John “GrimJack” Gaunt

Created by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman

“Call me mercenary. Call me assassin. Call me a villain. I am all that and more.”

GRIMJACK was the titular hero of a hard-boiled mid-80s sci-fi comic book, set in an alternative reality, a weird mixture of Conan the Barbarian and Star Wars, with dashes of every genre you could imagine, from film noir and cyber punk to westerns and pirate movies, thrown into the mix. Lots of swords, lots of capes, lots of long hair on broad-shouldered men, lots of cussing and fighting and drinking.

The series was probably best remembered for upping the ante on comic book violence. Somebody died, often horribly, and, of course, graphically, in every issue. “Grimjack” was the nom de guerre of intergalactic mercenary, wannabe wizard, private eye and shit magnet JOHN GAUNT, he of the murderous disposition, nasty facial scar and even nastier smile. Sword and pistol at his side, cigarette jammed in his maw, and clad in a military costume right out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operatta, he stomped through a city called Cynosure that existed in every dimension at once (sort of the way the comic itself appropriated every genre trope it could use), which allowed the writers to change the laws of physics/nature at will.

Fortunately, for fans of blood and guts, a blade apparently works everywhere.  There were femme fatales, corrupt politicians, missing persons, robberies gone wrong, illegal blood-sports, a seedy bar and haunted pasts. Great stuff for maladjusted teens of all ages, and still loads of fun.

Grimjack originally appeared in the November 1983 issue of Starslayer, as a back-up feature, before moving on to his own book, Grimjack (1984-1991), which lasted over eighty issues, and featured a letters page titled “Spill Yer Guts.”

Also of interest was the back-up feature, “Munden’s Bar,” which featured various barflies (from gods  to just plain drunks) gathering in the Cynosure’s most notorious dive bar. The tongue-in-cheek feature was often taken over by various guest artists and writers, and often featured their own characters, adding an anything-can-happen moment of lightness to the on-going carnage in the main feature. The back-up feature proved popular enough that it even got its own annual, a handful of specials, and eventually a formal collection.

Meanwhile, GrimJack got a standalone  graphic novel, Demon Knight (1990), and a second series, Grimjack Casefiles (1990-1991), which reprinted his earlier Starslayer appearances. He was also popping up in in other comics (the 1980s indie comics scene was awash in crossovers), including a couple of Munden’s Bar specials, a few First Comics crossover specials, and even a one-panel sight gag cameo in issue #5 of the DC Comics horror anthology title Wasteland that probably got a few lawyers all hot and bothered.

Ahhh… Lawyers. And misplaced ambition…

GrimJack the comic was chugging along, doing just fine, making money, when, sometime in the early nineties, First Comics got the bright idea to revive Classics Illustrated, the beloved American comic series from the 1940s through the 1960s that adapted classic literature. Alas, it wasn’t to be–First Comics went belly-up, and GrimJack became entangled in the First Comics’ bankruptcy and copyright issues that lasted for years. To their dismay, Ostrander and Truman no longer owned their own character. It took until 2005 for them to finally regained control, almost 25 years after GrimJack made his debut.

Seemingly instantly, Ostrander, Truman and the rest of the original team published Grimjack: Killer Instinct, a 6-issue miniseries that served as a sort of prequel to the original series and his first appearance in Starslayer

In January 2011, GrimJack was back again in The Manx Cat,  a serialized web comic that later saw print as a six-issue miniseries, a sly take on on Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

And that’s it, so far.

I think.

There have been tons of reprints, shout outs and tributes, along with the usual killings off of characters (including GrimJack himself), clones, alternate universes and other comic bullshit, but the character himself has remained popular, achieving almost cult-like status among fanboys of a certain age, and as recently as 2019 or so, there has been talk of the Russo brothers developing an animated TV series or possibly a movie for Amazon. 

UNDER OATH

  • “I don’t see it mentioned much anymore, but my fave comic of all time is John Ostrander’s GRIMJACK. A perfect 80’s mix of hardboiled noir & sword/sorcery/sci-fi with a rich mythology and unique setting in the pandimensional city of Cynosure. Great artists across the board: Timothy Truman, Tom Sutton, Tom Mandrake, Flint Henry, et al. Deserves to be much better remembered/known.
    — Christopher Mills (June 2022, Facebook)

COMICS

  • STARSLAYER
    (1981-1985, First Comics)
    Numbering continues from Starslayer (Pacific Comics, 1982 series) #6
    • “Mortal Gods” (November 1983; #10)
      Grimjack’s first official appearance, in a backup story.
    • “Mortal Gods Conclusion” (December 1983; #11)
    • “Buried Past” (January 1984; #12)
    • “Buried Past Chapter Two” (February 1984; #13)
    • “Buried Past Chapter Three” (March 1984; #14)
    • “Buried Past Chapter Four” (April 1984; #15)
    • “Buried Past Chapter Final Chapter” (May 1984; #16)
    • “Night of the Killer Bunnies” (June 1984, #17)
    • “Blood and Thunder” (July 1984, #18)
      Grimjack’s last appearance in Starslayer–and his first cover appearance alongside Starslayer.
  • GRIMJACK
    (1984-1991, First Comics)
    81 issues
    Created by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman
    Writers: John Ostrander
    Artists: Timothy Truman, Tom Mandrake, Randy Emberlin, Flint Henry, Tom Sutton
    • “A Shade of Truth” (August 1984; #1)
    • “Blood Sport” (September 1984; #2)
    • “Blood Relations” (October 1984; #3)
    • “Legacy” (November 1984; #4)
    • “Dead End” (December 1984; #5)
    • “Shadow Cops” (January 1985; #6)
    • “Shadows of Doubt” (February 1985; #7)
    • “Exit Poll” (March 1985; #8)
    • “My Sins Remembered” (April 1985; #9)
    • “Hard-Timers,” “Doppelgangster (Munden’s Bar)” (May 1985; #10)
    • “Long Gone Dead” “Close Shave (Munden’s Bar)” (June 1985; #11)
      By Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. Chicago P.I. Ms. Tree wanders into Munden’s.
    • “Charnel House” “Hardcase Part One (Munden’s Bar)” (July 1985; #12)
    • “Suspect” “Hardcase Conclusion (Munden’s Bar)” (August 1985; #13
    • “Decaying Orbit” “The Orbit (Munden’s Bar)” (September 1985; #14
    • “This Wheel’s On Fire!” “Music, Music, Music! (Munden’s Bar)” (October 1985, #15)
    • “Wolfpac” “Max the Magnifiecient (Munden’s Bar)” (November 1985; #16)
    • “Wolfpac Part Two” “The Clog (Munden’s Bar)” (December 1985, #17)
    • “Trade Wars: Inferno” “Autopia (Munden’s Bar)” (January 1986; #18)
    • “Rep” (October 1988, #51)
    • “When Titans Bowl” (November 1988, #52)
  • GRIMJACK CASEFILES
    (1990-91, First Comics)
    At least six issues, reprinting Grimjack stories from Starslayer
  • GRIMJACK: KILLER INSTINCT
    (2005, IDW)
    6 issues
  • GRIMJACK: THE MANX CAT
    (2009-10, IDW)
    6 issues

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • DEMON KNIGHT: A GRIMJACK GRAPHIC NOVEL
    (1990, First Comics)

COLLECTIONS

  • THE LEGEND OF GRIMJACK
    (2005-07, IDW)
    8 issues
    A series of trade paperbacks (and occasional hardcovers), gathering the entire GrimJack saga, originally published by First Comics. In order. Plus bonus material.
  • MUNDEN’S BAR Buy this book
    (2008, IDW)
  • GRIMJACK OMNIBUS
    (2010, IDW/Nightsky GrimJack/Arrogant MGMS)
    2 issues
    Another series of paperbacks, this one lasted only two issues.
  • GRIMJACK OMNIBUS
    (2015-19, ComicMix)
    5 issues
    Another attempt to revive the series, reprinting the entire run.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Timothy Truman for the scoop, and the heads up.

 

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