JOHN OSTRANDERThe following is an e-mail interview with JOHN OSTRANDER, writer of THE SPECTRE, HEROES FOR HIRE, QUICKSILVER, GRIMJACK, FIRESTORM, and one of my favorite books, SUICIDE SQUAD, among many others. This interview took place August 4, 1998. JOHN DALTON: What is your earliest comic book memory?
JOHN OSTRANDER: My mother believed Dr. Wertham and I wasn't allowed to read superheroes (which I did, on the sly) but Classics Illustrated, Disney comics, that sort of thing was okay. I remember Zorro comics because I was a big Zorro fan and I remember a 25 cent giant Rocky And His Friends which I really loved. At Catholic school, we had a comic book anthology called Treasure Chest and one year it was really good and I remember that quite clearly. My first marvel was Spiderman 49, where he was unmasked by the Green Goblin. I didn't really know a whole lot of what was going on but I could see it was plenty cool and I was hooked. I read DC off and on before and after that but really came back over when Jack Kirby went to DC and did his Fourth World stuff.
JOHN DALTON: How did you get your first break writing comics?
JOHN OSTRANDER: An old friend, Mike Gold, was starting up First Comics and knew I was a big comic book fan from way back. He had seen some of the plays I had written or co-written and decided it would be interesting to see what I could do in the medium. I wrote my first plot on spec, an 8 page story featuring Sargon, Mistress of War from the WARP comic book play trilogy. Then I re-wrote it and re-wrote it again, using Mike's critiques until he finally bought it and put it into the back of the first issue of WARP (which adapted the stage play into comics). And the rest, as they say, is hysteria.
JOHN DALTON: What in your early experiences prepared you to write for comics?
JOHN OSTRANDER: I love stories. I love reading stories, I love telling stories. I was a great reader from an early age--I'd read all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by the time I was ten. I so loved reading that I wanted to give back some of the pleasure I got out of it. As a kid, I would write one page serials for my friends (who threw them away unread) when I should have been paying attention in class. That probably fed into my later desire to do narratives. Then, when I was out of school and living with four other guys in a rented house we dubbed Wayne Manner, I did a home-made cartoon strip lampooning all of us called Wayne Manners. (My art style was/is BAD G.B. Trudeau so none of my artistic partners have ever had to worry.) From that, I began to get some idea of how much verbiage one could put into a panel. My later theater experiences also helped, giving me an ear for the rythmns of dialogue and in innate sense of dramatic structure and plot.
JOHN DALTON: What work are you most proud of?
JOHN OSTRANDER: That's a difficult choice; there are several pieces I'm very proud of and almost every run I've done on a book has issues I'm very proud of. Grimjack is undoubtedly still what I'm still best known for. The Kents was one of the most ambitious things I've ever attempted. The Spectre is a wonderful whole. Batman: Seduction of the Gun is, I think, a very important piece of work in that it actually influenced legislation in the state of Virginia. And the Oracle: Year One story that I wrote with Kimberly Yale ranks up there with my very best, I think.
JOHN DALTON: If you could have free reign to write any character or characters in any situation, what would it be?
JOHN OSTRANDER: I wouldn't mind another crack at Suicide Squad. I intend to write Grimjack again someday. I always liked Dr. Strange and I have definite ideas about what the Fantastic Four should be. Mostly, I just really like what I'm doing right now.
JOHN DALTON: What do you see changing in comics, for better or worse, as we enter the 21st Century?
JOHN OSTRANDER: The biggest question is going to be how to reach market. If the direct sale market keeeps dying out as it has been, comics will have to find another way to reach its customers or it will die out as well. We may see the return to a broader base, such as newstand (if newstand can still be found) but that would mean fewer titles and a change in the way they are written; less carryover from issue to issue and more self-contained stories. We need to reach out to more of the general public and attract them to the industry. It's the only way the comics industry will survive--if it survives.
JOHN DALTON: With "Heroes For Hire", you have been a part of the wave of nostalgic revivals of classic characters, Power Man and Iron Fist pre-eminent among them. What, in your opinion, has sparked this sudden interest in these older characters?
JOHN OSTRANDER: The characters really haven't been seen much in the past few years which makes them sort of new and, at the same time, have a track record. Most characters can be made to work if you look at why they worked (or didn't work) in the first place. In general, if they're popular again it is because people always had a FONDNESS for them and that means there is something TO them.
JOHN DALTON: We've had the Golden Age and the Silver Age; some say we may be finishing the Dark Age or ImAge. What is next for comics?
JOHN OSTRANDER: I dunno. The fool's Golden Age? The Black Hole Age where everything shrinks down to a point of market gravity so dense that no comics can actually get out? A rebith? A death throe? I just don't know.
JOHN DALTON: On our show, we ranked Suicide Squad as one of the best mainstream books of the 80s, and many others feel the same way. What has contributed to the book's popularity over time?
JOHN OSTRANDER: It was hard to guess exactly where we were going to go next. And, once we killed Rick Flag, we showed that NO ONE was safe. Characters came, characters went, sometimes in body bags. Our readers couldn't take anything for granted.
JOHN DALTON: We can't let you escape without asking for your vision of Luke Cage, one of our favorite characters of all time.
JOHN OSTRANDER: Street smart and tough but don't assume that is all he has going for him. Plenty of smarts and savvy as well. And he's best friends to the whitest white man we've seen in comics, Danny Rand. That friendship, which everyone ACCEPTS, indicates a complexity to the character that we might not have otherwise ever seen.