Comic veterans John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake are collaborating again, this time on Kickstater project Kros: Hallowed Ground. War is hell and vampires have brought their own hell to the war between the North and the South. By day, the armies of both sides clash in bloody conflict: by night, the vampires emerge to feast on the wounded and the dying as Blood calls to Blood.
Against this army of hungry undead rides one man, a vampire slayer known only as Kros. Alone against a vampire army, Kros, a dampyr with an inborn hatred of vampires, knows that if he fails he could become one of the creatures he loathes.
Here at Comic Crusaders, we caught up with the guys, who were kind enough to put down their shovels and axes take a break from their grave digging, to aid Tom’s next Halloween decorations, to talk to us about their past work together, Kros and their time in the comic book industry.
CC: What was the first project you two worked on and what about that work, made you want to do this project together?
JO: GRIMJACK. Tim Truman, our original artist, had left to work on his own project, SCOUT, and we had run through a few other artists, but we weren’t capturing what I wanted of the character, the mood, the city (Cynosure). They were all good artists, but the fans weren’t responding as they had with Tim. (Mind you, Tim Truman is a hard act to follow!) Tom, at the time, had just finished a run on Batman. I had seen it and loved his storytelling, his characterization, and his brilliant use of shadow. Master of mood!
Tom and I just clicked. We were working plot first and Tom took what I was asking for, realized it and made it 100% better. Working with Tom is easy; we’re very simpatico in storytelling. And we also became really good friends. We get what each other is doing or want to do. My joke is that sometimes Tom draws what I MEANT to plot or SHOULD have plotted. When I bought a house, I moved near Tom and Jan Duursema. That’s where I wanted to live. The chance to work together again is just too cool. And the work will show why we like working together.
TM: The first project John and I worked on together takes us all the way back to GrimJack #31 in 1984. I was just coming off a 12 issue run on Batman. I was friends with GrimJack co-creator Tim Truman, so I knew they were looking for someone to do some issues. It seemed like it would be fun! John and I hit it off right away, or maybe I just remember it that way after all the work we’ve done together. Add up all the issues of GrimJack, Firestorm, The Spectre, The Martian Manhunter, The Kents, Batman and a few other things we’ve created together and we’re looking at about 14 or 15 years’ worth of collaborative work! We can create, argue, laugh, get excited and frustrated about ideas and still have fun!
CC: How has your work changed over the years?
JO: My work has changed as I have changed. The work comes from inside if you’re doing it honestly and as you change, the work changes. I’ve learned a lot and applied what I’ve learned. I’m more sure about what I do and how I do it. I’ve learned more about people. I’ve just lived more. It all gets applied to the work.
TM: There is an ebb and flow stylistically, some intentional and some not. The work changes and I’m not sure it’s even wise to try to pull yourself apart too much too see why it’s happening. I’m pulling out all the dark and atmospheric techniques I have for Kros! I’m coming off a 12 issue run on Sidekick for Joes comics in which we were going for a classic ’70/’80s look that slowly degenerates into madness and a couple of issues of the X-Files, a licensed book where a little more photo realism is always required. Those are intentional changes. Over the years I believe I’ve become better at subtleties of expression, not just facially but body gestures as well. I have a feeling I could just start rambling on here and go nowhere!
CC: What would you say are the challenges, creatively, about working on a Kickstarter over working for the big two or even the independent books?
JO: You’re your own boss for good or for ill. All the things a company does, all the services they provide, we have to do ourselves. You learn quickly what an editor, a proofreader and a publisher all do for you. Creatively, however, we now get the chance to make the story WE want. It doesn’t have to fit into someone’s universe or what they think makes a good story. This comes down to us, what Tom and I think should go into the story.
TM: There is nothing easy about taking on a Kickstarter. You have to convince readers to take a chance on your vision without the benefit of working with established characters in established universes. As a freelancer, I’m used to working alone in a room—maybe you talk to your editor or the writer. When you create a Kickstarter, you need to share your excitement with the world—but that’s a great thing since I am very excited about Kros!
CC: What are the benefits of working on a Kickstarter?
JO: Control of what will come out. Also, you get the support of your fans even before the work comes out. There’s so much energy when you get ready to tell a story and the reader says, “Yes! I really want this!” When that happens, it’s a tremendous vote of confidence.
TM: One of the biggest benefits is that you can bring your ideas as a creator directly to the world. You don’t have to filter your vision through someone else’s publishing plan.
CC: Kros is a Civil War book, how long have you both been working on this and does the timing with the issues over the Confederate flag and what it means, have an impact, if so what is the impact?
JO: We’ve had this idea in the works for about a decade, maybe more. The time just wasn’t right until now and that’s a positive, really. Tom and I have both deepened as storytellers; Tom’s art has just gotten better over time. The really good ones are like that – they don’t rest on their laurels. They learn something new with every project they do. Tom is one of the good ones. The timing is interesting, what with the uproar over the Confederate battle flag and the whole question of what it means. In Ken Burns’ epic masterpiece, THE CIVIL WAR, it was noted that the Civil War was still being fought and could still be lost. I think that is truer than ever. One of the questions in Kros: Hallowed Ground is, can the two sides come together to oppose an even bigger threat to both of them, one that will literally consume them. Good question for these times, I think.
TM: John and I started talking about and working on the Kros concept years ago, but as with many such ideas, they tend to take a back seat to having the market visibility of being on a Batman or X-Men project. Working for Marvel or DC, is always enticing. We finally decided to take the chance that what we love will be something our readers will love too! As to the current issues regarding the Confederate flag–Kros: Hallowed Ground takes place during the battle of Gettysburg, so there will be Confederate flags in some scenes because there were Confederate flags at the battle and we’re trying to make the settings historically accurate. Not a political statement, just history.
CC: Tom, the panels I have seen look fantastic. What has been your favourite work that you have produced?
TM: My favorite work is what I’m doing at the moment. I’m working with John Ostrander–a great writer who I’ve done some of my most successful work with. I’ve got my entire, talented family working with me as well: my daughter, Sian on colors, my son Jack on graphic design and Jan managing the project, editing and drawing some of the art rewards. I’m doing exactly what I want to do with the team I want to do it with. I love what I’m doing right now and I’m excited for the chance to make this dream project happen!
CC: Does working with your daughter create issues, are you a “take over Ted”?
TM: Great question, you just made me laugh out loud! I’ll be honest, yes, I know what I want for Kros: Hallowed Ground, but Sian understands my work. We developed a color palette we’re both very happy with. Sian and I have already done several projects together including John Carpenter’s Asylum, IDWs X-Files and DC Comics Suicide Squad. Maybe you should ask her 🙂
CC: John – I have to ask, you were one the leading lights in showing that being disabled doesn’t mean that you are ignored. Now that Barbara Gordon has been Batgirl for a couple of years, how do you feel about the character now? In some way has the current run, damaged what you were trying to say about disability?
JO: No, I don’t think so. Those stories still exist out there even if they aren’t part of continuity or the character has changed. That’s what happens when you work on someone else’s characters; they can be changed. That’s one of the benefits of working on Kros. He changes if Tom and I change him. We decide who and what he is and he stays that way. I have no problem with what DC is doing with Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. She’s their character. Kros, on the other hand – Kros belongs to Tom and me.
JO: We’re both dealing from the same basic myths and folklore so, of course, there will be some comparisons made. The difference, I think, is how we approach the vampires as well as the dampyr. Vampires, for us, are monsters. They don’t twinkle; they are not neo-goth romantic characters. They’re monsters. And, to a degree, so is the one hunting them. Kros has vampire blood in his veins, but he also has human blood. Can he maintain a balance or will he fall to his vampiric nature? Others before him, other dampyrs he has known have fallen. Every single one of them. Will Kros follow? Will Kros fall? The less human he becomes, the more of a monster he is.
TM: Blade fits well into a superhero universe, Kros less so. Kros is (literally) an old soul who is fighting a battle he has seen so many of his kind lose as they have given into the temptation of drinking human blood. He doesn’t care about the wars of men and yet, he is fighting with them—for them. As far as Kros knows, he may be the last of his kind—and The Battle of Gettysburg may be his final battle.
CC: Without spoilers, what is the overall metaphor / message you are trying to get across?
JO: We must work together or we will die alone.
TM: This isn’t about North or South—to a vampire, you’re all part of the feast.
CC: Reading the press release, I can see influences such as The Thing, but I also see the word obsession a lot. Would you it be a fair assessment to say there is a little bit of Moby Dick in there?
JO: I’m not going to say that Herman Melville was an influence in this story because he’s not. In writing, you want characters who are obsessed. They drive the story. In any story, you want to strip a character down to their essentials – who they really are. Kros is no different.
TM: Obsession is always an aspect of vampiric lore, obsession for blood, lost love, revenge, youth. What would a great vampire story be without obsession?
CC: You are both veterans in the field of comics. What has been the biggest change you have both seen during your working life?
JO: Computers in general and, right now, Kickstarter in specific. Computers have changed how comics are made, researched, bought, and discussed. Kickstarter is a big game changer, I think, because it allows artists to create their own work the way they see it. You usually don’t get to do that without working for an established company. Kickstarter changes that equation.
TM: There have been lots of changes—the creation of the direct marker, technological changes for handling files (no more Photostats!). Computer coloring is a big one. I do miss great hand lettering on the boards though. The best change is having printing options and publishing options that were not around when I first started drawing comics. Back then, I never would have thought I would be trying to co-create and self-publish my own graphic novel—and here I am doing just that!
CC: What’s next for you both after Kros?
JO: More Kros? Assuming he survives THIS story
TM: Hopefully, more Kros and 2 other projects that are in the “I can’t talk about that” stage at the moment! But I will be more than happy to talk about them at another time!
CC: Great Tom, I will hold you to that. Final question, I am not bothered about where the grave digging occurred, but whose grave was it?
JO: What? You think I’m going to tell you where the corpses are buried?
TM: Ask me next Halloween.
Thanks for your time guys. The Kickstarter is currently in progress. If you are looking for more information see: