What does Shaolin Cowboy have to do with Donald Trump and Kendall Jenner? Nothing and everything.
In the previous installment of THE GEOF DARROW INTERVIEWS, he discussed his relationship with Moebius. In this entry, it’s all about The Shaolin Cowboy. Issue #2 of Who’ll Stop the Reign? is due Wednesday, 5/24:
By G.D. KENNEDY
Anthropomorphic animals. Guns for appendages and cybernetic enhancements. Shattered whiskey bottles, bullet shells, cigarette butts and the occasional dog pissing in the corner. An overweight martial-artist cowboy, capable of felling hundreds of zombies in a single comic.
Geof Darrow has developed a distinct brand: an irreverent iconoclast, compelled to obsession over the tiniest detail, simultaneously sinking into the grittiest aspects of everyday life while soaring with broad, at times even sweeping, openness.
And if Darrow has a defining characteristic – other his mesmerizing artwork – it is that he likes to laugh, at everything, whenever he can. He has plenty to be happy about right now. First, he has Lead Poisoning coming out in July, a collection of his pencil drawings, raw and undefined, complete with finger smudges, vestigial horizon lines, and even tape holding together pages where, in his fury, Darrow drew off the page and had to tape on additional paper to complete his work. It’s an interesting book: a so-called artist’s edition, but it’s all pencil drawings, all pre-ink, incredibly detailed but unlike so many initial pencil drawings, it feels complete, whole, because Darrow’s pencils are so tight, so incredibly precise.
Beyond this, Darrow has returned to his seminal epic, The Shaolin Cowboy, with the newest installment, Who’ll Stop the Reign? Darrow has worked on this character intermittently for decades, with Dark Horse publishing the most recent series, starting with 2015’s Shemp Buffet, which featured roughly 100 pages of zombie fighting and chainsaws. The Shaolin Cowboy is Darrow’s tabula rasa for his jaded view of modern culture, consumerism, politics and what he views as an ever-increasing social apathy.
Issue #2 is out this Wednesday, 5/24.
He took the time to speak with us recently about Lead Poisoning and The Shaolin Cowboy, as well as his time working on The Matrix, his relationship with Moebius, politics… and Kendall Jenner. Keep an eye out because we’ll be running installments of THE GEOF DARROW INTERVIEWS into the summer.
G.D.: I also want to talk about your Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign?
Geof: It’s action packed.
G.D.: I would have said that too, but then I looked at the last volume, Shemp Buffet, which is literally nothing but action. Which, by the way, came out in 2015 and was a bit prescient, including locales like the Trump Desert.
Geof: I wish I was wrong, man. Every day is worse. It’s a horror story for me. I just – I can’t. Anyway.
G.D.: There’s this great, visceral attack on materialism and thoughtlessness. What’s driving this?
Geof: I don’t know. It just worries me. I’m just as big a consumer as anybody, but there’s just so much thoughtlessness going around. People not caring about other people. There has to be a little bit of sacrifice. We can’t all have what we want all the time. America has to — we consume too much. We have to leave something for everybody else.
For me, the real villains in Shemp Buffet are the four guys at the end. It’s just thoughtless violence. It’s petty. And I see a lot of that going on in the world, and in America in particular. I don’t know. I’m probably oversimplifying things and I probably shouldn’t even be talking about this because I’m not that intelligent.
Just this week, I was really shocked by that Pepsi ad [with Kendall Jenner]. I mean, who in their right mind ever would have thought that was going to wash? I know you can go all the way back to the late ’60s and ’70s when they did that Coca-Cola, “We’d like to teach the world to sing.” It’s like all these races come together to sing about Coca-Cola, and it became like a Top 10 hit. They kind of pulled it off because they had all of these people and they were just talking about getting together.
And that Pepsi commercial — it was such a white man’s version. Everybody’s “Wooo!” and everybody’s beautiful. She’s shooting her commercial – especially somebody… I don’t know the young lady, she might be really nice, but this vapid, famous-for-just-being-famous person who has really not done anything. And she should solve the world’s problems with a can of corn sweetener. I was like, “Wow.” I mean, “Wow.” It’s brilliant in its lack of self-awareness. [Laughs] This week has really been amazing, between that and United Airlines, and then Trump doing his 180 on everything he sold these knuckleheads on in the election.
G.D.: I have the pleasure of sitting here a few blocks away from his tower ….
Geof: Did I hear that one of his kids was thinking of running for mayor of New York? Wow. Did they even read the election results? I just like the fact that their narcissism knows no bounds whatsoever. (NOTE: Donald Trump Jr. has been mentioned a possible candidate for mayor or governor.)
G.D.: You’ve come back to The Shaolin Cowboy who you’ve worked on for so long. How does it feel to be coming back to this character?
Geof: I always think I’m going to do something different, but I keep coming back to him because he doesn’t look like anybody else. His origins are actually in Japanese film. I’m a big fan of Japanese films. Yojimbo for me is the archetype for every hero we have today. For me, anyway, everything is based on Yojimbo because he’s the ultimate anti-hero. He’s the guy who walks into town and does the right thing because it’s the right thing, but he’s not really a hero.
Although, he was this really good-looking guy. The Japanese did a lot of films where they had guys who were just normal-looking guys. My biggest inspiration was Zatoichi. I love those movies because you’ve got this guy whose, to my Western eyes, he didn’t look that handsome and he wasn’t in that great of shape, and on top of his handicap [blindness], if you can use that word now … I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but he’s this blind masseur who is a swordsman. The villains always pick on him, and they just assume because he doesn’t look the part that he’s not going to be able to do anything.
So I wanted to do a character that was like that, and that was the Shaolin Cowboy.
G.D.: He’s a bit of the antithesis of everything else in the world that you’ve created. We have self-centered consumers and he’s this man on his own mission.
Geof: He really just wants to survive. Especially in this one [Who’ll Stop the Reign?], you get to find out that he’s made a lot of mistakes and his own personal desires have caused him some troubles. He’s not perfect. He’s far from it. He just kind of survives, which these days, I suppose, is more than we can hope for.
G.D.: How much longer do you think you’ll keep doing this character?
Geof: I don’t know. Every time I finish one, I think I’ll do something different, but I always come back to him because I can do anything with him. At least in my mind. Maybe I’m just fooling myself.
G.D.: He’s a bit of a blank slate in the sense that there’s so much that can be done with him.
Geof: Yeah. I can’t say that it’s really inspired, and it’s nowhere near as brilliant as George Miller’s Mad Max, who is just this guy who, in the first movie, you find out a bit about. But in the other films, he’s just a guy that falls into these situations, who just wants to survive, but kind of begrudgingly does the right thing. Some people really disliked that Fury Road, saying that he’s not really the main guy there. But he’s the motor of that thing. He’s the guy — I love that movie.
It’s kind of like Clint Eastwood was in the last of those Spaghetti Westerns. I mean, his role in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is pretty removed. He’s the guardian angel — he’s almost a godlike figure by the third movie. If you notice it, you never see him eat, I don’t think you see him sleep, and he’s in the desert and he’s burning up, but he doesn’t sweat. You never see him do anything physical. At the end, you don’t see him load the cannon, he just shoots it. He’s just this very weird angel character.
I always thought the Shaolin Cowboy just kind of stumbled into things. Like me, I stumble into things. I tell you, the only thing I ever wanted to do was to draw comics. I’ve done other things, but I just kind of stumble into them. Like movies – I actually didn’t want to do movies. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it have been great to work on Star Wars or this and that?” But then I thought that if I did, it would take some of the magic away. It hasn’t, but that was one of my concerns, you know, seeing how it was done.