Comic creator and entertainment artist Geof Darrow has built quite the career in the past four decades. Having worked on everything from the Superfriends animated series to Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot to The Matrix trilogy, he’s garnered well-earned respect from everyone from Joss Whedon to Chuck Palahniuk to Brian Michael Bendis, who laud Darrow’s accomplishments in the upcoming Dark Horse Comics book Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art of Geof Darrow, debuting at the year’s San Diego Comic Con.
For those of you who can’t wait until the summer for some Geof Darrow goodness, however, this Wednesday, Dark Horse will premiere the first issue of The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign?, Darrow’s follow-up to 2015’s The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet.
Mr. Darrow spoke with me recently about Who’ll Stop the Reign?, why he doesn’t want to look at Lead Poisoning until it’s released, and drawing Scooby-Doo in drag.
FreakSugar: After The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet, you said that you’d be revisiting the cowboy in his adventures. What was the genesis behind this particular story?
Geof Darrow: I don’t know. I have no idea. [laughs] I like the idea that Who’ll Stop the Reign? Picks up where we left off in Shemp Buffet. And he keeps going on. [laughs]
There are things in this comic from an animated film that never got finished that I always wanted to use somehow, so I put them in there. There’s not a great arc there. I’ve been reading Bone and with Shaolin Cowboy, there’s not an overall grand opus. [laughs] We’re just following him around.
FS: You brought up the animated film last time we spoke and I was wondering if any of that was going to make it into the new book.
GD: Just the visual ideas. The King Crab character [in Who’ll Stop the Reign?] from the animated movie is in there. There’s another character that shows up in the second issue, this pig. I don’t think there’s anything to that other than I wanted to draw a pig. [laughs] And I wanted to make it cool. [laughs]
FS: If there’s no overarching arc, how does each story come to you? Is it piecemeal or do you see an idea that you jot down or something else?
GD: It’s train-of-thought stuff, really. [laughs] I mean, I do outline the thing out. But I knew I had to get [the Shaolin Cowboy] up and out and into town. In the last one, I introduced characters that were watching him so I had to pay that off, let you know who that was, and so on. Not that anyone remembers them. [laughs]
Now that I think about it, I guess there is an underlying theme that I unintentionally have. It’s quite eating-oriented. It’s either people being eaten or people eating something and it gets them into trouble, as you’ll see in future issues. People’s appetites get them into a lot of difficult situations.
FS: Shifting gears just a bit, a friend wants to know: Are you a wizard or some kind of magician that you can control time? The sheer amount of detail you pour into your pages makes me wonder if you have more hours in your day than most people do. How do pace out your day? Are you really fast or do you plan out for months?
GD: I don’t think I’m that fast. I just see things that way. And what I do is probably stupid. I could probably be faster if I ignored things in the background. [Comic book creator and past comic collaborator of Geof Darrow] Frank Miller once tried to get me to draw faster.
If nothing else, I think that the world this takes place in is fairly unique. It’s not a cookie-cutter world. I create an environment—I hope—that is an experience. It’s something I picked up in Europe, working with Moebius. They all created their own worlds.
That’s probably why I never fit into the Marvel Universe. I’d mess it up. [laughs]
FS: We spoke a good deal about your time on Superfriends during our last interview. When I was reading Who’ll Stop the Reign?, I wondered if there were lessons working on that series, good and bad, that informed how you work.
GD: A lot of bad stuff. I learned how much I didn’t know. That was probably the most important thing. My boss didn’t like me very much. He was always berating me for my drawings. I would walk out of his office feeling totally dejected.
He once asked me, “Did you go to school?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Huh, really? Well, you have a lot to learn.”
FS: Oh wow.
GD: I could never do the Hanna-Barbera style. I’ve never been good at copying styles. I couldn’t wrap my head around the Hanna-Barbera style. Most of the stuff I did at Hanna-Barbera were things where you didn’t have to have that style; things like cars and props and monsters they didn’t care about.
As far as the character design, I didn’t do much. I could never wrap my head around a Flintstone character. I just couldn’t do it. Even with Scooby-Doo, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
FS: When you’re drawing something like Shaolin Cowboy, do you ever think about that time? Even if it’s just, “I’m glad I’m not doing that anymore?”
GD: Oh yeah. I saw a lot of guys there—and I don’t want to say anything bad, because they’re all great artists—but they’d go in with their own style and leave Hanna-Barbera guys. As much as I worked there, I’d get people ask me, “Draw Scooby-Doo!” And I never could because I never really drew him.
You just draw Scooby-Doo and you trace him over and over. In every episode, he’s in women’s underwear or a bra. [laughs] They had standard model sheets and they only needed to know what the bra looked like or the underwear. [laughs] I swear to God, in every episode, he’d end up in drag.
FS: There is a lot of drag in Scooby-Doo!
GD: It was almost every week! [laughs] “Scoob, did you see that monster?” “Where?” And Scooby would be dressed as an old lady and Shaggy would be wearing a flowery hat. Jack Kirby was there and he had to do that stuff, too. He’d totally ignore the proportions and it’d look like Scooby’s head on a female body. [laughs] It was so brilliant now.
FS: Why don’t you want to look at Lead Poisoning before it comes out?
GD: They asked a lot of nice people to write something about my work. It’ll be nice to read them all at once. It’ll be like a Christmas present, almost. I want to open it up and read it. I want to thank Scott Allie because he got everyone to write stuff.
It’s really embarrassing to ask people to do that. You’re afraid they’ll think, “Oh God, I don’t want to write this shit.” [laughs] I sent a whole bunch of drawings to them. There were drawings I kind of looked at and there were some I yanked out. My taste isn’t generally like others. I like stuff other people don’t and there’s some stuff people like that I don’t want to see.
If I think there’s something someone is going to like, it turns out to be the thing they like the least. I’m like, “Wow, you like that? Okay?”
FS: I think it ties into us being our own worst critics, maybe?
GD: Yeah, but sometimes you accomplish something in a drawing that people can’t see. So it means more to you than something spectacular that people like, but came easy to you. It was the same solution that you relied on in the past. Sometimes if you do something and think, “I haven’t done that before,” maybe there’s a reason. [laughs]
FS: I know this is a jackass question, because Lead Poisoning and Who’ll Stop the Reign? haven’t even gone on sale yet, but is there anything you tease about what you might be working on?
GD: No, I do the same thing. I was watching something on Charlie Rose or NPR that talked about that idea of wanting to know what a creator is doing next when they’re promoting a book. I’m the same way! I love someone’s work and I want to know when I can get more.
Right now, I’m working on a movie thing with somebody. I like doing that stuff, but I love the freedom of working on comics, too. I’ve also started working on a comic story. It’s hard for me to start one because I think, “That’s not good enough” or “That’s stupid.” I’m amazed at how much work people get done because I spend so much time thinking about what I’m doing.
I’m amazed at some people’s confidence. I think, “I don’t like you do, but, damn, I admire that confidence!” [laughs] I guess it’s true that ignorance is bliss. [laughs]
I’ll talk with [Hellboy creator] Mike Mignola and he’ll say, “I did this thing and it’s crappy.” And I’ll think, “Yeah, right.” [laughs] You’ve gotta be a great self-promoter. I’m shocked at people’s Facebook pages. I’ve never been good at that.
FS: You should be a good self-promoter because you put out excellent work.
GD: I try. I remember reading the comments on Shemp Buffet, and some folks were saying, “Oh, it’s absurd.” But then in the next review, it’ll be “Captain Mars can reign Hell on Earth…” That’s shit they can buy into. But they can’t accept a talking dog or a talking car. How can you read comics and not accept anything?
FS: Yes! If a reader has already bought into a book’s premise, why pour over the minutiae?
GD: Exactly! I was working on a Superman movie, and they were worried about him wearing underpants. They did all of this research and I think, “Why?” He’s been around for decades. People aren’t going to avoid the movie because he’s wearing underpants! He’s flying around and defies gravity. And they’re worried about his damn underpants. [laughs]
What cracked me up about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is that he didn’t have web-shooters. He secreted the webs from his veins. If you’re going to go that route, though, they’d be coming out of his ass, I guess. [laughs] But Sam Raimi said he felt that Spider-Man having superpowers and being a smart kid who could create that device was too much to ask the audience to believe. [laughs] I was like, “Come on, man! A radioactive spider bit him and he’s jumping around, doing all this shit, but you can’t accept he created this wonderful invention!”
FS: He’s already sticking to the walls!
GD: And through the gloves!
In Chinese mythology, there was so much crazy shit—crazier than you’d find in a Marvel comic—with people running on the top of wheat. And people just accepted it. I think we lost that ability to suspend disbelief. Probably when we created steam engines. I would think that comic readers would be more accepting of that sort of thing.
Thor throwing his hammer and propelling him forward, it may not make sense, but just go with it. There’s so much in this world that is supposed to make sense that doesn’t make sense. There’s too much stuff that is real that shouldn’t be.
The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign #1, written and illustrated by Geof Darrow with Dave Stewart on colors, debuts Wednesday, April 19th, from Dark Horse Comics. The collected hardcover of the series hits bookstores on November 7th.
From the official issue description:
Who doesn’t like Surf and Turf? Well, what do you do when Surf and Turf doesn’t like YOU?????????
The Eisner Award–losing and winning drawing-room talkfest The Shaolin Cowboy returns and will try to answer those questions as the titular hero of the series finds that his road to hell is paved not with good intentions but old nemeses hell bent on bloody revenge . . . AGAIN!!!!