Caught in the Nexus: Mike Grell

Mike Grell is a legendary comic book talent. Grell has been one of the top writers and artists in the industry for more than three decades. He grew to prominence with runs on GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW and SUPERBOY in the early 1970s. Grell went on to create THE WARLORD in the mid ‘70s, and craft a definitive run on GREEN ARROW which lasted more than 80 issues (including miniseries) spanning the late ‘80s into the mid ‘90s.

A vast quantity of Mike Grell’s comic work has been published through DC Comics, but his creator-owned series JON SABLE, FREELANCE was a critically acclaimed, sales force for First Comics throughout the majority of the 1980s. A variety of reasons have kept Jon Sable away from the comic book scene for much of the last decade and a half. In April 2005 that will change as Mike Grell brings us the six-issue miniseries JON SABLE, FREELANCE: BLOODTRAIL.

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Mr. Grell about the new miniseries to be released by IDW Publishing.


The Nexus: To start, can you tell us a little about Jon Sable?

Mike Grell: His business card reads:

JON SABLE, FREELANCE

Freelance bounty hunter, bodyguard, mercenary. anything. As long as it’s dangerous. He’s the kind of guy men want to be and women want to be with. Unless you know what made him what he is.

SABLE’S life was shattered by the slaughter of his family by ivory poachers. And by his own terrible revenge. But what do you do when vengeance is done?

SABLE became a hopeless drunk, until the call to danger offered a better than even chance to get himself killed.

What few people know is that his bizarre battlemask hides a gentle side. Under the pen name “B.B. FLEMM”, SABLE is the author of popular children’s stories about a troop of leprechauns living in Central Park. Guided by his literary agent EDEN KENDALL, he struggles to put his life back together.

Now living in New York, he meets artist MYKE BLACKMON, who illustrates his leprechaun stories. Finally, there is someone who can break through the barriers and make him dare to love again. But even she has her limits, and SABLE’S dark past won’t stay buried. His old Olympic fencing coach SONNY PRATT, retired stuntman and wannabe sidekick, has his hands full trying to keep SABLE sober.


Cover for Jon Sable, Freelance Vol. 1 TPB

The Nexus: You haven’t worked on a monthly JON SABLE comic since 1987. How did the triumphant return come about at IDW?

Mike Grell: It was a roundabout route, via GRIMJACK and a lot of negotiating on the part of my old pal and editor MIKE GOLD. We had been discussing the return of
SABLE for a couple of years and GRIMJACK was the door-opener, but there were a lot of legal entanglements that had to be worked out in order to free GRIMJACK. I did what I could to enable that deal to be completed, knowing that SABLE was the next domino in line. Once the legal hoo-ha had been solved on GRIMJACK and the IDW deal was in place, SABLE was more or less a cut & paste. There were no legal hoops to jump through, since I owned Sable outright.

The Nexus: Considering that JON SABLE, FREELANCE ran for fifty-six issues, will BLOODTRAIL be a good jumping on point for new readers? More importantly, if it works for new readers, have you balanced it to please the old readers as well?

Mike Grell: Yes to both. I’m treating BLOODTRAIL as a re-introduction to the character, creating a completely new story that encompasses and relates directly to the origin. There are some differences, though, as you’ll see. In particular, I’ve spun the story so that there are elements that take up more or less where my novel SABLE left off.


Cover for Jon Sable, Freelance Vol. 2 TPB

The Nexus: Jon Sable competed in the 1972 Olympics, saved President Reagan, and often dealt with topical subject matter from the 1980s. Will BLOODTRAIL take place in the modern day?

Mike Grell: Yup. Which is not to say that guys like Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner or even Sean Connery couldn’t kick my ass, but I think this is one area where a time warp is a handy literary device.

The Nexus: I recall a series of letter pages from JON SABLE, FREELANCE where you relived the highlights of your own African safari. Sable seemed to be built on realism. How much of your own life was rolled into the character of Jon Sable?

Mike Grell: Cartoonists live in a studio, sitting at a drawing board for 18 hours at a stretch, but we all live vicariously through our characters. That’s why the women are all beautiful, the cars are fast and the whiskey is 25 year-old Macallan’s. Occasionally, we escape to a reality that isn’t too far off the mark. I’ve been to Africa twice and once spent 18 nights in a tree trying to ambush a cattle-killing leopard.


Cover for Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail #2

The Nexus: One of my favorite aspects about Jon Sable was the wonderful duality of the character. Sable was a hardnosed mercenary most of the time, but in his spare time he wrote “Wee the People” children’s novels as B.B. Flemm. While Sable’s life was often tragic, this lighter side allowed occasional moments of levity. Where did you get the idea for this side of the character?

Mike Grell: I was inspired, to a certain extent, by Jack Lemmon’s movie “HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE”. He plays a cartoonist who acts out all the adventures of his private detective character. I wanted a way for the guy to have enough money to allow for a somewhat extravagant lifestyle, while doing the outrageous things a mercenary does. It was also a way to reveal an important inner side to the character, a soft heart protected by a hard outer shell of violence and bloodshed.

The Nexus: Considering the success that J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog are having with their all ages property ABADAZAD, is there any chance of seeing “Wee the People” stories translated to a child-friendly medium?

Mike Grell: I’d love it. In fact, the SABLE novel has a bedtime story about the leprechauns that I once thought to make into a children’s book. Ultimately, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t make a fun animated series.


Cover for Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail #3

The Nexus: A favorite character of many Jon Sable fans is criminal extraordinaire Maggie the Cat. Maggie appeared in the pages of JON SABLE, FREELANCE a number of times and always gave Sable a run for his money. She even had a short-lived series at Image Comics. Will Maggie appear in BLOODTRAIL?

Mike Grell: No, but that doesn’t mean she won’t appear in a later adventure.

The Nexus: If successful, would you like to bring Jon Sable back as a monthly book, or would a series of miniseries be better for the character?

Mike Grell: I’d love to see it monthly, but a series of miniseries would be better for me – and my editor’s – peace of mind. I truly believe I’m doing the best work of my career on this book, but maintaining that level over time could be difficult. On the other hand, I’m drawing every line myself – no assistance, not even backgrounds. If the series went monthly, that would change.


Cover for Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail #4

The Nexus: Just prior to the tragedies on September 11, 2001, a Jon Sable feature film was about to go into production. Has there been any progress in getting Sable in front of the camera?

Mike Grell: That particular production died on 9/11. Gene Simmons, who has been a staunch SABLE fan and supporter over all these years, was the producer and he was very disappointed, but he lost his backing and SABLE was only one of many films that went down with that ship. I turned down one serious offer from serious folks, because their vision of the character just didn’t match mine. I didn’t want to see a film about SABLE rescuing his two voluptuous teenage daughters from white slave traders. If they wanted to do that movie, they certainly didn’t need SABLE, as it had absolutely nothing to do with my story.

I’ve written a screenplay and there is ongoing interest from a couple of different quarters, but nothing to report… yet.


JON SABLE, FREELANCE: BLOODTRAIL #1 is due in comic shops at the end of April.

Here’s the cover and solicitation copy for the debut issue!

Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail #1

Creative Team
Writer: Mike Grell
Cover Art: Mike Grell
Interior Art: Mike Grell

At long last, the best-selling independent hero of the 1980s has returned-Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance. But this time around, Sable isn’t quite at the top of his form as he is haunted by his dark past. His career in a tailspin, Sable signs on to prevent the assassination of a foreign national visiting terror-torn Manhattan “¦ but who are the killers REALLY after, and WHY? And what will it take for Jon Sable to get his act together? Series creator Mike Grell returns to provide the story and art for Bloodtrail, the newest and most thrilling chapter in the continuing saga of Jon Sable Freelance.

For more information on Mike Grell and Jon Sable visit: www.mikegrell.com.