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Posted: 12th March 2010


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[ Interviews ]
John Jackson Miller

[ John Jackson Miller ]

Last month, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comic book series ended. It told the story of an unlikely group of misfit fugitives thrown together during the Mandalorian Wars some three and a half millennia before Luke, Leia and Han are thrown together during the Galactic Civil War, it has spanned some fifty comic books (plus a #0 and handbook release), and has taken nearly four years to reach its climatic conclusion.
It is the creation of one person, John Jackson Miller, who has garlanded praise for Knights of the Old Republic's story, and has become a favourite of Star Wars Expanded Universe fans for not just Knights of the Old Republic but also for his Lost Tribe of the Sith e-book novellas.

Star Wars Books are pleased that John has taken time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview.

John, welcome to Star Wars Books.
If you like, could we begin with a short description of your work to date?

Iíve written for a number of comics titles, including Marvel Comicís Iron Man and Crimson Dynamo, Bongo Comicsí Bart Simpson, and Star Wars: Empire for Dark Horse Comics. I wrote the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics series from its inception, and I scripted the comics adaption of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. More recently, I scripted Mass Effect: Redemption for Dark Horse. I continue to work on a once-weekly webcomic, Sword & Sarcasm, with Chuck Fiala. I am also the writer of the Star Wars: Knight Errant comics, which are slated for release later this year.
Iím also writing a Star Wars: Knight Errant novel from Del Rey ó but itís not the only prose Iíve written. Iíve also wrote the Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith eBooks, and Iíve written short stories for the official Star Wars website.
Comic book history is another hobby of mine Iíve taken to paper. I produced four volumes of The Standard Catalog of Comic Books ó and Iíve continued writing about comics on my website, The Comic Chronicles.

Can you tell us what a typical working day is like for John Jackson Miller?
Every day is different for me, but generally I spend my mornings working on my websites. After lunch, I usually get into the fiction, and it goes from there. It was difficult getting into a routine, having done my writing as moonlighting for so many years. I was very used to doing all the writing nights and weekends!

You could be described as a comic aficionado, for as well as writing comic stories you also manage The Comics Chronicle website, www.comichron.com[External site - opens in a new window/tab], and are an advisor for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Comics must therefore be a major part of your life. How did you get into writing comic stories and what were your earliest comic influences?
I started writing my own comic stories when I was six years old, the first year I started buying comicsóor, rather, that was the year that comics started being bought for me. I still own every comic book I was given back then, with very few exceptions. I wrote and drew my own science fiction, super-hero and humor comics as a kid. Later on, I ended up doing small press mini-comics, which were the webcomic equivalent at the time. Youíd make photocopies and exchange comics via mail with others across the country.
I was mostly influenced by the TV, movies, and comics I saw. One of the handmade comic series I did in middle school and completed 40 issues of was a space fantasy in the vein of Star Wars, Buck Rogers and all the various different things I was watching in TV and the movies. It was nice that I was later able to do a comic series that lasted even longer than that. (It looked nicer, too!)

And what would you say are your influences outside of comics?
Outside of comics, Iím a huge history buff. I read a lot of nonfiction and have a masterís degree in Comparative Politicsóor really, Soviet Studies. I was one of the last to receive a degree in it before the Soviet Union collapsed on my dissertation. [The Soviet Union collapsed on his dissertation?; Is John being funny or does he mean something else?] Iím very interested in historical events, current events, and finding drama in the events of the day.
Iím also an aficionado of British and American naval historyóbut certainly everything from the tall ships era is interesting to me, from the East India Company to the Napoleonic Wars. You can see this reflected in my work.

You maintain a constant online presence through your website www.farawaypress.com[External site - opens in a new window/tab] (for which you publish your own writer's notes as each comic is issued), a Twitter[External site - opens in a new window/tab] account, Facebook[External site - opens in a new window/tab] page and you contribute to Dark Horse Comics' own Message Boards[External site - opens in a new window/tab]. How important to you as a writer, is this 'instant' contact with fans?
Comics have evolved into something similar to ďtheater in the roundĒ. There are plays where actors are surrounded by members of the audience, and the audience is not just passiveótheyíre active participants, and their feedback is important. We do have that sort of dynamic going on, where itís much more like live theater than it is like a movie, where itís entirely one way. We know what people think of something almost immediately after it comes out.
Now, you donít want to change your fundamental creative vision; itís the creatorís story, not a collaboration between the creator and the readers. But like an actor can watch the reactions of those in the audience and fine-tune his performance, we can do that as well as we go along. Thatís something you can do with serials.

Obviously fans' reactions to your stories are important in terms of sales and positive feedback is always a sign that you are doing something right, but how do you deal with the somewhat negative criticisms made by some fans?
Feedback is always helpful, and thereís usually something constructive in most criticisms. I think storytellers in popular fiction, though, often wind up playing an expectations game. People naturally compare the story youíre telling with the story that they imagined you might tell. We all do this whenever we go to certain movies ó we bring with us a certain set of expectations.
Thatís fine, but as Randy Stradley at Dark Horse likes to say, ďwe donít give people the story they want, we give them the story they need.Ē Taking the theater-in-the-round example, if you ONLY played to the crowd, youíd never give anybody anything new or surprising.

After four years and fifty comic book issues, Knights of the Old Republic has come to a close, how pleased are you with both the overall story and its conclusion?
Iím satisfied with it. We managed to pack quite a lot into those thousand-plus pages, and we were able to resolve most, if not all, of the questions that we ourselves raised in the series. And there were memorable characters and a lot of great art along the way. It was a terrific experience.

Do you feel any regrets for missed opportunities in the Knights of the Old Republic story?
There were a few points where I found I had elements planned that didnít fit the mood of what was going on in the title, and so I wound up moving some things on the fly. The tale of Gryphís escape from Serroco was conceived of as an extended light-hearted sequence, but kept getting shifted ahead, as I realized it was too light for the stories surrounding it. 2008 was a pretty serious year in the series ó and by the time we got past ďVindication,Ē we were really pushing to tell new stories rather than resolve old threads. It does find a place eventually, but I took an important lesson from that Ė if the mood of the title looks like itís going to be dark for a stretch, itís not a time to schedule any extended comic relief.

Going back to the beginning, where did the idea for Knights of the Old Republic come from?
In early 2005, Randy Stradley asked if I had any ideas for a series that would be set during the Old Republic period. The idea was to come up with a good storyline, not to resolve video game continuity; we didnít even know when exactly in the period weíd set it when we started.
But along the way, we also saw opportunities to link our story into the video game stories without hurting the established canon, while reaping mutual benefits for both their story and our own. We wanted to be respectful of the KoTOR environment and only use what we needed, while remaining respectful of the potential for future stories to be told with those characters.

How did you choose the principal characters, as they are quite an eclectic bunch of people: a failed Jedi Padawan, framed for a crime he didn't commit, consorting with a known con-artist, a mysterious and beautiful female warrior and a Mandalorian soldier on the "run"?
Certainly we had a lot of people who were on the run for one reason or another. Zayne wasnít ever the only fugitive. The trick with ensembles is they sometimes donít have a real reason to be together. Thatís why I split the team up in #13; there was no logical reason for them to stick together that they could see. Of course, they realize there is a reason to be together, and that brings them back home. They had things in common that they couldnít see.
Otherwise, we played a lot against type. Slyssk is the reverse of everything we know about Trandoshans; the Moomos are the reverse of everything we know about Ithorians. Thatís fun to do. Not all humans act one way or another ó why should aliens?

You recently gave thanks[External site - opens in a new window/tab] to the other persons involved in Knights of the Old Republic, your editor, artists, colorists and letterers, how important and what was their influence on Knights of the Old Republic's characters and story development?
We were blessed with great artists on our team. Brian Ching created such interesting character designs. Dustin Weaver added a lot of spectacular ship designs -- I probably developed the Saul Karath material more than I might have because I so much enjoyed seeing the world he had created around Saul in that opening issue.
Our colorist, Michael Atiyeh, has been invaluable. People donít always see all that the colorist does, but itís very important for setting the mood in the scene and helping the reader navigate complicated sequences. And as a writer who prizes dialogue, I definitely saw what Michael Heisler, our letterer, added to the series. Getting those words positioned properly on the page really helps the reader to navigate the story Ė and sets the mood.
And our editors, from Randy to Dave Marshall and Freddye Lins to Jeremy Barlow, were right there along the way, making everything happen. We had great people to work with every step of the way.

While the Knights of the Old Republic comics are perhaps your largest contribution to the Star Wars universe, you have also written two short stories to accompany Knights of the Old Republic, Labor Pains and Interference, and are currently involved in writing a series of e-Book novellas, Lost Tribe of the Sith, to accompany the ongoing Fate of the Jedi series of novels, and your first full Star Wars novel, Knight Errant; of the two prose formats, comic and novel, which do you prefer, and why?
Theyíre just different. There are moments writing prose where Iíll say, ďthis is a comics moment,Ē and vice versa. I like having the two formats to work in, because I can really put the ideas and concepts into the medium theyíre best suited for.
I love Asimovís Foundation Trilogy, for example, but I canít imagine how Iíd put the complex ideas that are in it into comics. I think there are strengths to each medium, and itís good to be able to play to them.

You have also contributed to the Indiana Jones franchise and are currently involved in writing Mass Effect: Redemption. How would you compare writing for these three franchises?
Mass Effect is interesting because itís a whole science-fiction milieu with a lot of unexplored frontiers. Itís a universe with its own rules, and that plays into how we tell the stories. Storytelling solutions you might use in one universe wonít work for the other, and thatís a nice challenge. So thatís been a lot of fun, working on that with Biowareís Mac Walters and our artist, Omar Francia.
Indy was a great experience, as that was my first brush with adapting a screenplay into comics form. Iíd love to do some more writing in the Indy world sometime.

It was recently announced[External site - opens in a new window/tab] that you are to continue writing for Star Wars with your Knight Errant comic book and novel series, a true multi-format project that will begin later this year. Star Wars comics have a smaller audience than Star Wars novels, so enticing Star Wars fans to read comics is important. How do you see Knight Errant appealing to both comic and novel fans alike?
Iím not sure how the relative audience sizes work out, but I think our real aim is to come up with stories that complement each other. If you want to follow more of Kerra Holtís adventures after reading the first comics storyline Ė well, hereís another chance, in prose form. And if you want to see what the novel settings look line in more original adventures, well, the comics will be there. Iím trying to keep a uniform feel to the world weíre developing in both media, so youíll have that lifeline between them.

Understanding that you may not be allowed to comment on your Knight Errant project, any more that the recent Press Announcement and the confirmation that Knight Errant is indeed the "Lone. Female. Jedi." project that Randy Stradley teased about[External site - opens in a new window/tab]; but could you perhaps give us a one sentence trailer to whet the fans appetite?
"One Jedi's odyssey into chaos."

Finally, if you could meet face-to-face with any fictional person and could only ask them one question, who would that person be and what would you ask them?
I'd ask Scrooge McDuck for his PIN number!

Thank you John for your time, it has been a pleasure and wish you every success in the future. Our thanks go to John Jackson Miller for participating in this interview and to Jim Gibbons at Dark Horse Comics for arranging it.

The last Knights of the Old Republic graphic novel, Volume 9: Demon (collating the last four comic book issues), is due to be released in July, while Star Wars: Knight Errant begins this Autumn with the release of issue #1 of the comic book series, followed in February 2011 with the release of the first novel. However, John will return sooner with the release of his fourth Lost Tribe of the Sith e-book novella, Saviour, in April/May.
You can follow John via Twitter[External site - opens in a new window/tab], or his own writings on his blog at http://blog.farawaypress.com[External site - opens in a new window/tab], and on his website at www.farawaypress.com[External site - opens in a new window/tab].

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