The Really Real World

Illustration by Derek Chatwood

Squibs are those little packs of fake blood that trigger to pop when an electric current is applied. So it looks like you got shot, on cue. The squibs were in the grocery bag. No blood, just a little something to break the “bullet” holes in the bag. The blood squibs were lined up behind the bag, under his shirt. So when he was shot on camera, it would look good, like he was gut-shot for real. Except there was a chunk of metal or plastic lodged in the barrel of the revolver, left over from a tragic series of mistakes made during an exhausting film shoot. So when the gun fired, it may as well have been loaded with a real bullet. He went down, the squibs went off, blood spattered, and the director yelled “cut!”

It took the cast and crew a good minute to realize something was wrong. He wasn’t getting up. He lay there, the fake blood masking the real wound in his abdomen. They were ninety minutes from the nearest hospital. The last night of shooting. Six days from his wedding.

And that’s how Brandon Lee died.

I feel a connection to The Crow. I found most of the comics in a bargain bin. It was beautiful, angry work. The creator lost a loved one, and poured his loss into this art, this story. It was the first comic I read that wasn’t a comic. It meant something. It was trying to be something more. I wanted Brandon to play that character, years before there was a movie. I wanted Brandon to make a dozen movies, two dozen. But The Crow more than anything, The Crow first. I carry a weird bit of guilt for that. Probably doesn’t help he’s buried a few blocks from my house. Next to his father.

The Crow taught me how to use ink. The Crow taught me that a person could write and draw their own story, and publish it on their own terms. The Crow taught me that people I thought I’d see grow old and do really interesting things, could just end, and vanish away. And the survivors, the people who knew them, and how they could feel guilty in large and small ways, for their deaths.

There’s a scene in The Crow, when one of the bad guys realizes Brandon’s character is back from the dead. He knows this because he’s the guy that shot him dead. And he says to him, “You can’t come back. This is the really real world. You can’t come back in the really real world.”

He was the actor who shot Brandon dead.

It always makes me cry.

Derek Chatwood is a very tall man in Seattle and is a geek for anything that can’t easily be explained by science, because it usually makes for great television.