IT ALL COMES BACK:
JOHN OSTRANDER PART ONEYou’ll have to excuse me, I’m still kind of on a San Diego high right now. It’s not that I saw a lot of panels (I didn’t) or got to meet the Twilight cast (I wouldn’t). It’s because I spent most of the con falling in love with the comics industry all over again, or more precisely, the people in the comic book industry on all sides of it.
Let me give you a little bit of background. When comics creators list their favorite writers, the name John Ostrander comes up again and again. John’s list of accomplishments is ridiculous, it’s a bounty of creamy comics goodness. When Alan Moore paralyzed Barbara Gordon, it was John and his then wife Kim Yale (sadly now deceased) who rescued the character and made her into infojock supreme Oracle. John’s GRIMJACK was one of the first must-have prestige indy successes. He wrote the KENTS, one of the best DCU stories ever told. He perfected the Spectre and the Martian Manhunter and a half dozen other characters. He created the best superhero espionage story ever in SUICIDE SQUAD, and made many of the DCU’s villains compelling for the first time in their histories. He created Amanda Waller, still one of the badass greats.
In short, John didn’t just write characters, he wrote the HELL out of characters. Following him was always tough and even today John’s version of those characters are still the highwater mark against which all latter versions are judged.
If that was all John had accomplished, it’d be a pretty astounding career. But John’s still writing kickass comics. His Star Francis Manapul Wonder Woman #32 CoverWars comics with long-time collaborator Jan Duursema have attracted a rabid fanbase and are considered all-time classics. And his recent Suicide Squad showed he still pretty much owned that genre, sorry, latecomers.
Until a couple months ago, I had never met John. He had just been this kind of legendary writer whose wake I seemed to be swimming in a little bit, like a lot of today’s current writers at DC and Marvel. His Oracle was the rock the Birds of Prey was built around, a book I worked on for nearly five years, and his Deadshot and Suicide Squad were clearly big influences on my own Secret Six book. We had corresponded a couple times, but he was one of those guys, like Steve Gerber before him, that I found it a bit hard to talk to without sputtering. John Ostrander bothering to correspond to me seemed a bit hard to process.
For reasons I’ll talk about tomorrow here at Newsarama, I knew John had had a recent eye surgery and it was slowing down his work schedule a little bit. I didn’t realize the severity of the situation until John’s good friends Adriane Nash and Mike Gold put up a website about it at comix4sight.com. The status of John’s chronic glaucoma was much worse than I feared.
Paul Chadwick, ConcreteJohn’s been having difficulties with his eyes for many years. Obviously, in a visual medium that has had so many talents sidelined for visual diseases, this is a terrifying prospect. The website put it best…if he loses this battle, he loses his sight. I want to make it clear that John HAS expensive insurance. But it hasn’t covered all the surgeries he’s had and he may have to have two more to keep his vision. Nor does it cover the required expenses, like staying in Boston for a week for observation after each operation.
The strange thing for me was, I had just met John (and his lovely and gifted fiance Mary, also an artist), for the first time at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. It was a bit intimidating, meeting one of my heroes like that, but John refused to be put on that kind of pedestal, and lightened the mood with his impressions of Elmer Fudd doing opera and John Wayne talk-singing the songs from the musical HAIR.
One of the amazing things about some of the greats in the industry is they don’t seem to be aware of their greatness. John talked to every aspiring writer at length, he gave his comp copies away free to kids, he talked endlessly to his hardcore Star Wars fans, and was never anything less than exactly the guy you hope your idols will be.
The comic pavilion at the celebration was essentially an empty church hall with chairs set up for panels, and we were all in there together. When John gave a panel about Basic Writing, I couldn’t help but notice that every comics creator in the room was straining to listen, despite their autograph and sketch lines. It would have been funnier to me except I was doing the exact same thing. I wondered if the people in the audience realized that what the advice they were hearing was priceless, essentially spun gold, for any new writer.
Bo Hampton: ScapegoatJohn didn’t complain once about his eyes but it did seem to me that he was showing some discomfort. He never really talked about it and certainly his many fans there never suffered a bit over it, he was as genial and gracious as any pro I’ve ever seen. We had a lovely time and my husband probably got sick of me raving about John by the time we arrived home.
But John took a turn for the worst after the event. One of the miserable things about glaucoma is that it’s a trickster—you don’t always get a physical clue when the situation is worsening. And soon John found himself in a fight to keep his vision. That’s where comix4sight.com came in.Newsarama Note: Due to technical difficulties, the rest of this initial piece disappeared into the ether of the Internet. There's still another part coming tomorrow, but here's the rest of part one. Mike Gold has been the force behind a lot of great comics, and has been friends with John since their days together doing theater with the likes of improv legend Del Close. Mike is the kind of guy who, when he sees a problem, he fixes it. Adriane is just as hardcore, and I love them both for it. They decided to have an auction to benefit John, and as soon as they put up the site, people started donating. And sheesh, what donations! Not just cash (although David Lloyd and Kevin Smith will always be heroes to me for what they did!), but also art, amazing, beautiful art, like a Kubert family Cerebus Batman vs. Hawkman piece that almost melted my eyeballs, a Paul Chadwick full color Concrete page, a Norm Breyfogle cover and a Tim Truman painting, among other crazy beautiful pieces.
So I decided I didn’t want to just donate a check in this case, but wanted to do whatever I could to help. So I started writing letters, tons and tons of letters, to friends, co-workers and colleagues. And I stress here that my contribution is no big deal, it’s really Adriane and Mike who are organizing the event, and it’s the artists who deserve all the credit for their amazing contributions. But the ball started rolling and just wouldn’t stop.
Wizard Entertainment has been amazing. They’re sponsoring this event with money and resources above and beyond the call of duty. Patton Oswalt donated and spread the word among his comedian friends who love comics. Private collectors donated rare pages and impossible to find comics. Writer friends donated cash without hesitation.
And the artists, holy crap, the artists! Joe Quesada quickly responded that he would donate. Jim Lee. Dan Jurgens. Stephane Roux. Nicola Scott. Terry Dodson. Bill Morrison, and many others. And I have to stress again, no one asked for credit. Adriane said every time a batch mail went out there would be a new wave of cash contributions. All from people in the industry during uncertain financial times.Dan DeCarlo But the most amazing thing was at SDCC itself. I spent every free moment either talking to creators about the auction or running down a promised donation (I don’t mean to make it sound like a chore, it was a pleasure, an exhausting pleasure!). I don’t know what I expected, but the creators and collectors far, far exceeded my wildest expectations. Nearly every single artist we spoke with donated, from rising new talents to Eisner-winning superstars. No one asked for credit. No one groused, even though they must be asked to donate a dozen or more times a year.
It just got crazy. Many artists said to come back a later day in the show, and a friend said, “Oh, that’s just their way to put you off so they don’t have to donate anything.” My friend was dead wrong, as EVERY SINGLE PERSON who asked me to come back donated. In many cases, they asked for the delay so they could do a special piece specifically for this auction. In others, it was so they could pick out the piece that would bring the best possible price in the auction, for the most benefit from John.
The first day of the con, preview night, I was a bit discouraged, because in three hours, only a tiny handful of people were ready with a piece of art, and I went to my hotel a bit down. There was no way we could raise serious funds at that pace. But by Thursday, I had enlisted my husband and son to help with the collections and the running around that needed to be done, and the donations wereEric Jones Supergirl coming in fast and furious, and we left the convention with a box of valuable and rare signed and numbered hardbacks and over fifty pieces of art for the auction.
We bought a nice portfolio to hold it all in, and when we handed it over to Adriane, it was heavy with astounding pieces by some of the best artists in comics, everything from small sketch cards up to double page spreads and covers and even paintings.
I don’t want to spoil everything, as the website will reveal what art was collected at SDCC and elsewhere, but just as a teaser…we got a Groo and Rufferto by Sergio Aragones, a very rare color Usagi Yojimbo piece by Stan Sakai, a color Batman from Matt Wagner, a Gene Ha Spirit cover, a Stephane Roux Gamma Force cover, a Terry Dodson Countdown cover, an amazing Neal Adams Captain America sketch, a Francis Manapul Wonder Woman cover, a Terry Moore Echo cover, it just went on and on. I couldn’t believe how generous these people were. It’s still astounding to me.
I have some memories that will stick with me forever. After five exhausting days and nights, Jim Lee stayed after the con was over to add more detail to a Batman and Wolverine sketch done specifically for the auction, grabbing a random table as the guards were pushing people out the door. He didn’t want to let John down.Jamal Igle Firestorm Whole studios got together to contribute. Mark Waid got his BOOM buddies to donate sketches and ultra-rare con-exclusive hardbacks. Steve Lieber not only donated two amazing pages himself, but got his Periscope Studio pals to chip in as well. Erik Ko, one of the best guys I know, had each of his Udon Studios artists draw a popular video game character specifically for this auction. Giving up those pieces was darn hard, I’ll admit it!
Bill Morrison not only donated a beautiful full page Jingle Belle piece, but an extraordinary Dan DeCarlo full page Archie page from his personal collection, which I found a really wonderful gesture, like one of the great artists of the past reaching out to help.
These people make a good chunk of their yearly income from sales of their original art, and none of them hesitated, they just gave, often the best piece they had available. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, the fact that almost every single person we asked donated immediately, with many doing special pieces specifically for the auction.
I am still getting emails every day from artists and writers who want to donate. We’ve had people from every part of the industry donating. Readers have donated art and cash, art dealers donated rare pages…it’s overwhelming.Jim Lee Batman/Wolverine
Again, all credit goes to Mike and Adriane, but most of all, the people donating. If there’s a comic book heaven, you’re all going there and Will Eisner is still drawing the Spirit, I’m told.
There are two points to this long story. The first is, yes, please donate. Cash donations will be accepted at any time, but art donations must arrive by August 4th, for the auction on August 8th. If you are a creator and somehow we missed you, please consider donating for this great writer. If you are a reader or dealer or retailer, please donate what you can. Every dime above John’s expenses will go directly to the HERO INITIATIVE to help other creators with problems just like this one. Again, that address is comix4sight.com and all the mailing and donating information you need is there.
Finally, the point I’m most hoping to get across, and the nicest element of the whole story. Over and over, I found myself talking to artists like Chris Batista and Stan Sakai, who were not just donating, but eager to donate, because they knew John and had worked with him. Or like Steve Lieber, whose first professional work was with John, and who had found John endlessly supportive. Or the endless line of people who said that John was the reason they wanted to do comics, or that John brought them into comics in the first place.John Ostrander Huge Star Wars Lot That’s the lesson for everyone here, I think. It comes back. It must be near impossible to be in this business for a couple decades and have no one say a bad word about you, but John seems to have managed it. All the good work and commitment and support he had given to his work and his co-workers is absolutely reflected in the way the industry has rallied to help. I think that’s kind of beautiful. Maybe there’s something to this idea of karma, after all. In which case I’d better hurry up and learn how to be polite and nice or I am totally screwed. John, you’re the best, and it all comes back.
Thank you so much, everyone, on John’s behalf. All your efforts are hugely appreciated. If you haven’t donated yet, please do. You’ll be very glad you did.
Later, a cool bit of news about John for Secret Six readers!
Newsarama Note: Come back this weekend for Part 2 of our special series by Gail Simone, for an extra-special edition. Click through the image gallery up top for even more of the tremendous donations from across the industry, and visit Comix4Sight.com as you can.