After working in animation and comic books for nearly four decades, artist and writer Geof Darrow has lived a hell of a life. In the first part of our two-part interview with Mr. Darrow, we talk with the creator of Dark Horse Comics’ The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet, now available in hardcover, about how the new format gives the reader a more complete, almost cinematic reading experience. We also touch on retcons and reboots in the comic book industry, his time in Tokyo, and the nature of the film business.
FreakSugar: I just wanted to tell you how excited I was when I was asked if I wanted to interview you. I was like, “Of course I’ll interview him! Is the Pope Catholic?”
Geof Darrow: [laughs] Well, I appreciate you taking the time.
FS: No, I appreciate you. First off, for folks who aren’t familiar with The Shaolin Cowboy, how would you describe the book?
GD: Oh God. [laughs]
FS: [laughs] I know, it’s that question, but I have to ask.
GD: [laughs] I don’t know. It’s a kung fu kind of western, but not really. It’s an excuse for me to draw whatever I want to draw.
FS: Well, it’s beautiful. I love the oversized format. The stories with The Shaolin Cowboy always feel cinematic in scale anyway, but with the new format, it feels even grander. Is it gratifying to see it reprinted that way?
GD: Yeah, Dark Horse did a good show of faith to put it in that format. The way it’s presented is the way I always imagined it. Originally, it was broken up into four issues. In my mind, it works better with all of the issues combined and read all at once.
FS: I feel like in that format you can digest it a bit better and read it in one sitting.
GD: [laughs] I read so many reviews of the individual comics that said, “Nothing happened!” Well, not a lot does happen! [laughs] It’s just a moment in time, basically. I don’t think there’s any one way to do a comic story. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way unless you do it badly.
FS: I think that American audiences have been trained to expect a comic story presented in a certain way that they either cotton to experimentation or they don’t; but, they seem to be getting a little better about it.
GD: Yeah, I think so, too, because there’s just so many types of comics out there that there never used to be. It’s fantastic that you can have comics like Lumberjanes and Prison Pit and then you can still get your Secret Wars or Convergence or Secret Convergence Wars or whatever. [laughs] I don’t know. I’m working on the Super Incontinent Wars. All my characters are going to be faced with bowel problems that will force them to get the Infinity Adult Diaper that will give them great power and other bullshit. [laughs]
But yeah, I think it’s great that you have so much difference. In Europe, where I lived for many years, you did have that sort of variety. But then you had the other side of it. Over there, I was told that if it doesn’t take you 45 minutes to read a comic, then it’s not worth the money. And I was always like, “What, do you sit down with a stopwatch? Oh, 49.3 seconds, this is crap!” [laughs] So there are prejudices there, too. And it’s amazing how many comics there are for women. Women seem to be reading more comics now and it didn’t used to be that way. I think it’s great.
And I think Japan is such a rich market in terms of having stuff for everybody. You’re on the train and everyone’s reading comics. You have guys in their 70s reading them and you have kids reading and girls reading. They have so many different genres. This one’s about a tax accountant and this one’s about professional bass fishing. [laughs] It’s so crazy and great.
FS: I think I would read Super Incontinent Wars and a book about bass fishing.
GD: See, I’m doing some test marketing. Now I know where to go! [laughs] But see, when you doing something like that, you have people upset, saying you’re making fun of their loves. I’m always surprised that people get annoyed when the companies changed something or they remake some comic. They go to the movies and say, “Oh, you ruined my childhood!” I’m always like, what does that mean? [laughs] The comics you read as a kid are still there! Why do you care? Was your childhood that fragile? Anything that would ruin my childhood would not be about changing comic books or remaking the Marvel Universe. The Kirby stuff and the Ditko stuff is all still there.
GD: Exactly! I mean, who knows? I think he’s doing some interesting stuff and he seems very earnest in what he tries to do these days both on the screen and off the screen. I mean, I remember when they were casting Michael Keaton [as Batman]. You would’ve thought they were going into orphanages and killing children. Now everyone says it would be great if Michael Keaton played Batman again.
FS: Like you said, the stuff that we like is still there, it’s not gone away.
GD: I was surprised when that last Superman movie [Man of Steel] came out and everyone was upset that Superman killed so many people and that there was so much collateral damage. I mean, it’s a movie. It made a lot of money and that’s what they want to do anyway. I don’t really think they care if they piss off the fans at this point, anyway. There’s not enough of them who buy the comics who go to see them to support those gigantic machines they build and put into the cinematic showrooms.
FS: I enjoy comics, but, first and foremost, it’s a business and there are no sacred cows.
GD: Yeah! It’s the same with movies. Marvel and DC are not patrons of the arts. [laughs] There is some of that. There’s the comic book version of Woody Allen they’ll support for a certain amount of time, if they’re not making money, they’ll have to do something. That’s why the stores push the Marvel stuff to make the money. But it’s nice that the stores carry the other stuff.
So, can I ask you a question? Which movie are you most looking forward to seeing this year? Of the big ones coming out? I know which one I want to see, but I was just curious.
FS: I’m looking forward to Ant-Man, honestly, just because I love Paul Rudd. I think he’ll do a good job. And I’m really looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I was first told that James Spader was going to play Ultron, I rolled my eyes. But then when I heard him in the trailers, I was like, “Oh, I forgot that he can play a menacing dude.”
GD: I want to see that new Mad Max movie. I think that’s one of the best looking things in the world.
FS: Me too! I forgot about that.
GD: That thing is so over-the-top beautiful. The compositions are fantastic. If that thing doesn’t move the people who see it, I’ll be surprised.
FS: I think it comes out next month.
GD: Yeah, I think two weeks after Avengers. I’m always surprised, too, how Hollywood bunches the films together. Look at the Fast and Furious movie. It came out in April and it made a shitload of money. When I worked out there, I asked that question. It’s like a dick-measuring contest. “I want to beat Superman, I want to beat Batman, I want to beat Avengers.” Why don’t they wait? Put it out in August. There’s nothing out in August. Or March. I don’t know. I guess they do their studies and see that nobody goes to the movies when it’s snowing.
FS: You look at the Hunger Games movies that are usually released in November and they do pretty well.
GD: Yeah they do! There’s just so much in the summer. I want to see Avengers, too, because I like Joss Whedon. I think he has a genuine love of the material and it’s not like, “I’m going to fix this thing.” Like it’s broken. He just understands what it is and likes it. He’s not a condescending filmmaker.
FS: No, and I think that you have so many filmmakers who look at the original material and are almost embarrassed by it.
GD: Gosh, I worked on a version of Superman before Bryan Singer did his, or it became the Bryan Singer version. And they spent who knows how much money talking about whether to have the red shorts on him or not.
FS: Is that Superman Lives?
GD: Yeah. And I was like, the character has been around 60, 70 years at that point. The fans and viewers buy it. They’re not going to not see the movie because of the red shorts. But they get so agitated about that sort of stuff. It’s amazing.
FS: I think people are going to watch what they’re going to watch.
GD: Yeah! And you either like Superman or you don’t. Some people don’t, and that’s okay.
FS: And there are going to be people who watch the movies just so they can say how much they hate them.
GD: Exactly! So they can get online and make some cheap shot. It’s so hard to make those movies, having watched them get made. It’s amazing they get done or turn out as well as they do because there’s so much interference, so much second-guessing. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. They all want to make something good. It doesn’t always work out that way.
FS: I just about won’t review anything anymore that I don’t like.
GD: Yeah, I agree. That’s cool man.
FS: Because I feel like, as you were saying, people put their time and energy into a product. I don’t think people set out to make something bad. I don’t want to contribute to that conversation of such negativity.
GD: You want to say, “You get out there, man. You do it.” You would not believe how fucking hard it is. Some folks online take cheat shots. If it’s constructive criticism, that’s one thing, but it’s never that. “That guy must have kissed Ben Affleck ass.” That’s not helpful. It’s just a pot-shot.
FS: It’s a pot-shot and it’s an effort to show how clever they are.
GD: We’re in the same camp!
FS: I know you’re from Cedar Rapids and didn’t have the opportunity to see a lot of older movies growing up. Once you got out of the town, though, you had the chance to see the films you had wanted to see and experience places that were more hustling and bustling. Did that make you both appreciate the town you were from and appreciate the wider world?
GD: [laughs] I got out as soon as I could and never looked back. And I’m thankful that it made me want to look at other stuff. Whenever I would get to a city, I would get the phone book out, and I would look for the book section. And if I found a foreign bookstore, a French bookstore, a Japanese bookstore, I would go to them and try to find comic books. And the movie theaters because we had three channels when I was growing up. When I got to high school, they started running the Universal monster movies. And they showed King Kong, which I had dreamed of seeing as kid, but didn’t get to see until I was about 16 or 17.
But I think it made me want to travel. I was pretty young when I first went to Paris. I was young when I first went to Tokyo. When I first went to Tokyo, there weren’t many white people. A lot of people wanted to take pictures with me. I remember being at the zoo and kids ran up and gave me candy like I was an attraction. [laughs] I would go to the temples and you would take your shoes off and put them in a little box. And I have size 13 feet. And they would be sticking out of the cubby holes and people would be gathered around my shoes, just staring at them. It was really funny. This is like a Second City/Saturday Night Live sketch. People would ask, “What is your shoe size?” I’d go, “Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s not true what they say about your hands and your feet, though, I will add that.” [laughs]
Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Geof Darrow. And check out our review of The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet!