In late 2004, Geof Darrow — already a revered artist for his Eisner-winning collaborations with Frank Miller, “Hard Boiled” and “The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot” — debuted “Shaolin Cowboy,” featuring a wandering Shaolin monk engaging in surreal, violent escapades.
Darrow both wrote and illustrated “Shaolin Cowboy,” and won his third Eisner in 2006 for the series. The book ran for seven issues under Burlyman Entertainment (a publishing company founded by filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski, who Darrow worked with on the “Matrix” trilogy), but had been absent from stands since 2007 — until the release of “The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine” from Dark Horse Comics last fall.
Darrow is back at Dark Horse for a new four-issue “Shaolin Cowboy” miniseries starting in October, and CBR News talked to the creator about his latest output, working in the movie industry, what he likes about current comics, his recent Deadpool covers and the uniquely high severed head content in his upcoming books.
CBR News: Geof, “Shaolin Cowboy” is a series that you’ve been doing in one form or another for about a decade, and you’re coming back to it in a big way with this new miniseries. From your perspective, why was now the right time for a new series of “Shaolin Cowboy”?
Geof Darrow: Because I had it done. [Laughs] I had went away, I was living in Japan for about a year working on this animated film, and then when I came back, I just had other stuff to do. I finally came back to the comic book. Every once in a while I get calls to work on some movie; it takes me away.
And I’ve always liked the character, because he can do anything that I want him to do.
It seems like a good vehicle to tell different types of stories.
What little story there is. [Laughs] It’s more like an excuse for me to draw whatever I want.
Which has to be nice!
Yeah! I was talking with Mike Mignola about it. I think that’s what he’s kind of doing, although with much more depth and profoundness than I am, in his “Hellboy in Hell.”
Did you miss doing comic books, and working in the format? After time away working in other areas, was that another motivating factor?
Oh yeah. The thing with comics is, when I draw them, I can draw whatever I want. When you’re working on a movie, you’re drawing what they want. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun; sometimes it can be kind of tedious.
For me, it’s always nerve-racking, because I’m always hoping I’m doing what they want, and trying to put myself in the head of the director, the producer; trying to not disappoint them. And that’s not always easy to do.
And there’s always more people involved in movies, and changes that can happen in the process.
I’ve never really cared about the changes. People always say, “How do you like the way they treated what you did on blah blah.” I don’t care. Because it’s not my movie. It’s the director’s movie. If he is happy with what you’ve done, then you’ve done your job. “I drew the Annihilator Machine to have seven arms, and they only put four of them on there, that’s just not right!” I’m not like that. You’re working for someone. It’s not your vision, it’s their vision. That’s my perspective on film work.
With the new series of “Shaolin Cowboy” — going into it, were there some different things that you wanted to do with this miniseries, artistically or story-wise, or are you mainly sticking with what works?
I’m always just trying to draw better. [Laughs] That’s all. I’m hoping every drawing I do is a little better than the one I did before. I try to come up with more interesting compositions, and hope that the storytelling is a little better.
But I don’t [think], “Dammit, I’m going to blow the hinges off storytelling, and I’m going to bring a whole new thing to comics!” That’s not me. I think guys like Frank Miller and Mike Mignola have done that, and a lot of other guys I’ll forget to mention. Darwyn Cooke. But I’m not one of those guys. I just draw pictures. If the pictures look good, then I’m not too embarrassed. Then people will want to look at them, and they’ll say, “Oh, that guy drew a pretty good severed head there. It looks like a severed head.” [Laughs]
I’m looking at the cover to #3 right now, and there appears to be more than a half-dozen severed heads on it.
There are more severed heads in this series than I think any comic in history. When you see it, you’ll see what I mean. [Laughs] It’s basically a hundred pages of zombie carnage. I wanted to do my zombie massacre.
I’m a big fan of the Romero movies, and “The Evil Dead.” Sam Raimi, I think is just great. I can always watch “Evil Dead 2″ and ["Army of Darkness"]. Even the dialogue just really cracks me up. Any man that can take a phrase like “groovy” and make it work in a movie — now there’s a profound fellow.
Based on what’s been released from the new “Shaolin Cowboy” so far, it definitely seems like you’re not shying away from violence.
It’s cartoon violence. I was going to say I’m not directing it at dogs, but there are a few animals that don’t do so well in this series. Well, actually, there’s more than a few, now that I think about it. There’s no cruelty to children at all.
And that’s not always a guarantee.
But I do kill a robin in the first issue, trying to cash in on some of that “Death of Robin,” Batman energy there.
Given that, then, do you keep up pretty closely with the current comic book industry?
Yeah, I like going to the comic store. I think Chris Burnham and Grant Morrison did a really good job. I think Chris is a really talented young man, and he looks like he could take a punch on top of it.
I’ll take your word for it.
He’s a good-looking young man, and he looks like he could hold his own on a bar fight. Watch, he’ll go out tonight and test it. “I’m tired of letting Batman kick all the ass, I’m going to kick some myself.”
From your perspective as someone who has been in the industry for a while…
And has done very little! For as long as I’ve been in it, I haven’t done very much. [Laughs] It’s amazing how little I’ve actually done.
But do you look at the racks and see a lot of see good current material?
Oh, yeah. I always go to the comic store, and look at what’s going on. I’m a comic book fan, and always have been. I’m in Japan what they call an “otaku.” I like all sorts of stuff.
If you want to read a really cool comic, Drawn & Quarterly have put out this book called “Kitaro.” which is a classic Japanese manga about a — he’s not a ghost, I don’t know what he is. He’s a one-eyed boy that fights monsters. They’re kind of funny and touching. The artist is Shigeru Mizuki, who’s just amazing. He’s a one-armed guy who lost his arm in World War II. They’re really beautifully done.
To get back to films a bit, I wanted to ask a little bit more about your concept design for movies — you worked on the “Matrix” movies and “Speed Racer,” among others. Is there any one in particular that stands out to you, where you see a lot of your style or your concepts in the final product?
It has to be “The Matrix.” I worked pretty closely with [the Wachowskis], and they were very generous with me. They really let me do a lot on that movie, and I’m sure sometimes I confused them quite a bit. I really didn’t think they would use what I did, but they did, and it was an amazing experience — to get to see the whole process of making a movie, from the beginning right up to the end.
It kind of annoys me — on these websites, they’ll go on, “Oh, this guy sucks, he did a shitty job, blah blah blah.” I get really pissed off. I don’t care how lousy a director is, and how bad a movie is, it’s so much work, it’s so much stress to make a movie, that it’s amazing they even get one done. And even if it’s bad, hat’s off to them, because, man, they did it, they put it out there, and you get nothing but grief if it’s bad. And if it’s good, they generally find some reason to not give the proper guys the credit. From watching how hard the Wachowskis worked to get a movie made, it’s just amazing.
There are a lot of directors I don’t think are very good, but, hell, I couldn’t do it, and I don’t care what anybody says, a lot of people couldn’t. You have to have nerves of steel, because they’ll just eat you up, and spit you out, and then eat you up again. And then they shit you out the second time.
That seems to be consistent with a lot of creative endeavors.
Even comics. Anything you do that you put out in the public, you’re really kind of putting a target on yourself.
There’s really a lot of stuff I don’t like. I’m not a big fan of people that swipe other people’s work. I think that’s pretty shitty. But anybody that’s out there doing it, my hat’s off to them, because drawing comics is a lot of work. It’s not all the things you want to draw. You’ve got to draw a lot of stuff that isn’t a lot of fun — a guy just walking down the street. I always try to find something in each drawing that is fun. That’s why I put in all those goofy little details. I think, “Oh, this will make it kind of different.”
Recently you’ve done some varied material here and there, like the Marvel NOW! Deadpool covers, which, correct me if I’m wrong, I think was among your first work for Marvel?
No, I’ve done some others over the years. I did a “Marvel Zombies” cover. It had Howard the Duck and Machine Man on it. I like that cover. It’s got a flesh-eating robot. I asked them, “How does that work? Do zombie robots only eat other robots?” They said, “No, they consume flesh, which they turn into energy.” Well, that doesn’t really make him a zombie, because they haven’t returned to life. [Laughs]
I did a Fantastic Four poster a long time ago. I’ve done a few things. Not a lot.
I had no idea who Deadpool was, to be quite honest. I thought he was an incarnation of Spider-Man. [Laughs] Look at the costume! The mask looks like Spider-Man. I thought he was one of those Spider-Man clones.
I got tired of drawing presidents. It was hard drawing Abraham Lincoln getting hit. I didn’t want to draw that.
It was like a zombie Abraham Lincoln, at least.
Kind of. Except I couldn’t make him too zombie-ish, because they had to be recognizable. Otherwise I would liked to have made them really disgusting. Then you can’t tell it’s Abraham Lincoln. I don’t want to do that to Abraham Lincoln, anyway. He’s a vampire hunter, from what I understand.
Sure, there was that historical film that came out last year about it.
I waited to see the Spielberg film, because I wanted to see the “Vampire Hunter” one, so that I could watch Spielberg’s and put it in its proper perspective.
You’re likely focusing on “Shaolin Cowboy” right now, but is there anything else that you’re working on that you want fans to know about?
No, I just hope they’ll read “Shaolin.” It’s action-packed. If you don’t like action in comics, then you’re not going to like this.