I was first introduced to the artistic work of comic book legend, writer and artist Mike Grell, in the early nineteen eighties.
His monthly fantasy series The Warlord (1976-1988), published by DC Comics, was one of the more popular comic books of the day and although I wasn’t a regular reader, it still captured my attention: US Air Force pilot, Travis Morgan crashes his plane over the north pole and enters the hollow Earth – and the underground world of Skartaris. It’s a place full of wizardry, warriors, dark magic…and dinosaurs!
I remember being interested in both the ongoing adventure story, a nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar stories and Grell’s fantastic, timeless, art: cross-hatched realism, expressive figures, energetic and pulpy, framed by a heightened sense of design and layout!
Still early in his career, Grell wasn’t an industry legend at the time – but he was certainly already a titan.
During grade school days, I remember scanning the comic book collection belonging to my best friend and finding issues of Jon Sable Freelance (1983-1988) from publisher First Comics, a new, hard-hitting and pulpy urban noir series from Mike Grell.
But it was 1987’s three issue prestige format miniseries, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters that, for me, cemented Grell as one of the leading mainstream writers/artists of the time.
Still praised by and inspiring other creative professionals today, that particular publication helped to ensure that comic books became a globally respected storytelling medium. The hit television series, Arrow, owes its success to Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, after all.
It was a delight to see that others thought the same and that Mike Grell, his oeuvre of work and his influence on the comic book medium and industry, be brought to the masses in a new tribute book from longstanding comic book historian, TwoMorrows Publishing.
Written by Dewey Cassell, who has also penned books on industry luminaries such as The Incredible Herb Trimpe (2015), Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics (2012),and The Art of George Tuska (2005) along with Jeff Messer, the tome takes readers from Grell’s childhood to his origins in art school and the armed forces, through his work with DC Comics, newspaper strips, television, Marvel Comics and a host of independent publishers along the way.
Each chapter is written as a conversational Q&A between the authors and Grell. It’s a segmented career timeline, highlighting major influences and major runs on comic books such as The Legion of Superheroes, Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, literary characters like Tarzan and James Bond, and creator-owned works like Starslayer and Jon Sable Freelance, which also became a short-lived television series simply titled Sable, in 1987 for ABC.
As a bit of trivia for the discerning, that program originally cast the bassist of Detroit glam-rockers Kiss, Gene Simmons, in the lead role.
I enthusiastically watched Sable as a fourteen-year-old on a weekly basis…well, for the seven episodes that it actually lasted on air. Not only did Sable have a great opening credit montage complete with African-jungle inspired beats, hearkening the character’s big-game hunter origins, but the series also gave the first big break to the absolutely beautiful Rene Russo (Nightcrawler, Thor, The Thomas Crown Affair, Tin Cup, and Lethal Weapon)!
Interspersed between the frequently funny and always informative deep-dive conversations with Grell are wide-ranging and discerning interviews with his contemporaries, industry legends themselves: Paul Levitz (writer, historian, and one-time DC Comics President and Publisher), Dan Jurgens (distinguished writer and artist), Denny O’Neil (famed writer and editor), and Mike Gold (eminent editor) among others.
These chapters are really a who’s who of names, adding rich colour to the backstory of Mike Grell’s publishing career. There’s even a bonus feature toward the end of the compendium that speaks to Grell’s writing and illustrating process – a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the act of crafting art and fiction.
Full of an abundance of colourful plates showcasing artwork and photographs from a career spanning decades, a comic book checklist, and awards gallery, Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing Without An Eraser is a wonderful encapsulation of one man’s mark on the comic book industry during an era of unprecedented change.
Under the well-defined direction of authors, Cassell and Messer, the book illustrates the timelessness of Grell’s craft – as well as solidifies his legacy as a pioneer and one of the greatest wrtier/artists in the history of sequential art. It’s a must-read for any lover of Grell’s work, publications in the era in which he created, or for anyone who has an interest in the history of the comic book publishing industry.
You can catch a preview of Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing Without An Eraseras well as purchase both a softcover edition and a Limited Edition hardcover (which includes 16 bonus colour pages) at reasonable prices from the TwoMorrows website.
Alternatively, you can also find it on Amazon.