Some content in this post may be NSFW. Discretion advised.
Next month, Geof Darrow's cult-favorite creation returns to comic shops after an absence of six and a half years. Yes, thanks to Dark Horse Comics, Shaolin Cowboy #1 hits shelves on Wednesday, October 9th, and promises to leave a trail of hyper-adrenalized action, wanton destruction, and shell-shocked readers in its wake. As part of our Fall Comic Previews series, we spoke to Darrow about his work on Shaolin Cowboy, and what went on during the long gap between issues... And our friends at Dark Horse have sent along an EXCLUSIVE first look at some interior pages!
MTV Geek: Shaolin Cowboy is back! What should we expect from this new series?
Geof Darrow: It's about 100 pages of nonstop action. It's not really a conventional story, it's not real long on plot… Well, not much plot but a lot of movement! It's not really a story, it was just that I wanted a vehicle where I can draw things that I like to draw. I've always been interested in martial arts, westerns, and monster movies – so this is mostly an excuse to draw things that I've always wanted to!
Geek: So can we assume that this isn't exactly an all-ages book?
Darrow: Not exactly. It's pretty bloody, it's very violent. Though the violence certainly isn't realistic…I think it's fairly cartoony and absurd, sort of Tom & Jerry violence. And there's also some foul language, a few words here and there that would stamp it as 'not for kids'.
Geek: Does it follow on from the first series, or does it stand totally on its own?
Darrow: It does follow, it kind of takes up… Well, it begins a long time after that first series, but it's tenuous exactly how long in the character's world. I sort of explain in the first few pages what's been going on in the past six years since the last series came out, and give a synopsis of what's been going on in my head for quite a while. The time frame is it's been six years since I drew the last one.
Geek: But there was also the Shaolin Cowboy pulp magazine from Dark Horse that came out last year. How did that come to be? The pulp format hasn't exactly been commonplace for the last, oh, seventy years…
Darrow: I've always liked pulp magazines. I'm close friends w/ the writer Andrew Vachss- he's a phenomenal author, and also a big fan of pulps. He writes an amazing blend of…crime fiction and social criticism, I guess I'd say? We were talking about his books, about how much work he puts into them, and I suddenly said "have you ever written anything just for fun"? And after thinking for a second, he said not really. So I said how about writing this thing for Shaolin Cowboy, just for fun. And about a month later, it came up again, and then it just happened. I didn't even expect that it would happen, but a week or so later, I had something. He's a man of his word. It all came together really quickly, and then it sat for two years!
Anyhow, I did the illustrations, we put it together… We couldn't do it exactly as we envisioned at first, getting exactly the right paper stock to make it like an old cheap magazine, getting it just the right dimensions, but we got pretty close, and I liked how it turned out!
Geek: Now that this new series is underway, are there any plans afoot for making the older issues available again?
Darrow: You'd have to check with Burlyman, who put that series out. Maybe write to them and ask?
Geek: You've recently returned to comics in a big way: doing covers for Deadpool, and now unleashing this new Shaolin Cowboy series… But before that, there'd been a few years where not much new work was appearing. What were you up to ?
Darrow: Well, I was doing lots of film work, mostly with the Wachowskis. And then I spent a couple years working on my own project, an animated version of Shaolin Cowboy, working with the Madhouse animation company in Japan… That was a really interesting experience, and it was just about halfway finished when the money people fell through, and we had to stop. So we have all this material, all this work, and it's sitting in boxes waiting for people with a few million dollars to show up. So that's where it stands.
Geek: Aside from that project, have there been any particular films you've worked on that you felt did a good job of achieving your vision?
Darrow: No, because it's not my vision on the screen, I'm a hired hand. When you work on a film, you're trying to fulfill the director's vision, because the director is the god. If the movie is a universe, the director is a god and you're doing what he or she wants. I've seen elements of what I do that make it onscreen, and that's nice, but it's always because it fits with what is needed for the film.
Geek: It's pretty well-documented what you contributed to The Matrix films, but there's a lot less information out there about what you did on one of my favorites, the Speed Racer film…
Darrow: Well, there was the Art Of Speed Racer book, and that was probably one of the worst "making of" art books ever done. It was badly designed, they barely used anything, it was really a shame. But for that movie, there were a few different people working on it, and I didn't have as big a role. I did some industrial stuff, some tech, some storyboards, some behind the scenes stuff. In fact, my daughter did some work on that film! She was eight years old, and she did the dream sequence…the animated part where he's a little kid and daydreaming about how he wants to grow up to be a race car driver. They wanted it to look like a child did it, so they asked her to do it, and that's her work up there on the screen. You actually see more of her work right there than you do of mine. My work was largely behind the scenes, but that little bit is hers, it's all her and it's pretty amazing.
There were other people who did far more: Steve Skroce storyboarded all those movies. He probably storyboarded 70% of The Matrix and Speed Racer, and did some beautiful work…there's all these amazing storyboards that were just fantastic.
Geek: Returning to talking about Shaolin Cowboy, how many issues are slated for this new series?
Darrow: It's four issues, mostly one long extended action sequence. One issue is a little more plot driven than the rest, I suppose, the rest are all action. The entire story also takes place in a very short span, it's about fifteen minutes of time passing in about 130 pages. So there's these four issues set for now, but if it warrants, I'd like to do some more. There's more things to draw.
Geek: And beyond that? More Shaolin? Plans for other projects?
Darrow: I think I'm gonna… Well, I could do lots of things. Maybe I'll do another Big Guy story w/ Frank [Miller]. You know that book? [The Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot, published by Dark Horse in 1995] That seemed to get a really good reception and I've always had ideas about what else we could there… But after I did the first one I was so tired of drawing buildings and windows, I had to take a break and draw other things!