James O’Barr’s “The Crow”

James O'Barr's The Crow

James O'Barr's The Crow

I first found The Crow on my library’s bookshelf over four years ago. I was ecstatic to find that my poor, homely public library actually possessed a meager comic book and graphic novel section. Up until that point, I had never really read any comic books. But I pulled out The Crow out of curiosity and opened to the very back, and found the character drawings of Eric (The Crow). I knew right than that I had to check it out. I took it home and read it in probably about an hour and a half. I set it down, sat in silence for a moment, and read it again.

The story follows Eric, our leather-clad hero, as he wanders the filthy streets of the city in search of vengeance for atrocities committed to his wife and himself a year past. He is lead by his familiar, a cynical bastard of a black crow that came to him on the day of his supposed death, granting him relief and guiding him to vengeance. As the story progresses, Eric systematically picks off the poor bastards on his shit list, while flashbacks and dream sequences explain what exactly happened to him one year before. And when it’s finally spelled out to the reader, his makeup and actions become completely pardoned. The story of the Crow and his path through redemption is interrupted periodically with poems and songs of various authors; all of which empower the tone of the story and make it all the more moving.

Artistically, the visuals are superb. Each page is done in pure black and white, heavily shadowed. Everything looks filthy and broken, adding to the gothic atmosphere of the story. Before getting in to comics, O’Barr spent a lot of time drawing and studying Greco-Roman and Renaissance sculptures, and it shows in his depictions of Eric’s anatomy. There are a few panels in which faces look peculiar, anatomy seems a bit skewed, or the panel is just ambiguous. (One of the panels during a flashback scene still has me perplexed to this day.) But overall, the anatomy- especially Erics- is beautiful, and the gothic cityscape is awe-inspiring. The artwork employs several different techniques throughout the story, each subtle difference making it that much stronger.

The story itself is rife with symbolism and powerful imagery, both artistically and linguistically. To be honest, I think I could write essays on all of the different aspects of this story that make it a literary masterpiece. It’s not just senseless violence, though there is definitely more than enough action to please anyone. Every detail on each panel is greatly significant, and it’s not always spelled out directly for the reader. There is no conclusion as to whether Eric is in fact undead, or if there is any real crow, or if he is just a madman who was pushed to the edge and cracked. He speaks in quotations and riddles, giving him a surreal quality and separating him from the rest of the world. His dialogue fits perfectly into the world as he sees it- gothic (in the literal sense of the word), violent and filthy. But it’s lost on the rest of the characters, who see nothing beyond their everyday lives. It gets to the point where it seems that only Eric can see how crazy the world is.

Beyond all of that, I have to acknowledge that there are a few books that I honestly believe have changed my life. The Crow is one of them.

I know, I know. We all knew about the kids in high school who thought they were the Crow. Dressed in all black, did the whole “Theater Mask Make Up” thing. That’s not how The Crow changed me. No, the Crow didn’t make me turn away from the world. It was nothing like that.

And until just now, I wasn’t really sure how to describe what The Crow did for me. But I think I have it. As corny as it sounds, The Crow made me believe, wholeheartedly, that love really is a powerful force. I mean, Walt Disney’s been saying it for years. But waking up the princess with a kiss just doesn’t say it as well as pumping yourself full of morphine and massacring gangbangers while they shoot you all to hell.  And the fact that O’Barr wrote it as an attempt at self-catharsis over the death of the only person he ever loved further empowers the love story.

Because that’s exactly what The Crow is. It’s a love story. And if you only know it by the god-awful movies (the first one was just barely okay, and the only one based- loosely- on the comic) it is most definitely worth being given another chance. And if you don’t know it at all, it is most definitely worth checking out; the story and artwork make it perfect for readers both new and familiar to the format. And beyond it all, it became one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I’d recommend this book for just about anyone: but most especially if you have a guilty pleasure for vengeance and love.

The Crow, by James O’Barr

P.S. 2009 marks the 20th Anniversary of The Crow’s publication. For years O’Barr has been mentioning republishing The Crow in an “Author’s Edition”, which would include over fifty pages that had to be cut from the original publication. If there’s a time it will be released, it will most likely be in the upcoming year. I will most definitely be checking it out, and you should as well!

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One Response to James O’Barr’s “The Crow”

  1. ForGotten says:

    cool

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