JOHN OSTRANDER: Overlooking the Obvious
Awards season is loose in comicland and I can already tell you what won’t be getting awards, this year or any other year. Anything that smacks of a licensed property. When I speak of a licensed property, I mean anything like Battlestar Gallactica, or The Phantom, or Buffy, or Conan. Or Star Wars.
And, yes, I write some of the Star Wars comics – currently my book is Star Wars: Legacy. If that sounds like a conflict of interest on my part or that maybe I have an axe to grind – so what? If there is one thing being in rotation with Michael Davis has taught me, there is no shame in saying your own name and being proud of what you do. Michael is my hero and my shining example. I intend to channel my inner Michael.
I’m as proud of my work on Star Wars as I’ve been of anything I’ve done in my career – and never more so with Legacy. We’ve jumped down the Star Wars timeline 100 years past anything that is being currently done in Star Wars, including the novels. We’ve imagined a whole new galaxy of characters and re-defined Star Wars, working from its past while making it open to newcomers.
But forget me for a moment. Wait – I’m channeling my inner Michael. Don’t you ever forget me but, in addition to me, there are other folk doing superlative work. My artist and partner in crime, Jan Duursema, is doing some of the finest work of her career and, given the amount of talent she has to begin with, that’s considerable. When a new Star Wars project is conceived, it usually takes a team of designers a year or so to come up with the look. Jan designed it herself (with Sean Phillips designing a lot of the ships) in less than a year while she was finishing work on our predecessor Star Wars title, Republic. She has a wonderful team of Dan Parsons on inks and Brad Anderson on colors and both of them contribute massively to the just straight out beauty of the books.
And it’s not just our book. Doug Wheatley does breathtaking work on Star Wars: The Dark Ages. Nor is it only Star Wars; Timothy Truman and Cary Nord have been doing stunning work on the Conan title. Nor is it only Dark Horse books; the number of books based on licensed properties is growing and coming from many different publishers. Their sales are increasing; the first issue of the new Buffy, the Vampire Slayer series cracked the Top Ten on Diamond’s list the month it came out.
So – where’s the love? Where’s the respect? Certainly, Legacy gets it from the Star Wars fans. I was out at Celebration IV about two weeks ago and it was in plentiful display. I find it frustrating that more general readers aren’t at least looking at the titles. These are just good comics, gang – good characters, good stories, lots of adventure, intrigue, great dialogue. And these are just in my comics. (Man, I’m loving channeling my inner Michael. Maybe I’ll call him John-Michael. Or is that too French?) The point is – they’re as good as or better than most of the comics out there. I’ll stand them up against anybody else’s willingly.
Fans, however, who are prepared to read about a guy who has claws popping out of the back of his hand seem to have a hard time buying a story about a guy with a lightsaber who could slice off that hand. Look, I’m not putting down superheroes; I’ve written plenty of them and I hope to write more. However, that’s my point – I have written both and I’m telling you the Star Wars stuff I’ve done is just as good, just as entertaining, just as good comics as the superhero stuff I’ve done.
I figure it’s the “Star Wars” in the title. Somehow, perhaps, for some fans that immediately suggests second-class status. Or they’ll say “I’m not into Star Wars.” Or perhaps they think that the comics are going to be watered down versions of the movies (they’re not). I’m convinced that if more folks looked at the blamed things, they’d get into them.
All of which brings us back to the awards and why they’re important for titles like mine. While I understand it’s hard to get comics fans to look at the book, it shouldn’t be to get a judge to do so. Getting a nomination might convince fans to at least take a look at what else is out there; it certainly helps the independent books out there, doesn’t it? Or are the judges also part of the mindset that, somehow, a licensed book by it’s very nature “isn’t as good” – that the writers and artists have less freedom and the result must be inherently inferior because of interference from the licensing entity.
I’ve had more trouble writing and less freedom writing an X-book than in writing a Star Wars book. Parameters always exist when working on a character not your own; you work around those parameters or with them. It should not interfere with the quality of work that you do. There’s always parameters; it’s what you do with them that matters. It becomes part of the challenge and every story presents its own challenges.
I think a lot of licensed work can go toe to toe with anything out there today but maybe that’s never going to happen. Maybe there’s a secondary solution. The Oscars have an award for best screenplay adapted from another medium; maybe comic awards could consider the same thing – best comic adapted from another medium. It would create a ghetto but, on the other hand, it means the licensed properties would no longer be entirely shut out.
Look, I don’t especially care if I get an award. (Shut up, John-Michael!) I’m twenty-five years in the biz and I’m still able to make a living. That’s the award I care about. The other stuff is nice but. . . What I really want is that those who work on these books, who pour every bit of talent and professionalism and love into their work as anyone in the biz should have their shot at getting recognized for it.
I’m turning off my Inner Michael for now. It burns too bright for a middle-aged, overweight white guy to pull off for too long. What it all comes down to is that comics is comics and good – maybe great – comics can be found anywhere.
Now y’all behave or I’ll start harnessing mah inner Timothy Truman.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/
Artwork copyright LucasFilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.