Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fireside Chat with John Ostrander


Hi there readers, it is time once again for another of our Fireside Chats. Get yourself comfortable as we speak with legendary comic book writer John Ostrander. We will be chatting a bit about his current ongoing Star Wars series Agent of the Empire & Dawn of the Jedi, currently on the stands at the moment. We'll be touching on the workings of the series and general comics as a whole. So check it out! 

John Ostrander is a legendary comic book writer, with fantastic runs under his belt in his many years in the industry. Some of these runs include Grimjack, Manhunter, Firestorm, The Spectre and Suicide Squad (in which he reinvented the character Barbara Gordon as the information broker Oracle). Since the year 2000 he has been one of the main architects for the Star Wars series of comics released by Dark Horse, which has included a highly acclaimed series Star Wars: Legacy with Jan Duursema. He's a pretty busy man!

William Tournas: John, thanks for taking the time for this interview. Your series; Agent of the Empire has given an interesting behind the scenes look of the empire. I was wondering how you pitched it to Dark Horse. To you what does “Agent” encompass?


John Ostrander: My editor, Randy Stradley, and I were kicking around some ideas and I pitched him “Star Wars meet James Bond”. That intrigued him; I think I sold it right then. Of course, I had to expand on it. To my mind, if it was going to be like James Bond, the agent really had to be with the Empire; it provides that underlying Imperial structure that Bond has as well. Plus, it gives us an alternate viewpoint to the SW saga. Why would someone serve an Empire that we, as readers, see as so evil? How does our protagonist see it? Can I get the reader to root for him? The series is very SW, I think, but with a different flavor. It’s morally complex but, I hope, very entertaining and intriguing as well.

WT: How much of an inspiration were various Spy fiction like James Bond in creating the character Jahan Cross? Or is he a mix of various other characters?

John Ostrander:
 There’s obviously a lot of Bond in Cross but I’ve read a lot of different spy fiction, watched a lot of movies, including Hitchcock (of course) and they all play into my process. I’ve written a lot of spy related stuff over the years so that all factors in as well.

WT: What was the coordination process like with the Lucas team in creating Dawn of the Jedi? I'm assuming that it had to be approved by them and a lot of back and forth of exchanging of ideas happened?

John Ostrander: Certainly everything we did had to be (and is) approved by Lucas Film Licensing but they let us take the lead in figuring it all out. We worked from some things that were already established or were being established in the Old Republic game and they let us go from there. If we were off, they’d let us know but Jan and I know our SW pretty well and they trust us. There was a considerable amount of freedom.

WT: I'm assuming that a lot of research also had to be done in creating all these new elements in the past?

John Ostrander: Absolutely but we always do that. There’s what I call “fair extrapolation” which means you take a given fact and then you tease out what might happen or what it might mean if you logically pursued it. You might ask where did such and such come from. For example, it was a given that the hyperspace drive that later ships – such as the Millennium Falcon – used originated with the Rakatan hyperdrive that used the Force as a power source. Extrapolating from that, we asked how lightsabers were developed and came up with Rakatan “forcesabers” which were forerunners in terms of the overall technology but used the Force itself as a power source. We thought that since a forcesaber would be an aggressive weapon, it would pull on the dark side as its power source. All of which seemed to make sense to LFL as well as us.

WT: You had a fantastic run with Jan Duursema on Star Wars: Legacy, it's now continuing in the hands of Gabriel Hardman an Corinna Bechko. How do you feel as one of the architects of that Star Wars era, about someone building on your work with new Characters?

John Ostrander: As a practice, I don’t comment in such situations. A case in point was DC’s relaunch(es) of Suicide Squad. The people involved should have the right to follow their own vision without my looking over their shoulder.

WT: With Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, we’ve heard rumors that Star Wars will be moving from Dark Horse to Marvel as well. Does that change writing plans for the various titles you are involved with? Would you be willing to write SW at Marvel?

John Ostrander: I’ve heard the rumors as well but nothing official. In the absence of that, I just plunge ahead. Since we started DotJ, Jan and I have tried to make each arc complete unto itself; if the series were to stop there, then it would still feel relatively complete. At the same time, we try to leave it open enough so that more stories could be done. We control what we can control and not worry about anything else. 

As for writing SW at Marvel – sure, I’d be glad to do it if they wanted Jan and me. There are reasons why they would, I think. We have a proven track record, we have our own fan base, we know how to write SW in a way that pleases both the fans and Lucas Film Licensing (not always a simple matter) and what we do is innovative while, at the same time, FEELS like SW. Our skills and experience would make a new SW editor’s job easier. I think all that has some value so I’d be hopeful.

WT: With the “Hard Targets” storyline coming to a close, will we see more “Agent of the Empire” stories before the end of 2013?

John Ostrander: I certainly would love to do so but that’s up to Dark Horse.

WT: You have written a lot of Star Wars over the past few years, so much so that you’ve become a fan favourite of the franchise. Is there one franchise that you haven’t had a chance to write for, and what would you do with it?
John Ostrander: Actually, at this point, I’d rather do more of my own stuff. The only other franchise I might be interested in would be Doctor Who and that’s because I’ve loved it for so long. What would I do with it? Depends on the incarnation.

WT: Grimjack is another fan-favourite creation of yours and Timothy Turman. Have there been any plans to return to the character, possibly in a prose format?

John Ostrander: I’m always ready to do more Grimjack and there has been talk but nothing I can discuss at the moment. I’m also really interested in doing more prose.

WT: Is there any of the new generation of artists that you would like to work with in the future?

John Ostrander: There’s so many good people out there it would be hard to pick and choose. I’ve met Chris Burnham a couple of times and he’s a nice guy as well as a really good artist and we seemed to hit it off so I’d really be up to do something with him. There’s a lot of established artists I’d love to work with as well.

WT: The One month to Live mini-series a few years ago is a memorable series of mine. Would you ever consider doing another collaborative work like for a miniseries?

John Ostrander:
 Absolutely. I’m a good collaborator, I think, and I enjoyed that experience and I think my fellow writers on the project enjoyed it as well. It was very creative.

WT: If you could, which Marvel characters would you like to take on? I personally would love to see your take on Doctor Strange.

John Ostrander:
 Doctor Strange would be at or pretty close to the top of that list for me as well. Perhaps the bigger question is, who would I NOT like to try my take on? Fabulous roster of characters and very influential on me as a writer.


WT: I recently re-read some of Wasteland, the horror comic you collaborated with Del Close. It’s a comic that still stands the test of time. Would ever consider doing a Horror Anthology like that again?


John Ostrander: I would with some caveats. An anthology is VERY demanding, especially if you’re the only or just one of two writer working on it. But do I have more stories in that vein inside me. Oh yes.

WT: A lot of comic creators over the years have said your iconic run on Suicide Squad has influenced them and their writing, even to this day. How does that feel being an inspiration for other creators?

John Ostrander: I’m flattered that some would say that but it’s not something I think a lot about. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a working stiff trying to do the best writing I can. That’s all I’ve ever been.

WT: Final Question. You probably get asked this a lot, but what words of wisdom can you give to a creator that is just starting out?

John Ostrander: Writing is a combination of heart and mind, talent and skill. You’re writing FOR someone, not just for yourself and not just for the paycheck. That said, what you have to offer as a writer that’s unique is YOU. What is your perspective, your voice – what do you bring to the table that’s unique? 

WT: John, thank you very much for your time.


Star Wars: Agent of the Empire and  Dawn of the Jedi are now available where all good comics are sold. Be sure to go check them out and grab a copy.


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1 comments:

Ryan Huff said...

Great interview! Ostrander is such a legend in the field. I'll follow him where ever he goes... well, as far as the restraining order will allow :)

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