Literary Heroes, Continued: James O’Barr

Well, it appears that I’ve once again fallen off the blogging wagon.  My apologies!  There has been quite a bit of excitement lately, starting with an additional teaching job that I picked up at the beginning of November.  I’m also in the process of applying to a couple of Ph.D programs. However, now that I seem to have balanced my work load, I thought I’d pick up where I left off with my list of literary heroes.

James O’Barr was not originally going to be on this list.  It’s not that I don’t adore him, it just didn’t occur to me to include a graphic novelist.  I’m not sure why, considering how much of a comic fiend I am.  Nevertheless, I knew my next blog would have to be about Mr. O’Barr after I read a special edition copy of The Crow that I received as  gift.  This particular version contains an introduction in which James O’Barr reveals that the storyline of the book was partly inspired by the death of an old girlfriend.  Apparently, said girlfriend was run down by a drunk driver on her way to pick him up.  Talk about survivor’s guilt.

This introduction provided a new perspective as I reread one of the most intense and emotionally raw graphic novels I’ve ever come across.  Reading that book makes my guts hurt.  That’s part of why I love it, and part of why I believe it’s well done.  Beyond that, though, I was encouraged by O’Barr’s ability to translate a traumatic experience into such a distinct and brilliant story.  I, too, have dealt with my own survivor’s guilt, and used it to fuel my creativity.  When I was twenty, I was involved in a drowning accident.  Clearly, I survived.  My boyfriend, however, did not.  When I started writing my first novel. I crafted the story around a protagonist whose boyfriend is killed in a car crash.  Although my novel bears little else in common with The Crow, I can relate to the authenticity behind the experiences.  Many things in literature can be deftly recreated with research and field work.  However, in my opinion, death is something that always seems more genuine when it’s based in reality.  Small details, like picking out burial clothes and watching the undertaker crank and latch the casket are details that might escape a writer who hasn’t experienced these things.

Knowing that someone I admire as much as JamesO’Barr was able to build such a beautifully haunting story on a foundation of truth made me feel closer to his work, and allowed me to view my own work from a fresh perspective.  I think that all writers have books that they love with reckless abandon.  The Crow   is one of those books for me.  What are yours?


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