Movie Article

Tragic Comic

''The Crow'': The comic book -- A tradgedy of his own was the inspiration behind James O'Barr's cult favorite creation

Adding to the eerie aura that surrounds The Crow's disaster-plagued production is the story behind the cult comic book that inspired it.

Unrelentingly dark, with touches of poetry and postpunk rock imagery, The Crow grew out of the fury and grief artist James O'Barr, now in his mid-30s, felt after his girlfriend was killed more than 10 years ago in a Detroit car accident. O'Barr was finishing a three-year tour of duty in the Marines when he created a hero to play out the despair he was feeling: a young man who rises from the dead to avenge his own brutal murder and that of his fiancée. All sharp angles, twisting sinews, and demonically painted features, the character, Eric — played by Brandon Lee in the movie — is a tortured vengeance seeker. ''The Crow is without a doubt the most violent, omnivorous, tough, and soul-emptying thing I've ever done,'' O'Barr once said.

His comic sat on the shelf for eight years before he found a publisher. Caliber Press released the first 32-page stapled book in 1989 and The Crow became a cult favorite. Other issues followed, later released by Tundra Publishing with color cover art, selling more than 80,000 copies in all. (Three volumes are available: Pain & Fear, Irony & Despair, and Death.)

In late 1990 producer Jeff Most optioned the rights to the series, and the artist was enlisted to draw preliminary storyboards. ''O'Barr was very supportive of the production,'' says Crow publicist Jason D. Scott. ''He'd been down here on the set and I know he and Brandon had conversations about the character.''

Sources close to the production describe O'Barr, who still lives in the Detroit area, as a quiet, deeply private person. ''Let's just say I know my dark side intimately,'' he once said.

With Brandon Lee's shooting, O'Barr's comic-book vision has once again collided with reality. The artist's dedication to the second volume of The Crow hints at his haunted preoccupation with the tragedy of death. ''For Beverly Ann,'' it reads. ''I'll see you in Heaven, Doll.''

Originally posted Apr 16, 1993 Published in issue #166 Apr 16, 1993 Order article reprints