John Ostrander: The Family of Sociopaths

by John Ostrander

Commercials are the point of commercial TV. I realize that, for those of you who do only streaming services, this concept may seem a bit foreign, but your monthly fees take the place of paid commercials, assuming the streaming service isn’t double-dipping.

Advertisers buy time to pitch products and/or services and/or whatever and the amount that the channel can charge is based on how many people are watching and which demographic groups those people represent. That’s why an ad during the Superbowl costs so much.

You probably knew all that.

I tend to mentally surf commercials; they’re on but I’m tuned out. Some I wake up for because either there’s some element I like or it really annoys me and I want to throw something at the TV. An example of the former is a commercial with Mark Wahlberg as the spokesman at the end of which his mirror image turns into Sir Patrick Stewart who is, as he says, “more handsome, more talented… and more British.” All of which he is. JK Simmons had been doing a series of commercials for Farmer’s Insurance; it’s always a pleasure to watch JK Simmons. And their theme is memorably goofy: “We are Farmers, bum-da-bumbum bum bum bum.” I also love watching Sam Jackson in just about anything but I won’t get into his credit card commercials until he says “What have you got in your motherfucking wallet?”

I do wonder at the use of CGI English spokesowls. Several companies have them. Why? Why all at the same time? There’s also the use of pieces of classical music in the background of more than a few commercials. I often don’t understand why the use of a particular piece of music in a given commercial but maybe I’m not supposed to understand.

I’m also not a fan of the commercials that try to guilt you, whether it’s to adopt a pet or help a child in Africa or somewhere else. I appreciate that there is a great need but they really hammer on it. It’s gotten so that the moment I hear Sarah McLachlan start singing, I switch the channel. And I like Sarah McLachlan!

PBS pledge nights also fall under this truck.

And then there are the commercials that I hate so much, I remember them only so I will never use the company, product, or service being promoted. One is a car parts company that uses animation so cheap and primitive it hurts my eyes. Another is for a travel booking website that has a kindergarten teacher who is totally inept at her job. The kids have completely taken over the classroom and are running riot and all this forlorn cow can do is moan about how she is looking forward to her vacation. Put her on a permanent vacation. She doesn’t belong within five miles of a classroom. Children will die under her watch. She’s the Betsy DeVos of the kindergarten set. I’d change the channel if it wasn’t so much effort to find the TV remote.

The worst commercial is the one for another insurance company. It’s a family – mother, father, ten-year-old boy. We’re in a suburban front yard, Mom has just gotten back from who knows where (I suspect a covert affair) and Dad is holding a cloth to his face. Son reports that Dad got hit in the face with a swing (I suspect the son was on it at the time). Mom groans: there goes our Hawaii vacation. Dad says he really needs to go to the hospital. “There goes the air conditioner,” Mom sighs. Kid votes for going to Hawaii; Mom laughs and agrees, “Hawaii!” Dad appears to reluctantly cave in to the pressure.

This is a family of sociopaths. I’m supposed to identify with them? Please. That’s the problem with a lot of commercials for me – the person using/touting the product is a moron, an asshole, or a creep. Why should I want to buy what they want me to buy?

I understand that, in many cases, I am not the target audience. I can’t help wondering who is. Does the target audience find this funny? Will it entice them to buy the product or use the service? Please tell me it’s not so. I don’t want to totally despair on America.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

John Ostrander: Riding With The King

 by John Ostrander

Two Mondays ago was the 100th birthday of the King o’ Comics, Jack Kirby. The young’uns among you might not know the name (or maybe they do; I try not to be a fuddy-duddy most days) but Kirby was a force unparalleled in the comics medium. If you need a primer, Mike Gold wrote an excellent column about him.

Even if you know Marvel only from the movies, you owe him. Captain America? Jack. The X-Men? Jack. The Black Panther? Jack. The Avengers? Jack. And so on and so forth. And not just at Marvel; King Kirby seemed to be everywhere. And not just superheroes; he did Westerns, monsters, romance. And so on and so forth.

I met him in person exactly once.

The first thing I need to explain is that, before I became a professional writer in comics, I was a bonafide geek. Yeah, I still am.

One of the big thrills when I first started was that at conventions I could meet my heroes as a fellow professional. In theory. Not as a peer; that suggested I was an equal and that was not how I felt.

So – it’s early in my career and I’m working the First Comics booth at the Chicago Comicon along with my wife, Kim Yale. We were the only ones working the booth at that moment. It wasn’t in the main room and we weren’t getting much traffic.

Then this small group of people walk by, talking among themselves, and in the middle of it is Jack Kirby.

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

(Point of historical accuracy: Back some 30 or so years ago when this story takes place, we never said “OMG!,” at least not in the Midwest. I just wanted to convey the impact of the moment in modern terms.)

Kim later said she watched me turn into a 14-year old fanboy complete with zits. I can’t imagine that was pleasant.

In the group, I spotted Julie Schwartz, himself a legend and an icon. There’d be no Silver Age DC without Julie. Possibly no modern comics industry.

I knew Julie a little through Mike Gold so I hiss at him, “Julie! Hey, Julie! Hey!”

Julie spots me and ambles over. “Hey, kid, how ya doin’?”

“Julie! Introduce me to the King!” I plead.

Julie looks at me like I’m demented and maybe, at the moment, I am. “It’s Jack,” he tells me. “Just go over and say hi.”

“No no no no no! I can’t I can’t I can’t! Don’t you see?! He’s the King!” “Hey, Julie! Help a guy out!”

Julie gives me a pitying look and says, “C’mon, kid.”

I walk over to the group with Julie and he does a nice intro of me. The King shakes my hand, says “HiHowareya.” I babble something about what an honor gee you’re my hero blah blah blah. And it’s over. The King and his group move on.

I wish I could say that I never washed that hand again but Kim would have insisted.

I doubt very much that the moment would have stayed with Jack Kirby but it has stayed with me in vivid detail for a couple of decades. Over the past few years, I’ve met some fans who treat me sort of like I treated Jack. (Trust me, gang; I’m not that impressive and I can give you references.) There was only one Jack Kirby and there will ever be only one Jack Kirby and he just turned 100.

Happy 100th, Jack. Long live the King.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE