Jerry Ordway: All This...and "JSA," Too!

Fri, June 11th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jim Beard, Contributing Writer

"JSA" #63, Page 2
This July sees the return of veteran comic creator Jerry Ordway to some characters very familiar to him in the first of his two part stint on JSA with issue #63. Ordway spoke with CBR News about returning to these, some of his favorite characters.

"It's like seeing an old friend and catching up on their life," Ordway told CBR News, noting that he had read all the issues in the current run of the title to familiarize himself with the JSA characters as they stand today. "I think I'm more fond of them as a group now after being away from them since the early 1980s. I think the strength of the current book is the love that [writer] Geoff Johns has for the characters. No one could love these characters more than Roy Thomas, but Geoff comes in a close second."

Jerry Ordway, along with legendary scribe Roy Thomas, was in on the ground floor for DC's 1981 revival of its Golden Age heroes, "All-Star Squadron." The series ran for 67 issues, many of them featuring Ordway's distinctively detailed art, and he also went on to help Thomas launch the book's "modern day" sister title, "Infinity Inc." It was glory days for JSA fans, but as all good things do, it eventually came to an end. "In the intervening years since the end of 'All-Star squadron' and the current book, there seemed to be not much love for the JSA in the editorial offices," said Ordway. "The fact that 'JSA' is a good seller now has a lot to do with DC embracing the concept again." Part of that "embrace" now includes the artist's penciling and inking two issues, sure to include many of the characters and concepts with which he creatively co-existed for several years.

After the obvious attempt to do away with the JSA heroes in 1994's continuity-cleaning "Zero Hour" miniseries, did Ordway question DC's treatment of his old pals? "The much-maligned 'Zero Hour' handling of the JSAers clearly came out of that atmosphere -- time to retire the old-timers, or let them die. I worked on 'Zero Hour' with my friend Dan Jurgens, but I didn't care for the specific handling of the Golden Age Flash just kind of throwing in the towel. Again, keep in mind that every character had to be young, and cutting edge then. I mean, 'JSA' now is pretty much 'Infinity, Inc.' with all the new versions of older heroes, and the older fans still like it because the original heroes have been treated with dignity by the [current] creators. That could have happened in the 90s and been successful I think."

Ordway finds that writers Geoff Johns and Roy Thomas have one very important similarity. "Well, based on what I've read of Geoff's 'JSA,' he puts a lot of heart into the relationships between the JSAers, and that was always Roy's strong suit as well." There's a downside, Ordway says, to writers putting their all into their work. "They also both like to load the panels with lots and lots of heroes, which is not so fun, on a tight deadline!"

"JSA" #63, Page 5
The writer in Ordway saw a line he'd like to follow while working on "JSA." "If I had that chance [to write 'JSA'], I would like to do something that explores the actual relationships the younger characters have with the old timers. I mean, for the most part, Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and the others seem on the surface like they'd be fun to hang with, but let's face it -- they can't all embrace the changes in the times with the same easygoing affability, can they? I want Jay to bemoan MP3 players, and Alan Scott to rail against Howard Stern, y'know? Every time I talked to Jack Kirby, he told a war story. I was fascinated, but Roz used to chastise him with, 'No one wants to hear your war stories.' As I get older, I try to roll with the changes, but my wife doesn't want to learn how to program yet another new piece of electronic equipment. That's what I'm missing in the JSA. There's a story there!

As a veteran artist in the industry, Ordway's approach to his artistic duties has changed in some important ways over the years. "I think I approach a page with more confidence these days, just because I've done this for so many years, but I struggle to improve with each page or drawing I do. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I just try real hard and have to live with it. I don't think I've gotten slower -- I just can't work the same insane hours I worked before I got married and had kids."

Ordway's also quick to point out the changes he's witnessed in comics over the past few decades, citing examples both classic and modern. "When I started penciling on 'All-Star Squadron," heroes standing around chatting wasn't the norm. Roy really was at the forefront I guess, treating these big groupings as kind of super-hero cocktail parties. Hawkman wears a different mask one day, and Johnny Quick asks him about it. Nowadays, it seems all the heroes do is stand around posing. I'm all for a return to mindless fights I think. It's artistically challenging to carry on for more than 4 pages of standing, leaning, etc., so these heroes can make their speeches. 'JSA' has its share of that, but Geoff moves things around really well, and there's always a payoff at the end. Many comics seem to have no pay off though.

"The success of Jim Lee on 'Batman' was that he drew some really exciting iconic stuff, and Jeph Loeb gave him good scenarios with dynamic visual possibilities. The fans loved it, to see Batman unapologetically swinging from the rooftops in his tights! The more normal, and realistic many artists get with superheroes, the less appeal they have visually."

"JSA" #63, Page 6
After years of work on Superman and other DC characters, 1998 brought a sober reality of the industry into sharp focus for Ordway. His pride and joy, "The Power of Shazam," was cancelled and the future was uncertain. "In 1998, I had a year's worth of writing lined up with DC, which was taken away in an editorial switch. I had already been working on the plot for my first story. No assurance of replacement work was given to me by DC. My third child had just been born, and 'Shazam' had been cancelled. I was pretty shaken, and vulnerable. Luckily, I was able to pursue work at Marvel, when DC wouldn't step up to the plate. Unfortunately for me, I never found a niche at Marvel, and had to scramble again a few years later. Scott Dunbier of Wildstorm came to my rescue, and has been really great about getting me good assignments ever since."

One wonders what had to change for the prolific artist-writer to return to the halls of DC. "I had to feed my family. I came to realize I wasn't going to get an official apology from DC, and that I was stupid to have been loyal to any comic book company. The people who looked out for me like Dick Giordano, Pat Bastienne, and later, Mike Carlin treated me like family and I consider them all great friends. DC however, this time around is just my place of work. I will give 100% percent to my projects, but I no longer feel that pride of belonging as I used to."

Ordway's creative impulses still seem to be running high, though, and looking back fondly and not a little proudly on his past work, the future's still there to be conquered. "My career high is my work on 'The Power of Shazam' graphic novel, which is still in print and still sells lots of copies. I won a few awards for it, too. My greatest regret is that I didn't do my character 'Proton' for Image, back when creator books were selling well. Now, I can't afford to draw it with no assurance of an advance or page rate, in a market that has dwindled so much. I have 15 pages drawn and written, but no takers."

So, what's lined up for the immediate future? "I have 2 issues of 'Tom Strong,' written by Michael Moorcock, which I'll be working on this summer, after I complete 'JSA' #64. After that, I have another Wildstorm project in the works, but can't really say much about it yet. Also, I drew an 11 page Adam Strange story, written by a guy I've wanted to work with for years -- Grant Morrison. That was a lot of fun. [DC editor] Pete Tomasi was really nice to offer it to me, considering it meant deadline trouble for him on the 'JSA' fill-ins.

"One thing I can say in all honesty is that if I've ever missed deadlines, it was because I was goofing off. I work long hours, and haven't had a vacation since my last comic book show in 2001. I love my family and take great pride that all three of my children love drawing and love reading comics."

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