John Ostrander’s Grab Bag

by John Ostrander


Random thoughts and vague notions.

New Girl On The Block. Samantha Bee has launched her new weekly news round-up show, Full Frontal. Two episodes have aired so far and, IMO, both were killer. I always loved Samantha Bee on The Daily Show – she was a great combination of fearless and shameless, and she carries that over to her new show. The writing is sharp and the delivery dead on. I loved the segment she did last week on the so-called constitutional crisis arising from the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and how it really isn’t a crisis; it’s the Republican leadership in the Senate refusing to do their job.Check it out. 

I love Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and Bill Mahar but, right now, I love Samantha the most. All hail Queen Bee!

Commercials. I usually skip most TV commercials. Not all. And some I actually enjoy for one reason or another. Some I hate with a passion. Some are so stupid that I remember the product’s name just to make sure I never buy that product.

There’s one for a car insurance company that has me diving for the mute button every time I see it. A young woman comes on and talks about her car that she named “Brad.” They did everything together, she says, which gives a new meaning to the word “auto-eroticism.” (Maybe that’s just me and my filthy mind.) She totals it and moans that nothing can replace “Brad” – until the insurance company calls and she goes into her “happy dance.”

This woman is psychotic. She’s off her meds and somebody needs to get her back on them – stat!

Who is this commercial being aimed at? I take it for granted that it’s not me (I’m too old to be the target audience for any commercial except for ads for walk-in tubs) but who do the advertisers expect to reach? Shouldn’t the ad make you identify with whoever is making the pitch? Who ldoud identify with Little Miss Psychotic?

There’s lots of commercials like that out there. Why? To me, they just seem that the ad agency folks got high and then proposed anything that made them giggle – and they sold it!

Beats the hell out of me.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: I recently picked up a Star Wars novel – Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – because it featured a character created by Jan Duursema and myself for the comics. The character is Quinlan Vos.  The book is well written – Ms. Golden is no stranger to novels, especially franchise books – and I’m okay that the characterization of Quin doesn’t really match up with what we did. The story was adapted from some scripts for the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series and Quin was an alternate universe version. Oh, he shared some looks and traits with the original version but in many respect he was a very different character.

Look, I can deal with that. I knew from Day One that whatever we created belonged lock, stock, and dreadlocks to Lucas Film Licensing and, now, to Disney. I do wonder why you use an existing character from another medium and then change him so much. However, that’s their prerogative. So be it.

My complaint, however, is that there are two sets of acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, one from the author and another from one of the co-writer of the animated episodes who also happens to be George Lucas’ daughter. Nowhere in either of them are Jan and I acknowledged or thanked. Really? I understand that I own no part of Quin. Unlike Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, I don’t get any money when Quin is used elsewhere. That was the deal from the start. However, if you’re thanking folks who made it possible – why not the two who originated him?

Boy Toys, Girl Toys: Martha Thomases wrote a really good column this week about how the Big Two comic book companies, movie execs, and toy companies have problems with gender assignments for their products. This product is for boys and that product is for girls because the products has either a penis or a vagina and that’s all there is to it.

I remember reading how Daisy Ridley’s character Rey who (spoiler alert) is the central character in The Force Awakens is absent from figure sets (they’re “action figures” you know, not “dolls”) and from the new Star Wars The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The justification given by Hasbro is that they didn’t want to “give away” a major plot point which featuring Rey might have done.

I’m calling bullshit on this one. There’s no concern that featuring any of the other new characters like Finn or Poe might reveal a plot point. In the action figure set of six, they include an unnamed storm trooper with the new characters. Rey is conspicuous by her absence.

Isn’t the real concern that the boys literally won’t buy a Rey figure? And that girls don’t buy that kind of stuff because, you know, they want pink toy oven sets? They aren’t really into that boy stuff. Except that, as Martha points out, they are and Hasbro’s decision is just another example of hide-bound old boy thinking. You’d think that the outcry would make these execs’ faces blush pink with embarrassment.

Except that, you know, pink is a girlie color.

Catch y’all later.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. This post is specifically about getting started in writing comics, but it applies to every other form of writing we know about as well. It originally appeared in his blog at ComicMix.

John Ostrander’s Guide To Writing Secrets

by John Ostrander

SecretOnce again I’m a JohnnyO-come-lately to a pop culture phenomenon. I don’t know why I avoided watching Downton Abbeyon PBS outside of general cussedness. I get like that. Even something I think I might enjoy I’ll not watch or read because everyone else is doing it. Perverse.

Mary decided she wanted to watch the show so we bought the disc of the first season just to “sample” it. Well, that done it. We’ve gotten all the others and sort of binge watched right through the current and final season. Yes, we’re now ahead of friends and relatives who have been fans of the series right along, but don’t worry. I’m not actually going to reveal the upcoming plot twists and turns.

Rather, I want to consider the use of secrets in the series. We all have secrets at varying levels – things we don’t share. If true with us, so it should be with our characters.

Some are just very basic secrets – name, address, phone number – but things that are not necessarily shared with everyone. If a drunk at a bar asks a woman for her name and phone number, she may keep that secret and/or give him wrong information.

There are secrets that acquaintances might know – people at work or school. Deeper than that is the level with friends and deeper than that are the close friends. Family has its own level of secrets and even within family, some members have access to your secrets that others don’t. Your siblings may know things about you of which your parents are not aware but they choose not to rat you out (most of the time) and you know their secrets as well. Assured mutual destruction. The ones we love, with whom we are most intimate, can share our deepest secrets as well as our bed. Sharing secrets indicates a real trust and that’s why a break-up can be so hard. Your secrets are no longer yours when the trust is gone.

There are the secrets about yourself that you keep to yourself, that no one else knows (or so you think). There are secrets that you keep from yourself and only learn perhaps too late.

The thing about secrets is that they want to be told. What propels many stories, especially in Downton Abbey, is what secret is told to who and when and was it a good choice? Often the reader/viewer can see it when the character can’t; sometimes the most interesting choice the writer can make is that the character reveals a secret and we know it’s a bad idea.

Some characters make it their business to learn the secrets of others, the better to use as a weapon when they think they need it or just feel like it. There has been more than one character like that on Downton Abbey.

We also see people keep secrets from each other on the show, especially with couples, and more especially with married couples. While the characters rationalize it as necessary, it’s rarely a good thing. It’s almost guaranteed to bite them in their ass. Sometimes the secret will be shared with one or two people but not with others.

Of course, the biggest secrets are the ones that the writer keeps from the audience. They get teased out as the show goes on but, as with all fiction, it’s important for the writer to choose what to reveal and when. It keeps our interest up; it creates suspense. It’s a problem when the writer has a secret and they don’t know the truth themselves. It’s not out there; it’s not anywhere. Some big secret, some big mystery, lies at the heart of the story and you only find out later that the creator doesn’t really know the answer either. They were sort of making it up as they go. I hate it when that happens.

Secrets have power and are sometimes used like currency. It’s true in our lives and so it should be true in the lives of our characters. It was certainly true on Downton Abbey and would-be writers would do well to study it.

Excuse me now while I go think up some secrets to hide.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. This post is specifically about getting started in writing comics, but it applies to every other form of writing we know about as well. It originally appeared in his blog at ComicMix.