Tagged: Timothy Truman

Ed Catto’s Comic-Con Conversation with Graham Nolan

I can’t agree with fans that hate big crowds at big comic conventions. I tend to like big crowds. And I am always astonished by the way the San Diego Comic-Con takes over that town. I’m also in awe that the New York Comic Con is the biggest convention held in New York City’s Javits Center. The massive attendees at every big comic-con are both testaments to Geek Culture, and virtual victory laps for all fans everywhere.

To be honest, I also enjoy smaller comic conventions. There’s something special about being able to just wander up to a favorite creator and engage in a conversation with him or her. And at smaller shows, it’s empowering to be able to casually flip through a long box of comics to search for treasures, without elbowing your way through a crushing wall of other fans searching for their own treasures.

I’ll never forget a great experience I had at a smaller show years ago. A local comic con decided to expand with a second show. They decided to hold this spinoff convention in in the open area of a mall. Attendance was abysmal, but that worked out in my favor. Jim Shooter, the headlining professional, very patiently answered all my young fanboy questions for hours and hours. There was no one else waiting to speak to him, after all. I don’t think I talked for 24 hours straight, but I’m sure it seemed that way to Jim. And you know what? That was a kindness I’ve never forgotten.

So it’s no surprise that I’m very excited for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con in June. I’ve recently moved from metro New York to the Finger Lakes, and we’re finding so many cool things going on up here. This convention looks to be a very substantial comic-con with a small show feel.
One of my favorite artists, Graham Nolan, will be a guest at this year’s show. Part of why I like his art so much is that he’s been involved with so many of my favorite stories. I fondly recall the introduction of Bane, the first villain to soundly defeat Batman. And the adventure of two immigrants from Thanagar assimilating to American culture in the Hawkworld series was fascinating and fresh.

But the other part of why I enjoy his work is that Nolan’s always been able to deliver solid artwork with a flair for the dramatic. It’s grounded, but it’s fantastic. Every Graham Nolan page is an example of fine draftsmanship, but also always infused with a thrilling level of action and adventure.

So, unable to wait until the convention in June, I wanted to have a one of those
substantial convention conversations with this fine artist. I reached out to Graham Nolan for this pre-con conversation:

Ed Catto: You were an early graduate of the Joe Kubert School. What are your fondest memories of that experience?

Graham Nolan: Actually, I never graduated from Kubert’s. I ran out of money for the third year. The two years I did attend were a great experience though. I learned a lot and was surrounded by people that shared the same passions as I did.

EC: We tend to revere Joe Kubert around here – what was it like learning from him?

GN: Joe was a force of nature. He had a presence that few have. When he spoke, you listened. He made everything he did seem so damn easy.

EC: You worked on Power Of The Atom, an Atom reboot, with CNY-er Roger Stern. Those were exciting times and it seemed to shine through in that series. What stands out in your memory about that series?

GN: It was a fun series that I wish I had been on from issue #1

EC: Our regular readers know how enamored I am with your Hawkworld series. Can you tell us a little about that series, what you were looking to achieve with it, and what your thoughts on it today are?

GN: That was a tough act to follow. I was passed the reigns from the popular mini-series by Tim Truman and Alcatena. I wanted to capture the feel of that series but add my own sense of storytelling dynamism to it.

EC: Follow-up question – Any thoughts on following in the footsteps of Joe Kubert on Hawkman?

GN: Not really. Hawkworld was so far afield from Joe’s work I felt like I was following Truman and not Kubert.

EC: You spent so much time working The Phantomwith fantastic results. Was that a labor of love for you?

GN: I always loved The Phantom. When Don Newton did the art for the Charlton books, I really flipped over the character. The Phantom was my Mom’s favorite character growing up. I regret that she passed before getting to see me take over the character.

EC: Comic strips like Rex Morgan, M.D. don’t seem to get the same fan appreciation at comic conventions. Do you find that frustrating?

GN: Comic strips don’t seem to get fan appreciation anywhere! The newspaper is a dying delivery device for comic-strips. They are so small these days that there are some strips I can’t even read!

EC: Monster Island was your own property. How different is it work on something like that as opposed to big company characters?

GN: Everything has to be created from scratch vs. it being established by others. But the creative freedom is wonderful.

EC: Let’s look ahead – can you tell us what you’re working on now?

GN: I’m currently doing my weekly humor strip, Sunshine State for GoComics.com and Chuck Dixon and I are back at DC working on a 12 issue Bane project called Bane: Conquest.

EC: Sounds like fun stuff, Graham, really looking forward to it all.

For more information on Graham Nolan, check out his site here, and for more information on Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con, check out their site here.

Mindy Newell: Denver, Stormtroopers, and Farts

X-Wing @ DCC, 2016

So as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by fellow columnist Emily S. Whitten calls “Convention Crud” and I called, last week, “Airplane Adenovirus”…

Me & R2I had an ABFAB time at the Denver Comic Con 2016!

That’s “Absolutely Fabulous” for those of you too young to remember the BBC show.

Overseen by the Denver-based Pop Culture Classroom, a non-profit organization whose aim is to use comics and other pop culture media to educate kids and inform the public, the con is held annually at the Colorado Convention Center, an edifice that puts the Jacob Javits Center here in New York to total shame, in downtown Denver. Incredibly yuuuge – it stretches over four city blocks – with many atriums letting in the sunlight of the Mile High City, the con never felt crowded, despite its 100,000+ attendance.

I was invited because of my connection to Wonder Woman, who was created by William Moulton Marston 75 years ago this year. I must admit to having some trepidation, because, to be completely honest, I didn’t think that my work on the Amazon Princess was remembered, and I had images of sitting alone and ignored for three days. To make it worse, I hadn’t thought to bring any samples of my work to put out on display, so my table was white and bare in comparison to my nearest neighbors, authors and artists whose work was exhibited in beautiful and multi-colored presentations.

(To be fair to myself, I actually have very little of my work here at home. Over the years I have given out 99% of my work to my daughter’s friends, to cousins and the children of friends for birthday, communion, and bar-or-bas mitzvah presents, and for Halloween treats.)

Getting Timey-Winy, DCC, 2016But those little fears disappeared immediately as I became entranced by everything at the convention. The first thing I saw when I entered the Exhibitors Hall was a “life-size” beat-up and dented X-Wing fighter, looking as if it had just returned from a rendezvous with the Imperial fleet. (I immediately took the above picture.) The next thing I saw were two Stormtroopers, and I handed my phone to the volunteer who was leading me to my table as I stepped between them; she obligingly snapped a photo.

I was, as my daughter had put it as she drove me to the airport, “with my people.”

I was on many panels, not all of them to do with “Women and Comics.” Pop Culture also features educational classes for kids and adults at the convention, and I was slated to lead “Creating a Four-Panel Comic,” which was for kids [I would say] from eight-years old and down. That experience is one of my most treasured memories!

When Alix was in elementary school I gave some “lectures” on creating a story for her English class, so I wasn’t at all nervous. I immediately involved the kids in the audience, not staying on the stage, but going into the audience and letting them talk into the microphone. The kids proved to be incredibly imaginative and involved. A young girl volunteered the superhero, named FlashDash for her super-speed. The villain was Lunchbox. This bad guy carries a lunchbox, and inside it are burritos. “Burritos?” I laughed along with audience, who were obviously enjoying themselves. “And what do the burritos do?”

“They explode,” said the young boy, who was about seven, and whose name I can’t remember, damn my menopausal memory!

“And when they explode, it smells like the worst fart ever! The smell will kill you!”

Well, I don’t know about you, but fart jokes crack me up. Just the mention of the word fart makes me go silly. So imagine the reaction of the audience and those within hearing distance – remember, me and the kids were using a microphone – when the young man said this. A gigantic Bwa-bwa-hah-hah! went up and echoed in Exhibitors Hall.

I didn’t want to embarrass the boy. “That is absolutely fantastic,” I said, still smiling and laughing a little. “Lunchbox uses the exploding burritos the way Hobgoblin uses his pumpkin bombs. That is so great.”

“So how does FlashDash defeat Lunchbos?” I asked. The creator of Lunchbox shot up his hand, and even though I really wanted to involve some other kids, everyone was looking at him, so I went with the flow.

Me & 2 Buddies, DCC, 2016FlashDash waves her cape super-fast and blows away the fart,” he said.

I’m tellin’ y’all, this kid is going to be a comics superstar in about 20 or 25 years, or even sooner!

Meanwhile, up on the podium, my artist, a really talented young guy named Colton, was drawing all of this out on an easel in four panels. We had three, so far.

“Okay,” I said, “So FlashDash, in the first panel, meets Lunchbox. The second panel shows Lunchbox throwing the burrito and it exploding.” Colton used wiggly lines to show the farts’s uh, “waves of stink.”

“The third panel has FlashDash waving her cape at super-speed, dispersing the fart cloud. So we have one more panel. What happens?”

A little girl, a very little girl, she must have been four years old, bashfully waved her hand, and I walked up to her. “FlashDash’s dragon uses his fire breath and burns up Lunchbox’s lunchbox,” she said softly. I’m telling y’all, this child was absolutely adorable.

“Oh, FlashDash has a pet dragon?” I asked her. She smiled shyly and nodded. I turned to Colton, who was already adding a little dragon hovering over FlashDash’s shoulder to the preceding panels. I said to the audience that this was an example of a writer and an artist “editing” their work, meaning changing it to make it better.

Then Colton drew the final panel, with the dragon’s fire breath melting the burrito-containing lunchbox.

DCC, 2016“And that’s the end of Lunchbox and his exploding fart burritos,” I said. “FlashDash and her pet dragon have saved the day.”

We weren’t able to photocopy the story, but many parents and kids came up to the podium and snapped photos of the “Four-Panel Comic.”

Yep, I had an AbFab time in Denver. I caught up with old friends – Andy Mangels, Barbara Randall Kesel, Timothy Truman, Trina Robbins, Peter David – and made new ones – Cat Staggs, Yannick Paquette, LJ Hachmeister, Joe Staton, Hannah Means Shannon (a.k.a. Hannah Menzies), Marguerite Sauvage, and Jeff Hendon and his wife.

I met so many terrific people, I could fill this whole column with their names alone. I met that at the convention, I met them at the hotel. I met Jae Lee on the ride back to the airport.

I sat on panels and signed autographs and took pictures with fans. Oh, yeah, remember how I talked about my white, bare table? I found Mile High Comics, and bought a bunch of my comics, including issues of Wonder Woman (including what I consider mine and George Pérez’s best work on the title, #46, “Chalk Drawings”), “Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying,” and “Legionnaires Three.” (I then gave them as a gift to my Exhibitors Hall neighbor, the aforementioned Jeff Herndon, an amazing illustrator in the Denver area, and his wife in exchange for a beautiful painting of Gail Godot as Wonder Woman. I wanted to pay for it, but he and his wife wouldn’t hear of it, so instead we did the “barter.”)

Comics. Celebrities. An X-Wing, Stormtroopers, and R2-D2. The TARDIS.

And farts.

It was a helluva’ weekend.

John Ostrander: Origins

Nero Wolfe

As I mentioned in a previous column, I’ve been on a Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe reading/re-reading jag as of late and have been enjoying it greatly. As other commentators have noted, the pleasure in the Nero Wolfe novels is not so much the plots, which have been noted as serviceable, but in the characters, especially the rotund and eccentric genius, Nero Wolfe, and his wise cracking legman and assistant, Archie Goodwin.

(Sidenote: when I first met the late and great comic book writer/editor, Also Archie Goodwin, I meant to ask him about Wolfe but decidedly, I think prudently, that he had probably gotten enough of that in his life. End digression.)

Stout had written 33 novels and 39 short stories on the pair between 1934 and his death in 1975. After his death, his estate authorized further Wolfe and Goodwin adventures by Robert Goldsborough who has written ten books, one of which was Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, a prequel to the Nero Wolfe stories telling the tale of how the two first met.

That’s a story Rex Stout had never told and I’m enough of a fan to have wondered in the past about it so, of course, I ordered the book.

Pastiches can be hit and miss; the author is trying not only for the style of the original author but for the voice of the characters. There’s been a lot of different pastiches over the years for different literary creations; Sherlock Holmes has them, there are Conan the Barbarian pastiches, and more recently Robert B. Parker’s characters have come back to life with various writers of different abilities.

I read Archie Meets Nero Wolfe and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t Stout but it wasn’t bad. It hit all the clues about the characters’ backgrounds that Stout had sprinkled through the Wolfe canon. Goldsborough has caught Wolfe’s “voice” pretty well although I felt his Archie was a bit spotty. However, my biggest reaction after reading the book was “Why?”

Rex Stout never gave a full “origin” of the Wolfe/Goodwin partnership. Do we really need one? Yes, I bought the book because I was curious but I didn’t learn anything new about the characters. It got me to thinking: do we always need an origin?

When I started writing my GrimJack series, we joined John (GrimJack) Gaunt in the middle of his doing something. Sometime later, we did an “origin” which the late columnist and critic Don Thompson said was his second favorite origin story of all time, next to Superman’s. In it, Gordon, the bartender of Munden’s Bar which Gaunt owns and is his hang-out, offers to share Gaunt’s “secret origin” with a patron. It goes like this: Papa Gaunt. Mama Gaunt. A bottle of hootch. Wucka wucka wucka. Nine months later – Baby Gaunt.

The point of it was that Gaunt was born and everything that had happened to him since then is what makes him into GrimJack. I differentiate between “origins” and “backstory”.

An origin is the starting point from which everything else flows. Backstory fills in and explains different aspects of a given character. Sometimes there may not be any single starting point.

I wrote some stories with Del Close, the legend who directed and taught at Chicago’s Second City for many many years and then went to form the ImprovOlympics (now simply called “I/O”). I took some of his improv classes at Second City myself; they were extremely valuable to me as a writer and very liberating. One of Del’s rule was to start in the middle of the story and go on past the end. He used to say, “I get bored with all that exposition shit. Get on with it.” If it was a fairy tale, he wanted to know what happened beyond the “happily ever after”. For him, that was what was really interesting in the story.

One of the big questions Del made me ask myself was “Just how necessary – really necessary – was all that exposition?” What was the minimum that reader had to know in order to follow the story? The answer usually is: a lot less than you think. A writer may want to be clear about everything so s/he may overexplain.

I remember one of the first Spider-Man stories I ever read began with Spidey in the middle of a pitched battle on a New York street with the Rhino. I didn’t know anything about either character but the writer, Stan Lee, assured us in a narrative caption: “Don’t worry, effendi. We’ll catch you up as we go.” And damned if he didn’t. That also taught me a lot.

One of the rules that has been devised for comics is that Every Comic Is Someone’s First Issue. Therefore, it was obligatory to be absolutely clear about it all. Someone’s rule was that within the first five pages, the main character’s name had to be said, the powers demonstrated, and what’s at stake made clear. That’s important for the writer to know, certainly, but how much does the reader need to know? Usually, less than you think.

With GrimJack, Timothy Truman (the book’s first artist and designated co-creator) and I knew a lot about John Gaunt’s backstory but we decided to only tell it when it was pertinent to a given story. The reader sensed that there was more story than we were telling and that created some mystery about him but, at the same time, there was trust that we knew what we were doing.

The writer also has to trust the reader and to assume they are intelligent enough to fill in some blanks. It doesn’t all need to be spelled out. You can imply a lot and trust the reader to get it. That trust creates a bond between creator and reader and that’s when magic happens.

For me, that was the main problem with Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. It gave me the incidents of how the two met, the what, but not the why. How did that relationship start? Was there a chemistry from the start? The book was very prosaic but it needed a touch of poetry; there needed to be something between the lines. There needed to be a touch of mystery because in all the Rex Stout stories about the pair, that was there. The biggest mystery in every Nero Wolfe story, the one that is never solved but always there, is the relationship between Wolfe and Archie. That’s what keeps me coming back. Over and over.

John Ostrander Cons Around in Baltimore

Baltimore Comic ConSo, I wasn’t here last week. Some of you may have noticed. So, where was I? At the Baltimore Comic Con (BCC), which was dandy, and I enjoyed it very much. Usually when I’m gone somewhere around the deadline for this column, I’m supposed to get it in earlier and most times I do. This time? Just screwed up the time. What can I say? I’m (mostly) human.

Lots of my fellow columnists here at ComicMix have already done their columns this week on the BCC last week. Mike Gold, Emily Whitten, Martha Thomases, and Molly Jackson all contributed. Marc Allan Fishman wrote about an aspect of the BCC and he wasn’t even there. Makes you wonder what I could add to the (comic)mix. I wondered too, but Mike has already speculated I would probably write about the Con and I wouldn’t want to make a liar out of him.

One of the big pleasures of the Con was getting to see so many of my old friends. I shared a table with my bro, Timothy Truman, and he was considerate enough to bring his wife, Beth, who is a real treat. I hadn’t seen Tim in ages and Beth for even longer; she gave me a great hug and if that isn’t a great way to start a Con, I don’t know what is.

I had dinner with them the first night and we ran into Mike Grell who joined us. In fact, we were going to have a First Comics reunion of sorts over the weekend. In addition to Tim and Mike and Grell and me there was the two Marc/ks, Wheatley and Hempel, and Joe Staton. We even got our picture taken together to commemorate the occasion. The Mighty Gray Panthers of the real First Comics!

In addition, there were all the fine people over at the ComicMix table such as Martha Thomases, Glenn Hauman, Evelyn Kriete and Emily Whitten. I’d never met Emily in person before; she’s delightful and sat to my left at the Harvey Awards on Saturday night. I hatched an idea for a project with her and you’ll hear more about it as we get that act together.

There were lots and lots of other old friends there such as Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor and my old Suicide Squad editor and ComicMix reviewer Robert Greenberger. I want to take this moment to acknowledge how much Squad owed to Bob. He’s the one who suggested the title to me and helped guide it through its debut and onward. Take a bow, Bob.

As I mentioned, I was also at the Harvey Awards on Saturday night, sitting between Emily and Mike Gold. Vivek Tiwary was the host; I’d never met him before (among an amazing list of accomplishments, he wrote the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle). He was very personable, very enthusiastic about comics, and very generous when he introduced me (I was a presenter). I got to follow both Russ Heath and Jules Feiffer as they accepted their inductions into the Harvey Awards Hall of Fame. These men are legends and, if you don’t know them, go Google their names or look them up on Wikipedia.

And I followed them! Ye gawds. Well, at least I didn’t stutter.

As you may have read elsewhere, there was something of a controversy at the BCC. Some of the comic book guests charged for their autographs and some didn’t. Neal Adams charged 30 bucks per autograph; Mike Grell was also charging a much smaller sum and he donated what he made to The Hero Initiative.

I didn’t and I do not charge for autographs; I never have and I doubt I ever will. This is not to suggest any sort of judgment on those who do. Neal is a legend in the industry and an unquestioned leader in the fight for the rights of freelancers. He’s a long standing hero of mine, both as an artist and as a champion of our rights.

My rationale for not charging is pretty simple: the fan bought the book and it had my name on it and that has supported me. If they want me to deface it with my autograph, it’s the least I can do. Yes, I know that some dealers get them signed and then re-sell them on eBay or some such. I don’t think I ran into many of them, if any, while I was at the BCC. I can’t really sort out the dealers from the fans and I don’t bother trying. If others see the matter differently, so be it. This is just how I do it.

I want to say that the fans were wonderful. They were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and warm and friendly. There were all ages, too. Lots of kids, which wasn’t so true a few years ago. That was wonderful to see and hopeful for the industry.

I think it was Mike Gold who defined the BCC for me: it was really comics orientated. Other Cons are very orientated to the media guests. BCC had some but the main thrust was comics. It also seemed very much like family; other cons, such as NYCC, feel more like business. That’s okay, too; it’s New York City and that’s appropriate. In Baltimore, however, it felt like old times in the industry to me, in between the Con, the fans, and my friends. I think maybe that’s why I really enjoyed it.

I didn’t get a chance to see much of the city, which is usual for me at Cons. What I saw was interesting and nice. I ate a lot of crab which I take it is what one is supposed to do in Maryland. I think I’ve had enough Old Bay Seasoning for a while.

In short, it was a great weekend and I’m so glad to have been invited. It had been maybe two decades since I had last been there; I hope not to make it so long again. Of course, if I did, I’d be really old. Geezer City.

Thanks to all who made it a good time/ I hope we can do it again soon.

Mike Gold: Re-Union

First Comics Reunion Baltimore 2015

You probably read Emily’s column yesterday. It was all about the Baltimore Comic-Con. You’ll probably read Martha’s column Friday. It is all about the Baltimore Comic-Con. And, damn, I wouldn’t be surprised if John’s Sunday column is all about the Baltimore Comic-Con as well. This is because ComicMix invaded the place.

Emily, Martha, John and I were joined by fellow ComicMixers Glenn Hauman, Ed Catto, Bob Ingersoll, Robert Greenberger and Evelyn Kriete, all in a combined effort to make Adriane Nash feel bad that she missed a big one. I believe Nelson Muntz said it best: Ha-ha!

But I’m not here today to talk about the Baltimore Comic-Con. I’m here to talk about something that happened at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Something that Hilarie Staton captured in the photograph that (hopefully) appears above. Something that Baltimore Comic-Con’s official photog, Bruce Guthrie, also captured but, since he took so many photos last weekend even Carl Barks couldn’t come up with the right-sounding number, I don’t have them as of deadline-time. Bruce is quite the artistic guy and I look forward to seeing his… well, his pictures of me and my buddies.

Let’s identify the folks in Hilarie’s picture, from left to right, physically but not politically.

Marc Hempel, Mark Wheatley, Mike Grell, some pudgy asshole, Joe Staton, John Ostrander, and Timothy Truman.

Yep, that’s a reunion. The First Comics class of 1984, sans Howard Chaykin, Lenin del Sol, Hilary Barta, and Rick Obadiah. Rick had a pretty good excuse for missing the party.

It was about 34 years ago when Rick Obadiah and I were, literally, lying on the floor of an office in the mighty Video Action Magazine complex with our sketches and notes, detailing what was soon to become First Comics. The act of creation takes on many forms and an enormous amount of time, and Rick and I further developed the company through a wonderful series of elaborate restaurant meals that would provoke a vegetarian to a massive seizure. I know that it worked – actually, I’ve finally accepted that it worked – because dozens and dozens of people still stop me at comics conventions such as the Baltimore Comic-Con to tell me how much they enjoyed our work.

Yes, and more than a handful of fans whose introductory sentences started with “I discovered my dad’s comic book stash and…” Sigh.

The above-pictured people were responsible for Mars, Jon Sable Freelance, Starslayer, E-Man, and GrimJack. Our work either remains in print in trade paperback form or, as in the case with Starslayer, about to be so memorialized.

That’s really cool and sort of life-affirming.

I am not alone in saying that the Baltimore show is my favorite, and that it is my favorite because it’s by and for comic book fans. There aren’t many faded teevee stars there eking out a living; it’s all four-color, all the time. A celebration of what makes comics and comics fandom great. It’s also the home of the Harvey Awards – John and I were presenters this year – and as Martha will tell you Friday, the Harveys is all about family.

The combined age of all those guys up above is about 400 years old. Please note: all of us are still working, and still turning out great stuff. In many cases, better stuff. And signing all those comic books (sometimes in front of a CGC witness!) and chatting with you-all remains completely… what’s the word you kids say?… oh, yeah. Awesome.

For that, I thank you.

John Ostrander: 65

So there I was, flailing around for this week’s topic. The clock was ticking and time was running out. And then it hit me like a wet sock on the end of my nose – it’s appearing on Sunday, which happens to be my birthday. Not only my birthday but my 65th birthday which is supposed to be one of those big hoohah numbers. A milestone (I hope Brother Michael Davis lets me use that word). It marks me officially as a Senior Citizen (as if my balding pattern and gray to white hair hadn’t already done that).

I’m doing all of those things you’re supposed to do at this age. Join AARP? Done that. Applied for Social Security and Medicare? Done and done. Gimme that governmental teat to suckle. Sorry, Junior, but I’m soaking up your financial future and destroying your freedoms. Ask various media.

Except, of course, they don’t give me all that much. Of course, there may not be Social Security by the time you reach my age but I didn’t think it would be there when I reached this age so who knows?

And, of course, I’m going to retire.

Not.

Even if I could afford to retire (which I can’t), why would I stop writing? I love this gig. It’s part of my bones at this point. This is what I do, this is what I am. Writing isn’t like playing sports; the knees may go but, with writers, so long as your mind isn’t completely shot (careful!), the probability is that you can just keep getting better and I think, I hope, I believe that I have.

Regrets, I have a few but then again too few too mention.

Crap. I’m quoting “My Way”. I’m not a fan of the song. Too self congratulatory for me. The only ones who can sing it and make it work are Frank Sinatra and John Cleese at the end of George of the Jungle.

Crap. Now I have it running through my head.

Crap. Now I have the disco version running through my head.

Yeah, now it’s going through yours too, right? You’re welcome.

Anyway, I can look back and see some things I do wish I had done differently. I wish I had done a few more creator-owned projects. Balancing those against the for-hire work is generally a better idea, I think. Folks like Peter David and Mark Waid have done a real good job of that, I think.

I also wish I had gotten into prose more, gotten some novels under my belt. Again, folks like Peter David have done a good job with that. Yes, there are times I wish I was Peter David. Most of the time I’m fine with being me but there are times. . .

But know what? I’m 65. I’m not dead. There’s time to make changes and start doing both prose and creator owned projects. My paternal grandfather lived to be 100 and his daughter lived to be 101. In this day of crowdfunding, it’s more possible than ever to get new work out there.

And I have new projects I’m working on with partners I’ve worked with before. There’s possibilities of a novel or two that I’m actively pursuing. One of the projects that I’m doing with Tom Mandrake, Kros, you may have seen mentioned on Facebook. Timothy Truman, Mike Gold and I are discussing more GrimJack. Lots of stuff I can’t discuss yet but I hope to tell folks soon.

And I’m on social media. I have my Facebook page, I have my Twitter account. Still learning how to use the latter but I’m out there pitching.

When you get right down to it, 65 is just another number. It doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself; the meaning is what we ascribe to it. Getting old? Naw. Pulling back? Hell no. Going to Tahiti? Well, I wouldn’t say no but not on a permanent basis.

I’m just getting started.

Photo by JD Hancock

John Ostrander: Star Wars – Moving On

Ostrander Art 140105The news came down publicly on Friday that, in 2015, the Star Wars comics license will move from Dark Horse, who has had it for more than two decades, to Marvel, which had it at the franchise’s inception. It’s not a big surprise; since creator George Lucas sold it all to Disney, and Disney owns Marvel, many saw the move as inevitable.

I have had the pleasure of playing in George Lucas’s sandbox for more than ten years, most often with my artistic partner in crime, Jan Duursema. At first it was only going to be a four issue story arc. My buddy and Brother by a Different Mother, Timothy Truman, was the regular writer on the book at the time and he was taking some time off to work on a special project. He recommended me for the fill-in, one of the many favors I owe Tim.

When I got the first assignment, I knew this might be the only chance I ever got to write Star Wars. I decided we should create our own characters; that way, we were less likely to trip over established continuity. I wanted an amnesiac Jedi – a Jedi who had sustained a head injury and didn’t know he was a Jedi.

Jan was brought on board as well and, I have to say, she was and is a larger SW geek than I was. What I didn’t know about that galaxy far far away, Jan did. She decided she wanted to create a look based on a character from the films, the current one at that time being Episode One: The Phantom Menace. She found a figure who was in the background of a cantina scene. Let me point out that the character appears for maybe three seconds and there was no DVD of the film yet; the only place to see it was on the screen. Jan not only spotted the character but memorized him in those three seconds. Yeah, she’s that good.

And so was born Quinlan Vos, our first Star Wars character. He was joined by Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk, a devilish-looking Devaronian who spoke like a Russian and was a complete rogue. Man, I loved writing that character! Rounding it all out was Quinlan’s missing apprentice, a female Twi’lek named Aayla Secura. George Lucas would later like the look of her so much he put her in both Episode II and Episode III. I think that was perhaps the only time a character started in the comic and went to the movie instead of the other way around. She and Quin also wound up in the animated version of The Clone Wars.

When Tim decided not to return to the ongoing, I was invited back. At the time, the book would switch artists and writers with almost every arc. I suggested to DH that, whether it was me and Jan or not, there should be a regular team and the book should have its own cast of characters. My argument was that it was hard to build a reliable fan base for the book if it constantly changed identities. Having their own characters that could (mostly) only be found in the book would also be a selling point for readers. DH bought the idea and Jan and I wound up as the regular team.

When Episode III came out (they killed Aayla!), that era was essentially done and Jan and I had to look for another. One of my problems with the Prequel Trilogy is that it went backwards in time; when I like a story, I want to find out what happened next. So I suggested to Jan and Dark Horse that we dropkick the franchise down the timeline, past the movies, past the books, and tell that part of the story. Our protagonist, Cade Skywalker, would be a descendent of Luke but Cade was very different. He was a junkie, a rogue, and he wanted nothing to do with the Jedi. My pitch for the character was – what if Han Solo had a lightsaber?

We named the book Legacy and it was, perhaps, the most successful book Jan and I did in Star Wars. We had new Sith, a resurgent Empire, and Imperial Knights – Jedi-like Force users working for a more benign Empire. The cast was huge and we had a chance to tell all kinds of stories for more than five years.

After Legacy ended, we cast about what to do next. I suggested that, having gone forward in time, we now go back. How did the Jedi become the Jedi? I figured that was a story fans would find interesting. As a fan, I wanted to know. Out of all that came Dawn of the Jedi, the series that Jan and I are currently working on and which will be our last Star Wars story for Dark Horse. In addition, I’ve had the chance to do various Specials and one-shots, as well as Agent of the Empire, which was one part Star Wars and one part James Bond. I had a lot of fun on that one.

So – is that it? Have I written my last Star Wars comic? That’s up to Marvel now but I have hopes. Both Jan and I bring a lot to the table. First off, we know how to write Star Wars so that it feels like Star Wars, even when not dealing with the usual characters. Every story we do has to be approved by Lucas Film Publishing and Jan and I have never gotten a story rejected. We get notes, yes, but not rejections. That’s not easy to do, let me tell you. Jan and I are good at what we do. How do I know? Because we sold well and we have our own fans (and I deeply appreciate them).

Will all that be enough? I don’t know; I’ll certainly contact Marvel and pitch to do more stories. I love Star Wars and I think it shows. Marvel may not yet know what they want to do with the franchise. They don’t get control of it until 2015 which is when Episode VII comes out and that will probably help decide more than few things.

Whatever happens, I’ve had a good run and got a chance to tell some fun stories set in a galaxy I love a lot. I also have some other projects I’m developing and some of them are also SF so I won’t stray too far.

I want to thank Dark Horse, the editors – especially Randy Stradley – and all the very talented people I’ve worked with.

Live long and prosper.

Whoops. Wrong franchise.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

 

Mike Gold: Creating Creations Over Michigan Barbecue

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThings usually wind down as we get towards the end of the year, but this is not necessarily true for most freelancers, and this year it is certainly not true for me. However, I am not complaining in the least.

Last Friday I found myself scarfing down absolutely fantastic barbecue at a place in Corunna, Michigan. If you don’t know where that is, well, it’s just southeast of Owosso. My lust for great Que is perhaps legendary, but to actually get me to Corunna took some additional bait: I met up with my old and dear friend and ComicMix comrade John Ostrander.

Not wanting to destroy our mood, we didn’t talk about the Cubs’ prospects for the new season. We did open with our other usual talking points: politics, weird Chicago history, comics industry gossip, and comics industry fact that we could never utter in public. Then we got down to work.

We discussed a project we’ve wanted to do for almost a decade; one that we believe will finally get off the ground in 2014. It’s funny – I can’t remember what happened last night (maybe for a reason), but I remember a brilliant pitch from Paleolithic times. I’ve got enough brilliant and worthy pitches rattling around in my brainpan to start Second Comics, Third Comics, and π Comics. All it takes is an infinite amount of time and about 40% of Uncle Scrooge’s money bin.

Working with first-rate creators in plotting a new story or developing a new series is, for me, the best part of the job. I truly enjoy the catalytic role of making things happen. My working relationship and methodology differs with each creative team, and quite frankly working with John on a new project is very different from working with John and Timothy Truman on a new GrimJack story.

John and I have known each other since around 1971 and we’ve been working together in the comics racket since 1982, so we collaborate like an old comedy duo, like Crosby and Hope, Letterman and Shaffer, or the Smothers Brothers. Whereas I might start with a suggestion based upon my knowledge of John’s creative strengths, my job is to collaborate, reality-test, and polish – and not to create. In other words, John – and, later, the artist we entice onto the gig – do all the heavy lifting. I’m there to bounce around ideas, to represent the reader in making sure the story is getting across the plate, and to represent the business interests of the publisher. If the latter sounds anti-creative, well, it doesn’t have to be – if you’re working with a good publisher who also has a good marketing department. And good luck with that.

Because writers can write faster than drawers can draw, I got to ask John about starting another project, one we can get to once the new one I just alluded to is in the works. Of course we’ve got at least a half-dozen other concepts we’ve been wanting to do forever, but this time we thought it might be fun to start with a blank sheet of paper. Such a conversation focuses on several questions, such as “What would you like to do?” “Why does that excite you?” “How does that differ from (fill in the blank)?” and “What reference and research do we need to do?”

John and I have been swirling around a couple of specific themes for years, all born from mutual interest. He told me what he really wanted to do next – not an actual concept per se, but situations, environments, time frames, and character bits; the meat and potatoes of any story. Then, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we take those potatoes and mold them into the shape of a… thing. Nothing too specific – that’s up to John when he spaces out in front of his computer and starts creating magic.

We finished our barbecue, made a lot of cheap jokes at the expense of friends, fools and politicians, paid the bill, and went our separate ways. Usually it’s kind of sad to separate from an old friend whom you might not see for several months, but this is the comics world. We will be working on both of these projects via ridiculously frequent emails and phone calls. We will be in constant touch – just as we have been for about 42 years now.

Damn, I’ve got a great job.

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Tweaks!

 

Rory Gallagher Box Set To Feature Original Rankin & Truman Story

RoryOur pal Timothy Truman, perhaps best known for his work on such comics features as GrimJack, Conan, Hawkworld, Jonah Hex, Hawken, and Scout, has teamed up with writer Ian Rankin to present a 44 page comics story inspired by the work of rock-and-blues musician Rory Gallagher. From the press release:

“On October 29, 2013, Eagle Rock Entertainment will release Kickback City, a unique immersive album inspired by the crime noir passion and music of Rory Gallagher (MSRP $29.98). Featuring a specially compiled album of Rory Gallagher’s best crime novel-influenced music; the stunning package also includes an exclusive new novella by Ian Rankin, fully illustrated by graphic artist Timothy Truman. This unique immersive album also includes a special narration of the story by actor Aidan Quinn.

“Inspired by Rory Gallagher’s passion for crime novels, Kickback City is a creative collaboration combining the words of Ian Rankin, the illustrations of Timothy Truman and of course the music of Rory Gallagher. The result is a brand new kind of concept album – a must have for fans of Rory Gallagher, Ian Rankin, graphic novels and newcomers alike.”

In addition to being an accomplished writer and artist, Truman is also a journeyman guitar player and has jammed with musicians Carlos Santana, Bill Kirschen and members of the Grateful Dead. Timothy also provides the illustrations for a great many Grateful Dead album covers and posters.

“I was turned on to Rory’s work in 1973 when I was a junior in high school in West Virginia,” Truman noted. “One Friday night, I turned on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and that’s when I first saw Rory. He immediately blew me away. I thought he was the greatest guitarist and performer I’d ever seen and I’ve been a devoted follower of his music ever since.”

Music recorded by both Gallagher and Truman are frequently featured on Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind (I wonder who hosts that show), on ComicMix affiliate The Point Radio . For more information on Rory Gallagher, please visit www.rorygallagher.com.

Mike Gold: Comics Creators Kick Ass

Gold Art 130821Excuse me if this week’s profundity seems a bit more extemporaneous than usual. It’s been one of those weeks, and at 3:00 yesterday morning Roscoe The Cat literally saved my life and I’m still twitching over that one.

I listen to music all the time. Literally, all the time. I have a very wide range in taste, but most of what I listen to falls under the exceptionally broad category of “kick ass rock’n’blues.” It’s a phrase I use on Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind, my weekly radio indulgence on (ahem) www.getthepointradio.com. Right now, I’m listening to Sterling Koch’s 2010 effort, Steel Guitar Blues. Kick ass music energizes me and takes the pressures of the day and it puts them over there, wherever there is. Music is my drug of choice.

A lot of my friends in the comics racket have a similar relationship to rock’n’blues – it’s crack for those of us with short attention spans. Topping that list is my Team GrimJack mate and awesomely dear friend, Timothy Truman. He’s turned me onto more great music than anybody outside of the amazing disc jockey Terri Hemmert (WXRT; they stream live and are on most of the radio apps). The difference is, it’s Terri’s job to turn us on to music. Timbo’s job is to sit at his drawing board and his computer and knock out the greatest comics the world has ever known.

The energy and the ambiance of kick ass rock’n’blues is reflected in Tim’s work – every damn panel of it. He’d probably do more comics work if he weren’t the artist for The Grateful Dead, and his work as graced the cover of many a recent GD release. He’d probably do less comics work if he had decided to make his career commitment the guitar: he’s one of the finest guitar players I have ever heard. That’s a lot to say, as I spent more than three decades in Chicago and I lived near many of their classic blues clubs. Timothy has jammed with Carlos Santana and Bill Kirchen and sundry of the Dead and a million others and, let me tell you, from the tapes I’ve heard nobody ever had to carry him.

Having worked with him on a zillion projects in the past 30 years – that’s 30 years this year – I can now reveal a secret: I stole Timbo not from TSR, where he was employed prior to Starslayer and GrimJack, but from the world of rock and blues… and for this, I feel guilty.

There are others whose work reflects the energy and spirit of the sound. Lots of so-called underground guys like George Metzger and Rand Holmes and Greg Irons. Erik Larson has more than a bit of that going for him. Howard Chaykin, but not so much rock’n’blues as Hoagy Carmichael and Billie Holiday by way of David Bowie.

Gold Art 130821-BBut no one ever captured the spirit and the energy of kick ass rock’n’blues the way Jack Kirby did. You could see the shift in his style around the time rock’n’roll hit the airwaves in the mid-50s (check out his Fighting American), and when it came time to co-create the Marvel Universe, well let me tell you, Galactus and Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer and the negative zone and… well, you get the idea. Pure rock energy that carried over to his Fourth World stuff at DC.

Here’s the part that I find overwhelming: there is no recorded evidence that Jack Kirby was a fan of this music, or that he even liked it. He met a few rock’n’rollers; he met Frank Zappa, for crying out loud. But if this isn’t the creative coincidence of all time, then there was something in the air that only Jack Kirby and a couple thousand musicians could inhale.

It was intuitive, the way good comics should be. It was intuitive, the way good music should be.

By the way, I’m now listening to the new album by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind. And yeah, Timothy Truman turned me on to them. Then, I think some rockabilly. Or maybe Bo Diddley.

(Poster artwork by Timothy Truman in promotion of a 2009 Grateful Dead tour, and the Simon and Kirby piece is from Fighting American. Both are probably copyright by somebody appropriate. Oh, yeah. All Rights Reserved. So watch yer ass.)

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Martin Pasko