Monday, September 14, 2009

Episode #91: Happy Birthday, Mike Grell!

Mike Grell was born on September 13, 1947 in Iron Mountain, Michigan. In the podcast I incorrectly identified the state as Missouri by misreading the abbreviation MI. He was raised in Florence, Wisconsin. In reminiscing about his childhood, Grell stated that the family did not have a television set until he was eleven, so drawing was a favorite pasttime, encouraged by his artistic mother. She encouraged her children to develop their imagination. Living in a remote area developed a love for the outdoors and hunting in Mike that remains to this day. He wanted to be a lumberjack until his father got him a job working in the woods when Mike turned 16. Then he decided he wanted an indoor job like architecture. The math involoved in that trade made him to pursue an interest in commercial art instead.

When be became of draft age Mike Grell joined the Air Force, where he worked as an illustrator. While serving in Vietnam he took the Famous Artist Correspondence Cource. Grell would also attend the University of Wisconsin, and the Chicago Academy Of Fine Art while assisting Dale Messick, creator of the comic strip Brenda Starr.

Mike Grell's career at DC Comics began when he went to the New York Comic Con in 1973. there, he met DC Comics artist Irv Novick and Allen Asherman, then Joe Kubert's assistant. Both men looked at at Mike's portfolio. Irv told Grell to go to Julius Schwartz's office immediately. Unfortunately, Mike had a flight scheduled for later that day and was not able to meet with Julie then.

It was not until some undisclosed time later, after Mike Grell moved to New York City, that he finally met Julius Schwartz. Mike went to the DC Comics offices and walked into Julie's office. He said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Schwartz." Before he could say anything else Julie said, "What the hell makes you think you can draw comics?" Mike dropped his portfolio on Julie's desk and answered, "Take a look, and you tell me." Julie responded by calling fellow DC editor Joe Orlando, after he looked at the portfolio. Joe gave Mike his first comic book story, for Aquaman, As The Undersea City Sleeps, in Adventure Comics#435, the September/October 1974 issue.

This story was not his first to be published, however. Mike Grell's first published work was the first story of Superboy Starring The Legion Of Super-Heroes #202, May/June 1974, released on February 24, 1974. He was the inker on the story Lost: A Million Miles From Home, written by Cary Bates and inked by Dave Cockrum. Mike would work on Legion stories written by both Cary Bates and Jim Shooter. Grell's art for the Legion came during what some Legion fans call the "disco era", because of the costume designs by him and Dave Cockrum. Grell's first Legion story as penciller was for Superboy Starring The Legion Of Super-Heroes #203, July/August 1974 on the story Massacre By Remote Control. His last Legion story was as penciller on Superboy #235, June 1978, on the story The Legion's Super Secret.

Mike considered Dave Cockrum leaving DC Comics and the Legion his big break. Series Editor Joe Orlando had asked Mike if he minded being considered for the job of LSH artist. It was fine with him, and he was glad that he had Cockrum's Legion reference guide to keep the members and their costume designs straight (much like Curt Swan drew his own reference guide for the Legion in the 1960's). Grell has said that he considered the Legion a great entry level book because it features young heroes having exciting adventures. The hardest Legion story for Mike to draw was the death of Invisible Kid. His editor warned Grell that he would receive hate mail for the story, and he was right. The hardest character for Mike to draw was the then current Colossal Boy costume, because of all of the buckles.

Mike Grell designed two Legion characters, Tyroc and Dawnstar, both minority characters that made the Legion more ethnically mixed than it had been. Tyroc was the first African-American Legion member. The first African American character had been originally intended to be Dvron, a Science Police rookie, in Superboy #207, The Rookie Who Betrayed The Legion. Editor Murray Boltinoff had him redrawn as a caucasian because DC management were trying to be raciall sensitive, and did not want the first ethnic Legion character to be a villain. Mike left some facial features more ethnic, and some readers wrote letters complaining that Dvron was a "brother painted pink". When Tryoc was created, editors decided to have him come from an island where all of Earth's blacks lived. This was another example of DC management trying to be more relevant but showing how far behind the times they were. Grell himself thought it was very insensitive and segregationist. It was one reason he pruposefully gave Tyroc a terrible costume, in protest.

Grell created Dawnstar and her design and Paul Levitz gave her super tracking powers. Mike would do the Legion stories from Superboy #203 - 224 and #235. Another Legion character for which he drew his death story was Chemical King, in Superboy Starring The Legion Of Super-Heroes #228, June 1977.

My first Mike Grell Legion story was Superboy Starring The Legion Of Super Heroes #204, November/December 1974, during the time when DC's comics were 100 pages. A new story would be at the front of the issue and the rest of the issue would be reprints of the related title. He pencilled the story The Legion Of Super Executioners.

During this first stint at DC Comics Grell created his most famous character, Warlord. He first appeared in 1st Issue Special #8, November 1975, published on August 19, 1975. His editor was Joe Orlando. Mike wrote and drew the story, titled Land Of Fear. The main character was Travis Morgan, an Air Force fighter pilot who crash landed in the prehistoric hidden land of Skartaris. Inspirations for the story included Jules Verne's Journey To The Center Of The Earth and Edgar Rice Burrough's Pellucidar. Travis would have adventures in Skartaris garbed in only his winged helmet, wristbands, boots and breechcloth.

Mike Grell would also draw the Denny O'Neil penned stories for DC's relaunch of the Green Arrow in Green Lantern #90, August/September 1976.

He would later leave DC to, among other things, write and draw the Tarzan comic strip from 1981 - 1983. During much of the 1980's he published his own characters, which he owned, Jon Sable Freelance and Starslayer. Jon Sable was a former Olympic athlete and big game hunter, now mercenary. this title wa published by First Comics. Starslayer was a space science fiction series published by Pacific Comics and then First Comics.

Grell would return to DC Comics in 1987 to put his own stamp on Green Arrow in the three issue mini-series The Longbow Hunters, published during the spring and summer of 1987. He redesigned the costume, giving it a hood instead of the Robin Hood style cap he had worn for almost all of his previous stories. Mike would then write and sometimes draw the character on a ten year run on the character's own title, from Green Arrow #8 - #80. One thing this run was known for was that, except for the title, the character was never referred to as Green Arrow in the story. Mike Grell had Oliver Queen face more real life criminals instead of super villains.

In 1988 he would write and draw the comic book adaption to the timothy Dalton James Bond movie License To Kill.

Mike would also work for Marvel Comics, writing Iron Man from issue #50, May 2002 to #64, March 2003. Grell had Tony Stark reveal his secret identity as Iron Man publicly before Robert Downey, Jr. did in the movie.

Grell would return to DC Comics, drawing a variant cover for Action Comics #861, March 2008, published on January 30, 2008. He would return to write a new Warlord series, beginning with the June 2009 issue. Issue #6 was published on September 9, 2009.

Mike Grell and his wife live in Washington State, where they reaise Friesian horses and are also members of Seatlle Knights, a touring medieval group. He is also an experienced hunter and archer.

For more information on Mike Grell: : Mike Grell's official web site.

Mike Grell art for sale:

Interviews with Mike Grell: on how he got his first art job at DC Comics. , ,

About the Legion Of Super-Heroes:

Legion Omnicon:

Legion Abstract:

Legion World:

Legion Of Super-Heroes podcasts:

Legion Of Supstitute Podcasters:

Super Future Friends:

lotsalegion Podcast:

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