Enter the Lost World of Mike Grell: Part Three

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Mike Grell

Continuing our interview with Mike Grell, who will be accepting his induction into the Wizard World Hall of Legends this month in Chicago. In this installment, we discuss Mike's work on JON SABLE and stories from the headlines--and Mike's short-lived armed standoff with Nazis! Click here to read the prior installment of this interview series.

I want to move on to JON SABLE before we close things up here. It's very seldom that a reader gets to tell an author personally that he enjoys his work, and probably even more rare that he can tell the author that his work changed his life. Like you, I grew up in a tiny town in flyover country, and during the very early 80s, homophobia was still a thing, certainly among junior high students--and truly in the phobia sense of the word, too; not a dislike or a hatred, but a real fear. And I was reading the issue of JON SABLE where you introduce the character of Gray Adler, when Jon ends up going to a sporting event with him and finding out just seconds before they meet that Gray is gay. And it's a very humorous scene, with Jon's discomfort evident throughout the whole montage, and Gray picks up on it. And the exchange at the end, where Gray tells Jon that, just because he's straight, he doesn't hit on every woman he sees, and Jon's reaction to all of that--that struck just the right chord with me, and truly, instantly changed the way I saw homosexuals. I was maybe 14 at the time, and you cured me of homophobia with just a panels and some well-chosen words.

I'm delighted to hear that! I got a phone call from a friend years ago that started off, "Mike, I just want you to know, I'm calling all my friends to let them know I'm gay." And I kinda laughed, because I didn't understand how anybody who knew this guy wasn't able to tell that in the first five seconds, right? It was like the world's worst-kept secret.

And he said, "Look, since you created the first gay character in comics..." And I went, "I what!?" He said, "Yeah, you created the first gay character in comics, Gray Adler in SABLE."

I had no idea. I certainly had no agenda. The honest truth is that I was basically going for the joke, because I felt that Sable, being Mister Macho, putting him in that situation, it would be so funny to just watch him squirm. And the joke was when he mistakes Gray for Mike Blackman's boyfriend, and she tells him, "No, I'm not his type." And Sable says, "Well, what's his type? Short, fat, and ugly?" And she says, "No. Tall, dark, and handsome." That moment, that was the whole purpose of it.

But the Gray Adler character became an integral part of the story and the relationship as well. So I was asked, "Will you be willing to take part in a panel at San Diego Comic Con to discuss the role of gay characters in comics?" I went, "Sure!"

So I get to San Diego, open the convention brochure--it was a pamphlet in those days--and there it is: it says, GAYS IN COMICS, FEATURING MIKE GRELL. After that, if I wanted a date in San Diego I had to brown bag it! Better bring your own from home!

So there's me and Max Allan Collins, the two heterosexual bookends on this dais of maybe a dozen other people, and there was every possible combination you could imagine: boy/boy, girl/girl, boy/girl/boy/girl, trios -- the entire rainbow. Afterward, just about everybody invited me to go party with them, and I got to see what type of young men I apparently appealed to. At the time, my immediate reaction was, "You're young. You're good looking. You could get girls." But, there you go.

"And he said, 'Look, since you created the first gay character in comics...' And I went, 'I what!?' He said, 'Yeah, you created the first gay character in comics, Gray Adler in SABLE.' I had no idea."

It was something that I did just out of hand without having a specific agenda. There are times when I have gone straight at a subject matter, because I wanted to address it and hit it square on the head, no two ways about it. And there are times when everything is sort of back-doored. As a writer, I don't feel that it's my job to provide answers. I think it's more my job to ask questions--to raise the issue and get people talking about it. And that clearly happened with Gray Adler in SABLE.

In other instances, I tackled the subject of gay-bashing in Seattle in GREEN ARROW. And that was a storyline that came straight out of the local headlines. There were repeated incidents of violence against gay individuals in certain neighborhoods in Seattle, and it was something that I felt like I had to address. You just can't ignore stuff like that.

Gang violence is another one--gangs, drugs and all that. When I first moved to Seattle, if there was a murder it stayed in the paper for weeks. When the L.A. gangs moved in, all of a sudden murder became commonplace. It went from just a few homicides a year to just endless violence. In one case, one of the gang members pulled out a gun and shot a guy in the face three times. And because no one would testify against him, he wound up pleading guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter! How can that possibly be? Everybody was too terrified to testify against him.

The newspaper is always just a great source for stories.

Right! When I did SABLE, I was living in northern Idaho at the time, and found out that my neighbors on the other side of a not-very-large mountain were the Aryan Nation. And I knew that they read my comic book, because they used to go into the local comic shop and ask my buddy for the issues of SABLE, "the one about the mercenary guy."

So I did a SABLE story where I was pretty unkind to them--basically called a spade a spade, and be done with it. And before it was published, I had a Combat .45 built. It came with a machine rest target of 3/4 of an inch at the indoor range at 60 feet and held seven shots. And the day after that, I was at a guns shop I shot a hand-held...it was still in machine rest group of 3/4 of an inch, and I shot a 7/8 inch group, hand-held.

And I went up to the counter and I signed my name on the target, and I said, "Here. Hang that on the wall and tell the Aryans I'm in the book."

And, by golly, they showed up in the middle of the worst snowstorm in twenty years! It was the second day of the storm. There was over a foot of snow on the ground on its way to being about twenty inches or so. I live on the edge of a big lake, and the driveway to get to the house was a quarter of a mile. Down the hill, they had to make a left hand turn to come back up about another quarter of a mile. I had a German Shepherd who would alert me when someone turned off the main road.

"...and I went up to the counter and I signed my name on the target, and I said, 'Here. Hang that on the wall and tell the Aryans I'm in the book.'"

By the time they got up to the yard and got their big 4-wheel drive with a gun rack in the back all turned around and pointed out for a fast getaway, I turned on the deck lights. And I'm standing out there. I had a 12-gauge shotgun leaning against the wall, I had an SN rifle popped up on my hip, a .45 automatic in a shoulder holster, my nickel-plated .41 Magnum on my hip. They took one look, fired that thing up, and off they went, and they never came back.

To end things on a lighter note, you've been doing variant covers on the current GREEN ARROW series. Are you going to be doing any more of those?

Yes! I just finished one the day before I went to San Diego Comic Con featuring Batman. I'm doing Superman, Batman, The Flash...somebody else got to do Wonder Woman. The theme of the current issues of GREEN ARROW is that he is off on his motorcycle and he is encountering the various members of the Justice League. I'm waiting for Aquaman! (Laughs) Don't know how he'll have a bow and arrow under water, but I'm pretty sure he's gonna be there. And, of course, Green Lantern.

Maybe he'll meet the Legion sometime and you can resurrect Tyroc.

...yeah... ... ...

I know, I know. We never ever reference Tyroc.

But, you know, I have demonstrated, over the years, that I am a prostitute, and I'm willing to do most anything for money. So, there you go.

(Editor's Note: All Tyroc-kidding aside, we'd like to congratulate Mike Grell once more on his induction into the Wizard World Hall of Legends. His influences on the comic book industry and his body of work are testament to more than just a talented storyteller and artist.)