JOHN OSTRANDER: Story Telling

In which the writer behind Grimjack, one of the finest anti-heroes in comics,  gives up a few of his writerly secrets so that we can run wild with our own stories too.

Grimjack_early_h3

by John Ostrander (ComicMix.Com)

I love stories. I love reading stories, I love hearing stories, I love telling stories.

I’ve been like this as far back as I can remember.

The way my mind works is that I see stories everywhere. Back when I was going to Chicago’s Quigley Prep Seminary in my freshman year of high school, I had to take the elevated train down to school and back at least five days a week. In those days, the first seat in the first car was a single seat right by the front window. When I could get it, I’d watch the tracks as we went. I’d assign one person’s life to one of the rails and another person’s life to the parallel rail and, at junctions, where another set of rails could switch you to another set of tracks, I saw those parallel lives coming together but then another junction would come and those lives would no longer travel on together. I projected a story onto the rails.

Yeah, I was an odd kid.

Sometimes I would come home after dark, especially during the winter, and when I could I’d sit by the train window and watch the apartment buildings as we passed them with rows upon rows of windows. Most would be dark or have the shades drawn but, every so often, the window would be lit and the shade would be up and you’d see someone in the window, just for a few seconds. You’d catch a bit of their life and wonder what the rest of it was like.

Years later, I lived in an apartment that was a half block or less from the train tracks. I lived on the third floor and I knew, from my previous experience, that if the lights were lit and the shades were up, people from the passing trains could look into my life just as I glimpsed into others. That seemed fair.

What I learned from this is that we play many parts in our lives. We are the leads of our own stories (or should be) although, as Charles Dickens, in the opening ofDavid Copperfield, wrote: ”Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” We can be the hero or villain in our own life and sometimes are both. In the story of other peoples’ lives, we assume different plot functions – supporting character, antagonist, cameo, walk-on. We are part of so many different stories.

We are all stories; we are all storytellers. As my former rector, Revered Phillip Wilson, used to say, stories are the atoms of our social interactions. We use story constantly in our own lives, to convey experience, tell a joke, share an experience. Stories are how we understand the world into which we have been born. The stories we tell shape us both as a people and a nation.

The stories often get told and re-told just as DC Comics is now re-telling its stories. Events get altered because it makes a better story. When Del Close was telling portions of his life story in Wasteland, he was never concerned about thefacts (although there were often some kernels of fact in the story) – he was concerned with what was true, what was good for the story.

A good story always reflects the storyteller and Del’s stories always did. Del lives in his stories just as Dickens lives in his stories just as Shakespeare does in his. As I do in mine. The stories aren’t real in that the events haven’t happened but they are hopefully true; lies told in service to the truth.

So – what’s your story?

Hey, John, we’ll tell you something true. Grimjack should be a fucking movie, pal, that’s what’s true.

As if you didn’t already know.