Tagged: Kim Yale

John Ostrander: Time and Space and Remembrance

Ostrander Art 131124An unusual convergence of historical dates of different emotional resonances for me occurred this weekend – the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and what would have been the sixtieth birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale.

Like many Americans, I remember where I was when I heard the news of JFK. I was in my history class at Quigley Preparatory Seminary North near downtown Chicago. The word that the President was shot came over the loudspeaker used for school announcements, followed a little later by the news of his death. I was stunned, in denial. I remember little else of that day. I think school was closed and we were sent home.

Kim’s dad was a Navy chaplain and they were living on-base at the time. She later told me how she was at school off-base and had to hurry back. The base was going into lockdown after the assassination and if she was outside when the gates closed, she wouldn’t have been able to get home. That was her tenth birthday.

For me, I place the days of my youth between two sets of gunshots – the ones that killed JFK and the ones that killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980. I was 14 for the former and 31 for the latter. Both gave me a slightly darker sense of the world around me and the country in which I lived. Both events inform my writing to this day.

The day after Kennedy was killed, a new TV series was launched over in the UK – Doctor Who. The series tells of the adventures of a time-traveling alien Time Lord and his (usually) human companions through time and space. When William Hartnell, the original actor playing the part, became too ill to continue the series, the producers came up with a key concept to the longevity of the series: when a Time Lord faced the death of his mortal body, it can “regenerate” into a wholly new form and, even more significant, a different character. Most important, there’s a whole new actor with a new interpretation of the main character. That, I think, has been key to keeping the series fresh and vital.

I met Kim through Doctor Who. I loved the Doctor and wanted to be the Doctor. I also knew that the odds, then or now, of an American ever playing the part was virtually non-existent. However, I was an actor in Chicago and a sometimes playwright and less often a producer. So I conceived of an idea of getting the rights to put on a play version of the Doctor in Chicago.

I managed to arrange a meeting with show runner John Nathan-Turner during a combined Chicago Comic Con and Doctor Who Convention (sometimes referred to as the Sweat Con since the hotel’s air conditioning unit proved inadequate to the number of people attending and outside it was a 106° Chicago August day). John Nathan-Turner brought along Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who) and Mr. Nation brought along a lovely young woman with big eyes, curly hair, and a megawatt smile who was his assistant for the Con. That was Kim.

To describe Kim as a Doctor Who fan doesn’t begin to describe it. She was also very knowledgeable on all things Time Lord and I used her an a consultant as I developed the script. Nothing else developed at the time; Kim was married and I don’t fool around that way.

We became a couple only later, after the play project had folded and her marriage had broken up. My romantic life at that point was, if anything, even worse than my theatrical career. I’d given up dating; I hadn’t seen anyone in almost two years. It just seemed too painful to try. Kim and I had kept in touch and she was also a big fan of my work on GrimJack, the comic book I had created for First Comics.

I should note here that Doctor Who was an influence on creating GrimJack. It might seem that the two couldn’t be less alike but one of the things I loved about Doctor Who was that you could do any kind of story. They did horror, they did Westerns, they did everything and I wanted to do that with GrimJack. In that sense, he was my Doctor. Later, we showed he could even reincarnate. There is a darkness to the series that I can, in part, trace back to the assassination of Jack Kennedy.

Kim wrote to me about a specific issue of GrimJack that had affected and resonated with her; I found it a little strange that she would write since we lived less than a mile apart and she had my phone number. I told her this and she replied that some things were best expressed in writing. What can I say? I’m a writer; I understood that. Kim was a writer as well. That night was the night our relationship changed. That was the night we started to become a couple.

It’s just coincidence, I suppose, that the three dates are in such proximity to one another. We assign meaning to dates, both as a people and as individuals. It’s an accident that the significant anniversaries of the assassination, Kim’s birthday, and the launching of Doctor Who are in conjunction this year. The connections that I see, that I feel, among them are mine. We are all the results of the various events that have happened in our lives and none of them occur in a vacuum. This weekend, I remember and honor three that were significant to me.




John Ostrander: That Time of Year

ostrander-art-131110-150x108-3720871The other night, My Mary and I were looking for something to watch on the tube. She had recorded Fly Away Home, the 1996 film by Carroll Ballard, starring Jeff Daniels, Dana Delaney, Anna Pacquin and Terry Kinney. We’ve watched it many times and I think we even own a copy of it. It’s wonderfully acted and beautifully shot; if you ever watch it, try to see it in wide screen. Some of the shots of Canadian Geese flying are breathtaking.

One of the things that struck me (again) was Mark Isham’s soundtrack and the haunting song that opens and closes the film, 10,000 Miles, sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter. (You can find it on YouTube, along with the lyrics.) It was one of the pieces of music that I played over and over again during that year of grieving after my wife, Kim Yale, died. Music was, and is, one of my coping mechanisms in life and hearing that song brought me back, not to Kim’s life or death, but that time of grieving, of learning to live without her, of starting my life again. Not to the grief itself but to the memory of that grief.

It’s that time of year. Here in the Midwest, the leaves fall from the trees, the days get shorter and darker, it’s colder as we head towards year’s end. Labor Day comes, signaling an end to summer. We lurch towards Halloween and All Saints Day (or Day of the Dead) with its skulls and ghosts and reminders of mortality. The harvest comes in and the fields look bare even as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Christmas is coming, yes, but so is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The cycle completes as the old year dies and a new one begins.

It’s not grief I feel now but a rise of melancholy. It’s always a part of me and, I think, always has been. I’m not sure of its origins – I went to many wakes and funerals as a boy, seeing people in caskets who I had known when they were alive, and I know it made an impression on me. I wouldn’t say that I treasure my melancholy but I do value it. I’m aware of death as part of life and that, I think, has informed my work as a writer. I enjoy life immensely and I don’t wallow in melancholy. It is simply there, a constant, and it makes me value those who are there and the joys and pleasures of life. Knowing they will all pass doesn’t make me depressed. Shadows help define an object and my melancholies help define my joys.

Every morning, I see a photo of my Dad sitting atop a shelf that he made for me and my brother when we were boys and I say, “Hi Dad.” I remember him and I miss him and I still love him just as I remember and miss and still love my Mom and Kim and friends and relatives and even pets. I miss places that are no longer there. They all still live in my mind and heart and I still know their stories. They all still have a value to me and are still helping to shape me into who I am.

It’s that time of year to remember and feel, to harvest our emotions, and value what we have. That’s what I’ll be thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving – the shadows as well as the light.




John Ostrander: Quo Vadis the TARDIS

Ostrander Art 130609The Beeb announced this week that Matt Smith, the current actor playing the Doctor on Doctor Who, its long running (50 years!) SF series, will be leaving the show with the Christmas Special this year. For those of you living outside the Whovian time-space continuum, the Doctor is a time traveling alien who can regenerate entirely at points of mortality. Different face, different body, largely different personality, completely different actor in the role. They’ve done this eleven times so far so, in general, they have the procedure down pat.

I’ve seen some interesting speculations as to who will be the next Doctor. While usually the actor cast as the Doctor is not so well known, a names of a lot of well known actors are being currently tossed around by that mysterious series of tubes running underground known as the Internet. Hugh Laurie, best known as Doctor House here in America was one name mentioned and I think he would be very highly entertaining. I’ve seen Mr. Laurie in any number of different roles and he was marvelous in all of them. I don’t think the Beeb can afford his salary but it’s still interesting to think what might happen.

I read an interview where Helen Mirren had voiced a desire to the play the Doctor. Could the Doctor change into a woman? In the first episode that Neil Gaiman wrote for Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife”, the Doctor mentions in passing a fellow time-lord who did regenerate into a woman so we have to take it as a possibility. Dame Helen Mirren has done a switched character before when she played Prospera, a female version of the character Prospero, in Julie Taymor’s movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If she could do that, I have a feeling she could do the Doctor with no problem.

At one point before Matt Smith was cast as the current Doctor, Idris Elba’s name was bounced around as a candidate for the role. Elba is a fine actor who happens to be black; some Americans will know him as the title character on the BBC series Luther while others might know him as the character Heimdall in 2011’s Thor, a fact that cheesed off some Aryan neo-Nazi types who whined that Heimdall was supposed to be white. Mr. Elba has tremendous strengths as an actor and incredible charisma; I would love to see what he would do rattling around in the TARDIS.

Especially interesting to me is that the last two candidates are very non-traditional approaches to the character of the Doctor. I think that would invigorate the show. For example, I would love to see Helen Mirren’s Doctor meeting River Song or, for that matter, Captain Jack Harkness. You could argue that  a show that’s hit 50 can use some fresh air and a dusting away of the cobwebs.

One person who will not be playing the Doctor, I can predict with some certainty, is – me. Not for want of trying. Years ago, during my acting days, the part I most wanted to play was the Doctor. I realized back then that the odds of an unknown American actor living in Chicago would ever be cast in the part were in the infinity range.

However, I was part of a vibrant Chicago theater scene – I was not only an actor but I had been a writer, a director, and a producer. What about the odds of my putting on an all-new Doctor Who play in Chicago? I could cast myself in the part and I knew the mythos well enough, I felt, to write a convincing new adventure.

Long and short, I did try and I very nearly succeeded – although I couldn’t get the part of the Doctor which explains part of the reason why I left acting far behind. I mean, if I couldn’t even get the part I wanted in a play that I has written and was producing, that was the epitome of futility, wasn’t it?

The play never got produced although we got close but all that will have to be a column for another day. One lasting thing did happen as a result of all that – I met and got to know Kimberly Ann Yale, my late wife.

And the Doctor was partially to thank for that. Thanks, Doc.




Mindy Newell: For Kim And John, From The Heart

Newell Art 130527So Saturday, I’m sitting in the kitchen, my feet up on the table, sipping my morning tea, and flipping through the latest edition of Entertainment Weekly. It’s the one with Hugh Jackman on the cover as Wolverine, dated May 31/June 7 2013.

I’m on page 32, the “Monitor” section, and there’s nothing there really of interest for me, a headline splashing a “Bieber Backlash” – about time – and an announcement under “Splits” that Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame have broken up again – duh, I saw that one coming once the last fanfare of Breaking Dawn was done – and then I see a little inset on the bottom left that boldly reads “turn the page and open the flaps for EW’s pick of the 25 greatest superheroes ever” (with “plus the 5 worst” in a shaded grey, and a little arrow pointing to a big advertising spread for a TNT show called Hero.

Hmm. Didn’t see this listed on the “Contents” page. Must be like one of those Easter eggs that some videos have.

So nat’ch I open the flaps and there it is. Very cool, and a nice surprise.

The copy explains that when picking this list EW decided to “specify which version of the hero stands out above the rest,” so that “some icons appear here more than once.

I like that, it’s a bit different, and with 75 years of superhero history muddying the waters (Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, June 1938) along with who-can-count-the-number-of-reboots in that time, I think it shows respect for our beloved genre.

So here’s their list, in ascending order, of the greatest superheroes of all time, with a bit of EW’s reasons why:

1. Spider-Man: Lee and Ditko, Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962. “…reinvented the muscle-bound superhero as young, funny, geeky, flawed, and struggling. ”

2. Batman Year One: Frank Miller, Batman #404 – 407, 1987. “…has cast its dark, sinister shadow over every Batman iteration since. ”

3. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Joss Wheedon, 1977 – 2003. “…super and human, as quick with a quip as she was with a stake…Buffy was a teen first, her secret identity her heroism. ”

4. Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr., 2008. “…tack on the aching wisdom that Downey’s age (and eyes) – oh, and may I add here his pure, unadulterated sexiness – brings to the role and you have the fully charged heart of the Marvel movie universe. ”

5. Superman: Christopher Reeve, 1978. “…most memorable was his playful take on alter ego Clark Kent, depicting him as the meek, benign bumbler” – well, they almost got this one right. Reeve simply was Superman.

Okay, this is getting into dangerous, possible plagiarism territory here (plus it could very possible piss off editor Mike), so let me quickly go down the list without the, uh, word-for-word copying.

6. Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter, 1976 – 1979. Spin, Lynda, spin!

7. Batman: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2005 – 2012. Made everyone forget everything that came after Michael Keaton. Hey, I thought Keaton was great, so stick in it your ear! Although, imho, Pfeiffer still beats out Hathaway as Catwoman.

8. X-Men: Chris Claremont and John Byrne, 1977 – 1981. The team that got me hooked on mutants.

9. Black Panther: Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson and Bob McLeod, “Panther’s Rage,” Jungle Action #6 – #24, September 1973 – November 1976. Marvel’s first graphic novel, even if it did appear in serialized form. Dwayne McDuffie said of it on his website: This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly written multi-part superhero epic ever. If you can get your hands on it . . . sit down and read the whole thing. It’s damn near flawless, every issue, every scene, a functional, necessary part of the whole. Okay, now go back and read any individual issue. You’ll find seamlessly integrated words and pictures; clearly introduced characters and situations; a concise (sometimes even transparent) recap; beautifully developed character relationships; at least one cool new villain; a stunning action set piece to test our hero’s skills and resolve; and a story that is always moving forward towards a definite and satisfying conclusion…and [they] did it in only 17 pages per issue.” Okay, I’m copying again.

I’m going to tighten this up even further, because there’s a big surprise coming, and it’s something that mean a lot to me…and to someone else here at ComicMix.

10. Captain America: Ed Brubaker, 2004 – 2012.

11. Superman (Animated): Max and Dave Fleisher, 1941.

12. The Flash: Carmine Infantino, 1956 – seemingly forever

13. Phoenix: Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Uncanny X-Men, #101 – #108, 1976 – 1977

14. The Incredible Hulk: Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, 1977 – 1982

15. Dream: Neil Gaiman, Sandman #1 – #79, 1989 – 1996.

16. Wolverine: Hugh Jackman, 2000 – 2013

17. Swamp Thing: Alan Moore, The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, February 1984 – Swamp Thing #64, September 1987

18. Hellboy: Mike Mignola, 1993 – onwards in comics and other media

And here is the one that made me sit up, rush to my computer and send off an e-mail to John Ostrander, my dear friend and fellow columnist here at ComicMix.

19. Oracle: John Ostrander and Kim Yale, Suicide Squad #23, 1989

In 1988, Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, was shot and paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke as he rampaged against everyone connected to the Dark Knight. Although the graphic novel was a brilliant take on the Joker (which, imho, vastly influenced the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the villain) and was critically acclaimed, the controversy of the victimization of Barbara Gordon really upset the fans – particularly the women.

Including Kim Yale, John’s late wife, a wonderful writer and editor, and the best friend this writer ever had.

Well, let me have John tell it, from an interview with Vaneta Rogers on Newsarama dated September 7, 2011:

My late wife, Kimberly Yale, and I were not crazy about how Barbara was treated in The Killing Joke,” comic writer John Ostrander told Newsarama. “Since the Batman office had no further plans for her at the time, we got permission to use Barbara in Suicide Squa, [another DC title at the time]. We felt that the gunshot as seen in Killing Joke would leave her paralyzed. We felt such an act should have repercussions. So…we took some of her other talents, as with computers, and created what was essentially an Internet superhero – Oracle. “

It so perfectly made sense. Barbara had been established as a PhD. in library science, so Kim and John used that basis to make Barbara the ultimate computer hacker. As Oracle, she was the “go-to” person for any hero in the DC universe needing information; it was a natural progression for Denny O’Neil (yep, our Denny), who was the editor of Batman family editor at this time, to incorporate Oracle as the woman to whom the Dark Knight turned when he sought aid on the computer.

This is a nation that talks the talk about recognizing the value of everyone’s capabilities but rarely walks the walk. This is a country in which Senator Max Cleland, who lost both arms and a leg while serving in Vietnam, lost his seat to a man who got out of serving in Vietnam (“bad knee,” he said in one interview) by claiming Cleland did not support his country against Osama Bin Laden. This is a country in which the comic book industry is filled with muscle-bound men in spandex able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and sexualized women whose bubble boobs enable them to fly.

But this is also an industry that gave us Oracle, who was Batgirl, who was the target of madhouse clown, who was paralyzed, who forged on ahead and demanded our respect.

She got it.

Thanks to two writers named Kim Yale and John Ostrander.

*The rest of the list is: 20. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Wheedon; 21. The Incredibles, by Brad Bird; 22. The Incredible Hulk, by Lee and Kirby; 23. Spider-Man, by Sam Raimi; 24. Daredevil, by Frank Miller; and 25. Fantastic Four, by Lee and Kirby.

**The 5 Worst Superheroes are: 1. Matter-Eater Lad; 2. The Punisher; 3. Halle Berry’s Catwoman; 4. Wonder Twins; and 5. David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman.

(Mindy will be back in this space Wednesday afternoon.)




John Ostrander: Flood of Opinion

imagesMy late wife Kim Yale had a very tender heart; if someone was critical of her or didn’t seem to like her, it would tear her up. She would take it very personally. I told her that not every opinion matters and sometimes it registered with her.

I think it was Steven Grant who I first heard say that opinions were like assholes; everyone has one. Opinions can also be a conduit for a whole lot of crap.

Not every opinion matters. Not to me. Do I listen to my fans? I should and I do but, as I’ve said to different people at different times, just because I’m not doing what you’re telling me doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you. Fans, as a rule, want the same thing again next time only different. If you try to give fans what you think they want, half of them will get angry because it wasn’t what they wanted. I once heard J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame say on a video interview (I’m paraphrasing but it’s close), “Should I listen to my readers? Absolutely. Should I allow what they say to change one word of what I do? Absolutely not.” QFT.

When I listen to readers, it’s because I’m looking to get an idea of what is effective in my work, what is not, what may be in it that I didn’t even realize, and – if they’re saying nice things – I like getting my ego stroked as well as the next narcissist. What I’m listening to is their impressions of what I’ve done. Often as not it will tell me more about the person giving that opinion than it will about the work itself.

If you’re a young writer or artist and you want someone to give you an opinion of what you’ve just done, be careful who you ask. Do you really want an opinion or do you just want them to tell you that the work is wonderful and so are you? Do they know anything about the work you’re doing? Is it an informed opinion or just a “gut feeling?” There are people that I trust, who I know, and their opinions matter to me. Others – not so much. I often have no context for the value of their opinions.

I was put in mind of all this by the recent death of Roger Ebert. Over the years, I read his reviews and I knew from experience that he could be a good guide for me. When it came down to Ebert and Siskel, I knew Roger Ebert’s opinion of a film would more likely be like mine than would Siskel’s. Ebert could alert me to films I might not have seen and warned me away from ones that would probably waste my money and my time.

The world is full of crap-filled opinions and the Internet overflows with them like the Deep Tunnel project in Chicago during this last week’s floods. A lot of times the opinions masquerade as “fact” but they really are just one person’s opinion and often a skewed one at that. Often, they are written by Anonymous or Pseudo-anonymous. How can I decide whether an individual’s opinion is worth anything to me if I know nothing about them?

It boils down to this – not everyone’s opinion matters whether be about work, about politics, about people, about art, about society – about anything. There’s wheat and there’s chaff out there – lots and lots of chaff.  Discern which is which for yourself and you’ll be a happier person.

In my opinion.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY: Emily S. Whitten


Mindy Newell: Life…

Newell Art 130408Last week’s column didn’t happen because I received a phone call at about 10 A.M. last Sunday from my mom. My dad was having another “episode,” his third. Meaning his brain was short-circuiting once more. It’s called “complex partial seizure disorder,” for the medically less-literate out there.

No one really knows why this is happening to him; before this started last Christmas Eve, he was in remarkable health for a man of 90. The only drug he took on a regular basis was one of the statins –anti-cholesterol drugs – and that was on a preventative basis. His blood pressure runs about 110/70, his heart rate about 65; his only major medical problem has been the deterioration of his eyesight because of macular degeneration and he was responding remarkably well to the treatment. Yes, he had had prostate cancer, but that was 30 years ago, and when his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) level rose, he started the androgen deprivation therapy and it dropped to 0.003 or something, i.e., normal.

So this week once again my dad lay in a bed in the ICU at Cooper University Hospital – big kudos to the staff there!!! – only this time he was intubated because the ambulance didn’t take my mom with them and I was driving like a bat out of hell down the NJ Turnpike and my brother (an MD at “the Coop”) was vacationing on Puerto Rico so there was no one to tell the trauma team that my dad is DNR and the protocol when a patient comes in having seizures is to intubate to ensure a patent airway.

Yesterday, exactly one week later, Dad woke up again. He was extubated this morning. He’s very weak, but he knew where he was, and he knew all of us. He also ate ice chips, a cup of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, Jello, and a ¾ of a bowl of chicken broth. The plan is to get him out of bed tomorrow. We’re going to take it from there.

So driving home I thought about my dad and this column and I thought about the portrayal of infirmity and illness in the super hero world. I had plenty of time because I again got stuck driving north on the Turnpike between Exit 7 and Exit 8A – a stretch of about 21 miles – in bumper-to-bumper, crawling traffic. It’s a section of the iconic NJ Turnpike that has been undergoing reconstruction for the last three years or so, which makes it prone for Delays Ahead: Be Prepared To Stop alerts, and I swear I think people slam on their brakes just to read the signs. What is it about one fender-bender that causes miles and miles of back-up?


The first picture in my mind was of Silver Age Superman gasping and choking and weakened as the radiation from Kryptonite, usually held or manipulated by Lex Luthor – poisoned him, finally turning him as green as the Wicked Witch of the West, indicating that death was near, just in a few panels. Kryptonite worked fast, unlike what happens to ordinary humans when exposed to radiation. Ordinary humans, exposed to radiation, don’t even feel it at first. The amount of time between exposure and the first signs and symptoms depends on the amount of radiation that has been absorbed. The first thing that usually happens is nausea and vomiting; headache and fever can also occur. After that, an individual with radiation sickness can have a period of remission, in which there is no apparent illness and the individual feels fine. Then the more serious problems start: hair loss, weakness, dizziness, bloody stools and vomit, weight loss, low blood pressure, fucked-up blood counts, cancer….a slow, painful, and debilitating death.

I guess Superman puking and having bloody diarrhea and going bald, getting infections and cancer and dying a slow, painful, and debilitating death wouldn’t have gotten past the Comic Code Authority back in the day.

Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (1988), was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair – but through the talents of ComicMix’s own John Ostrander and his late, wonderful wife, Kim Yale, we watched Barbara go forward with her life: although initially (and realistically) portrayed with a reactive depression, Barbara comes to see that her life is not over. Gifted with a genius level IQ, a photographic memory, and possessing expert computer skills (including hacking) along with graduate training in library sciences, Barbara transforms herself in Oracle, an “information broker” to law enforcement agencies and the super-hero community. She also hires Richard Dragon (co-created by ComicMix’s own Denny O’Neil), a martial artist, to teach her combat and self-defense skills.

Gail Simone took the ball that John and Kim handed her and ran with it in Birds Of Prey…until, after DC’s 52 reboot, Oracle never existed and Barbara was mysteriously back on her feet. This – rightfully, im-not-so-ho – pissed off a lot of fans, because Barbara Gordon as Oracle was the preeminent role model for those living with disabilities. However, Gail has done a magnificent job with the post-Oracle Batgirl, allowing the character to go through PTSD secondary to her disability and recovery – although, as we all know, DC seemed to have a problem with that a few months ago. Luckily, DC recovered from that particular illness.

And now Power Girl, a.k.a. Kara Zor-L, a.k.a. Karen Starr, has breast cancer. Although I’m sure the intentions of the creative team are good and positive and totally above-board (and I do hope none of the creative team has had any kind of personal experience with breast cancer), somehow the cynic in me is smirking. Maybe because Power Girl has always been drawn with gi-normous bubble boobs that burst out of her costume like Mt. St. Helens blowing their tops? It’s like Sharon Tate’s character in The Valley Of The Dolls getting breast cancer. (Google or read the book or stream/rent the movie to get the reference.) It’s saying that the one thing that lifts (pun intended) Power Girl out of the crowd of super heroines are her mammary glands, so let’s mess with those.

It would have been more interesting to me if Sue Storm got breast cancer, or Lois Lane (isn’t she dead?), or even Wonder Woman.

Or what if Reed Richards, or Johnny Storm, or Bruce Wayne, or Hal Jordan, got breast cancer? Men get breast cancer, too, you know. More and more frequently, by the way.

I just hope the creative team does it research. And not just solve the problem of “how do we treat a woman who has breast cancer if she’s indestructible?”

That’s just so comic-bookey.

Breast cancer is real. People can end up in the ICU, hoping to get better, fighting to get better.

Just like my dad.




John Ostrander: My Friend, MEMcG

Ostrander Art 130203I’m going to exercise a point of personal privilege this week and write about a friend. Her name was Mary Ellen McGarry and I just received word that she died. Mary Ellen was a great soul, a giant heart, a wonderful talent, and a large personality. She filled a room three times over.

Out of all the people I’ve ever known, only my late wife, Kim Yale, had as outgoing and, at times, boisterous a personality. One of my nicknames for her was “Boom-boom” because her laughter and her voice could boom across a room and, indeed, across Lake Michigan.

And, lord, she could laugh. Loud, infectious, and riotous. I loved to make her laugh. I would get her going so hard that she would start hitting me to make me stop which, of course, only made me try harder.

In the summer of 1971 we worked as apprentices together at a summer theater, which meant we worked like dogs for very little money. It was a strange summer. The theater was located at a college so we all lived in dorms on campus. For Mary Ellen I made up a musical comedy, Tritzing to Tibet, based on the climbing of Mount Everest by Edmund Hilary. I should explain that it has less to do with historical fact than the central conceit of the movie, The Producers, in that any show that bad has to be a hit. I took all the events that happened in 1953 and, in an absurd breach of artistic license, moved them to 1937 so I could have an opposing chorus of Nazi mountain climbers.

Every night, just before curtain went up on whatever show we were doing, I got over to her in the wings and, sotto voce, sang her a new song from the show. I should also mention that in addition to not writing music I don’t even read music. The only purpose of the whole exercise was to see if I could reduce Mary Ellen to tears with laughter. Okay, so there’s a slightly sadistic side to me.

The thing is – over the years, any time we would get together, Mary Ellen insisted on hearing some or all of those godforsaken tunes. The last time was at a reunion last year for alums of the Loyola University Theater Department (where we first met). Mary Ellen had lung problems and at that point was in a wheel chair and had to constantly have oxygen. It didn’t slow her down an inch. And she wanted me to sing some of the songs from Tritzing to Tibet.

I demurred. To be honest, I was afraid that if I got her laughing too hard I might literally kill her. Boom-boom would have none of that. She knew her own limits and she knew what she wanted and, by god, I would sing. I did and she was right.

She was also incredibly brave. Her lungs were giving up on her but she was told that, with a lung transplant, she might live longer. However, she was also teaching kids at that point. She loved it but, if she got a lung transplant, she would have had to give it up. We all know kids are Petri dished for diseases and she would likely have caught those germs and her new lungs could not have taken it.

Mary Ellen and I had a long talk about it on the phone and she was clear and firm. She would not give up what she loved so much. I had to respect that. I still do.

So many people loved you, Mary Ellen. I hope you knew that.

There’s so much more to you than I can begin to recount here. I will carry your voice and your laughter and your spirit in my memory and my heart all my days. I will grieve the loss of you and that’s alright. Those we love who have died are worth the tears we shed for them. I will celebrate your life because you were so filled with it.

Thanks, Boom-Boom, for being my friend. Love you.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: My CBG

Ostrander Art 130113 “There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain.”

– The Beatles, In My Life

As I grow older, I find some underlying conservative strains in me coming out –much as that will surprise many who know me as a flaming leftie. While not totally adverse, I find I’m resistant to change the older I get. I like things as they were. When I periodically go back to my hometown of Chicago, I find some things have changed and some things are just gone. My first reaction generally is “Who told them they could do that?” Even if I haven’t been back to a place in some time, I mildly resent it not being there. I see what is now there overlaid with my memory of what was there. A cognitive double vision, if you will.

I think part of the reason that young people may not have that same reaction is they don’t have the same amount of experience with that spot. They’re living in it now and maybe know it only from now. Current chronology doesn’t get mixed with past chronology as it does for those of us who are older.

All of which brings us to the news this week of the Comics Buyer’s Guide ending its long run in about two months. For those of you who don’t know, CBG was long one of the top comics related newspapers/magazines with news and reviews and opinion columns relating to the comics medium.

There are other places that have covered the history of the Comic Buyers Guide, including an excellent summation by Bob Greenberger here on ComicMix. What I want to talk about instead is my own personal connections and history with it.

Before I was a writer of comics, I was a fan and with the dawning of the direct sale shops came the discovery of periodicals such as The Comics Reader and CBG. For the first time, I got a peek into the backstage of the comics industry. I got an idea of what was coming out and when, who were the artists or writers on what books, I read reviews, letters from fans and pros, opinions and columns (notably Peter David) and, as a fan and someone who had aspirations for the field, I wanted not only to read CBG, I wanted to be in it, to be one of those who were talked about.

Eventually, I was. I had arrived. I was part of it. I got reviewed by Don Thompson (he and his wife, the ever charming Maggie, ran the paper). While he didn’t like everything I did, I felt he was fair and reasonable and he gave one of my favorite reviews of my character GrimJack. In one issue, Gordon the bartender tells a customer the “secret origin of John Gaunt.” It came down to “Mama Gaunt, Papa Gaunt, a bottle of hootch, wucka wucka, wucka – nine months later, Baby Gaunt.” Don said it was his second favorite origin in all of comics, eclipsed only by Superman. I loved that and still do. Thanks, Don.

The most important memory of CBG for me is that, for a time, they gave my late wife Kimberly Yale a literary home. Kim wrote a column for them and, as she learned she had cancer, she recounted her battle with it until close to her death. Kim was a finer writer than me; I’m a storyteller, not a Fine Writer. Oh, I know my way around structure and theme and character and syntax and so on but my primary focus was and is storytelling. For Kim, it was the shape of the sentence, the right word chosen, the proper use of grammar and syntax. I’ll split infinitives without a care but Kim didn’t like that. She was the better essayist than myself. CBG gave her the chance to make her mark that way.

I’ll freely admit I haven’t read CBG for a while. I’m more online these days. I liked, however, knowing it was there and now it won’t be. Life changes, I know, and some things die but life itself always goes on even if I don’t always approve.


MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Head Writer

We all tell stories. All the time. To make sense of the stimuli created by our senses, the brain creates narrative. “Minds seeks patterns,” David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, says in his often troubling book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. What makes it disturbing is that Eagleman is not a philosopher or a psychologist; he’s a scientist working with what the brain actually does. Through tests, through imaging, neuroscientists like Eagleman can see what part of the brain lights up when certain stimuli comes in or certain tasks are performed. Consciousness, as he points out, actually plays a very small part in the brain’s overall functioning.

We make up the stories in order to make sense of the world around us. We crave stories to explain the apparent chaos we find ourselves in. When my late wife, Kimberly Yale, was dying from breast cancer, I could take refuge in the scripts and stories I was creating. Yes, I needed to do that in order to keep money coming in to the household, but it’s where I went where things still made sense. There was a sense of control that certainly was not present in the so-called “real world” for me.

It’s not simply lies we tell ourselves; it is a narrative we need to form in order to have a functioning inner reality. We need story. It gives a “why” to the “what.”

Right now, we’re asking a lot of “why.”

On Friday, twenty-year old Adam Lanza, after first killing his own mother in their home, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, and shot and killed 26 people, including twenty children. A stunned nation was left with the question, “Why?” We desperately search for a narrative, an explanation, a reason why this man, why anyone, would do such a thing. What is the story here? We need a story. Something to make the event comprehensible. Something that will keep the chaos at bay.

There are plenty of narratives starting to surface that I’ve seen loosed on the Internet. “He was nuts.” (I think that’s a given; killing twenty children is not remotely what one would call normal.) “It’s because God and prayer were forced out of schools.” (Dubious at best; a God that would kill twenty children because prayer wasn’t allowed in school is also pretty nutso.) All of the stories, the explanations, presented come from the individual’s own story, their own narrative.

What was Adam Lanza’s narrative?

A lot of our personal narratives, our own private realities, allow or justify some of our own actions, no matter how dubious. Here one of my writing rules apply: no one thinks of themselves as a villain. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot all thought they had good reasons for the mass murders they performed. We are, in our minds, the heroes of our own lives. I’m assuming Adam Lanza was as well.

What was Adam Lanza’s private narrative that allowed, that perhaps compelled him to kill those children? Will we ever know? Lt. J. Paul Vance, a CT police spokesman, said, “The detectives will certainly analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain, and we’re hopeful – we’re hopeful – that it will paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire unfortunate incidence occurred.” In other words, we’ll have a story of some kind. To what extent will any of us recognize elements of that story in ourselves?

In Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark observes “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.” I can relate to that. I am all the heroes I have ever written; I am all the villains, too. To write convincingly of a character based on Adam Lanza, I would have to find the Adam Lanza inside of me. I have no doubt that I could. That is not, however, a journey I would like to take.

David Eagleman again writes, “There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior.” Some terrible part of Adam Lanza won out and made him who he is. He ended the narratives of all those he killed. As President Obama said of the children in a press conference, “They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” All their own stories, ended with gunshots.

Adam Lanza’s personal narrative has now made him part of the nation’s narrative and part of the personal narrative of each one of us. We will make stories, on both a personal and national level, to cope with it, to make sense of the chaos. It’s what we do. It’s what we must do.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Pros At Cons

Once again I didn’t make it to the NYCC but I’ve been to umpty-bum comic book conventions over the years, both as a fan and a professional, and I’ve learned one or two things along the way. Being a pro (especially if you’re a guest at the con) and being a fan are two very different experiences. I always regard being a guest at a con as a working weekend and it can, in fact, be more tiring for me than going as a fan.

My first job is giving any fan that comes up to my table a good experience. These are people who buy my books and that fact keeps me employed. I may be tired, I may be stressed, there may be any number of things bothering me but none of that matters. The Con promoter has paid my way with the expectations that my name may help draw more paying customers and that the paying customers will enjoy themselves well enough at the Con to want to come again next year. I’m part of that equation. It’s part of my job as a professional.

I also want to create more fans. I greet people who pass by, try to engage them in conversation, try to interest them in what I do. If I have something to sell, I have a quick spiel to give passers-by an idea of what’s there. Folks at neighboring tables soon learn to tune me out because it can get repetitive. My Mary has noted that I have developed a “Con persona” – an aspect of myself that I trot out at Cons. I call upon my theater and acting background to “play” a version of myself. It’s an authentic version of me but it’s meant to give those I meet a good experience of me, no matter how I may be feeling. That’s important. They deserve it. It also creates positive word of mouth.

That’s not to say I’m above goofing around. At one Star Wars Convention, there were lots of people in costume, some playing characters I created. That’s always interesting – meeting real life versions of characters that had existed only in my head. I have to admit I pay closer attention to those cosplaying Darth Talon. For those who don’t know the character, suffice it to say that it’s sexy female in a brief costume and lots of body paint. One such young lady was posing in front of the Dark Horse booth and she sure could wear that body paint. I sidled up to her during a pause in the snapshots, smiled, and told her, “I’m your Daddy.”

She gave me a look and said, “Excuse me?” I then hastily explained that I was one of the two creators of the character she was cosplaying. Then she smiled and said, “Oh, you’re so cute!” Which, translated, means, “Look at you! Old enough to be my grandfather and you’re flirting with me! That’s so cute!”

Yeah. Cute. Swell.

On the other hand, I can’t complain too much. I met the two big loves of my life – Kimbery Yale and Mary Mitchell – at conventions. Kim was at a big combined Doctor Who/Comic Convention in Chicago during one sweltering summer. I was trying to get the rights to do a Doctor Who live action play and was talking with the show’s producer, John Nathan Turner, and Terry Nation, one of the legendary writers for the show and creator of the Daleks. This young woman accompanied Mr. Nation. She had a slight accent and I assumed she was his secretary or some such. Turns out she was working security for Mr. Nation, she was local, and her name was Kim Yale.

The other woman was, of course, My Mary – Mary Mitchell. I’ve told the story elsewhere of how we met; she came down to Chicago and the Con to show her portfolio and chose to show it to me. The reason she chose me was that she saw me playing with some young, shy kids at my table, trying to draw them out, and she thought if I was kind to them I might be kind to her. I wasn’t kind; I was enthusiastic. Before she knew it, this madman had her portfolio and was dragging her around to all sorts of people insisting she get work. The funny thing is that she didn’t really know who I was when she approached me; she just knew I was nice to children.

I was and I am. Those kids may be readers some day and they might become my readers. Also, the parents who are towing them around the Convention floor are appreciative if you’re nice to their kids. I even discouraged some children from reading some of my work, like GrimJack, if I feel they’re a little young for the material. I’d prefer to steer them towards good comics for their age group even if I had nothing to do with them. Parents appreciate that and some have even written me thank you letters. All part of that good Con experience.

I’ve also learned to be careful naming favorites or least faves of my work before fans. I once, on a panel, named my least fave book in a given series, going so far as to state that, if I could, I’d buy all the copies of it and destroy them. I thought I was being clever. One fan in the front row had a wounded expression and said, “But that was my favorite issue!” So I don’t do that anymore.

I also try to be open. At one Con I was having a quick lunch from the food at the venue. I was sitting at a table by myself when a fan approached me. She and some other fans were sitting at another table and recognized me and wondered if I would care to join them. While I don’t mind eating by myself, I said “yes” and we all had a very good time.

I do have fun at Conventions and it gives me a chance go see old friends – mostly pros – and make some new ones. For me, however, they are working weekends. Writing is solitary work but there is that social aspect, the selling of yourself and your work, and for me being a professional means making sure the fans are happy.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell