James O’Barr talks growing up Downriver, new ‘Crow’ movie in advance of appearance at Motor City Comic Con
The graphic novel compendium is the best selling independent black and white comic of all time, with more than 1.5 million units sold.
That’s common knowledge among comic book fans, and the wider pop culture purveyors of the world.
There have been four movies, with a fifth on the way, a television series, prose novels and tons of spin off comics.
What isn’t well know, much of the basis for the story, and some of the writing and art was completed Downriver.
Creator James O’Barr is often hailed as being from Detroit, but before he moved to the big city, he grew up in Taylor and later River Rouge.
First published in 1989 by Caliber Comics, the story for the original run was born out of personal anguish and never intended to be seen by others.
“It’s easy to be fearless when you don’t think anyone else will see it,” O’Barr said. “I had a personal loss and needed to find a way to deal with it that wasn’t self destructive. I decided to use the comics as a diary with no intentions of it ever being published.”
After sitting on the story for years, O’Barr decided to let the book be published by Gary Reed and his start-up company Caliber Comics.
At the time Reed was a comic shop owner and could assure the books would see shelf space in his stores at least.
“I figured it would be nice to see in book format,” O’Barr said. “Figured they were an independent publisher that would make a few thousand copies and that would be it.”
O’Barr called the book atypical for the general comic book audience.
“It’s not for a mass audience,” he said. “There’s no superheroes in it, it’s dark and broody, black and white. It took a while for it to find a comic audience, but it did well in record stores right away.
“It was amazing to go to a record store and see my comic and wonder how they even found out about it. The musicians latched onto it and it grew from there.”
From there, history was made.The book quickly gained popularity, and was being stocked in more than just Reed’s stores. It was in just about every comic shop in Michigan, and quickly spread to more record stores and other locations as well.
O’Barr got used to being a “rockstar” of sorts in the metro Detroit area, but didn’t realize how far the book had reached. Not long after the book came out he travelled to England and Germany, where he saw his book in stores across the pond as well.
“It was kind of surreal,” he said. “I was still centered in Detroit and didn’t think about having an impact anywhere else. I did resist the urge go in and say ‘hey I did that, that’s mine.’”
Eventually the book was translated into more than a dozen languages and sold worldwide.
Not long after the book started selling, Hollywood came calling.
“The ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’ movie was about to be released and it was going to make a ton of money,” he said. “Companies started buying up the rights to all the comics they could. I never expected it to get made.”
Not only was the movie made, but it was both a box office and critical success. It later spawned three sequels and a television series. O’Barr only worked on the first movie.
“I thought we made the movie we set out to make,” he said. “After that I didn’t want to be involved.”
That changed recently though. I new movie is being produced, and he’s involved as much as he can be like he was on the original. Due to contract negotiations there aren’t many details he can talk about, but he assures it will be a good movie.
“It’s not a remake of the Brandon Lee film,” he said. “It’s going right back to the source material. Everything is going amazingly well on it.”
O’Barr, who moved to Texas several years ago will be returning to the Motor City for the second year in a row as he is a featured guest at the Motor City Comic Con.
The show opens Friday at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
The show is open all weekend.
Friday 12:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.