Tagged: Munden’s Bar

John Ostrander: ‘Tis the Season

ostrander-art-131201-150x184-7689597Well, it’s the First of December and the Christmas Season is well and truly and legitimately upon us. As I’ve noted before, I really do love this time of year and I love Christmas stories, none more than A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens and turned into umpty-bum versions in the movies, on television, and on the stage.

I appeared in a stage version at Chicago’s Goodman Theater for many years. The Goodman was and I think still is the biggest professional theater in the Chicago area but every year it hit a hole in its schedule around Christmastime. They took note that the famed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN, performed A Christmas Carol. Starting in 1977, the Goodman decided to also produce a stage version of Dicken’s classic. They asked a veteran of the Guthrie production, Tony Mockus Sr., to direct their show.

I was cast in various absolutely vital roles like Fred’s Friend #3, Mr. Lean (or was it Mr. Round?), Dancing Man, and “Ensemble.” I did it for years and was always grateful for the opportunity if for no other reason than the Goodman paid top dollar to actors; it was great to have that bit of income at the end of the year. My very good friend, William J. Norris, was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge. Bill was and is a great actor but I used to joke that as Scrooge he really only had to “act” during the final scenes of the show, after Scrooge was reformed and loved everyone and loved Christmas. Bill sometimes is the original Humbug and takes pride in it, I believe.

For all the fact that A Christmas Carol has become a tradition at the Goodman (a rather lucrative one, I might add), it was far from a sure bet when it began. There were a lot of actors and even more costumes, sets sliding on and off, special effects and actors flying through the air. During the long technical rehearsals, there were serious questions whether or not it would all ever come together.

Due to the schedule, we had to work on Thanksgiving, doing a full dress rehearsal. Being away from my family was a little tough but the Goodman generously sprang for Thanksgiving dinner catered in the rehearsal room and we were allowed to invite guests. I invited my Mom and my stepfather and it was very cool feeling; I had often eaten Thanksgiving at her place and now she was, more or less, eating at my place – my current theatrical home. After dinner, all the guests were also invited to the dress rehearsal. They were warned we might have to stop if a problem cropped up (it was still a rehearsal, after all) but my memory of the night was it all came off well.

However, we were all still jittery as opening night came. Even if it all came off as we wanted, would the audience like it? The Goodman had a lot invested in the production; the sets and costumes et al would pay off better as they were used again and again in the following years. If this first production flopped, there would not be subsequent productions and the Goodman would have to eat the expense. It was not a cheap show to produce. It wasn’t in the vicinity of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark costs but they were substantial for the time and the place.

Opening night went without a hitch, the audiences gave us a standing ovation, and as they left the theater a gentle snow began falling. We all wondered how the special effects team managed that. They never copped to it but had mysterious smiles that suggested more than they said.

Personally, I credit Tony Mockus, Sr., one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the theater and a very religious guy. I think he put in a word with the Big Guy/Gal.

It was also during this first production of A Christmas Carol that I met Del Close. Del was already a legend in Chicago theater as director/teacher over at Second City and also for who he was. I had heard he was a Satanist, which was untrue. He was a practicing witch by his own admission (he even wore a pentacle under his costume for the show) and he had been cast as the Ghost of Christmas Present – who is a pretty Bacchus like character and thus good casting. I was pretty square in those days and he was a real Bohemian. He was also my roommate in the dressing rooms. To be honest, I was a bit terrified of him and his reputation.

I needn’t have been. Del was affable and cordial and, to tell the truth, a little bit nervous about his part (he needn’t have been; he got glowing reviews, as did the entire production). He was also a big fan of science fiction and of comics. He was just one of the best read persons I’ve ever met. Our working relationship in comics (Munden’s Bar, Wasteland) stemmed from sharing that dressing room.

My different parts in the show often required me to tear off my clothes in the wings on one side, throw on another costume, rush to the other side of the stage behind the back wall, and become part of a crowd scene. One year as I was doing that in one of the last performances of the year, I was crossing the stage, trying to “be in the moment” as we say in acting circles, and my mind was saying, “You know, you could be making a lot more money at the typewriter.” My comics writing career had started not long before and was in the upswing. As I exited offstage, I realized that my theater career was ending. I finished the run and then retired to be a full time writer.

I’ll never forget or regret those days in A Christmas Carol. I made a lot of friends and have nothing but fond memories of that time. Thanksgiving has just passed but I’ll just say that those productions are one of the big things in my life for which I am thankful.

God bless us every one.


TUESDAY MORNING: Not Emily S. Whitten, but…


John Ostrander: The Essence

Ostrander Art 130804A week or so ago I was talking about how in the Man of Steel movie they had Superman kill someone. No spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s your own damn fault. It did violate one of the traditional tenets that marked Superman as Superman – he doesn’t kill. Lots of innocent bystanders must have also died during his battle with Kryptonians in Smallville and Metropolis but hey – collateral damage.

I did note, however, that characters that have been around a lot need an updating to keep them relevant to the times in which they are being read/watched. The question to me is – how much change is acceptable before you’ve altered the character so much that they are no longer really that character. What defines each character? What are the essentials?

I read in a recent Entertainment Weekly that Andrew Garfield, the current movie Peter Parker/Spider-Man, suggested that the next Mary Jane actually be a guy. Have Peter explore his sexuality with a guy. Even the director, Marc Webb, when asked if he had heard Garfield’s idea, seemed to do an eye roll.

That idea certainly isn’t traditional Peter Parker and got some discussion, but is it that far off? I’m not saying I endorse the idea but wouldn’t it make Peter more contemporary, something to which younger readers/viewers might relate? Would a bi-sexual Peter Parker be any less Spider-Man? Would a Peter Parker in a lip lock with a guy be more shocking than a Superman who kills?

The comics’ Spider-Man has taken it further. In the book, Spider-Man’s old foe Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter’s body and life and identity of Spider-Man with Peter looking real dead and gone. Otto Octavius is now Spider-Man. WTF?

The powers are the same, but the character sure isn’t. Is it the powers that define who Spider-Man is or is it the man behind the mask? If the latter, is this really Spider-Man?

This isn’t the only character to which this has happened. Iron Man has had people other than Tony Stark in the armor. Batman has had a couple of people under the cowl. And let’s not start on Robin. Or Batgirl.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have also lent themselves to numerous interpretations. There are currently two TV series that put Holmes into modern day. I only really know the BBC series, Sherlock, but despite changing the era it feels so Holmesian to me. It feels like they got the essentials right.

I did it myself with my own character GrimJack. First I killed off the main character, John Gaunt, then I brought his soul back into a clone of himself and then, eventually, I had him reborn into another person, James Edgar Twilley, although again, it was the same soul. Munden’s Bar remained but the supporting cast was different and I had bounced the whole thing down the time line a hundred years or so and the setting of Cynosure was also changed.

I knew why I did it at the time. I felt my writing was getting stale and the character was as well. We hadn’t been around all that long but I felt we were getting tripped up on our own continuity. Sales were eroding. My editor asked me to come up with some way of making the book dangerous again.  That’s how I chose to do it.

Was it still GrimJack? Yes, I felt it was – in its essentials. An alienated and violent loner in a strange city living by his own code. Same soul, two lives. It still felt like GrimJack.

I’m willing to bet that most re-examinations of a given character or concept stems from that – to look at it all with fresh eyes, to make the reader/viewer do the same. To me, that’s trying to get to the essentials.

Maybe we aren’t all agreed as to what the essentials are in any given character or concept. That may vary from person o person, fan to fan. I think that’s why there are quibbles right now about Man of Steel; if Superman not killing is essential to the character, there’s a problem with the newest version. On the other hand, if “do not kill” rule is just like wearing red trunks, then it’s not essential. Is the Man of Steel Superman?

That comes down to you.




Martha Thomases: Chicks ‘n’ Pixs

This week’s column is about two things:

1) Video games, about which I know almost nothing, and

2) Sexism in pop culture, about which I know far too much.

My son, the genius, recently sent me a link to a Kickstarter project he supports, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which will create a series of videos discussing the way women are portrayed in video games. Always delighted to encourage research and intelligent discussion on a subject dear to my heart, I was pleased to contribute (and also, extremely proud of myself for raising such a mensch). The project had already greatly exceeded its initial fundraising goals, but I wanted to be there in solidarity.

If you click the link, you’ll notice that the woman behind the project, Anita Sarkeesian, is articulate, well-informed, and calm. She talks reasonably about her goals, her opinions, and her research. If she rages hysterically in private (and I know I certainly do), you can’t tell from her public face.

She certainly sounds more calm that Val and I did in our somewhat similar critique on women in comics here.

And yet, she inspires a veritable tsunami of rage in people who disagree with her. On YouTube and online forums, men don’t just object to her point of view, but to her very existence. A group even hacked her Wikipedia page in an attempt to dehumanize her.

I’m not talking about the men who say, “But men aren’t portrayed accurately either in video games!” I disagree (men are presented as stereotypes, true, but in much more varied stereotypes), but that is a reasonable level of discourse. I’m talking about the men who say she’s ugly, or she just needs to get laid, or that she is nothing but a stupid female body part.

It’s ridiculous and it’s revealing of the poverty of our discourse. Nobody is forcing any gamer to watch these videos. Nobody is threatening to take away their precious sexist video games. Someone is simply responding to these games with honesty and intelligence. If you don’t like it, don’t listen.

When I was in high school I wrote an editorial about what was then a newly resurgent feminist movement. I took the radical position that calling women “chicks” or “tomatoes” made as much sense as calling men “cocks” or “zucchinis.” In response, I received more than 200 anonymous notes calling me a lesbian, a girl who, in what I’m sure they thought was a clever turn of phrase, “just wanted to be on top.” I didn’t even know what lesbians were, and after someone told me, I still couldn’t figure out what they did (I was a very naïve 16 year old). They didn’t want to refute my argument – they wanted to shut me up.

You can see how well that worked.

“But Martha,” you say. “It’s just video games. It’s just comics. It’s just movies. What difference does it make?” The difference is that the way we talk about women in our society is terrible, and it isn’t limited to popular culture. It affects our political landscape and that limits what we can do for each other. If we describe women as only those-who-are-different-from-men and not as individual humans, we miss out on a lot of talent.

We don’t have talent to spare.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman Fires Back!


Happy 76th Birthday, Del Close!

Happy 76th Birthday, Del Close!

Patron saint and sinner of Munden’s Bar Del Close would have been 76 today.

If you want to read about who Del was and why he was important to comics and comedians, Mike Gold has a great recollection here while reviewing a biography of the man.

If you want to see why he’s the patron saint of Munden’s Bar, read this Munden’s Bar story.

If you want to see people talking about Del, watch Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Stephanie Weir, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, and Kim ‘Howard’ Johnson…

And if you want to watch his influence, watch The Colbert Report tonight.

Here’s to you, you crazy maniac.

Happy Repeal Day!

Happy Repeal Day!

On this day 75 years ago, the Twenty-first Amendment was enacted, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, thereby ending Prohibtion in the United States.

So what does this have to do with comics? Well, without alcohol, the next Iron Man movie would have no plot (if you don’t know what we’re talking about, buy Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle) and people wouldn’t know what Munden’s Bar is about.

Many people still don’t know what Munden’s Bar is, but that’s a different problem.

Happy Birthday: Hilary Barta

Happy Birthday: Hilary Barta

Born in 1957, Hilary Barta began his comic book career in 1982 when he was hired at Marvel to help ink The Defenders #108. In 1984 he moved to First Comics to ink Warp, and slowly graduated to penciling as well. In 1988, after work for Eclipse, Marvel, and First, Barta launched both Marvel’s What The—?! and DC’s Plastic Man.

He has penciled and inked many other books for Marvel, DC, Malibu Comics, Image Comics, Bongo Comics, Dark Horse, and others. He’s best known for his slightly surreal, humorous style, which you’ll be seeing on several upcoming Munden’s Bar stories!

Summertime… and the Grilling is Easy with a Munden’s Bar Apron

Summertime… and the Grilling is Easy with a Munden’s Bar Apron

Here at ComicMix, we’re traditionalists that believe summer actually starts on Memorial Day weekend, no matter what movies premiere in early May. So, with the official start of grilling season, may we humbly recommend that you do so with a Munden’s Bar grilling apron?

Straight from the pages of Munden’s Bar, with our multiverse-famous slogan "If you leave here sober, it’s your own damn fault", this apron will protect you from grease, slime, beer, and other hazards of the barbecue. And at the low, low price of $17.99, how can you go wrong? Okay, you could go wrong by taking a chainsaw to school and saying the leprechauns are telling you to carve up the auditorium stage, but that’s a unique way to get out of final exams, at least.

Remember: the more Munden‘s merchandise you buy, the more Munden‘s stories we put out! So buy those beer steins and coasters too!

[/End of soft sell.]

GrimJack: The Manx Cat – Knives Are Drawn

In today’s brand-new episode of GrimJack: The Manx Cat, by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman, John Gaunt is back in his own body, and he’s in a hurry. He needs the St. Johns knives to save his friend. Can he persuade Munden (of Munden’s Bar) to hand them over?

Credits: John Ostrander (Writer), John Workman (Letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (Colorist), Mike Gold (Editor), Timothy Truman (Artist)

More: GrimJack: The Manx Cat




Webbed Comics


Munden’s Bar: Ladies’ Night

Munden’s Bar: Ladies’ Night

In what may be the single greatest Munden’s Bar story ever (drawn by the lovely and talented Joanna Estep, with a writer too modest to name here), we see what happens every month to the women who live on Paradise Island.

The Amazons have been living together for three millennia. Their cycles are synced. And then ….


Credits: Bob Pinaha (Letterer), Joanna Estep (Artist), Martha Thomases (Writer), Matt Webb (Colorist), Mike Gold (Editor)

More: Munden’s Bar

Happy Birthday: John Ostrander

Happy Birthday: John Ostrander

Born in 1949, ComicMix creator/columnist John Ostrander loved comics from early on but initially followed a different love: religion. Raised Roman Catholic, Ostrander wanted to become a priest and attended a year of seminary before deciding it wasn’t right for him. Instead he turned to acting.

Ostrander was part of a Chicago theater company in the early ’80s, and in addition to acting he co-wrote a play called Bloody Bess with William J. Norris. ComicMix Editor-in-Chief Mike Gold was starting First Comics at the time and had seen and liked the play—he knew Ostrander was a big comics fan and invited him to try his hand at writing comics. Ostrander wrote several stories for First’s Warp series before creating the character of GrimJack.

By the time First Comics closed in 1991, Ostrander was working for other comic companies as well, and he continued to do so. He has written The Spectre, Firestorm, Justice League of America, and Wasteland for DC, X-Men, Heroes for Hire, and The Punisher for Marvel, Lady Death for Chaos!, Eternal Warrior for Valiant, Star Wars: Republic for Dark Horse, and many many others. Ostrander has also written audio plays and short stories, and he currently writes for ComicMix, producing both a regular column and new issues of  GrimJack and Munden’s Bar.