Today we are joined by one of the incredible minds behind the classic Suicide Squad run, that the new movie is based around, John Ostrander!
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John Ostrander - Interview
John Ostrander: . [00:00:00] All right,
Casey: everybody. Welcome again, to another episode of spoiler country today on the show we have legendary writer. John Ostrander John Ostrander has, well, he's written the roadmap for many of the characters that you know, and love today, specifically, and coming up in the future, suicide squad, he, he really got that ball rolling, created the team and, well, we want to pick his brain about it a little bit.
So, John, how you doing,
John Ostrander: buddy? How are y'all doing down there? We're
Casey: we're good. And, other John is actually in Washington state. So
John Ostrander: either John I'm in Seattle,
Casey: he's one of those
John Ostrander: I'm doing good up here. It's a, it's actually a nice, a nice, warm, beautiful day up here. So it's not raining as it has. It was for a few days in a row here.
You got any fires out there, or that was fun world. They're all around us. So there's none where I'm at because I'm I'm, I am in the Seattle area, King County. There's no fires, but we've got [00:01:00] the smoke. it's supposed to cut up. Now we had about a good week where we couldn't really go outside. Cause it was a, it looked like a doomsday cause everything was covered in smoke and the sun was like orange, just red.
And it was kind of creepy. I know, that's, that's a nightmare thing that I could stir see and envision, and I envision a lot of nightmares things. It is, it was, it was weird. I got gotta, I have five kids and I've got a six year old, almost seven. And he, he was, the smoke came out and he was like, as soon as we told him what was going on, he wouldn't let anybody go outside.
He was like, no, you can't go outside. The smoke's going to get you in everyday. He's like, dad is the smoke cleared. Can we go play outside yet? Like, it was like, it was heartbreaking, but Lucy was, you know, knowledgeable of what was going on. Hmm. So staying safe, staying safe, for sure.
Casey: So you, you, I notice a trend with a few of the, the rudders we've talked to lately. in that oddly, they have a theater background. Why do you think that [00:02:00] is.
John Ostrander: Well, So the thing about, there is a lot of similarity, I think between comic book writing and theater, partly right for the theater. But even if you are doing something else in the theater, in theater, a lot of action and characterization is conveyed to the dialogue and we all know how important the dialogue is in terms of, comics also, it's very good in terms of teaching structure.
you know, there's a three or five set of sometimes it's a one act, and it all leads up to climax. And then, Daniel MAs. So, so the structure of theater, is very similar to what you need. Well, telling stories in general, but I think also for, or comics.
Casey: I, it's, it's so crazy. I was reading about your background and you were a member of the Chicago scene [00:03:00] when theater was really taking off there in the seventies.
Yeah. what was that like? You know, you were a part of something that, that was, that was really special.
John Ostrander: You could feel it, at the time, you know, it was a, There was some, there's a certain rebellious attitude to it. the results are found the quality to it in that you found different spaces that weren't usually theaters spaces, they weren't established theater buildings.
And so you would create. A space there. And then you would create the sort of theater that you wanted to do. And you already had second city, which was a very different form of theater. And then Paul sills, who helped, create second city also brought in his story theater, which was another very, rather different way of doing theater.
So, and I think still to, Chicago is a hot bed for, For vehicle [00:04:00] there's something that was a Mickey Rooney attitude there, come on, kids. Let's put on a show, you know, I, I was sorta like that when I was running my own theater company very badly, but, but yeah, it was exciting. the people who were, working at that time, or just starting off.
Were, went on to become notable, huge successes. David Mamet, the playwrights started off in Chicago.
Casey: nobody never heard of him.
John Ostrander: John Malcovich, Gary Sinise
Casey: to ask about Steppenwolf.
John Ostrander: yeah. I never worked with seven mobiles. I did work with the organic theater. Stuart had Joe Montana. we had, Yeah.
In case Sarah bike, Oh God, so many others. It's amazing. Yeah. and of course the most established theater there at the time was, was the Goodman theater. And the Goodman even went on underwent sort of a, sort of a [00:05:00] shakeup as, as the, Influenced more and more people in the Chicago area, more and more influenced, that theater itself still had the few bird draws.
Of course. So home for stage, traveling companies to come in and, you know, road shows, various Broadway hits, but they didn't have much organically to do with Chicago. And these other companies certainly did. They reflected a certain Chicago attitude of come on, let's get together. Don't make a big deal.
Let's do the job. That's
Casey: awesome. what was. What was it like working with Del close. So I'm assuming you, you started riding with him in comics because you met him via the theater scene,
John Ostrander: right? Right. We were both in, a Christmas Carol. he played the ghost of Christmas.
The first year of the show, I was assigned, a dressing room with him. And of course I knew [00:06:00] about Dell, but, the things I've heard about Dell were a little fearsome, but he turned out to be. just a nice guy, hugely hugely informed about, science fiction and fantasy. He regarded comic books as the American art forms that had not really yet taken off.
And so that there's okay.
In it. So, he was big fan of comics. And so from that, we just became more when, when my character grim into his own book, they wanted a backup feature. And I suggested to Michael too, as the editor, and my good buddy, that, Then we do an anthology series based on Monday inspire, which was, where groom Jack worked out.
The only trick being is that the different writer and artist, and, and that, it would [00:07:00] have to be at the bar and it. At some point, some of the action had to touch on the bar, but didn't have to stay there strictly. It could be in Senator and Mike was going, I don't know. You know, I am theologies are hard to do.
You got to keep on bringing people in. I said, well, I could do, you know, like a lot of my, it could be the standard running gun. I know you're busy. I said, And I know Dell close. So when Mike hit the brakes, he went till close because Mike knew certainly who Del close was anyway. And the idea of Del close and his.
Way of thinking winding up in comics, doing some comics together. Can I said, yeah, yeah, no, he knows the idea of comics. He's never written them and I could help provide the structure and, you know, academics provided the ideas and we'd do the stories together. And he was, they asked what sold it. I [00:08:00] saw Mike on the basis that the Dell close would be working with.
Casey: That's amazing. So I had the same reaction of Del close writing comics with you that I did when I found out that Werner, Herzog likes professional wrestling. I was like, that is amazing. I would have never expected it, but I love every second of it.
John Ostrander: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. People are people, you know, I can you'll find that they're all like different things.
don't I got to be really good friends and I wound up inviting him to my wedding to Kim Yale, but not without being a little bit nervous because you don't, it can be unpredictable. And everyone who knew Dell knew a dozen Dell stories, you know, like I've got. Five or six of them at hand. But, but you never knew what he might do.
And so I was worried, you know, like he would come down the receiving line and say to my mother, Oh, I'm so glad that John Scott [00:09:00] married the animals or the Lincoln park zoo will be less nervous.
But no, he was perfectly charming. He was just delighted to be invited. and he and his partner Sharna, Farnam was trying to help her. And she, she was his state that day and he was just so pleased to be invited to the wedding because he was a writing partner. And, so he was trying me throughout the entire thing.
Casey: That's awesome. I, so. I was, I was wondering you, you brought it up a little bit earlier about how three-act structure and everything kind of plays into, it's kind of similar between comics and play writing in theater. what else did you take over from, from the theater
John Ostrander: scene to your work in class?
the idea that, that. It's not just you, you were working with a bunch of people, and you better be respectful of everything that everyone brings to it. And I'm not [00:10:00] talking just about the penciler. or the anger I'm mousing cleans a letter, I'm clearing the colors. I'm including the production staff.
I'm including the, the editor assistant editors, you know, all the way round you, Barry would be respectful of what everyone brings to the party, because otherwise you wind up looking like a damn fool. I guarantee
Casey: that's. Yeah. Yeah. The collaborative aspect of comics is, is
John Ostrander: the collaborative side.
Casey: when did you go from seminary to theater or what, what was the, what was the basis of that?
John Ostrander: Well, okay. First of all, let's see. I mean, sometimes some people have made a bigger thing about my being in the seminary, than probably was true. I went to quickly preparatory seminary North, which was basically a high school.
[00:11:00] And, and I went there for one year for my freshman year. as I saw him, I jokingly say I went in, I joined the seminary because I had an overdose of going my way. and not the movie. It was, there was a TV series because of it for about a season. I had maybe two seasons that started gene Kelly and Leo G Carroll.
in the part's made famous by Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. And, but unlike many Catholic kids, you know, you get sort of into the almost romance idea of, doing, being a priest and. so I went in and as, okay. I I'm telling you the school a lot, but along the way I discovered girls and dating was discouraged, at the seminary.
So I left there and moved over to Loyola Academy. Now, once I was there, as I've told the story somewhere else where there's [00:12:00] another by Ola at the time, especially it was an all boys high school. There were, there were other Catholic schools and some of them were all girls schools, and one was Maryville, which is no longer around.
and I had sort of a crushed on, on a girl who was at Maryville and I learned that they needed a guy being an all girls school. If they're going to do a play, they needed guys. To come in. So I said, all right, I'll go in and try it out. And I got my friend, Rick Reinders to give me a lift into trial with me.
And I got as far as the front door and I always check it out because I got cold feet. And he said, no, no, no, no, no, no. You're going in. You've brought me this for our we're going in. So we did. And because there weren't many guys auditioning and I got my first part and I never did see the girl. I had a crush on, but I got a new crush, which was theater and acting, along the way, thanks to, the director, [00:13:00] Mary Gavin Crawford, who I really credit with, who's gained me, started theater.
And, so that was my sophomore year. And I did, plays there every year. and I also did some at my. School as well. And then when I graduated, I went to university and I was, I was part of the theater there from the beginning. I had decided this is what I want to do.
Casey: Well, how did your parents take that?
John Ostrander: actually my mother was very supportive in particular, because she had been in community theater before she was married. And she had to give that up when, when she got married, but she was always very supportive of any of us who wanted to do anything in the arts. She was just, she was supportive in general, but she was very supportive particularly of our wanting to do the arts because there was part of her heart that was still in that.
So, and particularly going into theater, which is where she had been, she was [00:14:00] very supportive of it. And my dad, was also, you know, basically whatever I wanted to do. You know, they came to the, to the first show, this idea again at Marywood and, afterward my brother, Joe, my twin brother, Joe. when I came out and see the family, he blurted out, you were good.
Mom told us just to save your good, even if you weren't, but you really were good.
Casey: So, I was, when I was reading your background, it made me think like, don't worry, mom, if this whole theater thing doesn't, doesn't pan out, I got a backup.
John Ostrander: I'm going to write
Casey: comics. No,
John Ostrander: actually that wasn't true, to find a backup, but she was, you know, teaching or something like that. And I. I resisted it entirely because I said, you know, if I, if I have a fallback career, I'm going to fall back on it.
I want to do this without a net. You, I could not have seen else, but I was a [00:15:00] big comics have that point, you know, and particularly when I was at, local university and in my theater days, this was a glorious. Period, particularly for Marvel comics when you had a lot of very exciting things happening and a lot of very exciting people working there, Jim strangle was work then, there's dr.
Strange, there was, and of course Jack Kirby, King Kirby, and, And Stanley and John buzz Shayma and Roy Thomas and everyone at the top of their games. And it was very exciting. In fact, it was a Marvel comic. it was a fantastic four that taught me what a, cliff hanger should be. And it was a fantastic four.
They had all gone into, the negative zone. They had barely made it back out, but Reed. Had sacrificed himself along the way. And he was drifting [00:16:00] towards, the exploding zone at the center. And that's where they left the book. You know, he was falling towards that and there was no hope of getting him out and I wanted that next issue right then in my hand, so I could find out, and that's what.
Taught me. It's what I always try to do when I do a, a continuous story is I want you to want that next issue in your ads right then
Casey: that's that's awesome. I, I was thinking about, around the time that you had really started getting into comics, Jerry Conway was also at Marvel and he was I'm sure.
Writing some of the comics that you were reading. and then later on you, you, when you started DC, you, you ride firestorm after he, after he leaves the book, how was that taking up after
John Ostrander: somebody? I'm sure you re re
Casey: respected quite a bit.
[00:17:00] John Ostrander: Yeah. Yeah, actually, I think firestorm was the first regular book that was offered.
I was doing legends at the time. Again, my buddy Michael had left first comics and it was now over at DC comics and he, wanted me along for the ride as well. So I applied legend, Switzerland, weaned them scripted and, Because, Jerry didn't want to get involved with this big crossover thing. Yeah. he was basically sort of taking, taking the exit by then.
And, so they decided to give me a shot at firestorm. and, because they knew, I knew. What legends was about. So they asked me to do this issues to it. And I did that. And then like an issue too, after I did that, they offered me the gig on a regular basis. And it became the first regular series that I did at DC.
Casey: That's awesome. Were [00:18:00] you ever worried about stepping on anybody's toes, especially taking over a character that I guess I think Jerry created that character, right?
John Ostrander: Oh yeah. Yeah. also, even early on in my career, backup purse comics, even for grim Jack came out, I was offered. To take over, star Slayer, which Mike Grell had missed him as well.
And that was, I had done only about four or five, eight page backups by that point. So this was not going to be a full book and, and Mike was famous for, he wants to know, as the story goes, he wants, came into negotiations with a briefcase, open it up, took a Magnum handgun out, put it on the table and said, let's talk.
Casey: So, you, you don't mess with them.
John Ostrander: No, no, even Gold's on me. He says, now do this. Right? Cause I don't want to grill killing you. I mean, my [00:19:00] grill has, or at least did at the time had more guns than some third world nations, you know? Like, so
Casey: sounds like my in-laws. Oh my God.
John Ostrander: And, and, and this is the guy who was writing John Sable freelance.
So, so yeah, I got to. Do do that and he didn't kill me. So I guess I was seeing okay. And they needed a backup for it. And that's where grim Jack did it.
Casey: So the, the thing that, that I was wondering, how, how does a nice Catholic boy, like you come up with grim
John Ostrander: Jack? Well, I don't know if I'm that nice. A Catholic you're Catholic.
I mean, you know, all, all sorts of things about sin and, Retribution vengeance, you know, Bible's full of that stuff, you know, and so long as you don't take it too seriously. And, that's a joke as a joke. Well, sort of a joke, don't forget I was in seminary. And so that [00:20:00] took some of the gloss off, but, What grim Jack came out of really was, my love for what I call narrative alloys.
I like to take one from the bits, from this genre and this, from that John WRA, and then blend them together to make an ally, for instance, sword and sorcery, like honing came out when Robert Howard took, Two different story things, supernatural horror. And, so what they call the sword and sandal fix the name, blended them together to make sword and sorcery.
So I say, well, that's a really clear idea. So I took sword and sorcery, which I enjoyed and hard Boyle detectives, which I also really loved and still do. And. I melded them together into what I call the hard-boiled barbarian. And that was grim Jack. I actually originally wrote it to be a prose series. I even wrote one pro show, a short story, and it was said, In [00:21:00] a, futures, Chicago that had been through some very rough times and society and civilization had sort of falling apart.
And, but the elements of grim Jack were there at the time. So, and so when I knew, when I went to, first at one point I knew they were looking for more properties. And so I said, well, I got this one and I knew that they had signature at that point. So I said, well, yeah. And they were going to just destroy it at the end of the first work special.
And I said, no, no, no, this is a really good idea of a place where you can go anywhere else promise. So I, I suggested that they save it and they use it and they use grim Jack. And, from there they said, well, we'll try, we'll try it in the back. A star Slayer for, for a couple of years. And it takes on Wells then.
Yeah. Maybe he'll go into his own book. Grim Jack was in his own book within eight months of his [00:22:00] first appearance. That's amazing. Yeah. Yeah. That's not quickly that he took off.
Casey: So, is, is there still a, an effort to get that onto, On to a TV show with Amazon.
John Ostrander: Yeah. yeah, I'm not quite sure, where it's at, because you know, COVID-19 halt, but so far as I know, yeah, there's still plans whether it's at Amazon or somewhere else, you know, to make an a lot will depend upon what everyone decides.
their requirements are after all, all of this pandemic is, has simmered down. Oh yeah.
Casey: Yeah. I, I would love to see that in a, an episodic. Format because I think it would be amazing.
John Ostrander: Yeah. I think actually it would work better in an episodic format than, than it would really, as a movie, in a movie you got to make it sort of complete and in unto itself, whereas grim check always worked better.
You know, like as we build things up layer by layer [00:23:00] issue by issue. Yeah, I think we can do that better. on television,
Casey: such a big world, like a big sandbox to play in. So, I, I was wondering, so with your, your Catholic background and, you, you kind of share similar politics, I think with, Denny O'Neil was, was that kind of like a, was there a comradeship in that?
Did you guys kind of, get along pretty
John Ostrander: Oh yeah. I mean, I actually would say also that Denny was a big influence on me. particularly his green lantern green arrow series, that introduced now will Eisner also did this as well. And I've met will Eisner later on too, but, it was more green light or green arrow that showed me that you could take, contemporary social concerns and do them in comic book form.
and I remember once Danny told me, you know, we were talking about a project [00:24:00] and he told me, you can say anything you want so long as you tell a story, if you want to preach, get a pulpit, but. If you want to say something you can so long as first you tell people a story, that's the price of admission.
and so he had a huge influence me and, influence on me in terms of all of that. And yeah, I'm Denny and I got along terrifically. Although he too, I was scared about meeting him because, my first meeting was during a Chicago convention and, I was, he and I were going to meet for the first time about firestorm.
And I would tell him still my ideas for, for firestorm. And I was going to, what am I, what am I going to tell him? What has, what can I tell Denny? O'Neil that he hasn't already done redone and tossed away. So, my gold who knew Denny well said, he's a vegetarian these days. Take him to a good vegetarian restaurant.
[00:25:00] And, so there was one in Evanston and, I took him there. And so I sort of started telling him some of my ideas. So I would go tell him this, this and there's income. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds good. What's good on the menu. And I said, well, I could, yeah, this is, as I said, and I can also do that then that, and he said, yeah, yeah, yeah.
That's okay. And I found out the Denny's basic attitude. Well, so long as I seem to have an idea. What I want to do and where I was going fine, fine. I didn't want to be, you know, it didn't want to work that art. And by that, and I don't mean anything negative by that. He said, if you knew what you were doing, he let you go off and do it.
If you needed help, he was there for that too.
Casey: I've, I've never heard a bad word said about the man and in terms of, How he, he worked
John Ostrander: with his creators.
Casey: So, I love hearing Danielle stories. when you were on [00:26:00] firestorm, you kind of seamlessly like, like you were talking about, ma
John Ostrander: story first.
Casey: no pulpit, But you kind of seamlessly added, issues like issues that were current to the day.
did you ever get any blow back from that, but did anybody ever give you any crap or editorial,
John Ostrander: especially. Not editorially. And I think most of the fans were okay with it. I'm sure there were some who didn't care for the directions that I want. But basically again, one of the things that I attempt to do is I tend to take, okay, where are we?
And so how do I, where do I go from here in such a way that it, it makes sense, but it's not predictable. For instance, when I got, when I was given it, Jerry Conway. We had loved it. So that Martin Stein, who was one half of, a firestorm, had an inoperable brain tumor. [00:27:00] And so it was left to me to figure that out.
And so at the time I decided he doesn't make it, we kill them off and bring someone else into the matrix. Now later on, we, I also, I left a back door as we call it on it so that I could do something else with him. But, yeah, basically I changed the nature of firestorm and I, but I simply followed through, what the premise was at the time that Martin Stein had inoperable brain tumors that was going to kill him.
I said, fine. We'll take it all the way there.
Casey: That's a, that's a ballsy move to, To basically kill off one half of the character.
John Ostrander: If you've watched my career, you know, that I'm sometimes the grim Reaper of comics.
Casey: So that'd be in the case. was there any trepidation for you when, you know, You [00:28:00] you, I guess, press send isn't a thing back in the eighties when you wrote that. But when, when you turned in those pages where you, where you kind of biting your nails afterwards to see how it would be, received,
John Ostrander: No, actually, I wasn't, you know, I may be speaking just from, the competence of memory, but, basically again, I, and maybe I got this from Denny.
Yeah. If I felt, I knew what I was doing, I just said, well, let's go do it, you know? And, It has to be a good story. And if it's a good story, I think you can justify them.
Casey: That's awesome. I respect that,
that, that confidence because, I am trying to write and, it can be hard sometimes to, to be confident in your ability, as, as a young writer, especially, was there anyone that kind of helped you along your way and kind of, took you under their wing to, to show you the ropes when you moved into comics?
John Ostrander: Well, when I first went into comics, [00:29:00] I didn't know how to balloon, a, a comic book page and as Joe Stayton, who was the art director that, I mean, he was giving me hell because my balloons were all over the place. And, and he says, don't, you know how to balloon the pages I had known no one's ever told me.
So then he took pity on me and, and told me, there were other things like, Mike certainly gave me some advice, but, I can give you some advice. In terms of overall writing, that I learned from, a great man who is actually a theater teacher that I had for one semester back at Loyola university.
They had a guest artist program at the time and they had this, and teacher named Harold Lang, who, who came in, who was. Just brilliant. I mean, I don't know as his movie career got him that far, but in terms of, of teaching. He, he taught me so much. That's still remains with me. among other [00:30:00] things, he conveyed his great passion and his enthusiasm, and he got you excited so that you wanted to please him so much and, and to learn so much, you couldn't learn enough.
And one of the big things that he taught me was that, you have, you have the right to make a mistake. You have a right to try something and have it not work. You don't learn anything. Otherwise you have to be willing to take a risk and just jump off the cliff you'll survive. But if you're going to make a mistake, make a big one.
If you don't make a big mistake, you can't see it. You won't learn anything from it. You know? and I've seen so many times, including in theater, in auditions, I used to see people come in and, Particularly in the first audition, you know, it was the comeback or the callback [00:31:00] that, that people wanted to make it too.
But people were so afraid of making a fool of themselves or of doing something wrong because they didn't do anything. They were so cautious. And my suggestion is make a fool of yourself, you know, try something. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You get another chance. But don't, don't put, don't inhibit yourself about it.
Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah, totally. Do you ever have, do you have any instances where you, you, you learn the hard lesson,
John Ostrander: but in terms of writing? Yes, sir. Well, okay. I like, one of the things that I like, and that happens fairly often is when the character speak to you or, or, or tell you where the plot is going, if you're smart, you'll listen, and you just do it.
the two characters who most often. Spoke to me were, John gaunt, [00:32:00] grim Jack and Amanda Waller and suicide squad. All I had to do was it seemed like was to transcribe what I heard, you know, and to go into the direction that they want. Well, there was one issue of grim Jack and I won't name it, but, Gone in like it, he didn't like where the plot was going.
And so, so I said, no, this is I'm the writer. This is where it's going. Any clammed up on me for the rest of the issue. It was the hardest issue I ever had to write because God just wouldn't talk to me about it. So, that was a hard lesson to learn basically. Follow you follow the characters. And if they, if they go off somewhere from, from, from where your plan was, go with that, don't, don't stick so closely to your plot or to where you think it's going and, and leave yourself open to where it might go.
[00:33:00] Casey: So that, that obviously like that. W what do you do when. When they're not doing what you want to do, like you and you just follow them, but how do you make those? How do you make them make the lemonade out of the lemons that you brought to the table after you screw it up with the characters?
John Ostrander: Again, you just it's a plotting or figuring out where the story goes.
You, what, what's your looking, you take a given point, which may be the start of the idea for it. It's not necessarily the start of the plot, but, and you follow it, you know, what would be a reasonable. Extrapolation from, from this and what would be, what reasonably could have come before it, what came before it and what goes after it?
And [00:34:00] there's a whole bunch of possibilities that come along and you follow the one that feels right to you. If you don't have that feeling, then you're in trouble. and maybe you want to find a different job, but. You, you follow where the story seems to want to go where the characters want to go and you did, and you listen to them, you listen, you know, and you, and you combine things that you know are true and, your mind and your heart working together, it really is an act of creation.
And in a way you are like, God, you're taking something that didn't exist before, except. In your mind and your heart and giving it a physical form. That's the other thing, if you've got an ID, write it down, put it into words, whether you're typing on a computer screen or dictated somewhere. I [00:35:00] have journals that I've build up over the years, write it down.
Cause you don't know what you got until you write it down. a question that I often ask. when I, when I do a, a seminar or something like that, and I've taught a bunch of these, the initial question always is what does a writer do?
And you tell me, what does the writer do to.
Casey: I guess pull, pull out is out of the ether and put them on the page, but you, you have to have a little bit more than just slapping stuff down on the page.
John Ostrander: So I guess tell the story. Right? Interesting answer. Nothing. When I was being bored, don't complicate it.
It's not a trick question. What does the writer do?
Casey: They write,
John Ostrander: they [00:36:00] write a writer, writes if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Otherwise you're a wannabe, but you have it. And if you're just getting started and you go, well, I don't have time to write. You got five minutes every day though. You have to spend five minutes a day and you have to write it down.
Don't tell it to somebody else. Because if you do, you're letting the steam out of the engine. What you have to do is you have to put the words on a page somewhere. Somehow you want to do that. You don't know what you've got until you've written it down and you want to do it every day so that you get into the habit of writing as one thing, the other thing is, No, it seems there's a sturgeon of the payments science fiction writer said when an interviewer said, what do you say to the, [00:37:00] to the accusation that some people make that 90% of all science fiction is crap is you're not going to say 90% of anything is crap.
And a lot of more than 90%, particularly you start writing what you write is going to be crap. And the only way to improve is to write. You have to write the crap out of your system and just put it down. Don't edit it. Don't try to improve it. Take it, write it, put it down. I've got, Oh God, I did it. I use a very small percentage of the plot ID or plot ideas that I write down.
Sometimes I write them down. I go. Oh, well, that's what I was as good as I thought it was. And so I tossed to, and so you toss it away and you never use it again in writing it down. I may find an element of it that I can use it again.
Casey: So when you [00:38:00] are writing,
John Ostrander: what.
Casey: Do you, do you have any particular habits that you, that you try to keep, like, do you read at night? Do you write in the morning? What is, what is your method like? What works for you?
John Ostrander: I get up feed the cats, have breakfast, see what's going on in the world and then sit down and, and my butt's in the chair, you know, and the screen is on.
And, and I work it from there now sometimes I'll listen to music, music, music helps feed me, ideally. Yeah. sometimes it'll be, what I'm looking for is music that creates. A feeling inside of me, or maybe I've got an idea for a scene. And particularly if I can find a piece of music, it'll help me form that idea into a scene.
You know, give me ideas of where to go. especially I prefer instrumental music. [00:39:00] and, classroom can work nice, but I like soundtracks to, to, to movie because they, they are meant to move the story along. They're meant to help tell a story. And so I find a soundtrack that I particularly like, or if it creates a feeling in me, well, then I keep on listening to it over and over and July drive, even the cat's crazy.
And, but I try to. Distill it into this idea. That's in my head,
Casey: I've started making playlists for my artist on the, the comic that I'm writing now. it's, it's the Vietnam war comic. And, so I put together a bunch of, I guess, period, Period songs that would kind of fit the mood I'm trying to evoke.
So, so a lot of like Stooges and, the doors, like some of the crazier doors stuff, but, it's I love having that ability. You [00:40:00] just go on to Spotify or something and throw something together.
John Ostrander: Yeah. Go make it though. Just for that era, look for something this speaks to you, you know, like, for instance, that you might find a character or a character that you're working on and might show up in that in a piece of music from anywhere.
From anywhere. It doesn't matter because you're not putting out a sound. Correct. You know, so use whatever you need or whatever. You can find something again. I mean, to you, and then you can use that to speak to other
Casey: that reminds me, my wife and I were talking last night about the, have you seen the show, Lovecraft country?
John Ostrander: No.
Casey: Oh my goodness. It's amazing. I think you would appreciate it, but, it's set in the fifties, but the music they use is from all over, but it, it fits like, you know, it fits like [00:41:00] it should be there. It's like a puzzle. It goes right into it and it's amazing. so yeah. Yeah, I totally get the, the soundtrack thing.
Do you mind if we talk about, the spectrum
John Ostrander: a little bit.
Casey: So with the heavy themes in your work, how did you deal with the, the juxtaposition of like the metaphysical? The metaphysical ideas in the specter was such a salt of the earth, every man type medium and like further, have you had any problems from, from your editorial team and with them just going like, no, just please make the guy hit the other guy.
Like that's all we,
John Ostrander: no, it actually is. The editor, DC in general were very supportive of, of what we're doing. so long as Tom and I, Tom and I had to convince them. That we knew what we were doing and that, and that they should give the character to us. people were saying, [00:42:00] well, yeah, but this factor is so powerful.
You can only do about eight to 10 issues maybe a year, because either you have to downgrade his powers or, or I forget, or you, or you won't be able to do a whole lot with it. And.
Casey: It's kind of the same problem that Superman has in a way he's too powerful sometimes.
John Ostrander: Yeah. But at the time when I said, no, look, you got to have those visuals in there, you know?
Because that's what makes him the specter. That's what makes him different than Superman, you know, it's these insane visuals, you know, he's, you know, he's equal to God and God, it better be eating his Wheaties, you know, in terms of what he can do to people, you know, and do to reality. we said, we know.
What the spectrum should be and how to do it, give them to us and we'll show you and to DC's credit and to essentially Dan [00:43:00] rasper and then Peter Tamasi, who were our editors and we had complete support. And one thing that was interesting also about it was that, as we got up and as we approached the end of the run, we were, we were told, well, look, Your overall numbers are going down.
It'll probably be canceled in about a year. So take your time now and figure out how you want to end it. And so they gave us time to work to our, to our ending, which we had a big idea, even from the start. And so it enabled us and they let us do what we wanted for our, for our ending. And that made the entire run a single story.
Because it was about how Jim Corrigan and our focus in the book was Jim Corrigan more than on the spectrum spectrum was there for the possess, but it was Jim Corrigan who was going to change. Oh yeah.
[00:44:00] Casey: So when you look at that character now, and what they're doing, is it D does it bother you when, when you see different interpretations, is it kind of like seeing an old girlfriend used to date or do you even keep up with it?
John Ostrander: don't keep up with it. generally when I leave a book, I don't look at it again, unless save, they pop me in for a, her filling or something like that. mainly because it gives me, I have the chance to do what I wanted without other people looking over my shoulder. And, you know, well, again, firestorm is a good example.
Jerry Conway didn't bother me. With it at all. I don't think he read anybody and that's fine by me. You know, people who come in to create, the specter or suicide squad or anything else, they have the right to, you know, do their creative thing without wondering what I might think of it. Well, I won't have an [00:45:00] opinion on it because I'm not reading it.
Casey: Yeah. I, I can totally, I can understand, not wanting to see, anything once you're done with it. And especially since you guys kind of wrapped it up and said your
John Ostrander: piece.
Casey: Yeah. So you moved from the spectrum to suicide squad,
John Ostrander: Actually I was doing a suicide squad before the spectrum. Oh my goodness.
Suicide squad actually spun out of legends and that's where it first appeared.
Casey: Oh really?
John Ostrander: Yeah. Yeah. gold. I already sold the idea of suicide squad to Bob Greenberger and, Mike suggested that we launch it in legends because legends was going to have a wide audience. And so that might enable us to take some of that audience and put it in the squad when it's spun up from it.
Casey: So there's a lot of talk lately about the upcoming [00:46:00] suicide squad movie. they, the director of the film has kind of talked about your work in particular as, as being, the inspiration behind his film. Do you, do you have any, insight as to what's going on? I'm not going to ask you anything that, that shouldn't be said, but, do you, do you think that they're, they're kind of, they've got the spirit of what you're doing?
John Ostrander: I don't know much what's going on, but I have a lot of faith, particularly from what James gonna said outside of, doing it. he shows a lot of respect for. What I did. And he understands why I did what I did, he gets it. And so I have a, I have a lot of hope and love expectations, and he's such a good filmmaker to begin with.
So, this could be a really fun movie and I hope the movie theaters open up because I really want to see it on the biggest screen I can. Oh yeah.
Casey: Yeah. [00:47:00] It's It's I think it's going to be a while before things start getting better. But then, then again, I mean, I don't think they're, they're going to be hitting theaters with it anytime soon, especially with they keep moving other films back.
So there's going to be such a backlog.
John Ostrander: I know. Well, the new squad movie isn't due out until August of next year. So I'm hoping that by then the movie theaters are, are open again. if only because I love going to the movies in movie theaters anyway, but, I hope that by that point that they can get it in there and that'll be open to the public can go in and see what they're doing.
Casey: So w when you put together this team, did you have any directives from, from anyone as to who you could not use and who you could, or did you just go, this is my team. Just let me have these guys. And, you won't hear from me. I won't bother you.
John Ostrander: Well, there were some characters that [00:48:00] I wanted in, and then I put in, And Walla was a new character.
So I controlled her. basically my thing was that I wanted. Characters that I, you know, if gonna let me use it, then I said, I want to have some control over them. That's why as a joker didn't appear in the squad. When I was, when I was writing it, Bob Greenberger mentioned a couple of characters that he thought would be good.
he wanted us to use captain boomerang. first I said, Oh God, he's such a silly character. Look at that, it looks that costume it's like he's wearing, you know, like a, soda jerks cap on his head, but, Bob went out and I started working and there. now I should mention that there is this series of novels, historical novels by, by the writer, George MacDonald Fraser, about a character called flash plasmin was originally in [00:49:00] a well-known.
Boy's book, back at the turn of the previous century, called Tom, Tom Brown's school days, and flash Wren is allowed and he's a drunk and he's a bully at school and he gets kicked out of school. And the story well, George McDonald Frazier picked him up from that point and didn't change him at all.
You just continued to let them be allowed and a lecture, a coward, and, just the biggest anti hero that you could imagine. And so I sorta took that concept. And said, okay, that's what we're going to do with captain boomerang and captain boomerang wound up being one of my favorite characters squat.
Anyway, just when you think he's, he's gone as far he's dipped as far down as he can, he finds another, another level to sink to. And, so as yourself, I had great deal on, although it's funny, I tried to. I wanted to make them Australia [00:50:00] or more Australians than he was. So I had gotten a bunch of books and, dictionaries about Australia and slang until my friend, Dave DeVries.
Who's Australian came over and, and we talked about it. He says, and phone me. Oh, right, mate. You know, like whenever we get a new issue out, me and Mitch. My age, get together and we read captain boomerang aloud and we can have a good laugh, but no, this is legit. I got it out of a book. He's right. But no one talks.
And I said, so I toned it down and he helped me correct some of the things. So he still have an Australian, but I'm not quite as indecipherable as I sometimes made him.
Casey: That that's, that's hilarious. It makes me, I have a, a friend who, he does indie comics and his artist is in, I think the Philippines, but in the script, he, he put a note that [00:51:00] somebody pulls out a switchblade
John Ostrander: and,
Casey: the artists in the Philippines had no idea what a switchblade was.
So he looked it up and Googled it. And he turns in the art and, on the page, it was a switchblade comb instead of the switchblade knife. so the. The things got kinda mixed up and like, well, technically you're correct. But you know, nobody's going to try to stab somebody who, a switchblade comb.
John Ostrander: Yeah.
Yeah. Never bring a comb to a knife fight.
Casey: There's one thing that Indiana Jones has taught us. yeah. So writing characters who were kind of scumbags, what was it? Was it hard for you to, to envision just how low they could go? W was it hard? Let me rephrase this. Was it hard for you to make them [00:52:00] redeemable?
John Ostrander: well, I mean first, let's be honest, you know, like, writing scumbags is part of my forte part of my stock and trade. You know, as, as my partner, Mary Mitchell has said, these people are, are in you somewhere, John. So, which is why, you know, like sometimes when somebody wants to create an argument with an echo, are you crazy?
I write suicide squad. Grim Jack comes from me, you know, don't mess. So, and I don't know, I, for some reason I just liked those characters better. any person it's a mixture of good and bad. And so, you know, You play the opposite. And so if they're supposed to be a bad character, but you find some things that they, that are redeeming character characteristics, I mean, I'm sure even Trump has some, Oh, excuse me. I got political.
Casey: You get as [00:53:00] political as you want.
it is fine with me. I I'm struggling to find a positive character. That's the thing I hated. I hated Bush. I hated GW, but I still would have gladly had a beer with him.
John Ostrander: Oh yeah.
Casey: I don't know if I would flick a Booker at
John Ostrander: Trump, right? No, I might throw a beer in his face, but, basically, my thing is, and this is part of the thing they're doing characterization.
I look for the opposite, you know, this is an exercise that I've done in some of my, classes or some of my, presentations at cons and, take a sheet of paper and on one side, right characteristics, for instance, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, brave, clean, and reverent, you know, in aligned from top to bottom, then draw a line in the center of the page and then opposite each.
characteristic of this boy scout, right? What's the, [00:54:00] what's the opposite of it. And you can't use words like, unfriendly. No, no, you gotta be a little more creative than that. And so you go down the line and you find, all of it and make it the best, the most interesting. opposite that you can, and I guarantee you, whatever is if everything on the left-hand side is true and it is because it is for everyone, everything on the right hand side will be true because it is for, for everyone.
And you have to find a way to do that. And. What it means is that one moment, this thing, another moment there, the other thing we used to in school back and forth, you know, all the time, all the time, you know, at one panel, nice, nice person, the next panel, shit. You know, so, that's and don't try to explain it, just show it, you know, you know, he leaves room for [00:55:00] the reader to put it all together.
Casey: When, when you're writing this stuff
John Ostrander: and
Casey: you say, just show it and that I'm sure that's a lot of, also working well with, with the artist, but, and having faith in the artist's abilities to, to, to do the showing part. When, when you're writing someone that is, you know, not you than, is, is quite different from you.
What to get that voice out, specifically like with, with Amanda Waller, you don't have the experiences that, that a middle-aged black woman has.
John Ostrander: that's because I'm not writing a black character, I'm writing a character. Who's black. And that's different. I don't have the black experience, but I can find something in her that is like me.
And that is true of any [00:56:00] character that you want to write. for one suicide squad story, we had a character called William Heller who was an out and out racist, you know, like, well, that's not. Where I go, but I had to find that inside of me and, you know, it's all inside view, you know, like everything that you could possibly want to write is inside of you, you just have to find an equivalent.
It doesn't have to be exact for instance, say about killing someone. Well, hopefully you don't have to kill someone in order to find out how that feels. but. Say that if you've ever killed a fly. Well, okay. Maybe that's how this character feels about killing someone. On the other hand, if you have ever done something or said something that killed a relationship, I mean, past, past [00:57:00] recovery, you know, no model apologists will do it.
If you've ever done something like that. And I, every person I've ever met has. Well, maybe that's how your character feels about killing someone. Again, this comes out from my theater days in order to play a character. I have to find out where that character is inside of me. And it's not an exact one-to-one it's.
How do I feel? How does the character feel? again, if I had to write Trump, I'd have to get into. a line of thought, whereas I feel perfectly justified in what I'm doing. That it's all about me. Well, have I ever had moments like that? Yeah. Everyone has everyone has. And that's important too, because that's what you're selling to the reader.
If you haven't filled it in, you. [00:58:00] What you're doing is trying to find that in your reader as well. It's, you know, that's what is the big thing about telling a good story? You want to draw the reader in? You want them to feel this, you know, like you want, you want to take them through an experience.
So by the end of it, they go, yeah. Yeah. That was a good read.
Casey: I, I like that. And do you have any tips for, for ending things on a good note to make people want to come back?
John Ostrander: a tragedy can be entertaining.
that's payments, acting teacher Constantine says, laughter. He said one of his books, even a tragedy should be entertaining. It should take you into it. It, you know, so that you willingly go along with it so that you feel what the characters feel. And then you come [00:59:00] out on the other side, the idea of tragedy is that you come out purged, you know, like, you have lived through something without actually having to physically live through it.
so that's what you're looking to do. With your stories is to bring them through an experience that speaks to them. Every, you know, I don't write just for myself, you know, I write so the readers can connect with it so that I connect with rich so that there's like this electrical, current that goes back and forth between us.
If I do that, then I've done my job.
Casey: I, I like that a lot. I,
what, what do you do when you want, it's just not working when, when you, the last thing you want to do. Is sit behind that, that computer or whatever you use to do your work and
John Ostrander: write a [01:00:00] script. I it's happened. I've had points where, I'm blocked where I have writer's block.
It happens. writer's block doesn't. Blast. and I, and if I'm blocked on one story, I generally try to have two or three stories going at the same time, so that if something doesn't work over here, I can go over there. And then I take the plot that isn't working, just shove it into my subconscious and let it kind of, For men there and until it offers or some sort of solution, usually I'm, I'm trying to work something too hard or I'm not seeing what the real solution is or I'm fighting it.
and if writing isn't working at all, go out, make the bag, wash the dishes, and play with the dog or play and play with the cats. Go watch a movie. You listen to some music, especially listen to music, read something, you know, [01:01:00] get your mind off. It don't make a big thing about it. It'll come back. You have to trust in it and that it will come back.
Casey: Get you excited about getting back behind the, the. The word processor and putting in a day's work.
John Ostrander: well, it's sounds the word processor. when I do my notes, I, I generally have a journal, and, and I like to write in the journal because, sometimes it feels like the thoughts and the feelings come out and go down my arm and into the pen and into the ink then on to the page.
so I often spend time on that and that's good too, because that gets me out from behind. The, the computer, and the nice thing about journals, I can take it anywhere.
Casey: I was about to say, yeah, you can, you can go to a park and on a sunny day [01:02:00] and
John Ostrander: go to town. Yeah. And, it could be anything. I mean, do you feel like a yellow pad use a yellow pad, like a small notebook, fine use that, whatever works for you, you know, there's only one way to write and that's, whatever way works for you.
Casey: productivity as in writing has increased exponentially since I got, since I figured out a way to do it on my, my cell phone, which is, I feel like it's such a goofy thing to. To write a full script on your phone. But, I work a full-time job and I have two kids, so
John Ostrander: whatever works
Casey: exactly. It's the time that I have when I'm not a dad, can you do this dad?
I'm hungry or, you know,
John Ostrander: Hey, get back. Yeah. Yeah. I used to, when I was working at a day job, you know, like a survival job, I would take my, it would usually be downtown Chicago [01:03:00] from, and I was living on the North side. So I'd get, the element at my journal. I'd write in the journal as I went, or if I'm going on trip by train or plane, I have my journal with me and I can write while I'm, while I'm dressed, as long as I'm a journal, I'm, you know, I can work anywhere.
Casey: So speaking of, of work. Do you have anything coming up that we need to know about?
John Ostrander: Well, Candace, genders now who I did so many star Wars stories with she and I have a character that she dreamed up called hex or dusk, and, We have one graphic novel of that finished. It's just come off the, the printer and, we had a Kickstarter and so Jan gets it.
She's going to start mailing them out. Hopefully we still have a post office because start mailing them out. To the people who subscribed to it so that, right now [01:04:00] it exists as a PDF for those who subscribed as well. So, so it is out there and we're working on a, on a second story. Oh, nice.
Casey: Did you like that process?
Was that your first time doing, doing a crowdfunding effort?
John Ostrander: It's a lot of work. you learn just what. How publisher brings to the table when it all falls to you and jam ticks, the Jan did all the work on it. I gotta be honest that all came back down to her and she researched the predators and got off to the printers, got ready for the printers.
And she did some flattering in the car and then coloring as well as the art. And we plotted it out together. So. it's, it may not be for everybody, but it is a way of getting your work out there.
Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah. It's and riding the wave of.
[01:05:00] John Ostrander: Kickstarter
Casey: as, as it's, as you're watching those numbers tick up and hopefully tick up.
And the last, you know, two weeks are the most God awful experience ever. You feel like you're a drift in the middle of a, of a, of a waveless ocean and the winds have abandoned. You. Or at least that's my experience. Hopefully you didn't have that.
John Ostrander: it stopped, you know, here, you're asking people to put money down on something that they aren't going to see right away.
actually her desk has taken a couple of years to get out. and you try to think that it won't, but. It, it does, you know, by the time we get all the work done and on out. So, it's interesting, very interesting work. I think out of it, you get stuff that it's not filtered through a company and, and what are they might want or things that they don't want.
You know, it gets, it's very cool, Tom [01:06:00] Mandrake. And I did, A book as well, called cross care ROS, hallowed ground, where we combined, civil war and vampires. that's good. That's a complete, and that's how there, and anybody who liked our work on spectrum might like that as well. for those who like Jan's my work on, and star Wars, this isn't star Wars, but it is set.
And a sort of space operates sorter level.
Casey: So w with, with the way that people are going to these crowdfunding things, do you think that that's the way the entire industry is going to be heading?
John Ostrander: I have no idea. Will there even be comic bookstores, after all of this is over, we've seen, we've seen DC radically cut staff and change things and they're even, you know, cut a lot of their books.
[01:07:00] what, what is the industry going to look like? Say a year from now? who knows, well, who knows what the movie industry or the industry is going to look like? restaurants, bars, you know, like everything, you know, like, this is a big event and, comparable certainly to, the second world war to the depression.
to the first world war to the civil war, things that radically changed society. What we're going through now, in terms of Trump, that's going to radically change who we are. We're being exposed to things about who we are right now. And some of it is not so nice and we're going to have to face that and confront that and see if we can resolve it.
Yeah. So these, these are, these are, you know, Johnny's say, may you live in interesting times? These [01:08:00] are interesting times.
Casey: Oh yeah, yeah. The hell out of me. And I have, like I said earlier, I have two small kids and I'm really, really worried about the world that they're going to inherit, especially given that we have a leader that.
Does not respect women,
John Ostrander: or,
Casey: you know, the, the world that he leaves behind as long as, and I apologize for, for going political.
John Ostrander: no, I think it's, I mean, one of the things that we do, particularly when we write and we write science fiction and we write a fantasy is that we're dealing with speculative fiction with is what is this going to look like if you want.
A piece of work that is going to speak to people. Then you want to write something that is going to reflect the reality they're living in, or, or if you can predict it going to live in. and that's very tough and it's not only political. It's also, environmental, like. So [01:09:00] wildfires, which are going to substantially change the West coast.
You're going to get a bunch of people who are going to be refugees from that heading East you're, there you've got hurricanes. There's still hurricanes coming up.
Casey: Yeah. Coming up this weekend. Yeah. Cause, yeah. We, we get the, the, the drags of that, you know, just being in central Alabama, it'll come right up through the state and yeah, it's no fun.
We, we get the tornadoes too.
John Ostrander: Yeah. It's late in the year too, for them, you know, but this may be the new normal, you know, what's going to continue to happen, you know, is, How is this going to affect food production? How's this going to affect, manufacturing? there are all sorts of changes coming up very quickly on it.
in terms of the political thing over and above Trump, you got 40% who are his. Hardcore followers [01:10:00] and even events. And after he goes, they're going to still be there.
Casey: Exactly. That's I was telling somebody to see their day is, you know, if, if we, if we get him out of the office, that mindset still still exists.
They're not going to all of a sudden go, Oh, we were so silly for, for. You know, following this guy? No, they're, they're still going to persist. They're still, you know, the, the call is coming from inside the house. As far as these people are concerned. They're they're still in government.
John Ostrander: Yeah. Well, not only in government, but also in the population and heating crate them.
He simply reviewed them and gave them permission. to speak out, you know, what they had have always been thinking and feeling they were always there and they're going to be there. And there are some of them on both sides that are talking about the [01:11:00] possibility of another civil war. I don't necessarily believe that, but a cultural, civil war.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We're seeing that now, you know, there are those who think that he would have no problems with seeing liberal shot. So
Casey: given all that and with respect for your time, because I don't want to keep you on too long. what gives you hope?
John Ostrander: What do I hope?
Casey: No. No. What gives you hope right now, given that things are admittedly kind of bleak.
John Ostrander: I hope that some of what I expect to see that I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong. I want to be wrong.
Casey: You and me? Both brother John Ostrander. Thank you so much for talking to us, man. it's, it's been a pleasure. I, admittedly, was, [01:12:00] was very nervous coming into this because I've, I've respected you and your work for awhile.
And I stumbled like an idiot a few times. So I apologize for that, but thank you so much for talking
John Ostrander: to me. You were fine and it was fun.
Casey: Thank you again. And, when we, when we post this up, I'll, I'll tag you in the social media, although you're, you're not active on the hell hole known as Twitter.
I see that you're on Facebook. So
John Ostrander: on Facebook. I
Casey: hear you. So John Ostrander thank you again and, have a good evening, man.
John Ostrander: You do, and be safe and be well,
Casey: same to you. yeah, wash your hands mask up and, and stay safe and we'll get through all this.