John Ostrander and Jan Duursema are known for their longtime collaborations on such books as Star Wars: Republic and Legacy at Dark Horse Comics, but now they're striking out on their own with a new graphic novel - and they're asking for fans' help to bring it to life.
Hexer Dusk is a 72-page graphic novel about Xane Dusk, a “Hexer” in a universe where magic and science co-exist, resulting in creatures ranging from the scrambled machine KOMBOT to the Weird, creatures with an evil power over life and death. One of the last of his kind, Dusk finds himself in a position to save humanity – with enemies coming after him on all sides.
Ostrander and Duursema's Hexer Dusk has already surpassed its $17,913 Kickstarter goal, with stretch goals now underway all the way up to $50,000.
Newsarama spoke with Ostrander and Duursema about this new world, the characters in it, their longtime collaboration, and much more.
Newsarama: Jan, John – tell us a bit about this project.
Jan Duursema: Hexer Dusk has everything in it that I love to draw - it's sci-fi/ fantasy/ horror/ magic/Western with a just a touch of Steam/cyber/punk and a big mess of other-dimensional creatures called the Weird.
Dusk's world is a dark, gritty, grungy place - but it's not without it own strange kind of beauty. Contrast interests me, and this new galaxy gives me plenty of opportunity to explore that aspect in art and story. This is going to be fun!
John Ostrander: We got outer space. And space ships in outer space. And hexes in space ships in outer space. And blasters and bots and scavvers and the Weird.
And Jan doing her stuff and me doing mine. Really cool stuff. With blasters and bots and scavvers and space ships and the Weird in outer space. Really cool stuff.
Nrama: What was the initial inspiration for this?
Duursema: Sounds trite maybe, but the initial concept for Hexer Dusk was inspired by a dream I had about being in a war and watching two floating sky cities destroy each other. The image was so intensely real that it got me to thinking that there must be a story there.
Ostrander: “The Fall of the Sky Cities.” Jan told me about the dream she had of these great sky cities floating above the planet, the war between them, and then they’re exploding and falling to the surface. I wanted to know more and, for me, that’s what I look for in a great story – I want to know more, to know what happens next.
Duursema: After working on Star Wars, John and I always said we'd do a sci-fi series of our own, so I started thinking along those lines, sketching out a look for the world and the characters. John and I talked those concepts over to hone the idea, and fully develop the world and story for this graphic novel.
Nrama: Why did you want to go through Kickstarter to do this?
Duursema: Kickstarter is an amazing platform for creators, and a fantastic way of bringing projects to readers. So many comics on Kickstarter would not fit into established universes.
Kickstarter allows the creator to dream further and try something different — a chance to do stories in other genre. Ultimately, the backers on Kickstarter are the gatekeepers and choose what they want to see. I hope they want to see more of Hexer Dusk!
With Kickstarter, we, the creators are at the helm. Naturally, that means the responsibility for everything comes down to us — and that's not an easy thing! Far easier to work for an established company, do the work you're given. I did that my entire career, and had a blast telling lots of stories.
While looking around for my next project, I realized that, although I'd had the chance to draw many, many wonderful books, there was no ownership for any of that creative effort. I figured it was time to start a new adventure and try something creator-owned.
Ostrander: If you’re a freelancer and want to make a living off of what you do, you have to take the work you can get or try to sell someone on an idea that you want to create. I’ve done that and I’ve done work of which I am very proud. With a Kickstarter, though, you’re creating your own project.
More than with anything else, Hexer Dusk will be Jan’s and my vision. Sometimes you just want to tell the story you hear in yourself and tell it your way. That’s what Kickstarter gives us. There are no other considerations, other than the concept itself and the story that you want to tell.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about Xane Dusk, the character – the personality and the look.
Ostrander: You get your initial look at Xane Dusk and you don’t know – is this a good man? A bad man? He’s a dangerous man; most who meet him or know of Dusk are wary of him, and some are flat-out scared.
They have every right to be scared. He’s a man with a past and a story. Lots of stories, in fact. This is just the one we’re telling first.
Duursema: Xane Dusk is a man who has to rely on his training and his wits to survive in a galaxy which has been thrown into chaos. It's never easy and it's hardly ever nice. Dusk was raised from infancy by a rogue Hexer named Sever, who taught him the art of martial magic known in their world as Hex.
Few in their galaxy can be a Hexer, and only those who are adept can learn the skill. As a Hexer masters new hexes, they gain new tattoos reflecting the hexes they've mastered. These tattoos are more than skin deep. They are a source of power.
Nrama: And tell us a bit about the world that Dusk inhabits.
Duursema: There are a lot of worlds in the Obsidian Galaxy, but the world of Obsidia is considered the core world. The original two species of this world were the Obsidians and the Mazq who lived, respectively, in the underworld caverns and seas of Obsidia.
Human lifeforms, Dusk's people, came later and war was waged over what war has long been waged over — land. A truce was proposed, and the Sky Cities were built. Things were peaceful for a long time but, something went wrong along the way...
Ostrander: There was a terrible war between Dragon Sky and Obsidian Sky and the result of it was a fracture in the fabric of space, through which other-dimensional creatures called the Weird came. They can’t physically survive for long in this universe unless they inhabit and possess an existing body – living or dead.
Only Hexers can deal with these creatures, but the Hexers are few in number because of the war, and those remaining are hunted. But they also hunt – the Weird.
Nrama: What's your collaborative process like? You've been working together for a while, so I'd imagine it's very streamlined by now.
Ostrander: There’s a lot of emails back and forth and some phone calls or Skype conversations. We don’t filter the ideas; not every idea is golden – well, mine aren’t – but they get tossed out and looked at, maybe get tweaked.
Jan will hit me with a visual, and I’ll come up with character stuff, a voice pattern. We pass the ideas, plots, dialogue back and forth, and refine them.
Duursema: Our system of working together is very dynamic! We don't just tell a story, we blend together layers of story and, when we do this best, weave a web of character and event.
John's always saying that character should define action, and the way a character reacts to a situation should reflect the unique personality of that character. Sometimes this means dumping ideas that just don't work within the story no matter how cool they are — but that's ok. I always feel that a story is the better for cutting stuff that doesn't work.
We both get way involved in the characters and stories and toss ideas back and forth at a sometimes rapid pace. When the story is coming together and working right — it's magic!
Nrama: What are some of the things readers will encounter in this book?
Ostrander: Skulbats: Skulbats are creepy. Jan does really good creepy.
Skargle and the Missus: I love these characters, especially the Missus. I always need to have low-lifes in my books; for some reason I just love ‘em. Skargle and the Missus are low-lifes.
KOMBOT: Military grade bot, sentient; has been blown apart and put back together so many times he’s not quite normal. He has a strong homicidal streak. I’m going to stop now or I’ll just blab everything, and I really think you should encounter it in the story.
Beadies: I love this – Ammo made out of the eyes of the enemy.
Oh – one last thing. The Weird. They’ll encounter the Weird. They’re the enemy. Brrr.
Duursema: Strong characters shaped by the chaos of their galaxy. Hexers Xane Dusk, Calyx. Sever. Martial magic. Take no prisoners robot, KOMBOT. Monsters that can appear in unexpected forms —Stitch-Eyes, Rag Baby, Weird. Don't let them get you!
Strange alien creatures, like Skulbats and Red Tails. Beautiful alien beings like the Obsidian Mazq. Mourners — whose appearance foretells death. Scavvers — Prybar and Sooz, Skargle and the Missus – scavengers of the wreckage of the war; Razers –who want to destroy all Hexers.
This is a visual and story paradise, and one I'd be happy to create in for a very long time.
Nrama: So you have plans for this universe beyond this book?
Ostrander: Oh my yes. There’s stuff we haven’t even begun to hint at, let alone tell.
I have this “iceberg” theory about story…I think there are still some icebergs floating around. Only about 10% of an iceberg shows above the surface of the water, but the other 90% has to be there for the 10% to show.
Same thing with doing a character like Hexer Dusk. You have to know a lot about who he is, his background, his history, the universe he walks in, the supporting cast, the opponents and on and on but you only use portions of it in any given story. It still should be there even if you’re not using it right away.
Duursema: Absolutely! Hexer Dusk is not a one shot. John and I both have lots of story ideas, and there is so much I want to say visually about this world and these characters!
I like to think of this first graphic novel as the start of an amazing series.
Nrama: What else do you have coming up that you'd like to talk about? John, many readers are excited about your new Suicide Squad book.
Ostrander: Hoo boy, I have a lot on the burners. In addition to Hexer Dusk, I’m finishing up Kros: Hallowed Ground with Tom Mandrake.
With the Suicide Squad movie coming out, DC has asked me to do a Squad Special called “War Crimes.” That’s going to be a lot of fun; I haven’t played in that sandbox for a while.
I’ve got Deadshot and Captain Boomerang and, best of all, Amanda Waller. Harley Quinn is also going to be in the mix. and the plot is going to be my usual blend of politics, espionage, and double dealings.
Duursema: I've also been working on a creator-owned project for Stela with Louise Simonson that is going to be announced soon and is sure to be a fun read.
The format is for a phone app. Very different format than I've done — and an interesting way to tell a story!
Nrama: What do you like best about working with each other – what qualities does each of you bring to the other's work?
Ostrander: We’ve been partners for a long time, but we’ve also been friends for even longer. I’ve been in Jan’s kitchen; she’s helped Mary and me move. Most of the time, I never meet the person I work with, and that’s fine. I can still do really good work.
But Jan and I know each other. There’s a shorthand that you develop. We don’t finish each other’s sentences, but we can finish each other’s ideas. There’s a synergy there, and that can result in really good work.
Duursema: One of the best things about working with John has always been this: When I tell him that I've got an idea or a thought for something that could happen in a story — he listens!
He doesn't allow ego to get in the way of a cool scene, bit or words that I, as the artist and co-creator might come up with. Understanding that characters also live within the artist's mind is a rare quality in a writer.
Beyond that, we have a great friendship and a true respect for each other’s work, which allows us to create stories that evolve in sometimes unexpected directions. Working with John has always been a great deal of fun. and I'm super proud of all of the work we've done.
Nrama: Why should people contribute to this Kickstarter?
Ostrander: This is us – Jan and John. You know us from our work together on Star Wars, and also work we’ve done together before that. I’ve always been proud of that work we’ve done together and always will be, but this time, these are our creations.
This is our sandbox that we’re playing in. This is the next stage in our partnership; if you’ve enjoyed what we’ve done in the past, I can’t see you not enjoying Hexer Dusk.
Duursema: By supporting this Kickstarter, our readers are supporting the independent creation of an exciting new book—and, potentially, a new series! You're getting into the story right at the beginning! Long-time readers of Star Wars Republic and Legacy know what we can do with a bunch of cool characters, and that we know how to rock a story!
We have no plans to publish this premiere TPB anywhere else at this time, so backing the Kickstarter is the only way to get this graphic novel! Any possible future editions won't have the extras like the ”'making of” section-- and none of the rewards that are included with the Kickstarter, like stickers, patches, sketches and the opportunity to be a background character in the book!