Saladin’s post on Fantastically Filmable Indie Comic Books from the 1980s, about overlooked indie comic series, was a wonderful post (and if you haven’t read it, go do so now), but he himself overlooked one of the seminal indie comic series of the late 80s, and my favorite comic series of all time: Grimjack.
Grimjack was the creation of writer John Ostrander and artist Tim Truman first appearing as a backup in First Comic’s Starslayer. It soon proved popular enough to spin off into its own series, lasting 81 issues, though First’s bankruptcy prevented any new material from being published until 2005.
But who was Grimjack? I think he says it best:
“Call me a mercenary. Call me an assassin. Call me a villain. I am all that and more. My name’s John Gaunt, but out on the streets of Cynosure, I am called Grimjack.”
When we first meet John Gaunt, he is an aging gun/sword for hire. He’s been a gladiator, soldier, a cop, a secret agent, and more. Now a free agent, he operates out of his bar, Munden’s, taking the jobs that come to him. He’s tough, cynical and experienced, and as hard-boiled as they come.
Only Grimjack is nothing without Cynosure, a city where all the dimensions eventually meet. In Cynosure magic may work on one block, while on the next, the laws of physics might be reversed. Dimensions come in and out of phase with Cynosure making it unpredictable. It’s inhabited by aliens, gods, mutants and magicians. This is the world that Grimjack lives in. His cases bring him up against vampires and robots, corrupt politicians and crime bosses.
This setup allowed for a wonderful range of stories. Ostrander was able to pull from a variety of sources mixing up fantasy elements with noir, science fiction with thriller, mystery with horror. This strange brew of elements was full of potential and it seems clear that this inspired Ostrander to put forth some of his best work.
Truman’s detailed backgrounds helped create the look of Cynosure in addition to visually defining the character – the white streak in his hair, the trademark scar, the earrings, the long coat, the bandana, the cigarette, the gun and sword. Truman even tweaked Grimjack’s look from issue to issue, giving him a new set of clothes, or a haircut, changing his gear, often in reponse to his cases. Truman was later replaced by a series of other artists, including Sam Grainger, Tom Mandrake, Jim McDermott, Steve Pugh, Tom Sutton and Flint Henry.
The character went through some changes coming back in a clone body, for one run before finally dying and being reincarnated as an entirely different person, Jim Twilley. All the while Ostrander helped define the character, illuminating aspects from his earlier life and bringing in supporting characters like Blacjacmac the mercenary, Jericho Noleski the bike cop, and Roscoe, his old partner from the Transdimensional Police.
Writer Roger Zelazny was a big fan of the series, not only writing the introduction to the graphic novel, Demon Knight, but also including references to John Gaunt in his later Amber novels and short stories.
The earliest Grimjack stories are currently available in two omnibus volumes put out by IDW. Later issues are available in other collections as well as two recent miniseries Killer Instinct and The Manx Cat which fill in some of the background of John Gaunt with Truman back on art chores. [Grimjack at IDW]
I have been reading comics for over 30 years now and Grimjack remains my favorite comic series of all time. It’s sad that it’s so often overlooked, especially given its influence on other comics of the time (it pre-dated the “grim n’ gritty” wave that followed it). I hope that at least some of you will give it a go and check out the reprinted material and (hopefully) make it worthwhile to produce more.