I'll commence with a fact. I normally ask for a recent photo of the artist of writer (etc) I interview, but on this occasion we start with an image of John Ostrander's brief appearance in 2021's The Suicide Squad. (I'm feeling confident we'll come back to that at some stage.)... Also as you are about to discover if you ever need directions, or if you happen to visit Chicago, he may be just the right man to ask if you are after a tasty hot dog.
I started by asking John to tell me a little bit about himself, and he didn't disappoint, "I'm from Chicago originally; I lived there for some 35 years and am still a Chicago boy at heart. As a real Chicagoan I can tell you what a real Chicagoan puts on their hot dogs -- any fucking thing they want. It's their dog! You don't think ketchup should go on a hot dog? Don't put ketchup on your hot dog. I put it on mine. My teams are the Cubs (I'm a Northsider so that's mandated by law.) and Da Bears. If it doesn't involve them, then I don't care. I have just a peripheral interest in the Blackhawks and Da Bulls. Howzat?"
Paul: Spot on I say !
John: Chicago is a great town and well worth the visit, not just for the hot dogs. Great food town. They have an outdoor food festival called Taste Of Chicago which lets you sample a lot of Chi-town foods.
John: I started with newspaper comic strips and then I went on to comic books. Unfortunately, my mother read (or heard about) Wertham's SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT that peddled such hooey as Batman and Robin were gay and that superhero comic books led to juvenile delinquency and so superhero comics were forbidden in our house which meant, of course, that I had to have them. I would get a stash, Mom would find them, toss them out, scold me, and the cycle would start again. However, I was allowed Classics Illustrated and other innocuous comics. At Catholic grade school they had a comic that came out monthly called TREASURE CHEST which had several features, some of which were pretty good. I also got some Harvey comics (which were allowed) and I got two giant books of THE SPIRIT and that was my initiation to Will Eisner which was great. Profound impact. This was in the late 50s, early 60s and I thought The Spirit was contemporary.
John: I was writing plays and stuff; some plays were produced. My friend Mike Gold liked my plays and knew I loved comics so, when he helped found First Comics and became its editor, he offered me a gig. The rest is hysteria.
John: Actually, writing plays probably honed my skills, and I used to do a 4 panel comic to amuse myself and friends. It taught me how to write to a panel strip.
Paul: You eventually made the move to DC. Was that something you were actively pursuing or was that again, for lack of a better expression, almost by invite?
John: I was looking to put my eggs into more than one basket. I wanted to land a gig with one of the two majors -- DC or Marvel. I had struck up a relationship with Robert Greenberger at DC and we were in talks for what would become SUICIDE SQUAD. Mike Gold moved to DC from First and landed the assignment for the first company wide crossover after CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. This became LEGENDS. Mike brought me into plot it and, at his suggestion, we also used it as a launchpad for the Squad. So it was something that I was pursuing but it was also by invite.
Paul: Can you say anything else about John Byrne in general? His move to DC from Marvel was, as you say, huge at the time. Shifting from one of the big two to the other was "headline" news. Was his Superman relaunch all planned ahead as part of the storyline?
John: Outside of LEGENDS, I didn't work with Byrne as far as I can recall.
Paul: So inevitably we come the title you are arguably most famous for writing. Whilst being a relauch of sorts Suicide Squad as we know it now is practically your creation. Would that be a fair comment?
John: Oh yeah. I originally wanted to do CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN which I consider one of the best titles in comics but somebody else had dibs on it. I was offered SUICIDE SQUAD and told I could do whatever I wanted to with it. My first reaction was: "What a stupid name. Who in their right minds volunteers to be in a group that calls itself Suicide Squad." Then I thought -- maybe those who have no other choice. Hmm. Who would that be? Prisoners, maybe. In the DCU, that might mean supervillains. Well, I always loved books like SUPER-SOCIETY OF SUPERVILLAINS so that was appealing, and I loved the movie DIRTY DOZEN, and I loved espionage stories. I love doing narrative alloys -- a bit of this, a bit of that, make a new narrative. So that's what I did and that's how SUICIDE SQUAD came about.
Paul: Well you are quite rightly credited with creating Amanda Waller who is a powerhouse of a character. Can you list any other characters you'd like to lay claim to creating, or redeveloping to the point of re-creating them? Was that the the case with many of the charcaters you wrote?
John: It was. I did a new version of Mr. Terrific in THE SPECTRE. The original was killed off in a JLA/JSA crossover many many years ago. I wanted to mirror the origin of the 1st Mr. Terrific and it seemed to me that having him be black would allow that. He was also one of the smartest people in the DCU if not THE smartest and having a black man be that appealed to me. I also created Dr. Richard Craemer in SUICIDE SQUAD who, I think, appeared in the last season of STARGIRL. Deadshot also was re-developed by me. He was really a lower tier Batman villain when I plucked him from WHO'S WHO. I developed/tampered with a lot of the villains who wandered through. Jan Duursema and I created WHITE DRAGON in HAWKWORLD who was used is the PEACEMAKER show. I think I rarely used a villain in SQUAD just as they were.
Paul: Do you still follow the latest Suicide Squad comics? Rob Williams' recent run on the title was certainly well reviewed.
Paul: I liked it well enough. I have my own DVD copy and watch it fairly frequently. I'm not sure Ayers was allowed to make the movie he wanted. I love the Gunn movie; I did have a cameo in it so, of course, it is the better movie. I know of no director's cut of either film. I'd love to see what Ayers could have done with the first movie if given a director's cut.
Paul: I always loved Issue Six of Wasteland for the pure white cover. I believe many people thought it was deliberate, but I later read it was due to a rather odd editorial mix up. Can your share your recollections of how that occured?
Paul: Frankly as a fan I loved it.
Paul: It would be difficult to talk about every comic you have written. So I will not attempt such a thing, but I must ask about Star Wars. You have written pretty substantially for the "Glalaxy Far Far Away" for Dark Horse comics. Yet before I ask about those comics, can I enquire please: Are you a big Star Wars Fan? Do you have a favourite movie? Do you collect any of the toys or merchandise?
John: I was a SW fan from BEFORE the first movie came out. I saw the adaption paperback and thought it looked interesting so I picked it up, bought it, read it, and was impressed. I thought if they could get 50% of what was in the book on the film it would be pretty good. Of course, they got 200% of what was in the book on the screen. I had never seen anything like it and neither had the rest of the audience. I've seen all of the movies and, I think, and all the television series. My most fave is the first one, now known as Episode IV. Also Episode V, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and ROGUE ONE. I've gotten some of the action figures and I have a Millenium Falcom keychain and some SW Christmas ornaments.
Paul: You wrote so extensively for the Star Wars Universe comics that were published by Dark Horse Comics it is tricky to ask you about a specific title or issue.... So instead I'd like to ask YOU if you have a favourite storyline or series you wrote in the Star Wars universe. Are there any issues or stories you are especially proud of writing?
John: I'm really proud in general of the time I spent on SW and my work with my partner, Jan Duursema. I think our work on LEGACY will be, well, our legacy but I'm proud of everything we did and the characters we created. It should be noted that Jan did just about all of the design work all by herself. The movies had teams of people on the design stuff. I also really enjoyed doing AGENT OF THE EMPIRE, which was SW meets James Bond. Jan's and my SW work went for a long time and stands out in my whole body of work.
Paul: After the Disney buy out of Lucasfilm for just over four billion dollars in October of 2012 it was soon after stated that the extended Star Wars universe created by so many talented artists and writers was no longer official canon. To use a comic book expression it was no longer meant to be recognised as continuity to use a comic book expression. Please tell me as a Star Wars fan and one of those creators involved was that at least a little bit annoying. Would that be accurate to say?
Paul: A part of the job for most comic creators is attending conventions. Apart from COVID rather throwing a huge spanner in the works in recent years, are conventions something you enjoy? Have you ever been slightly "starstruck" meeting any of your own artistic heroes?
Paul: That is easily the best convention story I have ever heard. Thank you for sharing that with me..... My final question is simply this. What does the future hold for John Ostrander. Is there anything you would like to shamelessly promote at all?
John: Nothing to promote at the moment.
John: Shapeshifting. I sort of do that internally as a writer anyway.
Paul: John, thank you for your time.