The Influences Behind Shaolin Cowboy

Darrow’s longest running and probably best known comic work is Shaolin Cowboy. The ongoing story is cinematic in scope, so it’s no surprise that some of Darrow’s biggest influences are some of cinema’s most iconic films.

“I’ve always been a huge fan and I grew up when every TV show on Earth was a western, so I really liked westerns. I was a big fan of Clint Eastwood on the show Rawhide and Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive. Then when Italian westerns came out, those really affected me a lot. In high school, PBS would run this great directors series and they ran this film called Seven Samurai when I was 13. I was like ‘Holy cow. Wow.’ And then I tried to find everything I could find on Japanese samurai films.”

“I was familiar with Godzilla and Astro Boy and all that stuff, but then I saw Yojimbo which is one of my favorite films of all time and then Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. I was also a young kid when the Kung Fu craze took off, so I was watching Bruce Lee and I love those. So after I finished working with Frank Miller on this comic called The Big Guy, I just wanted to do something that had all that kind of stuff that I like in. I’m a huge fan of Shintaro Katsu who plays Zatoichi, so I kind of based the character on him. I also really like spaghetti westerns. I thought ‘I’d really like to make a samurai cowboy!’ Samurai Cowboy sounded kind of goofy, but Shaolin Cowboy sounded kind of goofy enough that it might be kind of neat.”.

“So I just started drawing it! The idea originally was just giving him various things to hurt people with! In the last one I think he used a pair of dogs like nunchucks to fight off all these guys. I thought it was kind of funny. I mean the whole thing is just about a guy walking and things happen to him.”

Darrow’s First Foray Into Movies

Darrow has shaped contemporary film culture with his work on The Matrix, but he was first approached by one of the most famous directors of all time to create an adult animation show that sadly never came to be.

“The first thing that I ever worked on movie wise was during the time when The Simpsons was extremely popular. Suddenly all the networks wanted to do an adult show. So I get this call and they said ‘Ridley Scott wants you to design an animated film and an animated TV show.’ He was so amazing, he called me up and said, ‘Hello, Mr. Darrow. This is Ridley Scott.’ Then he goes ‘I’m a film director’ and he gave me his resume! He never assumed that I knew who he was, which I thought was amazing. I know so many guys even in comics who walk in and say ‘Do you know who I am?’ No, and I don’t want to! At that time, he was such a nice and open minded guy. He gave me his home number and told me to call anytime. His assistant said ‘Don’t ever call him without calling me first.’ But Ridley Scott was like, ‘Call me. Come to my house. Anytime.’ and then he flew me down to the Cannes Film Festival. We went to see Thelma and Louise.

“That was the first time I got asked to work in film. It never happened. I did a couple drawings and that was it was. He’d seen Akira and he said he wanted to do better than that every week! I told him ‘Mr. Scott, you’re going to have to go to Japan because you don’t have those kind of animators in the United States and they’re all pretty busy and you’re never going to find anybody who can do that much about quality in a week.’ He just kept saying ‘That’s okay, we’ll make it happen.’ But it never happened.”

He also has another film credit, though according to Darrow it’s one he’d rather forget!

“Mike Richardson was the producer of Barbwire because it was based his comic books. He asked ‘Can we use this thing you drew in Hard Boiled?’ He said ‘Oh we’ll give you this money.’ I have no idea how much it was, but it seemed like a lot of money for having to do nothing. I said sure but I didn’t want a credit on it. I hate that movie. I think it’s the worst. It’s Casablanca! A ripoff of Casablanca. Oh, it’s so horrible. And I didn’t want to go and see it. It was actually Lana Wachowski at the time who said ‘You’ve got to go’ and they made me go with them to see it! I’d just started working on The Matrix and it was horrible, they were laughing at me the whole way through.”

How He Came to Design The Matrix

Whilst living in France, Darrow took on a job that would change his life and introduce him to some of his closest friends and collaborators, the Wachowski sisters.

“Warner Bros. called me up when I was living in Normandy, France and they said ‘We want you to work with the Wachowskis’ and I didn’t know who they were. They said ‘Well, they’ve done a movie called Bound.’ I hadn’t seen it. At the time it hadn’t actually even come out! But they said ‘Oh they wrote the script for a film called Assassins.’ I’d seen that and I thought it was interesting, so I said ‘Well, send me the script and I’ll read it. If I think I can draw what they have in there, I’ll do it.’ I didn’t want to say I could do it if it’s something I couldn’t draw!”

“He sent me the script and I found out from them later on that I was the only guy that they sent it to, and the studio was outraged that I asked! But the Wachowskis thought it was cool that I asked, and I loved it. I thought it was fantastic, so they flew me out there. We talked about that and then I went back to Normandy and I drew the first few images of film while living in the countryside in France, which was the lowest of low tech places you can imagine for what was at the time one of the most high tech films!”

“I’m actually in the third one if you look for me! I’m triplets. There’s a scene where they have these robots with machine guns I designed and they’re shooting at the Sentinels, you know those squid things, and I’m piloting each one of those things. In The Matrix, I’m the only guy in the real world that has glasses! And they will often print this picture from that scene. I mean, my head is about the size of an ant but still.”

“I always say that it was all their vision, I was just trying to put it on paper. I remember at the time they told me ‘You know if this movie gets made people will know exactly what you did in this film.’ I thought they would take my drawing and give it to somebody way more qualified who would turn into something that was way better. I remember sitting at the premiere with them [The Wachowskis] the first time and when they show that scene of him plugged in I was like ‘Holy Shit!’ They actually did what I had drawn, and I remember kind of looking over at them and they leaned forward with these beautiful smiles on their faces like ‘See, told ya!’ And I was just so flattered that they thought enough of my drawings to actually build that stuff.”

“There were others artists, like Steve Skroce who worked with them in comics and he storyboarded so much of that movie, I would guess 70%. But gosh it was just such an adventure because no one believed in it. And it kind of started and stopped, and I worked on it for about three months and they brought us back for another four months and still it wasn’t until they got Keanu that they actually greenlit the thing.”

“Wow. Watching [Keanu] work. He was such a hard working young man. Wow. He worked so hard, he put his health at risk. Watching him film when he was on the wires and they were yanking him up and down. Yikes! That was amazing to see because I grew up in Iowa, which is kind of a backward place, especially these days. And to think that I was sitting in the back of a truck with them on this freeway that they’ve built and they’re blowing up cars and I’m just thinking holy cow how lucky is that?”

Continue Reading Legendary Artist Geof Darrow on Designing for ‘The Matrix,’ Working With Ridley Scott and His Love of Making Comics >>

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