Comic-Con 2013: James O’Barr and F. Javier Gutierez Talk “The Crow” Reimagining

James O’Barr, creator of The Crow, and F. Javier Gutierez, the director of the upcoming reimagining of The Crow starring Luke Evans, were signing posters at the IDW booth at San Diego Comic-Con. They literally only did three interviews, and I got one of them largely because of my pitch as a 20 year fan of the series. The Crow became important to me as a memorial to Brandon Lee, a rising star I admired who was killed in an on set accident. Reading O’Barr’s book and seeing the movie that was ultimately released helped me deal with a phenomenon of a celebrity passing, who touched my life but I didn’t know personally, yet was feeling his absence.

A part of me was always conflicted about continuing the series. Even a young Franchise Fred thought maybe when the star of your movie dies on the set, that’s the one series you should wrap up in one film. Of course I continued to support the films, hoping to see another entry that honored Lee’s legacy. Now it’s been 20 years and O’Barr is consulting on Guittierez’s film. Evans would play Eric, the character Lee played and the character in O’Barr’s first Crow graphic novel, In the book, and films, Eric and Shelly are murdered by a gang, and a crow brings Eric’s spirit back to avenge her. By doing so, he will be reunited with her in the afterlife. O’Barr was inspired by the death of his own fiancé​e.

Now this interview with O’Barr and Gutierez on the Comic-Con floor is all preliminary. The Crow movie is still in development and many decisions are still in play. Still, it’s good to get the conversation started with the Crow caretakers because we’re thinking about these things. They are too, and wherever they stand today, they may still reconsider as the film develops. We hope to continue following The Crow after this conversation on the Comic-Con floor.


CraveOnline: The first series of movies unfortunately had to have a different character because of the tragic death of Brandon Lee. Since you’re retelling the Eric Draven story, is the hope that if all goes well, this can be the origin story for Eric Draven to return in subsequent movies?

James O’Barr: No, and Draven, in the book the characters’ last names are never revealed. It’s just Eric and Shelly. Hopefully the Draven will be dropped for something [less obvious]. Eric D. Raven is, you know…


But is the hope that Luke Evans would continue in multiple movies as Eric?

James O’Barr: That story has a definite ending. That being said, those same themes that make The Crow so special can be applied to any kind of genre. It could be a western. The idea of true love, injustice and revenge are universal themes. At the end of the film and the book, Eric has met all of his tasks. The whole point was so that he could be with Shelly at the end. I would rather explore different characters using the same themes. In fact, I’m doing a comic book right now for IDW that the main character is a woman this time.


I always thought that in the original series. All these men come back to avenge women. Why not have a woman come back to avenge a man’s death?

James O’Barr: I kept suggesting it for the sequels and they rejected them across the board as “Women don’t go for female heroes.” They considered them action films. I consider them romance films that are kind of bookended by violence. I don’t want to get into a bunch of gossip or nonsense like that but when it was obvious they were going to make a sequel to The Crow because it had made so much money, because I was such close friends with Brandon I wanted to take it in a completely different direction. So I wrote a draft about a woman that gets killed at her wedding. They immediately jettisoned the idea. They said, “No one’s going to buy a female as The Crow.” Now I’m exploring it as a comic book with IDW.


Good, I want to see that story. Javier, when Alex Proyas made The Crow, it was before comic book movies were so common so the visual style was a very important way to get people in. Does that mean there’s more pressure to make this Crow distinct from the Alex Proyas version, or freer that you don’t have to explain the comic book world anymore?

F. Javier Gutierez: Well, my point of view is going back to the comic books. I love Alex Proyas. I loved his visual style. I grew up with him. I’m going to try just to do my own style and my own version of that comic book, and I think actually the drawings and the paintings of James have a lot of personality to them.

James O’Barr: They’re almost storyboards. When I was doing it, I was thinking of a film rather than comics. I wanted to tell a very cinematic story. You write down the insert shots and just very filmatic elements that you don’t normally see in comic books. Long, long sequences of silence which you never see in comics. There’s a 12 page sequence in The Crow that doesn’t have a single word of dialogue on it. You would never see that in a Marvel or DC book.

F. Javier Gutierez: The comic book has a very strong personality. Going back to the source material for a little bit of the movie, the previous movie, the comic book has a very, very strong personality and that’s the thing that we’re going to try to capture in this movie. We’re going to try to portray some of the amazing sequences that James made in the comic book but were not in the other movies. We’re forgetting completely about other movies. Me, the director, I’m not thinking about remakes. I’m just thinking, “Oh, I love this comic book. There’s a lot of heart and emotion in this one. I really, really wanted to try as much as we can to portray those elements for the new generation and for the fans that are going to appreciate that. They’re going to see glimpses of the original comic book in there.


Do you think you’ll be able to use real birds?

F. Javier Gutierez: Yeah, obviously there must be some birds.


But now would you use a lot of CGI birds?

F. Javier Gutierez: Oh yeah, I’m not a big fan of CGI if we can avoid it. Sometimes it feels more real when it’s real. So we’ll do a combination of both for certain sequences and for certain moments.


Luke Evans is not a martial artist like Brandon Lee was. Is the idea to have a different sort of action, or do you have a lot of fight scenes planned?

F. Javier Gutierez: We haven’t worked yet on the fight scenes. They’re going to have a lot of personality too. I’m not thinking of martial arts. In the comic book there is no such thing. It is more gritty and real but it’s still gritty and fun, but that’s the part we are still working out.


The soundtrack was very important to the Alex Proyas movie. Will music be as big a part of your film?

F. Javier Gutierez: Yeah, it’s going to be. Actually, we are going to start to have meetings about the soundtrack because it’s something that the studio will want to take care about. But we are still exploring that, to give the touch of the darkness that we are looking for in The Crow so everybody’s going to be happy with it, but at the same time to explore different options. So we are working right now.


Will you be going for another R-rated film? Have they okayed that?

F. Javier Gutierez: I think we we are going to try to do the best movie we can, then later deal with the rating. We are going to go dark. We’re going to try to be violent and hardcore because it’s a very strong story. Then we’ll deal later with the politics of the PG vs…


The Skull Cowboy had to be removed from the ’94 film. Could that subplot be included in this version?

James O’Barr: Yeah, that character will definitely be back. He’s just a visual metaphor for death. It’s not a particular character. It’s not a cowboy.

F. Javier Gutierez: Everything has more of a symbolism and that’s the coolest about this work. Everything has a meaning.

James O’Barr: I mean, In one sequence he’s a train conductor. In another sequence he comes in in a tuxedo but really it just is a visual metaphor for death that prompts Eric to not give up his tasks.


Skull Cowboy is probably the name it got once there was talk about the scenes being deleted, and some were never shot.

James O’Barr: And I did talk to Michael Berryman and he said he would love to play Death. He was the original Skull Cowboy.


There’s so much tragedy connected to The Crow. Your original was inspired by tragedy. There were many tragedies, including the ultimate tragedy on the set of the first film. Has there ever been a point where you thought maybe this is something that should be let go?

James O’Barr: Oh yeah, for the longest time. I never thought it was cursed but it seemed to have this black balloon of misery that followed it around. It’s only been recently, maybe within the last 10 years that I’ve kind of re-examined it and realized it’s more of a celebration of a love story than about the loss. It’s more about Eric and Shelly, for me anyhow, when they were happy because those are literally moments right from my life. I’ve learned to appreciate and celebrate those moments. Unfortunately we only recognize them in retrospect after they’ve already occurred. The real trick is to know a perfect moment when it’s happening. So yeah, for a long time I did feel like there were black clouds tethered to it. I mean, how could I not? It was born out of tragedy and that just seemed to be its legacy.


Has it ultimately been a helpful way for you to come to terms with that tragedy?

James O’Barr: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know how much I would say it was the book or just part of maturing. Getting older and understanding life’s complexities a little bit more, and realized how fortunate I was to be loved like that. To be loved to that degree, because very few people get that, that one, true, honest love that just has a purity to it is very spiritual, if not God-like itself. The total acceptance of another human being of who you actually are and not their idea of who you are. Now I’m getting all poetic…


It has been over 20 years. Have you had a comparable love since that loss?

James O’Barr: I have had relationships that were just as extreme but just like every Beatles record, it’s still The Beatles but every one is different. The definitions of them change from woman to woman, not that there were a lot of them but I’ve had that. Probably more than I deserve.


Well, it’s helpful to know that you can have more experience after overcoming a tragedy like that.

James O’Barr: Absolutely, and fans thank me all the time for helping them through whatever the most miserable part of their life had been, and to realize that there is hope. Things will not always be this way.


It can’t rain all the time. And were you gratified to see a lot of people dress up as The Crow for Halloweens in the ‘90s?

James O’Barr: Obviously I was very flattered but I try to separate that from who I am. When I see references to The Crow on “L.A. Law,” “The Office,” even “South Park,” that’s something separate from me. That’s something I just feel like I was vaguely involved in. I’m the same humble artist I was 30 years ago. Success hasn’t changed me. It’s just made things a little easier.


More Comic-Con Coverage!