CTG Interview Series: John Ostrander

by Wombatapult on October 23, 2014


At Detroit Fanfare 2013, Comics the Gathering staff writer Seth “Wombat” Morris got a chance to interview John Ostrander. Ostrander is famously the architect and writer of the classic Suicide Squad comics and acclaimed author of Grimjack, Martian Manhunter, Star Wars: Legacy, and much more.

Wombat then promptly got bogged down with work and never had time to transcribe his interviews, which sat in a dusty vault for a year...

Until now.

CTG: What do you think has been the high point of your career so far?

JOHN OSTRANDER: There are so many different ways of defining that: my favorite thing to work on, my most successful financially, what critically was the best—I don't know if I can pick out one, but I can pick out several. Working on The Spectre was certainly great. I loved working on The Kents; that was really very satisfying to me. Getting a chance to work with both Tim Truman and Tom Mandrake on it, of course, always made it great. Working with Jan Dursema on our Star Wars stuff. We're good friends, and were before, and what we accomplished on that, I think, has been really phenomenal. Anytime I can do Grimjack is a high point! Wasteland was a high point—we ran it up to eighteen issues, I think, and we considered that a triumph because we figured we'd be canceled by twelve. So we actually got about six extra issues in. But Wasteland was also very demanding, in that every eight pages it was like a whole new setting. It was like writing in a whole new world every few pages. But I think the results have actually been wonderful. I've had a very, very good career and I'm quite happy with the career I've had, and the chances I've had, with the books I've gotten to do... there's nothing I think I actually regret.

CTG: What character or group of characters have you invested most personally in your writing? Which ones have you felt the most connection to?

JOHN OSTRANDER: Well, Grimjack would probably be at the top of the list, because he's my character. We created him and he was envisioned by Tim Truman so wonderfully. Suicide Squad was a group that remains something that I was highly invested in; there's such a broken group of personalities in there and I really, really enjoyed that. That probably brought out lots of different aspects of my own personality. The Spectre, as well. Those would probably be the top three, and not necessarily in that order. Except for Grimjack, Grimjack is still on top!
CTG: What part of your writing process is most challenging; and how do you handle that challenge?

JOHN OSTRANDER: Generally working out the plot. Because if it doesn't work in the plot it's not going to work anywhere else. You know, if the dialogue comes along, that's great, that's cool, but I'm pretty good at dialogue. It's not that impossible for me. But for the plotting, you have to stop and ask, does this work? Does that work? Does this follow that in a reasonable manner? So making sure the plot mechanics and all of the emotional points are there, getting to a place where you think you intended at the start. That would probably be the toughest.

CTG: Favorite animal, favorite color, favorite food. Go!


JOHN OSTRANDER: Favorite color? I tend to favor brown but I wear a lot of blue. Can't explain that. Favorite animal? My cats. I love dogs too and I've had some great dogs, but right now I'm missing my buddy Micah at home.

CTG: Cats are pretty fantastic.

JOHN OSTRANDER: Yeah, Micah's a sweetheart. We went just looking at kittens, not planning to adopt any. Mary handed me the one that would turn out to be Micah, and he just flopped over in my arms, belly up, and went “Okay, you're my human now. Take me home.” He's been my big buddy ever since. Favorite food... I like a lot of kinds of pasta and breads, but I just generally like to cook, and I've got a few recipes that are just killer. I've got sweet-and-sour ribs for the slow-cooker that I'm going to make probably next week. I love a good barbecue. And I love a good burger—a good burger—not just McDonalds, but a really good, thick burger. That's good eating.

CTG: What was the easiest assignment or project you ever had?

JOHN OSTRANDER: All of them have aspects that are easy, all of them have aspects that are challenging. If they aren't challenging, there's not much point. The paycheck of course always has its own validity, but... boy, that's a really hard one. I will say this: we'd been off Grimjack for a while at one point, and then we were coming back. We did the first of a new series in a long time. And I felt a little trepidation about doing it because Grimjack has a very distinctive voice, and what if that wasn't there? It'd been years! So I set out to write it, and he was talking to me right off, like I'd never been away. So when the voice is there, when the character is there, boom! That's just the sweet spot.

CTG: How have your interactions with fans been here at Detroit Fanfare?

JOHN OSTRANDER: I've been quite lucky with my fans in general, seeing them here in Detroit, all coming up and saying how much they've appreciated my work over the years and stuff like that. I get to tell them how much their support has meant to me! I've said many times in the past, I never, ever take that for granted and I never will. You know there's so many different ways people can spend their money rather than on something that I wrote, so any time they do, I'm honored that they choose to.

CTG: Can we expect any more DC Comics work from you in the near future?

JOHN OSTRANDER: Well, as early as this week the Aquaman Annual I wrote is coming out. Other than that nothing at the moment but I'm in touch with a lot of the editors up there, especially the younger editors. I keep hearing from them saying “oh yeah, I grew up reading you!” and I say “alright, well, I'm old now.” They're all very enthusiastic and they remember well. Geoff Johns in particular has been very enthusiastic and very generous and has worked behind the scenes to get me more work. Gail Simone has always been quite supportive, and so nice, and she's such a good writer. And just such a good person, as well. And that altogether has been tremendously appreciated.

CTG: Last question. Which comics are you reading?

JOHN OSTRANDER: I haven't read as much in the last year or two, for no particular reason. I love comics, I love superheroes, I love non-superhero books. I generally tend to follow a creator more than a given title. Gail Simone, Jeff Smith, Walt Simonson. You always want to know what Brian Bendis is doing, you always want to know what Mark Waid is doing, you always want to know what Alan Moore is doing. I picked up that Batman thing that Neil Gaiman was doing just because he's Neil Gaiman—who also, by the way, has written two incredibly good Doctor Who episodes!

CTG: Really?

JOHN OSTRANDER: Yes! The two episodes he's written for Doctor Who, particularly the first one, were knocked straight out of the ballpark. Also Grant Morrison. His All-Star Superman is one of the best Superman stories ever written, as far as I'm concerned. I'm almost afraid to name anyone, because later I'll go “Oh I forgot blank, and then there was blank, and then there was also blank!” We are in an extraordinary era of comic books, between the mainstream, the sidestream, the internet—there's so much that's good out there. You could read twenty-four hours a day and go blind reading just the good stuff! Let alone the mediocre, and yeah, sometimes the bad. Theodore Sturgeon was once asked what to say to the accusation that 99% of science fiction is crap, he shrugged and said that 99% of anything is crap. You run into that in comics sometimes, maybe even my stuff sometimes. There's some stuff out there that if I could burn all those copies, I would. But there is a wealth of good stuff out there right now. Amazingly so. This is one of the best eras of comics. If you take a look at the number of top-notch people working in the industry, that just amazes me.


CTG: This is a great time to be a comic fan.

JOHN OSTRANDER: Yeah, and we've got so many good movies coming out of the comics as well. Including—and this is always fun to do to someone who disdainfully goes “Well, I don't watch comic book movies.”—ask them if they watched Road to Perdition. They'll say “Oh yeah, great movie.” That was a graphic novel first, thank you! That was a comic book. And there are plenty of others you wouldn't think were comic books first. Take that, snobs!

CTG: For real! Mister John Ostrander, it's been a pleasure talking to you and thanks for the interview!

JOHN OSTRANDER: My pleasure!



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