Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Western Comics Focus: John Ostrander

Presented by Troy D. Smith

Welcome to the Western Fictioneers blogsite! If you're joining us for the first time, Western Fictioneers is a professional writers' organization that focuses on promoting and preserving the traditional western genre in its many forms.

A couple of years ago, we enlisted a panel of experts to compile a list of the all-time Greatest Western Comics ...it wound up being the most popular blog post we've ever had. So now that we're expanding the site's content, I have decided to use one of my segments to focus the spotlight on western comics. Our first installment will feature John Ostrander -Jeff Mariotte has agreed to come join us next month.

JOHN OSTRANDER came into prominence in the comics world in the early 1980s. In 1983 he introduced GRIMJACK, along with artist Timothy Truman, at First Comics. He has written several titles for DC Comics, including memorable runs on SUICIDE SQUAD, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN, and THE SPECTRE. For the last several years he has worked on Dark Horse Comics' STAR WARS titles. I became an Ostrander fan during his run on Marvel's HEROES FOR HIRE in the 1990s.

Grimjack Omnibus at amazon

Ostrander has also worked on several western titles. In 1997-1998 he wrote a 12-issue miniseries for DC called THE KENTS, with art by Timonthy Truman/Michael Bair on issues 1-8, and Tom Mandrake in issues 9-12. The story focused on the Kent family of Kansas -ancestors of the Ma and Pa Kent who would one day adopt Superman, or Clark Kent. The Kent brothers Nathaniel and Jebediah navigate through the major events of 19th century Kansas, widing up on opposite sides of the Civil War and later the law. Along the way they cross paths with practically the entire stable of DC's classic western characters.

In 2000 he wrote a four issue miniseries for Marvel called BLAZE OF  GLORY: THE LAST RIDE OF THE WESTERN HEROES (art by Leonardo Manco.) The story brings together the whole pantheon of Marvel western heroes, culminating in a confrontation that leaves only a few standing (you'll have to buy the trade paperback to find out which ones.)


Ostrander and Manco followed that one up with APACHE SKIES, featuring the Rawhide Kid.


John Ostrander was gracious enough to join us today and answer a few questions...

1.   Do you have a favorite western comics character? Is there one you haven't written for that you'd like to?

A: I’ve written most of the ones I’d like to write. One of my faves was Caleb Hammer. I always liked the look of GHOST RIDER. I think I would have liked a stab at BAT LASH over at DC. There was a feel of TV’s MAVERICK to it and I liked it a lot.

2.   2.   There is a lot of historical detail in your work, especially THE KENTS. How do you approach historical research, and  the role of history in your writing?

A: Some of my westerns, like THE KENTS, are more historical westerns and the ones at Marvel are more what I call “movie westerns”. But there’s some history in all of them, In APACHE SKIES there’s a chase on a railway at the end. I looked at actual routes until I found one that worked for what I was planning. Of course, THE KENTS involved TONS of research. I checked chronologies, histories, first person narratives. It was a fascinating era and I really enjoyed both the work and the result. Always wanted to do a sequel.

3. You've included many (most, even) of the western characters from both Marvel and DC in your stories. Do you have any thoughts about the differences between the "West" of those two publishers?

A: Mostly a difference in tone. The Marvel characters reflected their approach to superheroes so most of the characters had deep flaws, angst, and a certain melodramatic approach. They’re sort of Sergio Leone type characters. The DC characters, for the most part, were more stand alone. More John Ford type characters. Both reflected the eras in which they were first written.

4. What writers have influenced you the most?

A: In terms of Western WRITERS, I’m not sure. I’ve read some Louis L’Amour and so on. Movies influenced my Western writing a lot more. Ford, Leone, Hawks among many many others. Charlier and Giraud’s BLUEBERRY series influenced me as well but so did Stan Lynde’s RICK O’SHAY.

5. How does writing western comics compare to writing about superheroes or science fiction?

A: Story is story no matter what genre. Each has its own conventions and you have to know them and respect them. Even if you’re going AGAINST convention, you need to know what it is and why you’re NOT using it.

My thanks to John for participating... needless to say, I highly recommend all the works we've talked about. If you are a western fan but have never experienced the genre in four-color format, these books are a great place to start.

Troy D. Smith


  1. I'm a long time fan of cartooning - Peanuts, Calvin/Hobbes and the like, but always liked Prince Valiant for its art. I had no idea what I've been missing in western comics!! WOW! what a great premise about the Kents, and what fabulous artwork! Kudos to you, John, for such a marvelous career.

  2. Wow. I was reared by two schoolteachers. They were of the opinion that comic books were for the unread. You make them sound so interesting that I might just have to look a bunch of them up. (Living in Japan, you'd think I'd know of manga. No such luck.) Thanks for a very interesting post.

  3. Comics -though an American medium -were appreciated as art in Japan and France long before they started to be appreciated here... but people are coming around. I guarantee you would love any of John Ostrander's western titles. They are very cinematic.

  4. Growing up in the 60's, girls were looked at very oddly if they actually read and enjoyed comic books--that was more of a "boy" thing. Still, I managed to buy several and read them, and absolutely LOVED them. Now, it looks like I'm going to be out there buying these wonderful westerns of yours, John. I had no idea they existed--now that I do--look out B&N and Amazon. They all look amazing.

  5. Thanks for those insights, John. This was a great post which has certainly whetted my appetite for western comics. They look fabulous. I devoured DC comics when I was growing up and got into Marvel when my son started collecting them - giving me a good reason to stay interested.

  6. Just ordered The Kents! Looking forward to reading it.

  7. Belgium is the real comics capital of the world as I experienced when growing up there. The medium is taken very seriously and for every comic book there are st least 4 serious adventure or crime strips. The French don't call them comics but 'bandes dessinees', meaning literally a strip of drawings. We had some excellent westerns: tthe man who could shoot faster than his shadow, Lucky Luke, the aforementioned Lieutenant Blueberry, the solitary gunman Durango, mountain man Buddy Longway, and the Lassie-like Scottish collie dog Bessy, who lived through the pioneering days of the West from exciting adventure to adventure. Not sure they exist in English but you can seek them out in Dutch, French or German!

  8. Loved comic books as a kid and I have always read westerns. Never read a western comic, they sound fun. Seems like my comic reading, as a kid, was reserved for what my dad called,"the funnies."

  9. John, I've been reading and enjoying your work since the first issue of GRIMJACK, which I bought brand-new from Bob Wayne when he had a comic book store in Fort Worth. Been reading Western comics all my life, starting with Kid Colt at Marvel and Johnny Thunder at DC (the Western version, not the "say you" guy with the magic thunderbolt from the JSA, although I encountered him later). Glad to have you here on the WF blog!

  10. We used to sneak into the drug store and read the comic books. Loved them. I have a friend who used to write for Superman, and she showed me how to write a comic strip--no unnecessary words included! It sure gave me an appreciation for all the hard work that goes into creating a strip.

  11. I've been reading all the pre-Comics Code Westerns, like the original Kid Colt (published by Atlas, before they became Marvel) - several good websites have public domain downloads of the early stuff, like this site http://comicbookplus.com/. I didn't realize until I started exploring the old comics that it was the Comics Code (cleaning up the comics for kiddos) that created the myth of the cowboy "shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand" - because that's all they could show. Prior to that, Kid Colt and his pals planted a lot of outlaws in Boot Hill every issue.

    +1 on John's work. Have read and enjoyed all of those titles.

  12. Anything that brings readers to stories and reading is worth the time. There are those who may have problems reading and comics may answer their need for a good story. A story well told is a story well told regardless of the genre or format.

  13. I learned to read on comics.... and they expanded my vocabulary considerably! To this day I associate "implacable" with Galactus, and "ubiquitous" to Doctor Doom's robots...

  14. I was raised by one schoolteacher and she taught us to read anything and everything we could get our hands on. Comics were cheap, so I bought them with any money I could earn, and read all of my older brothers' comics. Maybe it's time to get back to comic reading. Wonder if James has any of yours upstairs . . .