Veteran comic book writer John Ostrander has legions of fans. And from his own creation for First Comics, “Grimjack,” to his landmark run on “Suicide Squad” (where he famously re-introduced former Batgirl Barbara Gordon to the DC Universe as Oracle), the 60-year old Chicago native has also proved to be a major influence for dozens, if not hundreds, of new writers breaking into the industry over the years.
So when news broke Ostrander was facing some major medical bills while undergoing surgery to reduce damage done to his eyes from glaucoma, the comic book industry and its fans rallied. Spearheaded by fan favorite writer Gail Simone and with a launch at Chicago Comic-Con earlier this month, the Comix4Sight art auction has already raised more than $30,000 for Ostrander. Those who couldn’t attend the convention have a chance at purchasing their own piece of comics history as an auction to sell all remaining pieces of art has moved online, and the first lot goes on sale today at www.comix4sight.com.
All monies raised above Ostrander’s medical expenses goes directly to The Hero Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that assists comics creators in need of assistance.
Ostrander also made news recently when it was announced he would be writing “Secret Six” #15, a fill-in issue of Gail Simone’s critically acclaimed DC Comics series. The issue will focus on Deadshot, a character Ostrander energized during his run on “Suicide Squad” in the 1980s. Ostrander’s latest Grimjack story, “The Manx Cat,” is also on sale now from IDW Publishing.
CBR News spoke with Ostrander about the writing assignment, the power of Amanda Waller, and what it means to have the comic book industry rallying around him as he fights for his sight against a disease without any known cure.
CBR: The industry has really rallied in your support. Did you have any idea this campaign would explode the way it has?
JOHN OSTRANDER: It’s absolutely astounding. In fact, it’s almost hard for me to wrap my head around it. There was a fan at Chicago Comic-Con for the first art auction and he came up to me and apologized because he was only able to contribute $20. I’m like, “Really?” I mean, every time a fan buys a book of mine, they’re contributing. All the rest of it is just beyond anything that I ever anticipated. It’s not just the money itself – although I’ll take it – as equal to or greater importance is the good wishes that I’m getting and all the kindness. I feel a little bit like George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Everyone’s going, “John’s in trouble? Well, what can we do?” You just don’t anticipate that kind of response.
I don’t know how many ways I can say thank you but I’m going to have to learn.
|“Grimjack: The Manx Cat” #1 on sale now|
Obviously you would have preferred not becoming the poster child for this disease, at least within the comic book business, but has some good come from all this in terms of the awareness it raised about glaucoma?
I think there’s that, but there’s also the very real fact that freelancers are very vulnerable in terms of lacking health insurance. There are so many of us. Unless you have a contract or something like that, it’s very hard to be able to pay for health insurance. And if you have a pre-existing condition, it’s almost impossible. And so in addition to bringing notice to glaucoma, it’s a realization of how few people here, in our industry, have or can afford health insurance.
And I insisted from the beginning that anything above what I do not need will go to help others. And from the looks of it, from all the money that’s come in, that’s actually going to be quite considerable.
Another plus is that it has shown that this industry is willing to stand up and help a friend in need.
I know. It’s astounding. If you want to talk about everything that we write about in terms of superheroes, this is really what it’s about. It’s stepping up and lending a helping hand and doing it so eagerly and so willingly. It speaks so highly of all the people in this industry.
And to update folks, you’ve been hearing some good news from your doctor, correct?
Yes. I go back in mid-September for a little bit more eye surgery in order to clear up some scarring in one eye. But the other eye, the doctor is really pleased with. And he’s confident that he’ll be able to bring this one down to where it should be.
Let’s talk about your upcoming issue of “Secret Six” and what fans are most excited about, your return to Deadshot.
I love Deadshot. He’s one of those characters whose voice – whenever I go back to right him – just automatically comes. I don’t have to think hard about what he’s going to say. He just kind of says it. I have a handful of characters like that – Grimjack being one. Amanda Waller being one. And Deadshot certainly is one.
What is it about Deadshot that you think makes him such a fan favorite?
|Pages from “Grimjack: The Manx Cat” #1|
There’s an aura of cool around him. There seems to be the basic attitude that he doesn’t care if he dies and he doesn’t mind if you die. I think Gail put it, “He doesn’t care which side of the gun that’s he’s on.” He doesn’t have a death wish per se, but he doesn’t care if he dies either. He’s got a complicated back-story. But also, in particular when I write him, he’s just very terse and very casual. Every so often, you see a loose screw but most of the time, he’s just very, very cool.
Is there any John Ostrander in Deadshot?
Oh, there’s something of me in all of my characters. There has to be, otherwise they’re dead. Somebody once said, “Stories are an author arguing within him or herself.” And we all have lots of different sides to our personality. Every single one of us and so I just tap into a specific side when I’m writing and sometimes, depending on the character, I tap into sides that I don’t really like but are there.
With Deadshot, what are you tapping?
There’s a part of me that’s very cold. Very few people see it. It’s like, “I don’t really care what you think.” For the most part I do but there is a side of me that’s just very cold and there’s a negative side to me, as well, just as there is in all of us but I just find it and use it.
Is your upcoming “Secret Six” issue focused purely on Deadshot or will the rest of the cast be involved?
It’s just Deadshot, basically. We get a montage of the group just so everyone knows, yes, this is the Secret Six. But this issue is focusing primarily on Deadshot.
Can you tell us anything about the actual story you’ll be telling in “Secret Six” #15?
For reasons that I don’t actually want to get into just yet, we re-tell Deadshot’s origin and we re-tell in a certain way so that – I just can’t say or it will climb up on me – we maybe revise his origin in light of how we’ve developed the character since. And there’s a guest shot from Batman, from Bruce Wayne Batman, which is of course part of his origin, as well. So we have him in the story too.
|Pages from “Grimjack: The Manx Cat” #1|
Is Batman another character you love to write whenever you get a chance?
Oh, yeah. Who wouldn’t want to write Batman?
“Secret Six,” written by your pal Gail Simone, has been a critical hit for DC Comics. If there was ever opportunity to write a solo series spinning out from it featuring Deadshot, or maybe a co-feature like in so many DC books, would you jump at the chance?
Of course. I always would. And Gail Simone, who is a wonderful writer and has been so generous, basically urged DC to take me to do what was essentially a fill-in. She’s been very supportive. And she told everyone who can listen that if DC ever had me doing “Suicide Squad” again, she would immediately give up Deadshot for that. Although, I keep telling her that I don’t think that’s necessary because she’s doing wonderful things over on “Secret Six.” Gail has been hugely supportive.
How did the two of you get to become such good friends?
We started talking basically via email and she’s been a big fan of my stuff for a long time. She’s been very generous in her praise and saying that I influenced her after she decided she wanted to get into writing comics. She has been very generous. There was one time when I mentioned something to her that was a little obscure that she might not of her heard of and she emailed me back and said, “You don’t understand. I’ve read **everything** you’ve done.” So again, she’s been wonderful that way.
Anyway, we were both down at the Superman celebration in Metropolis, which is a lovely little shin-dig. It’s one part small comic book convention and one-part small town fair dominated by this big statue of Superman. And we met there, among other people that I met, and we just had a wonderful time with Gail and her husband Scott. It was just great. We hit it off on so many levels and we think about story so often in the same way. It’s really nice.
You mentioned earlier a return to “Suicide Squad.” Is there anything in the works on that front?
No. If they offered it to me, I’d do it in a second. I love doing Squad stories. The funny thing is, I went back and re-read the very first issues and the story was about Jihad practicing for a terrorist strike. At the time, it was kind of outlandish, but today, it’s kind of chilling.
|Pages from “Grimjack: The Manx Cat” #1|
If you did get another shot at Suicide Squad, who else would you want besides Deadshot on the team?
Unless you’re totally re-inventing the concept, which is what I did when Dick Giordano was [at DC], I would really want Amanda Waller front and center. Would I like Deashot? Sure. Would I like Rick Flagg? Sure. Would I like Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang Jr.? Sure. But I think the essential lynchpin in my vision of the squad is Amanda Waller.
What do you love about Amanda Waller?
There’s a take-no-prisoners attitude about her. In fact, I wrote an essay for the upcoming “Supervillains and Philosophy” paperback and I wrote it on the Squad and about Waller, based on who she is and her experiences. She has a no-nonsense attitude. She has a real idea about protecting people and she doesn’t mind getting her or anybody else’s hands dirty doing it.
She’s not a traditional good guy but I don’t see her as a bad guy either. I see her with a job to do. What scares me is that she’s similar to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who I don’t particularly like. They have a great deal in common.
Have your talks around writing “Secret Six” #15 led to any other discussions in terms of other projects for DC Comics?
I’m hopeful. In fact, there is something that I’m working on but I can’t talk about it right now. But yes, there is something else in the works. And when they announce it, you’ll know what it is.
Can you update us on what’s going on with Grimjack?
The Grimjack story that we did online at ComicMix is now being published by IDW. It’s “Grimjack: The Manx Cat” and the first issue is out right now.
And of course, I’m doing “Star Wars: Legacy.” And I’m doing “Star Wars: Purge” #2. And then there are some other things that I’m trying to interest people in but just because lately things have been a little nuts around here, I haven’t had time to pursue them as actively as I’d like to.
“Secret Six” #15, written by John Ostrander and featuring art by J. Calafiore and a cover by Daniel LuVisi, goes on sale November 4 from DC Comics.
“Grimjack: The Manx Cat” #1 is on sale now from IDW Publishing.