John Ostrander: How it Feels When Your Characters Come to Life in Other Media

GOING WALKABOUT
by John Ostrander

They grow up so fast.

I’ve worked on/created a number of characters in my writing career, trying to define them through my writing. They exist first in my head and then become incarnated through my words and stories and the depictions by the artists. In some ways, they are like my kids – my murderous, nasty kidsGrimJack

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction (one of my Mary’s fave films and the most atypical Will Farrell movie ever), the writer of a novel finds that her lead character – who she was planning to kill off – is a real person and comes face to face with him. I don’t think I’d ever want to do that for the main reason that I tend to make the lives of my protagonists pretty miserable. If I’m their creator, I’m a pretty asshole god. I have very good reasons for doing these terrible things – it reveals character and makes a better story. At the same time, I’d never want to meet any of them face to face. I’ve given them cause to do really nasty things back to me.

This is not a situation likely to come up… except that every now and then one of the characters goes walkabout. They slip away from my stories and show up elsewhere, doing and saying things that I never gave them to do or say.

With Jan Duursema I’ve created lots of characters for Star Wars in the Dark Horse comics I did for almost a decade. Two of them – Aayla Secura and Quinlan Vos – have shown up elsewhere. Both of them have shown up on the animated series, The Clone Wars, and Aayla went live-action in Episodes II and III of the Prequel Trilogy. In the animated series they gave her a French accent which threw me a bit – I never heard her that way in my head when I wrote her. In Episode III she was gunned down by her own troops who continued to fire shots into her back when she was down. That was harsh to watch. My baby!

Even my character GrimJack has done walkabout a bit. I was – and am – a big fan of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series of novels. Evidently, Zelazny was also a fan of GrimJack. In one of the later books, he introdued a character called Old John. Oh, you might have been using an assumed name but I knew it was you, Gaunt! Zelazny described him to a tee and caught his personality perfectly. We later got Mr. Zelazny to do an introduction to a GrimJack graphic novel. That was so cool!

The character that I created who has done the most walking about has to be Amanda Waller, the leader of the Suicide Squad. She has had the most incarnations in a variety of looks of anyone that I’ve created. Amanda has shown up in animated features on both TV and in films, video games, and television shows. On Smallville she was played by Pam Grier – which is beyond cool – and in Arrow she is considerably younger and more svelte. Hey, it’s the CW.

She’s also been in movies. Angela Basset played her in the Green Lantern movie. Okay, I know mostly no one liked the GL movie but – Angela Basset?! That’s amazing right there.

And, of course, there’s the Suicide Squad movie that starts filming any day now where she will be played by Academy Award nominated, Tony award winning star of How to Get Away With Murder actress Viola Davis. Boo-yah!

Amanda also sends home money. Every time she appears outside of the comics, I get what they call “participation”. If they reprint my work with her in TPBs, I get money. My Star Wars kids? Not so much. GrimJack? He would but so far he hasn’t. But the Wall? Oh yeah. Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money – you bet. I love that Amanda.

It is interesting to see characters that you created or defined show up elsewhere (for example, I defined Deadshot although I didn’t create him). Sometimes it feels a little surreal. As I said, they started up in my head and then to see them and hear them walking around doing and saying things that I never wrote can be weird. It’s also nice. My kids are out in the world with their own lives. That’s interesting to experience.

Of course, would it kill them to call home now and then? Well, maybe not Gaunt.