EUC Interview: John Jackson Miller

EUC’s Andrew had the wonderful chance to talk with Dark Horse and independent comic writer John Jackson Miller. Miller has written in the Empire comics along with being the lead writer for the newer comic, Knights Of The Old Republic.

EUCantina (EUC): What does your average work day routine consist of?

John Jackson Miller (JJM): I often wonder that myself. Up until this spring, I had been working at a publishing company where I’d done things from editing books and magazines about collectibles to managing their websites — and all my creative stuff was piled into the evenings and weekends. Then I started writing full-time, and while it’s allowed me to do a lot more work, I’m still searching for the right routine.

I’ll usually spend some time dealing with correspondence and editing previous drafts before I dig into writing new material — and then in whatever time I have left I’ll deal with blogging and promotion. Funny thing is, old habits are hard to break, and so I find I still put in a lot of evening and weekend hours. I’m definitely not a great morning person, so it helps that most of the people I work with are two time zones behind me!

EUC: What gave you the inspiration to become a comics writer, particularly a Star Wars writer?

JJM: Bills.Very large electric bills!

Seriously, I started collecting comics at age 6 and started drawing my own comics at the same time. Star Wars was the first “grown-up” comic book I ever bought — and as an adolescent I had my own series of space-opera comics that it helped inspire. I kept collecting and writing, doing the 1980s equivalent of webcomics as part of the minicomics scene. The last decade, as noted, brought me into writing books like the STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS and editing SCRYE: THE GUIDE TO COLLECTIBLE GAMES, so I was never far from comics or the Star Wars universe.

I guess if you spend enough time writing about comics, you begin to get a better feel for how you’d write them if you got the chance. And so when the chances came, I tried to make the most of them.

Star Wars: Empire # 35, Millers first SW comic

Star Wars: Empire # 35, Miller's first SW comic

EUC: Do the panels and layouts always turn out the way you picture them when you write the issues?

JJM: Oh, no — not that that’s a bad thing. The artists have ways of visualizing scenes that I couldn’t imagine myself — take the worm’s eye view image of Rohlan in #19, where the camera seems to be coming through the floor. I love shots like those, but I’d never be able to come up with something like that myself.

Probably the single issue closest to my imagination wasn’t a Star Wars comic at all, but the Simpsons story I once did — I think because of the TV show, the way I imagine a Simpsons story would look and the way the artist imagines it is pretty much identical!

EUC: How long does it take to make a single comic?

JJM: A month. Or it should!

It varies, but plotting goes on all the time, sometimes long before the issues come out. I remember discussing the basic plot of “Knights of Suffering” — issues #22-24, which are out this fall — with Brian Ching the week before #3 came out! (Yeah, there’s a leap of faith there that there would be a #22 — but you’ve always got to know where you’re going, especially when you’ve got so many mysteries going.)

There’s a full plot written, and after approval it’s time to script. That takes me a few writing sessions. The artists do their part, and then the book is lettered and colored simultaneously — then printing is several weeks. So start to finish, all the parts of a single issue may only take a month from start to finish, but that month can be spread out over an entire year. And since you’re coordinating 12 of them a year, you’re always on different stages on different issues at any given time.

I get into the behind-the-scenes process on all the comics, books, and other things I’ve done on my website, www.farawaypress.com.

EUC: How is working with Dark Horse’s Star Wars section? Jeremy, Randy, and the others.

JJM: It’s been wonderful. They’ve been a great support system, and I’ve learned a lot from them about storytelling. I’ve written about 50 comics professionally at this point, and I’m still learning something new with every issue we do.

EUC: Your Star Wars writing debut came with Empire, which lead to you writing Knights. Of the two, which era and characters do you like the best?

JJM: It’s all Star Wars to me, so I don’t make a differentiation. If you think about it, the kind of story I’m telling now with Zayne and company could fit in any period where Jedi are plentiful. Yes, there are elements in the Old Republic era — like the Mandalorian Wars — that don’t exist elsewhere, and those are fun to work with. There’s also a little more room to work, since the number of stories already set in this era is much smaller. There’s a lot that hasn’t been explained, and that opens up story opportunities.

EUC:With the Knights Of The Old Republic you have a a unique chance to define a series and characters that have to be the most beloved of the Star Wars Galaxy. How does that make you feel?

JJM: It’s been a great honor, and I’ve done my best to pay my respects to what’s been done before — while breaking our own new ground at the same time.

EUC: With the KOTOR comics, how far are they planning on going with them? (Mandalorian Wars, Jedi-Civil War even?)

JJM: We’re in the Mandalorian Wars now, but we’re not going in real-time. We’d be through them mighty soon! There are ups and downs in the war that we’re intending to chronicle — and that’s going to take up most of the near future. Beyond that, anything’s possible…

EUC: What plans do you have with Zayne? Will he help “Alek” and Revan, stop the corrupt Masters of Taris, or something totally different?

JJM: All of the above — and none of the above. I hate to give such a frustrating answer, but the truth is that his story is going to touch a lot of characters’ lives, although perhaps not quite in the way readers expect.

Randy Stradley at Dark Horse has said something to the effect that creators do best when they tell the stories audiences don’t yet know they want, rather than the ones they say they want.

The idea is that we should try to go beyond expectations when we can, to give people something they hadn’t imagined — and, hopefully, better than what they had imagined. And one of the interesting things with KOTOR has been that, as the story has developed and people have realized it’s an ongoing series, they’ve changed their impressions of what the story is about — and what the logical “endgame” might be.

Leaving “Commencement,” you’d very much assume that this story is about Zayne Carrick and his quest for justice — and some readers figured it’s be boom-boom-boom-boom, justice would be won, and it’d be all over. But then — as always was the plan — we smacked him in the face with the Mandalorian equivalent of Pearl Harbor. Now, consider that: There were a lot of people in the United States that had plans on Saturday, December 6, 1941. They were graduating college. Getting married. Starting businesses. Moving overseas. And then Sunday morning came — and the world called to interrupt their regularly scheduled destinies. And suddenly, everyone’s reevaluating.

That’s what happens to Zayne — and others, as well. It happens on both sides: Lucien and crew worry about the future for a living — but they clearly come out of “Homecoming” less sure than ever about their next steps. And that’s more exciting, I think. This is not a square dance where everyone goes lock-step to the destiny we imagine for them. But, really, who does?

EUC:Out of the characters from the game Knights Of The Old Republic, who is your favorite character?

JJM: That’s a tough question, because I’m trying to do different things with each of them. I have enjoyed writing Gryph and Lucien to a great degree because they’re such polar opposites when it comes to how they carry themselves. We have a con-artist and an upstanding citizen — but it’s the con-artist who has nothing to hide, whose public and private personas are the most similar. Most everyone in the cast has secrets, but you get the impression that Gryph’s secrets won’t change our opinion of him. Maybe that’s why he and Zayne get along — when they do!

But I also really enjoy the characters whose stories — and personalities — are still unfolding before us. Jarael begins “Commencement” trusting no one. She enters “Days of Fear” less skeptical of others than she’s been in a long while, thanks to her recent experiences. That’s used against her in “Nights of Anger” — and the Jarael of “Daze of Hate” is a good deal less confident for it. Camper, meanwhile, becomes more like his old self the closer he gets to the symbols of his old life. And we don’t know anything about Rohlan’s past that didn’t come from the character himself — and recently, we’ve been given reason to wonder about that. So keep watching them — we’ll learn a lot more about what made them who they are!

Zayne, Gryph, and Jariel: together again!

Zayne, Gryph, and Jariel: together again!

EUC: Will we see more characters from the KOTOR games? If so, can you name a few that we haven’t seen yet that may pop up?

JJM: I never name specific names, but we are returning to Taris in “Knights of Suffering,” and so we’ll get to see a number of familiar faces there. It’s a very different Taris than we’ve seen in the game or in “Commencement,” as I think our “Taris Holofeed” text pages have explained. The Mandalorian 3963 Tour rolls on…

EUC: What is in store for you and Faraway Press?

JJM: For Dark Horse this year, I have the conclusion of the “Days/Knights” sequence coming out this year, as well as the KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC HANDBOOK that’s coming in November. That’s got a lot of great background to the series.

Also, for next year, I’m writing the comics adaptation of the fourth INDIANA JONES movie. That’s exactly all I can say about it, apart from the fact that I was a huge Indy fan growing up, and that I’m thrilled to be associated with it. Now I can put all those history courses to work!

I have a few other projects going at my Faraway Press studio, including some more game work that I can’t announce yet. My column is still appearing in COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE most months, and as sort of my hobby I also maintain my historical website, The Comics Chronicles (www.comichron.com). That’s as time allows, of course — which it doesn’t, too often!

EUC: What tips do you have for inspiring comic writers or artists looking to make it big in the industry?

JJM: For writers, write. I mean, write anything. Blogging, writing for the campus newspaper — whatever, just write. You can sit there dreaming up the greatest ideas in the world, but if you don’t develop the tools you need to express your ideas, they’ll never reach an audience. I’ve written before about journalism — there really is nothing like it for helping teach the seemingly simple disciplines of writing on demand, even when you may not feel like it.

Artists — it’s a matter of polishing your craft, as well, and then getting out to conventions where that work can be seen.

EUC: Again, thank you for joining us here at the EUCantina. Before you go, one final question: How do you feel to be a part of the Star Wars Universe?

JJM: It’s a blast. It just goes to show — next time anyone hassles you about the size of your Star Wars collection, remind them it may come in handy some day!

Back to Interviews

About the Author

Austin Blankenship is the webmaster of EUCantina. He is a host of our official podcast, EUCast, and also founded our sister website, SoloSound.net. Austin helped turn EUCantina from a forum into a website in 2007, and continues to operate the site and the EUC social media accounts. Austin works as a librarian in a small town above Atlanta, Georgia.