James O’Barr’s The Crow is one of the many pop cultural and graphic novel characters and stories you hear about growing up. But as this was my first time actually reading the book and getting a good look at it, I can understand why. I would most likely chalk its popularity up to the art style and overall presentation of the story in general. For starters, the book’s segments are notified by poetry: Every chapter ends with some sort of verse that correlates with some aspect of what is to happen in the next chapter. Maybe this was added in the later years? Even if it wasn’t, the antihero, Erik, holds enough dramatic characteristics on his own. Erik himself is poetic in a way that only a fictional character (or really wordy and dramatic real person) could be, describing himself as being able to feel pain “at a molecular level” and that it “sings to [him] in an alphabet of fear” (seriously, who says it like that?). It doesn’t help that his image mimics that of the masks Shelly had used to decorate their home. Though, to be honest, the art that Erik’s Crow persona is stylized in makes him look more like a cross between the Joker and David Bowie. Come to think of it, I suppose the phrase “caught-between” would be appropriate to help describe this comic: It’s constantly caught between things. The style in general looks like some sort of fusion between two different styles of drawing; like if western-style cartooning got caught between with Japanese-styled manga. (I mainly draw that last one because of the peculiar eye formation and some expressions carried by the characters.) But I digress. In addition to Erik’s very 80s aesthetic, the way his body is constructed is very reminiscent of a dancer’s. What comes back to memory is the previously shown interview with James O’Barr himself, explaining that rather than using models or whatever else other artists were using to learn to draw bodies, he taught himself how to draw using Greek statues. While this may not be as apparent in some frames, this because very clear in panels that tend to have Shelly in them, considering that whenever Shelly is present, the strokes become smoother and the bodies become softer and curvier-looking. Whether or not this was intentional is anyone’s guess. However, as The Crow was the result of O’Barr grieving over someone extremely important to him, this was possibly highly intentional to convey to the audience just how he and Erik (his avatar) saw the world when their respective women were still alive. The only pages exampling color were splash pages located in the back of the book, meaning everything else was entirely black and white. For the time The Crow came out, this would have been passable but nowadays, with more graphic novels being printed in color or having a style that at least uses minimal color for indication, it stands to say that O’Barr had to be very certain of his designing. The shadows have to work just as well with the light to properly convey a figure. All in all, however, these characteristics work quite well to convey the dreariness and grittiness I’m sure O’Barr wanted to get across (even if it’s through such a peculiar-looking and hammy character).
James O’Barr’s “The Crow” is an interesting and unique book. It follows the character Eric as The Crow as he gets revenge on the men who killed his fiancee and attempted to kill him as well. The first thing that stood out to me about the story was that it was choppy and the art at times seems inconsistent. I’m figuring that this is attributed to the span of time that the story was drawn in. This is an enjoyable element to the story. The story was created over a long period of time so it becomes apparent that after all those years the pain didn’t go away. This is important because I believe that is an essential theme of the story. The focus on the pain that the character The Crow feels is a strong component of the story. It is addressed in such depth and frequency to get the reader to understand the extent of his pain, and that it is something continuous and undying (like him). Even after he starts to get revenge the pain still does not appear to be alleviated. This struck accord with me personally so I feel as if the demographic O’Barr may be trying to reach is people who have felt immense and unbearable pain, because they will truly understand what the character is feeling. The story has the ability to come more alive that way.
Stylistically, the story is dark and poetic. There are many poems about pain, death and other related themes in between scenes in the story. They are related to what is happening in the story at the time, and I believe that they act as small interludes. This allows the reader to take in what had just happened while reading something on the calmer side (as opposed to all the action that happens in the scenes). While this interlude is in the same theme and is related to what happens in the story, it solidifies that theme in a beautiful and artistic way. This keeps the story from becoming all about the gore and violence of The Crow killing (since that happens a lot in the story). This keeps the story in tune with the emotional aspect since that is an important component and is the core of everything that is happening. As for the drawing style, as I mentioned before it is dark. At certain parts and important moments there is a lot of detail in the panels. I believe this device is used to get the reader to look at all the detail and spend more time in that panel, making the moment come off as more important and effective. Those panels were also better rendered usually. The inconsistencies in the art caused some of the less important panels to feel somehow “off” or almost in a different style. This caused an interesting dynamic to the story so I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as a bad thing.
The story had a supernatural element to it that felt notable. It seems as if the character Eric should have died along with his fiancee (considering that he was shot in the head twice) however the story suggests that he was able to endure all of this and survive because of how strong his will for revenge was. This does not feel too extreme but rather is believable in the context of a comic book. The Crow as a character is super hero-esque, but is only avenging himself and has a blatant disregard for hurting others. His similarities to super heroes are that he has an origin story that made him this way, and he seems to by supernatural means overcome a threatening situation. This is another reason the supernatural element is not off-putting. We as reader take the story for what it is: A version of a story used to convey the emotions that were felt by the person who experienced it.
I chose to read the graphic novel, “The Crow,” by James O’Barr for my first essay assignment. In this novel, Crow, the main character, and his fiancé Shelly quickly become the victims of a vicious drug gang. Although Crow miraculously survives two gun shots to the head, Shelly is brutally raped and slaughtered in front of the seemingly deceased Crow. His physical wounds are eventually healed but his mental wounds are far from repair as he is left alone to mourn the loss of Shelly. Discovering his immortal abilities after the freak recovery, Crow makes it his obligation to Shelly to track down and murder the men who killed Shelly.
O’Barr used mostly a realistic style to create Crow’s world. In class we discussed the importance of avoiding realistic drawings as much as possible to disconnect the reader from the reality they are escaping from when reading a graphic novel. But when O’Barr decided to have a more realistic style than a simplified version, he began to break down the wall that divided reality from his imagination. The choice to draw a more realistic depiction of the story allowed a cynical feel to emerge through the story. If “The Crow” would have been simplified any more than it was then the readers would fee an emptiness in the story. By emptiness, I mean an uncomfortable feeling given that the visualization of the story would not have matched the tone of the story O’Barr was addressing. It would have been more reserved and not as realistically connected. The fact O’Barr wrote “The Crow” as a form of his personal diary would not have seemed as evident if he had toned down the realistic qualities of his drawings. The world of “The Crow” was more impactful as a realistic style.
Another successful aspect of O’Barr’s story was his ability to switch between Crow’s personal dreams and his reality. O’Barr focused on making the dream world seem as if it were hazy and did not have a clear grasp on reality through his saturated drawings. The drawings could also be said to be more expressive from the dream world. These were the moments O’Barr became intimate with his memories of his own experience with the woman he lost in his life. The way he approached them with a tenderness in his style and calm greys showed that those were the moments he wanted to remember. Those moments were quickly interrupted with harsh, thick black lines created when Crow was brutally thrown back into reality.
O’Barr also has a way with setting the mood in his graphic novel. He works mostly with shadows and is able to draw in the viewer by hiding most of the expressions of Crow that the reader deem as necessary to create a sense of discomfort. His eyes are usually shaded over and most of his body. By not being able to always see Crow’s eyes, the viewer is unable to trust him completely as a character. The mysterious quality thrown onto his character can be easily correlated with O’Barr himself, seeing the character, Crow, was solely based off his personal reaction to his own situation.
Overall the graphic novel had certain aspects that made it a successful novel. O’Barr’s realistic stylization, attention to line weight and greyscale and creation of mood assisted in creating the world of “The Crow”. The novel is also proof that the more a graphic novelist is invested in his or her story the more successful they will be at presenting their topic of interest. O’Barr was definitely invested in this story and allowed his artwork to speak for him when he was unable to speak for himself.