“I have rarely had the chance to sit down with artists and creators that I literally grew up admiring, and sometimes those people are let downs. They aren’t always as awesome as you’d hoped.
This is not the case with Mike Grell, the legendary artist of DC’s The Warlord and the critically acclaimed Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters. Grell’s work on Longbow Hunters and the ongoing Green Arrow series after that set the standard for Green Arrow stories and inspired guys like Kevin Smith, Judd Winick and Andy Diggle to take on the character.
… I absolutely loved this interview, guys. Perhaps my favorite one with a comic creator yet.
Enjoy!” Full Interview Here
On May 9, Gene Simmons (KISS) wrote in his blog about his attempts at SABLE, both for film and television. I know Gene to be a longtime fan and supporter of my comic JON SABLE, FREELANCE and it’s true that he was almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing SABLE to television and did, indeed, optioned the rights for a movie that never got made. However, his blog entry contains a few errors that I’d like to correct.
Gene’s blog states in part:
“May 9, 2013 — Quite a few years ago, I optioned the rights to comic book JOHN SABLE Created by Mike Grell.
He then set up at intermedia, a movie production studio. And then I got PREDATOR Writer, Stephen DeSouza to write the script. We were approaching Pierce Brosnan to be the lead.
And then intermedia went out of business.
I never lost hope, and then John Sable was set up as a television series on ABC.”
For starters, it’s JON-–no “H”–not JOHN.
As for the TV series and movie, after all these years memory plays odd tricks (don’t ask me what I had for breakfast), but the TV series came first by more than a decade. SABLE ran on ABC during the 1987-1988 season, but only for six episodes. The reason it failed, despite the efforts of some very talented people behind the cameras and a great cast that included Renee Russo in her debut performance as Eden Kendall, is because they got it all wrong.
I created SABLE to be the reverse of BATMAN and every other comic book hero (by day the mild mannered whatever, by night the dark avenger complete with secret identity and goofy sidekick). SABLE is Mr. Blood & Guts 24/7; his only deep, dark secret is that he’s a closet nice guy who writes children’s books about a troop of leprechauns living in a fairy mound in Central Park, and the only time he wears a disguise is for public appearances and autograph shows in order to prevent his hairy-knuckled chums from learning that he has a gentle side. When the series aired I discovered they had reversed my reverse, thereby making the show exactly like every other comic book character. I didn’t see the pilot until it was already completed and, when I did, I told producer Dick Rosetti there was a big problem. To make matters worse, despite ranking #1 with test audiences in the 18-35 year old male market, ABC ran the show at 8PM on Saturday night when our whole demographic was anywhere but in front of a TV set. The sponsors bailed. We started out selling Coors beer and Dodge trucks and ended up selling Calgon and Ritz crackers.
The series was cancelled shortly after the second episode aired, but the contract called for six episodes to be made. Rosetti had hopes for a mid-season resurrection. He phoned to say I was right and they were wrong and that, after episode three, they hoped to revamp the series the way I had originally written it. Too little, too late.
In 1999, I wrote both a novel and a screenplay for SABLE, determined to see my own vision of the character realized. I had just received the publishing contract when Gene Simmons phoned to enquire about the movie rights. The movie was optioned by PACIFICA/INTERMEDIA in 2000 and prepped for production in 2001. That year, a SAG strike was looming and any film that was to see production would have to be started by March 15–-The Ides Of March—in order to ensure that the actors would be available for post production, looping and ADR. At that point, the studio felt the script needed a bit of fine-tuning and, rather than rush into production, decided to postpone the shoot until October. Unfortunately, on 9/11/2001 the Twin Towers came down and, in the aftermath, foreign funding for the movie evaporated. When the option expired it was never renewed and the movie rights reverted to me.
I’ve since rewritten my screenplay and fine-tuned it to the point where it’s once again getting some action in Hollywood – I have a producer and a fine actor interested. Hope springs eternal and I’ve never given up on my dream of seeing SABLE on the big screen, even though Grandma always said, “Spit in one hand and wish in the other and see which one fills up the fastest.”
After Gene’s blog entry, which ended with the line: “I will revisit this project and see if we can give it a new lease on life”, his remarks were picked up by www.contractmusic.com and commented on under the headline: GENE SIMMONS WANTS TO BRING FLOP COMIC JON SABLE BACK TO SCREENS
“Flop Comic?” Them’s fightin’ words. Gene Simmons would hardly have wasted his time and energy on a flop.
While the TV series certainly flopped and the attempt at a film failed because of an act of terrorism, the comic JON SABLE, FREELANCE was anything but a flop and, in fact, was a top seller over my entire run as creator/writer/artist. I only left the series because the publisher was not paying me the royalties I was owed and I was tired of having to fight for every cent. At that time, I was offered the chance to revamp GREEN ARROW at DC Comics and I took it and moved on, knowing that attempts to continue SABLE without me would fail triggering a reversion of rights. Eventually, publication was suspended and all rights reverted to me.
SABLE has been resumed in recent graphic novels “BLOODTRAIL” and “ASHES OF EDEN” from ComicMix and IDW, with a new graphic novel “‘RULES OF THE HUNT” in development along with a second prose novel “FREELANCE”. Far from a flop, SABLE has been a very successful comic with a continuing audience for over thirty years.
Of all the exciting ComicCon events and appearances, Alan seems most excited by the appearance of Mike Grell. He’s a somewhat legendary comic artist and writer, responsible for the character of Green Arrow, among many others. Alan met up with Grell at his hotel.
I’m very sad to learn that legendary Silver Age artist Carmine Infantino has passed. His contribution to the industry as a remarkable talent and as publisher of DC Comics was immense. His tenure on THE FLASH spanned four decades and he co-created numerous character that became comic icons, including one of my favorites, BLACK CANARY.
Carmine was like a gruff godfather to me in my early days at DC. He gave me my first cover assignment and laughed when he saw how large my signature was. When I pitched him THE WARLORD, he took a chance that led to my very first original comic. When he got to like me, he started calling me “Mickey.” I hated it, but put up with it for almost a whole day before complaining to my editor, his old pal Joe Orlando. Joe laughed and said, “You want to break him of that, next time he calls you Mickey you call him CARMEN. He hates that!” I did. He glared at me and said, “It’s Car-MINE .” “It’s Mike,” I said, and got a grin. And that was that. Carmine respected balls.
One day, I noticed his belt had a gold buckle in the shape of the letter “G”. “Is that a new GREEN ARROW belt buckle?” I said. “That’s GUCCI!” he said, indignant as hell. I told him I thought it looked the same to me. His eye’s got a little twinkle and he said, “I wonder if we can sue him.”
Infantino, Orlando, Kirby, Wood, Kubert, Buscema, Kane, Colan… the Bullpen is filling back up.
We have heroes because of them.
Q. How and when did you realize that you wanted to become an artist?
A. In truth, I wanted to be a lumberjack, just like my Dad. Then, when I
was 16, he got me a job working in the woods and I discovered how hard
the old boy had been working all those years …
Sequential Tart: Thank you for your time. I just really wanted to ask you a few questions about adaptation. Your big break in comics was coming into an ongoing comic [Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, with issue #203, featuring the death of Invisible Kid]. What was the biggest consideration at that time as an artist, as far as continuing characters that had been created?
Mike Grell: At that point I was just looking for work, but it was, it was nerve-wracking to take over a book that was as popular as it was. The editor [Murray Boltinoff] said, “Congratulations! You’ve got the job, but I got good news and the bad news …
DC COMICS has posted the first chapter of the Arrow digital comic series, with artwork by legendary artist Mike Grell and story from Arrow’s own Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. The digital comics will and do tie in directly to the Arrow television series.
You can purchase the first chapter for 99 cents on the DC Comics app.
This interview was conducted by phone and originally appeared at a now defunct webzine almost four years ago (Feb ’09?). I was worried it had been lost to the ages, so for posterity I represent it here, unedited. Because I am still very proud of the opportunity to have spoken at length with a true idol of mine.
Mike, you have been in the business, coming up to 40 years now?
Yeah, and it sure feels like it! Actually, I’ve been in this business for a year longer than the Warlord, so- 36 years. I started in ‘73 …