Mike Grell Interview

Mike Grell is the popular creator who has worked on such books as DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, Warlord, and Green Arrow and Image's Shaman's Tears. This month he returns to one of his most popular creations, Jon Sable, in IDW's Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail. WoW's Roger Ash spoke with Grell to find out more about Jon Sable, including IDW's collections of the issues originally published by First Comics.

Westfield: For those who have never read the book, who is Jon Sable?

Mike Grell: Jon Sable is an adventurer/ bounty hunter/bodyguard/mercenary/ former professional African Hunter & anything-for-a-buck-for-hire. He's also a closet nice guy. He writes children's books about a troop of leprechauns living in a fairy mound in Central Park. But he'd be horribly embarrassed if any of his knuckle-dragging friends down at the guys club ever found out about it. That's the shorthand version. You want the longhand version?

Sable was a character that I created specifically to help me break away from the super hero genre of comics. It was done at a time when we were struggling to get the independent publishing business up and running. I was approached by my old pal, Mike Gold, who was then editor at First Comics, a fledgling company that was trying to do just exactly the same sort of thing that I had been working towards. He gave me the opportunity to create a book on pretty much anything that I wanted. So I created this character who essentially broke all the rules of comics.

Your standard comic book hero had a flashy costume of some sort and a mask that concealed his identity and some sort of deep, dark secret that he protected jealously and nobody around him knew he was the action hero. My guy turned all of that 180 degrees. Sable is the kind of character that if you look in the yellow pages under "Blood/Guts," you'll find an ad for him. Everyone knows he's Mr. Action/Adventure. Everybody around him knows that this is what he does for a living. There are only a few people who know that he actually writes children's books under his pen name , B.B. Flemm. (Which, when it's written, doesn't look too bad, but when you say it, you realize it's the stuff you hack out of your throat when you have a bad cold.) The thing that keeps him going is that he's greedy as hell, but it's also a catharsis for him. The stories that he writes about are the bedtime stories that he used to tell his children.

His family was wiped out in a reprisal made by ivory poachers. Sable went off his nut and lived like an animal in the bush while he hunted down and slaughtered them one by one. But what happens when the vengeance is done? Sable became a drunk before falling in with a band of mercenaries who gave him a better than even opportunity of getting himself killed and that's really what was driving him and, to a certain extent, still does. Sable is a man with a death wish, struggling to put his life back together with the aid of his friends. He's the kind of guy who suffers for what he's done, and not just the emotional aspects. I made him a character who not only bleeds when he's shot, but in the next issue, he hasn't snapped back.

I made Sable a couple of years older than I was, at the time, but I hesitate to do that to him now so I'm sort of passing over what his actual age would be. But bear in mind guys like Mel Gibson, Sean Connery and Bruce Willis are no spring chickens anymore, but are still great in action roles because the action is handled on a level where you can believe these guys could do it at their age.

I've tried everything that I can to make Sable as real and as tightly linked to the real world as possible, which is another reason I got a good reaction to the character. I set the story in New York and in various places in Africa not just because they are areas that I knew firsthand, but because it helped to bring the character into the real world. These are stories that people would be familiar with if they pick up a daily newspaper or watch the news.

Westfield: Why bring him back now?

Grell: The obvious response is: why not? This is probably the ideal time for the character because of who he is and what he does and what's going on the world. The nature of the hero is determined by the nature of the adversary. Sable is affected by the world we live in because it's the world he lives in, a world of conflict and terrorism. But he has the abilities and skill to do something about it on his own personal level. If there's a criminal warlord committing atrocities in a foreign country and you need him gone, Sable is the kind of guy who can go there and do that. He can also work on a strictly local level, dealing with human interest stories where he can get close to the people, involved in their problems, and have his actions not only affect their lives, but his as well.

Sable changes as he goes along. He's not always the same as he was and he's not always going to be the same as when you first see him, because that's an essential part of any good storytelling, the evolution of the character through change.

The other answer to your question is really very simple. From a practical business standpoint, comic book properties are very hot in Hollywood right now and having a new comic book property out there in front of the public not only gives me an outlet for my storytelling, but it makes the Sable movie project a much more viable entity.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the new mini-series?