John Ostrander: Under The Influences
Every artist has their influences. The ones who came before that make an impression on you. They blow your mind, they lift your heart, they power your imagination, they open your soul; you want to be like them and influence others as they have influenced you. The influences come from everywhere – real life, film, media, other artists – but ultimately you filter them through your own consciousness. You borrow from them but you make it your own. For myself, part of the reason I wanted to become a writer is because of the joy I got as a reader. I wanted to return that energy that I had gotten from my reading.
By the time I was ten, I had read all the Sherlock Holmes stories by A. Conan Doyle. The puzzles fascinated me, yes, as did the characters of Watson and Holmes but what I took away perhaps more than anything else was the setting and the time – the fog-shrouded street, the hansom cabs, the gaslight, the apartment, the back alleys. London of the late 1800s. When I think of that era, I think of the Homes stories. My takeaway was the importance of place in a story and it shows up most in my work with Cynosure in GrimJack. The city is the most important supporting character in the series; it has defined GrimJack and there is no relationship in the stories more important than the one between GrimJack and Cynosure.
Chicago has also influenced Cynosure as well. It is a city of neighborhoods and the ethnic culture changes from one area to the next. That’s how I understood the various dimensions that make up Cynosure; it was my experience of Chicago.
Robert E. Howard also was a major influence on me, especially the Conan stories. My takeaway here was the pell-mell sense of storytelling, the breathless sense of excitement and action. In a similar fashion, Peter O’Donnell also influenced me with his Modesty Blaise comic strip. He might spend some time setting up a given story but he never wasted a panel or a word. It all drove the story, the characters, the action forward like a juggernaut.
Shakespeare showed me how to marry theme to the plot. Yes, there are the great soliloquies, the great speeches addressing deep philosophical questions but they are all tied to the specific moment in the plot. When Hamlet launches into his “To be or not to be. . .” speech, it’s not an idle musing. This is a guy who is contemplating killing himself. It’s a debate, it’s an argument with himself. It’s actually full of suspense. His life is at stake. The language used, the questions raised, all advance the character and the plot.
Our own Dennis O’Neil in his classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow series with Neal Adams showed me how comics could marry the important topics of the day with superheroes. Without those stories, without Denny, I would not have written the Suicide Squad or the Spectre as I did.
There are many many others in all fields – in movies, in TV, in music (Aaron Copland! Beethoven! The Blue Nile! Kate Bush!) – that have had a bearing on me, on who I am, and thus into my work. Others have told me I have an influence on them (which I sometimes have trouble dealing with) but we all have to be open to outside influences if, ultimately, we are to realize our own voice. We come from others, we give to others. That’s part of the wonder of it all.
Photo by JD Hancock