Talking Vampire Hunting with John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Tom Mandrake and John Ostrander are doing a Kickstarter campaign for a new graphic novel about a vampire hunter during the Civil War called Kros: Hallowed Ground. It's almost completely funded with just two days left, so you can help put it over the edge! I figured I'd have a talk with Tom and John about the comic and the campaign.


When did you guys first come up with the idea behind Kros? 

John Ostrander: We first started working on the story of Kros:Hallowed Ground a decade or so ago and had a proposal done that we sent around, but just never found the right home for it. Tom’s done other work, I’ve done other work; I spent a decade or more in Star Wars for Dark Horse, creating new characters and expanding the boundaries of the Extended Universe,creating characters and stories for Legacy, Republic, Dawn of the Jedi and Agent of the Empire. The character of Aayla Secura who I co-created with Jan Duursema even appeared in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith-- and another, Quinlan Vos, was mentioned by Obi-Wan in RotS. I’ve done Westerns for both DC and Marvel because I love the genre. It’s also nice to see that DC is re-printing my work on Spectre, Martian Manhunter, and the Suicide Squad. Gives people a chance to read them again. I love seeing the Squad movie come together; characters that I defined (like Deadshot) or created (like Amanda Waller) will be coming to the big screen in about a year. How cool is that? And now that Tom and I have gotten together on Kros again, it's time to up the ante and create a story that we probably wouldn't get to do the way we want to do it elsewhere.

Tom Mandrake: Other projects always seemed to be jumping onto the board ahead of Kros. John and I did Batman Grotesk together for DC and, among other things, I worked on X-Files/30 Days of Night for IDW, Superman and Batman VS Vampire and Werewolves and Night Force for DC, To Hell You Ride with Lance Henrikson and Joe Maddrey for Dark Horse, the Hulk and Weapon X for Marvel, and Sidekick with J Michael Straczynski for Joe's Comics. Something else always needed more immediate attention and Kros kept getting shuffled back, but it was a project that was always on my mind. I had images pinned to the walls of my studio with the idea that we would make Kros happen someday.

What drew you to the Civil War as a time period for the project?

TM: There was something about the terrible toll that the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg claimed from both the North and the South that made the idea of putting the story of Kros: Hallowed Ground in that place and time resonate for me. Layering the horror of vampires on top of the actual horror of the battle allows us to explore this story in an even more visceral way. Vampires are legendary creatures that portray the obsessive, dark nature of humankind. They demand blood like war demands blood. A pretty terrifying twist.

Also, John and I share an interest in the Civil War era and, specifically, in the Battle of Gettysburg. We've both been there, felt the power of the place. You can't help but feel it—ghosts of the past linger. Recently, my family and I traveled to Gettysburg and we stayed outside of town at a place that overlooked some of the battlefields. Looking out over these places on a misty morning, I could imagine what it looked like in July 1863. We spent our final night there looking out over the mountains from Little Round Top, overlooking Devil's Den, to see the sun set. With all of the other tourists gone, the place was quiet, but it was still not hard to imagine the nation changing event that had taken place there only a little over 150 years ago.

JO: I’ve long been interested in the Civil War. My late wife, Kim Yale, was a real devotee and, thanks to her, we actually walked many Civil War battlefields. That was so enlightening! You not only see where the battles took place, but you smell the air, you touch the stones--some of which still bear the marks of bullets and cannon fire. My trip there created a real fascination in me for an era that I thought I knew. Ken Burns’ masterpiece documentary, THE CIVIL WAR, further heightened my interest. Kros originally started as a western and, maybe, in future stories, we could do that as well, but placing him at Gettysburg gives the story a seriously epic feel. Almost 8.000 men were killed in the three day battle and many more were wounded or captured. You can almost feel them around you if you go there. You know, I grew up and went to college during the Vietnam War and I remember how TV, radio, newspapers and magazines brought the war5 home into everyone’s living room on a daily basis. That was unprecedented, I believe. I think that’s where my understanding of war as a horror story began.  

Tom, I saw you mentioned that you and colorist Sian Mandrake were looking for an unique approach to the book's look - could you speak a bit about that?

TM: Sian and I want to be sure the art doesn't get lost behind the colors. We're going for less modeling in the rendering since I do a lot of that with the line work.. We also want a palette that suggests something of the old sepia, hand colored photographs of the era. Sian and I have worked together on several projects, including Convergence: Suicide Squad, X-Files and John Carpenter's Asylum and her color sense works great for my art.

After working together for more than two decades, how do you think you've each adapted to the specific process of working with each other? Do you write a full script, John?

JO: I've written a lot of full scripts for stories, but Tom and I prefer the plot approach. I think it allows for the fullest collaboration, giving the artist the freedom to expand on what I imagine for the story. This is especially true with Tom. I try not to trap him in how I think it looks, but try to put the focus on what happens in the story, allowing him to interpret it as only he can. One of my running gags is that sometimes Tom draws what I SHOULD have plotted. After Tom has layered his energetic storytelling on top of my story, the art comes back to me for dialogue and I can sculpt the words to fit the art. Character and characterization is so important to us both--it's always a pleasure writing dialogue for the characters that Tom creates.

TM: John and I talk a lot about the work we want to do, discussing the plot and the characters—what makes them tick, what makes them work both emotionally and how they look physically. Many times, John will describe a character, I will sketch out some designs and get the character spot on to what he was thinking about the first time. We are in sync that way. John is a generous writer and has always been open to giving me room to incorporate my ideas about storytelling. It makes telling a story with John exciting! Some really fun scenes have come out of working like this.

How do you think Kros differs from other vampire hunters?

JO: Kros is a dampyr, which means he is part vampire himself. His mother was bitten by a vampire and some its essence passed into her and the child she was carrying – Kros. He is part human, but the nature of his fight with vampires draws him away from his human nature. The more that happens, the less human he becomes and when we first meet him he cares little about humankind and less about the war the North and South are embroiled in. Kros is a monster tracking monsters.

TM: Kros was born before the Salem Witch Trials in this country and has witnessed a lot of history. He hunted and killed vampires before there was an America or a war between the States. His experience has made him distant from humankind and he doesn't care about taking sides in the current war. Kros is always at the edge of becoming a vampire himself. To kill the vampires he is compelled to hunt, he sometimes drinks vampire blood. But, a dampyr is part vampire by nature so Kros is always tempted to taste human blood. In our story, one taste of human blood could turn him into one of the creatures he hates.

Why Kickstarter? Why not publish Kros through an established company?

JO: I’ve done a ton of work for companies big and small over my career, but there are always strings connected. Not in a negative way--it’s their money, their universe and you need to tailor what you’re doing to fit the project and the company. Mind you, I’ve been given a lot of freedom and had the chance to do a lot of fun and rewarding work, but I can't help but feel that KROS is special. Tom and I are making the character and the story what we want it to be--it's US collaborating to bring the fans something we have a total stake in (no pun intended) For instance, on a practical front, Tom and his daughter, Sian, who will be coloring Kros, have worked out a color palette that is moody and unlike the coloring generally seen in comics. That's the beauty of doing this on our own--there are no concerns about fitting into someone else’s continuity or sense of what is acceptable. We are following our own sensibilities and doing what we feel is best for the story. Being our own editors and publishers means we’re unsupervised and that may be a scary thing! But we know that comes with the territory and we are up to the challenge!

Let us know exactly what people are getting from this new Kickstarter project.

TM: Unfiltered Ostrander/ Mandrake horror! Fans who remember our work from The Spectre know what kind of intensity we bring to a story and our characters. We promise that kind of intensity with Kros: Hallowed Ground.

There are lots of great rewards for backers on the Kickstarter as well-- like a limited number of pen and ink drawings of you or a friend as a vampire and a special Kickstarter cover on the graphic novel; a signed and numbered bookplate and an artist stamp—as well as extra content and a sketchbook.

JO: We have lots of great rewards for our backers! The Kros graphic novel, 128 printed pages and in PDF, a Sketchbook with Tom's sketches for the project and a short Kros story that I am writing.  There are extra rewards for our backers as well--including a Suttler's token challenge coin, Vampire Corp regimental patches, mini-posters and postcards--sketches and sketch cards.

You can be an 'extra' in the story and with that reward you get the page of Tom's art from Kros. My personal favorite--Tom Mandrake will draw you as a vampire. He's already drawn me and, let me tell you, my vampire self is pretty scary! I’ve nicknamed him NosferOstrander. And, although this may sound trite, our profoundest gratitude. Over the years, the fans have enabled me to make a living off what I love to do. This time, by helping to fund the Kros Kickstarter our fans will have direct influence on making this project happen. We promise to make it a worthwhile read!

Click here to see the Kickstarter campaign for Kros: Hallowed Ground. Just two days left!

New Buffy the Vampire Slayer Character Designs Revealed

More in Comics