Josh Ortega: Dealing with the Dealer

A comics interview article by: Tim Lasiuta
Joshua Ortega is riding high.

His much-heralded Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer, has come to a conclusion and will soon be available at a comic store near you in a collected format. The World of Frazetta is not far from his word processor, with two more Frazetta inspired volumes arriving soon. During the editing process, Joshua announced his writing of Gears of War 2, the sequel to the 1996 Game of the Year. If we thought that Death Dealer was intense, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. I took the time to chat with Josh about his recent work, and what else is on the horizon for the creator.

Tim Lasiuta: Josh, before we get into Death Dealer, let’s step back with your early beginnings as a writer. What led you to decide to write full time, and tell us a little about ((FREQUENCIES)) and your other media projects.

Josh Ortega: I started out doing journalism, mostly covering music and entertainment, then decided it was time to do my own art rather than just covering it. ((FREQUENCIES)) was my first major project, it came out in hardback in 2003, and I did a 40-city book tour in support of it.

I've been doing full-time writing ever since I signed that deal in 2002.

TL: One of your early projects was The Necromancer with Francis Manapul. The story of Abigail Van Alstine was fascinating, and seems destined for another Top Cow run. How did the series evolve for you and what is in the offing for her?

JO: Necromancer has been a great title to work on, actually the first comic that I co-created. The first series really struck a chord with a lot of readers, it was nominated for two Harvey Awards, and Mike Carey wrote a fantastic intro for the collection. We're planning on doing a Necromancer: Book II sometime in the future, but don't have a definite release date.

TL: Josh, the final chapter in Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer has just been released, and it’s an amazing journey. For any fantasy writer, working with such an iconic image is the chance of a lifetime. How did this opportunity arise for you?

JO: A bit of serendipity really. Steve Niles was originally going to write the book, but got too busy with other commitments. He suggested that I take over the book, and fortunately, I was Nat Jones' first choice as well. Nat and I had wanted to work together for years, so that made it extra easy for me to say yes to the gig. It's been a lot of fun, so big-time thanks to Steve and Nat for having faith in my writing.

TL: The creative team obviously included the cooperation of the master himself. Like the Mona Lisa, the Death Dealer is a striking image that seems to be able to speak. Alan Moore claimed once that he sat in a bathtub full of mud to write Swamp Thing! What was the writing process like for FFDD as opposed to writing for Batman, Star Wars or Spider-man? Was Frazetta intimately involved?

JO: Oh yeah, Frank's been involved every step of the way. He provided us with guidance as far as tone and style, we created the story ourselves, and then he read and approved everything as we went along.

TL: FFDD could have been a monumental failure if the storyline and production standards did not meet the original vision. Nat Jones and Jay Fotos have captured the dark, stark, imagery, and the battle for Iparsia oozes a menacing atmosphere. What kind of input did you have in assembling the ¡team¢ for the book? What was your initial reaction to seeing the finished art for the first time? Was Mr. Frazetta pleased?

JO: Yeah, Frank and his family have officially approved of everything. Nat and Jay are a great team, and I think we've all been very pleased with the way the artwork looked on the page.

TL: With the conclusion of the Death Dealer Saga, you have committed to Silver Warrior, and Swamp Demon. From the descriptions of the one shot comics, they seem to be cut from the same cloth and part of a greater tapestry of tales. What can you tell us about the one shots and what might be coming next from Iparsia?

JO: Yeah, both Silver Warrior and Swamp Demon will be tied into the larger Frazettaverse, but they'll each have their own unique tone. Sliver Warrior is more of a high-fantasy tale, though it will definitely have some dark elements to it. Nat and Jay are going to render it in a more "paninterly" style, so it'll definitely look different than Death Dealer. It also takes place in Icevald, an arctic country north of Iparsia. Swamp Demon will take place in Iparsia, but will be set 500 years before Death Dealer. It'll feature two of the major characters from FFDD, the druid Dreovid and the demon Dazaka.

TL: For most writers, a run like Death Dealer is a career altering, landmark event. As readers, it’s easy to find the initial image and final page of the series (the iconic image of the Death Dealer) to be almost prophetic. The more things change, the more they stay the same: I’ll be back. We are left with a sense of awe that the series is over. How can you possibly top FFDD?

JO: Well, it'll be a challenge, but a fun one. With the other characters and books, they'll have the advantage of being "new" in the minds of the readers, so they won't always be compared directly. Our big challenge will come with the Death Dealer sequel, we're gonna really have to knock that one out of the park!

TL: We are definitely looking forward to the sequel. Your list of public appearances has ranged from the New York Comic Con to the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. With fans becoming more media savvy and appreciative of classy series, what has the general reaction been to your work, and the future of Frazetta inspired projects?

JO: The response has been amazing, and the future for the Frazetta Comics line looks very good. We're all quite excited, and with names like Steve Niles, Rick Remender, Tim Vigil, Mark Kidwell, and Josh Medors joining up on the books, the excitement is only going to grow. I will be appearing at the New York Con (April 18-20) again, and the Pittsburgh show a week later (April 25-27) and look forward to meeting fans and getting their feedback.

TL: Lastly, Josh, where can fans find out what’s new in the world of Joshua Ortega?

JO: You can always check out the latest info about my work at

This year's going to be a busy one for me. I've started writing the just-announced Gears of War 2 for Xbox 360, and the trailer, which I wrote, has just been released. You can see the trailer here.

I've got a Battlestar Galactica series (The Cylon War) I'm co-writing with NY Times bestselling author Eric Nylund; I've got an issue of Red Sonja #32, the Frazetta books and a creator-owned project. It's gonna be a busy year!

TL: Thanks for your time Josh. We’d better let you get back to work.

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