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Grimjack Is Back!

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Grimjack: Killer Instinct (IDW), a 6-issue prequel by the original Grimjack creators has been one of the most enthusiastically received and highly anticipated series in indie comics history. For fans of the original Grimjack series the reunion of John Ostrander, Tim Truman and Mike Gold is like a reunion of the Beatles!

Step back two decades to 1983. Mike Gold, in the fledgling offices of First Comics, was looking for a writer to take over for Mike Grell on the swashbuckling science fiction adventure series Starslayer. Gold offered the job to long time friend John Ostrander, who’d recently made his print debut as writer of an 8-page story in First’s initial offering, Warp. Ostrander took the gig.

Ostrander, interested in creating a new property, developed an idea he’d had for a hard-boiled barbarian; the character was a cross between Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe and Howard’s Solomon Kane. He created John Gaunt, the titular Grimjack.

Gaunt (also called the Grinner, for the death’s head grin he wore as a young gladiator in Cynosure’s Arena) was an aging mercenary and ex-cop who lived in the multidimensional city of Cynosure. Grimjack was a refreshing change of pace for comics readers of the 80s. Where most comics protagonists are dewy-eyed twenty-somethings, Grimjack was pushing 50, cynical, and had a lifetime of hurt behind him.

Originally, Ostrander’s idea was set in a post-apocolyptic Chicago. Instead, he used an idea that was nearly scrapped in an issue of Warp. The Grinner would be a citizen of Cynosure - the nexus of all realities. The city of Cynosure was one of the most fantastic elements of the Grimjack mythos. The best summary of the city is Gaunt’s from the first issue: "Cynosure. Sweet, cynical Cynosure - where the dimensions meet. Magic works here, science works there, swords work everywhere." In this city, literally anything could happen. Grimjack faced threats that ranged from the purely violent to the sublime to the ridiculous, sometimes in one instance.

Initially, Ostrander and Gold were unsure if the character would take off with audiences. “Gaunt was ‘Grim and Gritty’ before just about anybody else,” Ostrander writes in the introduction to the new Grimjack trade paperback collection. As a trial, Grimjack would appear as a back-up story in Starslayer. Initial character designs were drawn by Starslayer penciller Lenin Del Sol.

Tim Truman, a recent graduate of the Joe Kubert School, approached Del Sol at a comics convention. After Del Sol saw his samples, he introduced Truman to Ostrander and Gold. Tim Truman would soon explode into the world of comics art with the first two-part Grimjack back-up story, The Mortal God. The two-parter serves as a shotgun introduction to Gaunt and Cynosure, equal parts The Maltese Falcon and The Tower of the Elephant. In the story, Gaunt is asked to find the God Manwyyes. Using his considerable street smarts, the Grinner leads his client to her God, the truth of which is only the first surprise for a book that was known for keeping readers on their toes. The back-up stories would continue for the better part of a year, while Gaunt met and battled vampires, suburbanites and funny animals. At the end of the run Gaunt crossed over into a full length story with the characters from Starslayer.
Grimjack graduated to a solo series in 1984 which Truman continued penciling for 24 issues. Ostrander came to feel that Truman’s contribution was so significant that he had the Grimjack contract altered to include Tim Truman as co-creator.

In 1986, Mike Gold left First comics to work for DC, where would edit many titles, including Vigilante, Green Arrow, Teen Titans and Legends for which he hired Ostrander as plotter. By 1987, the former rookies were starting to take the comics world by storm. Ostrander took over writing Firestorm after creator Gerry Conway. He would soon re-invent Suicide Squad, for a fan-favorite run, co-written with his late wife Kim Yale. Later that year Ostrander and Gold would blaze trails again, creating a horror anthology for DC called Wasteland. Ostrander snuck a sly reference onto the first page of Suicide Squad: an airport loudspeaker pages John Gaunt.

While taking on many series at DC, Ostrander kept up with the project closest to his heart. The series continued for some 81 issues until First Comics went bankrupt in the early 1990s. Grimjack along with all the other First titles became stuck in a legal quagmire. Luckily, Ostrander and crew had plenty of work with the mainstream companies.

Truman, along with fantasy/horror writer Joe Lansdale, wrote two Jonah Hex mini series for Vertigo. The duo won a Bram Stoker award from the Horror Writers Association. Ostrander would write a western of his own, The Kents, a Civil War era novel which pitted brother against brother in the branches of Superman’s adoptive family tree. Truman and Ostrander worked together again for four issues of the 12 issue run.

Still, more than a decade after his last appearance, Ostrander recently reported that at least once a month, for the last 13 years, he gets fan requests for new Grimjack stories.

Truman and Ostrander were frustrated that they couldn’t use the character and the world which they had created. They called on Mike Gold to help them through the legal and bureaucratic mess left behind by the First Comics bankruptcy. Gold helped the pair form a company with First Comics cofounder Ken Levin that allowed them to use their characters for the first time in over a decade. Ted Adams, president of IDW, agreed to publish the six issue prequel by the original creators. To support this release, IDW will release a series of trade paperbacks reprinting the entire First Comics run.

Gold, Ostrander and Truman, along with former Grimjack letterist John Workman and Wasteland colorist Lovern Kindzierski have created a tale that fills in the back-story for Gaunt and the many citizens of Cynosure. The book holds new secrets for older fans of the Grinner, while also keeping in mind readers who’ve never visited Cynosure before.

One might ask: while “grim and gritty” was a groundbreaking tone 20 years ago, how will fans of today’s comics respond? An answer was given at last year’s Diamond Retailers Conference. There, Grimjack received one of the biggest ovations given to any publisher, wrote Gold in the letter column to Killer Instinct #2. Fans of the book and retailers seem to be aware of Ostrander and Truman’s passion for Grimjack. At least one retailer at the event reported that he’d sold all the back issues of the original series.

The return, exciting on its own, is bettered by more than 20 years of hard work in comics. Ostrander gets to reveal many of the mysteries of the original book, using his deft plotting skills to reveal new layers for John Gaunt. Truman’s drawings are better, his technique more refined. Kindzierski’s skillful computer colors augment Truman’s with a technology that didn’t exist in 1983, giving Cynosure a sense of dirtiness that could rub off on your fingers. Truman counts Workman as his “favorite letterer bar none.” With Mike Gold at the helm as editor, the band’s complete!

“Ladies and gentlemen, Grimjack has re-entered the building!”

- Neil Figuracion

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