The Ministry Interviews: John Ostrander
Blaze of Glory is the new 4-issue miniseries from writer John Ostrander and artist Leonard Manco. I interviewed Mr. Ostrander for my radio show on December 22nd, 1999...what follows is a transcript of that telephone interview.
Alan David Doane: When people think of comic books, they often think of Spider-Man or Superman, typical superhero characters, but Blaze of Glory is something a little bit different. Can you tell us what it's about?
John Ostrander: Well, it's mainly different because there's no one in tights running around in it. It's a western, and I've done a western before in comics (The Kents, for DC)...this one's more like a movie western. And it takes some of the classic Marvel western comic book characters, actually quite a few of them, and we round them all up, for what for some of them will be their last big adventure.
ADD: Now, the Marvel western comics certainly had their heyday decades ago, but this is sort of, as you say, a farewell to some of those characters, but it's also told with a more modern sensibility, too, wouldn't you say?
JO: Oh, absolutely. It's also designed to be absolutely accessible to--if you never read those old characters, it's also designed so you can pick up the book and get into it and not have any of the back stuff--but also, I sort of call this The Magnificent Seven by way of (Clint Eastwood's) Unforgiven.
ADD: Now, some of their characters I was familiar with such as the Two Gun Kid...one that I didn't know from the past was The Outlaw Kid. And I found his schtick, if you will, to be absolutely fascinating. Tell us a little bit about what's unique about his character.
JO: The Outlaw Kid was once described as the closest thing in the Old West to Spider-Man. He had a father who so disapproved of guns that the character created the Outlaw Kid, and would only use guns when he was The Outlaw Kid. In my version of it, he's gone a little bit over the edge, in that his father eventually found out, and the heart attack killed him, and he's devised the Outlaw Kid into a whole different personality. And in his regular personality, he thinks the Outlaw Kid is the killer, so he's hunting himself through the miniseries.
ADD: One of the things about the western genre has always been that it's been criticized for being violent, and yet, I would say, having read this series, the last thing it does is glorify violence. Was that your intention going in, to really make a statement about violence?
JO: Well, both that, but also, I think that with violence you tend to deglamorize it when you show the repercussions of it, and when you show it realistically. We get off on pseudo-violence, we don't get off on real violence, I think most of the time. We deal with not only the physical repercussions but also the emotional repercussions of what happens.
ADD: Blaze of Glory seems very rooted in reality. Was there a lot of research that went into the story?
JO: I've done research before, there is certain realities on which it's based. There's this town in which it's set, and there's a group that's come up from the south called the Exodusters. It sounds like a made-up name, but actually they were a real group following the Civil War of freed slaves, who basically went west, in search of freedom and being able to live in peace. I simply took them and also had them go a little bit more northwest into Montana as well. There are other historical things that I threw in, this one's less historical based than some of my other stuff, but there's still a grounding of history plus the sense of where I'm setting it, in the late 1880s, is that the western frontier is closing at that point.
ADD: One of the things I noticed in the ongoing narration in the story, it's typeset in the style of the Dime Novels of the era, was that deliberate?
JO: Well, I wanted the flavor of that, certainly, but you can't go too far in that direction, or you lose the modern reader. I also wanted a slightly elegiac feel to the story as well, so you want a touch of that old time feeling. You want the reader to have the feeling of what it was like in those days, and to understand that these were not just historical or old-timey people but these were real people who lived back in that time, so they had some of the same feelings that we did as well.
Alan David Doane: Let's talk a little bit about your collaborator, the artist Leonard Manco. The only thing that I had read by him before had been (the 1999 Avengers Annual). He really turned in some extraordinary work in terms of the realism of the characters and the architecture of the time...what was the collaborative process like between you and Mr. Manco?
John Ostrander: First of all, Leo decided that he's just going to redesign everyone...I sort of went, okay. I should mention that Leo comes from South America, where they have a strong cartooning base there to start off with, but also they're more skilled--the western tradition has been upheld down there. So you have people who still know how to draw that. These days you don't get many young artists who know how to draw horses, for example. And Leo certainly can. So Leo certainly brought his sense of design, his strong sense of character to it, and that in turn fueled some of what I was doing as well.
ADD: How much leeway did he have in illustrating your script?
JO: I think I did this one plot first, that's the way Marvel usually likes it; and Leo, as with most very talented artists that I've worked with a certain amount of the time simply disregarded my instructions (laughter) and drew what he felt it should be, which I don't always disagree with, because the artist is the one that has the true artistic eye, and in a true collaboration you give the artist some leeway as well in terms of expressing the story.
ADD: I guess I'm not spoiling anything, since you brought it up, to say that some of these characters don't quite make it out alive...
JO: That's right.
ADD: It seems almost a shame because you guys did such a bang-up job on this series; is there a chance of any kind of a sequel in the future?
JO: I don't know about a sequel, I suppose we could always do a prequel. A lot's going to depend upon how the sales of it has gone, but Marvel's been relatively pleased with the response of people to it, so if people read it and like it, they should really let both their retailers know and they should let Marvel know, they should be verbal about it, writing letters, writing e-mail.
ADD: It's kind of unusual, for Marvel to really take a chance like this on a western series; was this something you had to sell to them, or did they come to you after your previous series that you did for DC?
JO: There's actually a long road that we've been on with this one. My editor I'd been working with at the time, Mark Bernado, who I really have to honor for this because, we were out in San Diego and we were talking about what we wanted to do next and I told him, "Well, I've just done a western with this company, now I want to do a western over here, just to prove I can." And he was very intrigued. And we started talking about the possibilities, and we thought one that would tell the final story of the Marvel western heroes would have a selling point, but this was a while back. Marvel went through a lot of turmoil internally at that time, my original editor ultimately was no longer at the company by the time the book came out; Tom Breevoort took over and really, really pushed it so the book actually came out. There was some question at some point whether it would come out at all.
ADD: I think it's important to point out that for anyone who is a fan of the western genre, even if they're not a comic book fan, I think they really will enjoy this story.
JO: I think so, yeah. Even for the comic book fan, anyone who likes action, who likes character, who likes really top-drawer drawing...Leo's work on this is just extraordinary.
ADD: Not so much in the faces, but the backgrounds and the architecture, it reminds me a lot of (EC artist) John Severin, I really think that's an extraordinary tradition to continue, that sort of realism with a lot of dynamism, too.
JO: Absolutely. I think that if there's a chance for the western to come back, and I think it should, I think this is the way to go with it. I don't think we can go back to the sort of old versions of...the western has to be reinvented in order to make it work for today, and that's proper.