstory on the other characters. For instance, Jim put in a piece about the commandant of the camps and how he likes to play chess with the prisoners; I liked that.
Our Crow in this story is a Clint Eastwood-type. He’s like the man with no name; in fact, he doesn’t have a name in this story. It’s important to keep him relatively nondescript and serious.
Nrama: This book is set in a 1945 German concentration camp. I know you served in the Marines in Germany in the early 80s – how did that experience affect what you’re doing here?O’Barr: I was in from 1978 to 1986, and things have changed a lot since them. The Wall’s come down, and there’s been more acceptance of Germany’s involvement in the two world wars. But at the time I was over there, no one spoke of it… no one. I don’t know if it was our of shame, denial or what. For instance, I would be taking tours along the Rhine and there will be an 88 mm shell lying in the river and no one would mention it. There’s be bunkers up on hills, but the tour guide wouldn’t mention it. Germany’s changed a lot, but I’ve always had a fascination for World War II. My father served in it.
In my mind there are no good wars, but WW2 was the last essential war. Where there was definitely legitimate evil involved. I’ve always been fascinated with that. And not just the European part, but the Pacific as well.
Nrama: Did you do a lot of research for this series?O’Barr: Well, both Jim Terry and I are pretty big WW2 buffs so we had seem all the films and we’ve traded photo reference back and forth. When you’re dealing with a fantasy element like the Crow, it’s important to have historical accuracy and realism to keep it grounded. We knew it was important to, for instance, have the right insignia on a soldier’s helment and not just a generalized Nazi. That’s one of the things most people make mistakes on; most of the soldiers weren’t Nazi soldiers, but footsoldiers. It was important to get accuracy from thigns like costumes to insignia as well as layout of the camps even.
Nrama: In the press release, you said this is a book you had been working on before the movie came out and that you had to put on hold. What is it about this story that stayed with you and led to you returning to it to finish so many years later?O’Barr: When I originally wrote it, it wasn’t even a Crow project. It was something similar, but it didn’t have the Crow. The subject matter of the stoey was something that interested me, and something I’d been fascinated by for years. Even though I wasn’t able to finish the story for years, it was really strong and visually compelling and it stuck with me. When IDW got The Crow license, I realized it would be a perfect fit. I had done layouts for the first 20 pages back in the 1990s and had the entire story outlined, so when IDW and I came together I realized it had been sitting on the shelf wanting for this chance to be finished.
As for bringing in Jim Terry, I met him about fifteen years ago and have always been a cheerleader for his work, and his coach. As I was dusting off this story for IDW, I thought Jim would be a perfect for it. We have the same cinematic tendencies, and we love the same kind of odd camera angles. With our mutual love for film noir, and his big Will Eisner influence I thought he would be perfect. So I sent him the layouts and storyline I had done and then we took it from there.And he’s done a phenomenal job with it. He’s added elements that I didn’t have in my notes that really made this story better. It’s like taking a B-movie and making it much, much better than it originally was.
Nrama In the beginning of our interview you mentioned “stories” as in plural for The Crow. Can fans expect more work from you with the Crow in the future at IDW?
O’Barr: Absolutely. I’m already working on another one with a French artist that we haven’t announced yet. It’s also mired in real historical events, which helps keep a fantastical concept like the Crow grounded.
The idea in working with IDW is that the basic premise for the Crow can be used in any time, anywhere, and in any circumstance… as long it has those three things I mentioned: romance/love, justice and retribution. They’re universal themes.