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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 03/23/2005
Welcome to the Real World...Again
Mike Grell on the return of Jon Sable, Freelance

Green Arrow: Longbow Hunter Mike Grell has developed quite a reputation over the years as being a storyteller who doesn't shy away from directly investigating some of the tougher quandaries of real life in his art. No matter the platform, whether it might be a company owned character like Green Arrow or one of his many own creation, Grell become known for crafting true-feeling tales filled with hard hitting emotional impact which arises directly from the fast paced action and its consequences. Always the craftsman, Grell has perfected his own way of effectively engaging the readers emotionally and intellectually in the same instant--even if they didn't know it. And there is perhaps no better example of Grell's patented admixture of comic book action and asking the Questions That Matter than his breakthrough creator owned book, Jon Sable, Freelance.

Long unavailable except in back issue bins for far too long, IDW's recent announcement that they plan to issue the entire original run of Jon Sable, Freelance in a series of trade collections was greeted with cheers from both long time fans of the book and Grell's work, as well as those new readers eager to discover the many and rich pleasures of this seminal indy series for themselves. Even better, Mike Grell has agreed to return to tell new tales of Jon Sable's adventures in today's world...

Jon Sable

Bill Baker: So what can you tell us about Jon Sable, Freelance--the series and the character?

Mike Grell: The series itself hearkens back to the early 1980s. Starting in '82, Sable was one of the ground breaking series from First Comics. I created Sable as sort of a escaping from the genre of superheroes. I decided to break all the rules, and did just that, and I feel like I contributed at least a little to the creation of the independent comic book movement of the '80s.

So Sable does break all the rules of comic book conventions--or it did at the time. I went in exactly the opposite direction of that every other creator went. So Sable became an adventurer with his roots in Africa, a mercenary who'd do anything for a buck. Jon Sable is Mr. Blood-and-Guts. Everybody knows he's Mr. Blood-and-Guts. You can look him up in the Yellow Pages under "Blood/Guts". But what very few people know is that he's also a closet nice guy. He's got a soft side. He writes children's books about a group of leprechauns living in a fairy home in Central Park. And that's his big, deep, dark secret. He doesn't go by any secret identity [to hide his mercenary activities]; but when he's forced by his publisher and his agent to make personal appearances, he disguises himself because he's just too embarrassed to have all of his buddies down at the knuckle-draggin' guys club discover that he's actually a pretty nice guy.


The crux of the character is that he's a man with a serious death wish. He survived when his family was slaughtered by ivory poachers in Africa. He went off his nut, and he tracked them down, and slaughtered them. He wound up, after that, becoming a drunk before he got thrown out of the country and deported back to the United States. There an old friend picks him up and sets him back on his feet the best he can, giving him a direction in life--which includes writing these children's books. It acts as much as a catharsis for his lost family as anything else.

Also, Sable was probably the first hero who not only bleeds, but when he's shot in one issue, he's still recovering from it the next issue. I wanted readers to be fully aware of the psychological scars which attend the physical aspect of that kind of injury

BB: Hearing you say that only reinforces my thought that, of all the various properties and characters you've created or worked on throughout your career, Jon Sable is particularly well suited for addressing some of the concerns of the increasingly complex world we live in today.

MG: Absolutely, absolutely. We're living in a world where the rules are changing. The bad guys are all over the place. They're living among us. If you take a look at the approach that the US government has taken towards terrorism, you realize that the kid gloves are off, pretty much. This is a very, very dangerous world, with international players coming into our home towns and raising havoc whenever they like, and I think the time is right for a hero who gets some serious ass kicking done when it's necessary.

The other thing this is not just about international terrorism, but crime, as well. When I grew up, we had the alleged, rumored Mafia. Which either did or did not exists--if it didn't exist, those guys were making money on some substantial PR! [General laughter] But these days, you have European syndicates, you have South American cartels. Crime and drugs are in every neighborhood. The crime rate, where I live, in the Seattle area, is escalating dramatically. This used to be a nice area...and now it's part of our every day life. And the character, Sable, functions in that world.

I never really pretended to have all the answers, but I sure had a lot of questions. And I always tried to point out those questions to my readers, playing out the problems, and then trying to get people to ask their own questions. I never saw myself as a problem solver.


BB: So, would it be safe to say that, in general, you try to present the readers with work that's thoughtful as well as entertaining?

MG: Oh, absolutely. I enjoy a good shoot-'em-up bang! bang! as much as the next guy, but there's got to be a story in there for everyone. And, as a creator, I try to take my character--and the readers--through something outside of routine experience as possible. If you have the characters, and the story, be exactly the same in every issue, and there's no growth, no change within the character, then the story in the end it becomes a story about blowing things up, about the shoot-'em-up bang! bang! kind of stuff.

You can't take a character like Sable, who has certain capabilities, abilities, possibilities and boundaries--an international mercenary, but he's got a background in Africa--you can't take that character to Africa today and ignore the problems going that are on. You can't ignore problems like AIDS. You can't ignore the genocide that going on in the Sudan. You can't ignore the tremendous human conflict that's going on all around that continent...Something is going to give, sooner or later. It's more a question of when. Still, there's hope. Apartheid, which I dealt with in some fashion in the pages of Sable, which was the rule in South Africa for so long came to a relatively peaceful and cooperative end.

So using my character Sable, an international mercenary traveling from country to country, through a world filled with the greatest human turmoil, I can create stories which present situations which raise different questions. And then I ask my readers to think about things, and ask their own questions. That's my job.



For more on the IDW reprinting and relaunch of Mike Grell's seminal creator-owned series, head on over to To learn more about what Mike's been up to besides Jon Sable: Freelance, make sure to visit, his official website.


A version of this interview appeared in Gemstone's Overstreet Comic Price Review magazine.

<< 03/09/2005 | 03/23/2005 | 04/13/2005 >>

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