A Lot to Crow About

Goth comic king James O'Barr at Staple! this weekend

There aren't many comics that were true cultural landmarks. The first appearance of the Yellow Kid. The first issues of Action Comics, Fantastic Four and Watchmen. But few contemporary works have had the long-running appeal of The Crow, whose creator James O'Barr is in Austin this weekend for a new documentary screening at Staple!

O'Barr will be attending a screening of Comic Book Literacy, a documentary about the role of graphic novels in keeping kids reading. The film screens at 4pm on Saturday, and he will join director Todd Kent for a Q&A afterward.

O'Barr was here last November for the inaugural Austin Wizard World, and we grabbed a quick chat with the godfather of goth comics.

Austin Chronicle: The Crow has become a cultural touch stone for a lot of people. Did that success surprise you?

James O'Barr: It's become like a right of passage for every teenager. You have to see The Crow and you have to own at least two Cure albums. It's been 21 years since I did the book, and every couple of years I get a new generation of fans. 'You weren't even born when this book came out, how did you hear about it?' And their parents show it to them or their friends tell them about it. It actually sells as good today as it did ten years ago. I'm definitely blessed, and I don't feel like that book is a curse to me because it's my baby.

AC: Indie comics can always be a crap shoot, so how quickly did you know that it had become successful?

JO'B: The Crow was more referenced to music than it was to comics, so it ended up getting into a lot of record stores. They picked up on it right away with all the musical references, and you have to remember that this was '88, '89, way ahead of that goth curve. It didn't even have a name back then. It was just alternative, although alternative to what I don't know. It was that post-punk thing of Comsat Angels, Wire, that sort of bands that were really influential, but it took 15 years for it to catch on here. I was well ahead of the curve on that, but I knew that if I liked that kind of thing, there was an audience out there for it.

AC: It definitely helped define the iconography for that musical scene.

JO'B: I actually got a thank you letter from New Order. Out of all the musical people that have stolen from them, they thought it was a guy who did a comic that really got it. Initially I used Joy Division lyrics without permission because it was a little independent comic. '5,000 copies, they're never going to see it.' It was a little flattering that, ten years later, I get a thank you letter from them for introducing Joy Division to American audiences.

Staple! The Independent Media Expo, March 5-6. Sat., 11am-6pm; Sun., noon-6pm. $10-15. The Marchesa Hall & Theatre, 6406 N. I-35 #3100, 454-2000 www.staple-austin.org

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Staple!, James O'Barr, The Crow, Comic Book Literacy, Joy Division, New Order, Todd Kent, Wire, Comsat Angels

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