The grim and gritty 80’s introduced comic fans to a variety of four color “bad asses” like Frank Miller’s Batman in “The Dark Knight Returns” and Rohrschach from Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” One of the most unique tough guys of that era was John Gaunt, the star of First Comics’ “Grimjack.” In January 2005, “Grimjack” makes a triumphant return to comics with a trade paperback and an all-new mini series coming from IDW Publishing. CBR News spoke with “Grimjack” creators John Ostrander and Tim Truman about the past, present and future of their creation.
“Grimjack” was an amalgam of genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and hard-boiled mystery. The book was set in the city of Cynosure, a city that existed at the crossroads of every dimension where magic and science governed various city blocks and corruption was rampant. John Gaunt, nicknamed Grimjack, was a mercenary and detective who operated out of his bar, Munden’s Bar. Gaunt grew up fighting in Cynosure’s gladiatorial arena. He was an ex-cop and ex-soldier who had fought in the Demon Wars against the invading forces of Hell.
The series began as a back-up story in First Comics “Starslayer” and eight months later it graduated to it’s own book, which lasted eighty-one issues. A graphic novel, “Demon Knight” was released towards the end of the comic’s run.
“I loved sword and sorcery at the time and also hardboiled detective stories so I decided to combine them and come up with what I called a ‘hard boiled barbarian’,” Ostrander told CBR News about the creation of the character. Grimjack was originally supposed to prowl the streets of a post-apocalyptic, Chicago but when Ostrander heard that First was creating the city of Cynosure for their comic “Warped” he retooled Grimjack into a denizen of the mystical metropolis.
When their original artist became unavailable, First Comics chose Tim Truman to design the look of Grimjack and the comic’s unique setting. “Mike Gold, editorial head at First, and Joe Staton, who was First’s art director, saw my portfolio at a Chicago minicon,” Truman told CBR News. “The portfolio was filled with fantasy art and tough-assed science fiction mercenary types– the stuff I was into. Mike and Joe knew they’d found their man. A few days later, they gave me a call and asked me to redesign the character and come up with some sample continuity.”
Truman had no problems designing the look of John Gaunt. “He just popped out of my head,” continued Truman. “The first sketch I did flowed right out of my little brain and onto the paper.” Comics like Howard Chaykin’s “Iron Wolf” and underground comics like Spain Rodriguez’s “Trashman” influenced the look of the character. Truman’s art style for the comic blended a variety of influences including Moebius, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, and Barry Windsor Smith.
The area Truman lived in while attending art school helped him depict the multiple realities of Cynosure. “The neighborhood was right on the edge of the downtown area,” said Truman. “You walked one block, away from the bars and the winos and the tenements and you were suddenly in this world of newish-looking office buildings. It was like crossing from one dimension into another.”
Ostrander and Truman’s run on “Grimjack” lasted till issue 19. “First had gone through some bad times and I was a bit disgruntled with the paycheck situation,” said Truman. “Beth was pregnant and I was worried about getting checks. So my enthusiasm factor wilted on the vine, sad to say. I loved the character, but a bad situation had been developing at the company. As a result, I quit and took Eclipse up on their offer to produce my own character, ‘Scout.'”
Tom Sutton, who Truman suggested as his replacement, provided the art for issues 20-28. Ostrander first met long-time collaborator Tom Mandrake when he became the regular “Grimjack” artist for issues 31-54. Flint Henry was the comic’s final artist drawing issues 54-81 and the “Demon Knight” graphic novel.
Grimjack would find no peace in death. After John Gaunt was killed, he walked out of Heaven and returned to Earth to save a friend. This forever intertwined Grimjack’s fate with the city of Cynosure. As long as Cynosure existed, Gaunt/Grimjack would be reincarnated and remember all his past lives. In issue #55 readers were taken two hundred years into Cynosure’s future and introduced to James Edgar Twiley the latest reincarnation of Grimjack.
The idea for James Edgar Twiley came about when head First editor Rick Oliver and “Grimjack” editor Laurel Fitch asked Ostrander for a story idea to boost sales. “Rick really challenged me to come up with something,” said Ostrander. “So I decided to go with an idea that was in the back of my head and that I had once trotted past Laurel who had said ‘No!’ I looked at Rick and said, ‘Okay — how about we boot the series 200 years down the timeline. Grimjack is re-incarnated into another body. He has all his memories from before. All new support cast.’ Without batting an eye, Rick said, ‘fine. Let’s go with that.’ Laurel’s jaw dropped and I gulped but I am really glad we did that. We re-thought the book and the setting and it brought a new energy and life to the book.”
It’s difficult for Ostrander to pick his favorite issues of “Grimjack”. “The first issue really set the tone and, a few issues later, we did one called ‘My sins remembered’ that was pretty intense. The end of the Trade Wars is also a fave of mine, when Gaunt’s friends rally around him although he figures he’s never going to see another sunrise. The story arc where we kill Gaunt is a particular favorite and I especially liked the one right after Gaunt is killed, where his murderer is hunted down,” he said. Ostrander’s favorite Twiley “Grimjack” issues include, the first story arc and the graphic novel, where Grimjack’s role in “The Demon Wars” is explored.
Truman’s favorite “Grimjack” work is the early back up stories he drew in “Starslayer.” “Those were the best drawn and, I think, the best written. They raised the bar for everything that followed in the series. They are also the ones that the comics’ world took notice of us, ‘Hey, this character is fantastic! And it’s Science Fiction!’ Those stories got us our own series,” Truman said. When the monthly “Grimjack” book launched, Truman was pencilling and inking both “Grimjack” and “Starslayer.” “I was completing an average of 45 pages of pencils and inks per day! That helped spawn some real bad habits in drawing technique that I’ve only been able to overcome in the last five years or so. In any event, it’s hard for me to look at those early issues of ‘Grimjack’ when it became its own book. The pace was absolutely unreal, and I really didn’t have my drawing chops down. Still, many people liked the book and it had a big impact on the look and feel of comics that came after it, which is a cool feeling.”
“Grimjack” was cancelled in the early nineties, but fans of the book still clamored for more. They begged Ostrander and Truman for new “Grimjack” stories, but various legal questions involving rights to the character prevented any new “Grimjack” tales. The legal mess involving Grimjack began to clear up when Ostrander enlisted the help of an old friend. “What it basically came down to was that I wasn’t able to negotiate a deal that I could, in fact, trust. I don’t have the knowledge or the experience. When my brother Joel, who’s a lawyer, pointed this out to me basically by saying, ‘You suck at negotiating,’ I realized I needed someone who I could trust who did know something about this. I talked it over with Tim Truman and we both agreed Mike Gold was the best person,” Ostrander said
When the legal problems were recently resolved, Ostrander and Truman decided to bring their character to IDW. Their friend, Beau Smith, IDW’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, was a big factor in choosing the company. “He’s basically in charge of promoting books and dealing with retailers and he really knows his stuff. Good ol’ boy and very canny. He’s also a big fan of GrimJack. IDW is really going to town in promoting Grimjack and Beau is selling hard,” Ostrander said.
In January of 2005, IDW will release the first in a series of trade paperbacks collecting the entire “Grimjack” run. The first trade will be 120 pages and collect the early back up “Grimjack” stories from “Starslayer.” The trade will feature a painted cover by Truman, who will be painting the covers for all the trades using a “new graphite-and-photographers-watercolors technique,” he recently developed.
The first trade will feature numerous extras, including a new 8-page story from Ostrander and Truman that will serve as a bookend to the stories in the trade. Truman told CBR News that the first trade would also feature some early Grimjack sketches and promotional ads, memoir sections from Ostrander and Truman, and possibly introductions by some special guests.
Also in January, IDW will release issue #1 of an all-new six issue “Grimjack” mini series by Ostrander and Truman. Truman will also provide painted covers for the mini series using his new technique. The mini-series will star the John Gaunt incarnation of Grimjack. “I’ve got Tim Truman. I’d be a fool if I didn’t do John Gaunt. And I’m not that big a fool. And there are things you don’t know about Gaunt. Old fan or newcomer — you’re going to get into it,” Ostrander said
Ostrander and Truman hope the first mini-series will sell well so they can continue to tell new “Grimjack” stories. “If the orders are there, I’m sure we’ll be only happy to comply. Seriously, let your retailer know around November when the solicitation is out that you want these books so they know to order them for you. Sales determines what happens next,” Ostrander told CBR News. Truman added, “Comics-wise, if the sales are what we expect, I’d be perfectly happy doing John Gaunt forever, barring the occasional ‘Scout’ graphic novel or miniseries.”
Ostrander is thrilled to return to the world of “Grimjack” and Cynosure. “It’s been like coming home and seeing old friends. Gaunt’s been there and waiting. He just looked at me and said, ‘Took you long enough. Get lost?’ As much as I love what I’ve done in my career, things just happen on GrimJack that don’t happen elsewhere. What’s interesting now to me is that when I started writing about Grimjack, I was younger than him. Now I’m older than him and my life experience has, I should hope, given me a deepened understanding. And I’m a more experienced writer. So we’ll see how that all works out.”
Truman, who is now much more comfortable as an artist relished, the chance to illustrate “Grimjack” again and echoed Ostrander’s sentiments, “Collaborating with John Ostrander, who is like a brother to me– has been like coming home after a war in another country. It just feels so good. The book is a natural for me.”
When all the legal issues were resolved, the rights to Grimjack belonged to Ostrander, Truman and their two partners; Mike Gold, who serves as a literary agent for the “Grimjack” property, and attorney Ken Levin, who is charge of developing a possible “Grimjack” feature film.
Ostrander and Truman would both love to see a series of silver screen “Grimjack” adventures. Each has their own ideas about who would make the perfect Grimjack. Truman believes “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell, X-Men’s Hugh Jackman, and T2 star Robert Patrick would all be great in the role. Ostrander said, “I sort of like Viggo Mortensen (“Lord of the Rings”) right now although Wes Studi (“Heat,” “Geronimo”) has a great face and can really get the intensity of the character. Tom Cruise would be real interesting and, if he said he wanted to do it, the movie would get made. And there’s probably people I don’t remember or don’t even know who would kill in this part.”
Fan dedication brought “Grimjack” back from cancellation and kept interest in it alive when it was trapped in legal limbo. When asked why the book inspired such intense fan loyalty, Ostrander said, “The characters grew and changed. There were relationships that were important. There were issues that meant something. All coupled with a lot of violence and a lot of humor. And Cynosure is just a great damn setting.” Truman added, “Chemistry, I guess. John and I have unique viewpoints and interests. They all added up to John Gaunt. It might sound self-serving, but in the end the whole thing was all up to us. We pulled it off, it rocked some folks, and it hung in there.”