SDCC '08 - Mike Grell: The Return of Warlord

SDCC 08 - Grell on the Return of Warlord

Sword in one hand, gun in the other. And don't forget the winged helmet. As announced at DC’s "Guide to Your Universe " panel at San Diego Comic-Con, the classic character the Warlord is back at DC Comics will an all-new ongoing series scheduled for spring 2009. It's his 35th Anniversary, so what better way to celebrate?

Before we get into the new, let's go down memory lane for the first-timers and those who were there the first time.

One of DC's best-selling titles in the late-1970s, The Warlord carved an indelible mark in American comics as one of the first "sword & sorcery" comics – with a .44 for good measure. Created by cartoonist Mike Grell, the iconic Warlord was an Air Force pilot named Travis Morgan that crash landed on a prehistoric "hidden world" inside Earth called Skataris. There, Morgan was dubbed 'the Warlord', where he became a classic adventurer who knew how to fight with both sword and gun, all the time wearing a winged helmet that became his trademark.

The Warlord ran for a total of 133 issues and six annuals, making Grell a well-known name in comics. Grell continued an upward climb with a iconic run on Green Arrow as well as the creator-owned Jon Sable and Shaman's Tears. But fans have continued to carry a torch for Grell's Warlord, and DC's short-lived Warlord revamp in 2006 proved that while fans still loved the character, they were particular as to who and how it was done.

So who better than original creator Mike Grell to helm an all new series for The Warlord? That's a rhetorical question. First rumored back in March when Grell mentioned work on a proposal for Dan Didio, Grell and DC Comics announced today at San Diego Comicon that The Warlord is returning for a new ongoing series in early 2009. Originally conceived as a six issue miniseries, DC Executive Editor Dan Dido was so thrilled by the proposal that the series was greenlit as an ongoing.

High hopes, high aspirations. So what does Mike Grell have to say? We talked with him earlier this week by phone from his home in Washington state.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us today, Mike. Let's get right into it – what's the new Warlord series about? A revamp like the 2006 series, or a continuation of your original run?

Mike Grell: It's both. The intent was to re-introduce the Warlord to not just the old fans – the old audience – who are 2 or 3 generations down the road, but to introduce to a new audience. I'm continuing with the same characters and set-ups. There's been some time past since we've last seen them though, so there's been some updating.

NRAMA: Do readers need a primer on all things Warlord to get up to speed, or is this it?

MG: The first issue sets it all up. I'm beginning with characters already established and in place, but I'm smart enough to know the key is to re-introduce the characters for today's audience; setting all the rules out and establishing the guideposts for the stories going on. I don't expect people to come in cold and wait issues for the stories to pan out. I'm going to have them from page one. Okay, maybe page 2 and 3.

The biggest thing as far as I'm concerned is get people to read the book, and follow along, and grab them right off the bat. I'm a firm believer in structure in storytelling. I like to know where I'm going when I start out – the Mickey Spillane school of storytelling, where it's recommended that writers write the last chapter first so they know where they're headed. While I have wrote out the last chapter in complete detail, I know how the characters end up and it's all about exploring the changes to get there.

NRAMA: This is an ongoing series, right?

MG: Yes, it's an ongoing. It was originally intended as a six-issue miniseries to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of The Walord<. After I sent it Dan Didio and he read it over and said "could this be an ongoing series?", I knew we were in for a real ride.

And secretly, that was the intent. The miniseries' story was built to springboard a future series if things went well. As an ongoing from the get-go, it makes things a lot easier. My initial storyline was intended for six issues, but it's really the kickoff for a 6-part storyline that reintroduces the Warlord to new readers. It's intended so you can take in the proper direction from there.

NRAMA: In an interview with the magazine Comic Book Artist, you said that you originally wrote The Warlord as a story you wanted to read. What led you to want to return to The Warlord?

MG: Unfinished business. There were a lot of things that I felt I had left undone and unsaid. There's one story in particular that I've always wanted to draw – draw I said, not just write – and eventually I'll get to do that. Dan and I had already discussed it. It's a logical step for the character.

The same thing still holds. I still want to write a story I want to read. I used to say I write for an audience of one. And that's still pretty much the case. Just like I've changed someone in outward shape over the years – I'm a little shorter now because old people do that, but I've grown in girth. I've grown as a storyteller and applied that tomy new work. My earlier stories are all about action and high adventure and not much character. As time went on I got more into the character of characters.

It's a lot of fun to play with Morgan – he's an absolute jerk. And he can't figure out why after he's left his wife in charge of the castle to adventure with his feline friend, that she's mad.

"Hi honey I'm home." WAM!

He's just never put two and two together. That same wonderful lack of responsibility comes back to bite him in the butt. That's kind of the direction I'm going.

NRAMA: What's the artwork going to look like for this, Mike. You know, we haven't seen a monthly drawn by you in some time.

MG: At this point, we're still deciding on an artist. We don't have an artist solidified yet, but a couple candidates have emerged. At some point I'll be doing an issue, but I just finished a painted cover for the first issue. Hopefully I'll be doing paintings for all of the books that I will be scripting.

NRAMA: Since an artist hasn't been finalized… can you at least give us some direction as to what kind of talent you're aiming to get?

MG: I'm looking for someone who has a sense of classic storytelling – I want someone who first of all can tell a story visually. That's the most important thing.

Backing that up is someone who can draw, a guy who can handle pen and ink really well. I'm not looking for the so-called modern style. I'm not looking for someone who has the angular superhero look – a bit more of the Alex Toth or Frank Frazetta or Joe Kubert. Someone who first and foremost knows how to put ink on the page.

The story and the setup call for that, and I'd be quite happy with several of the artists name that have come up. One in particular is on the top of the list, and if he's chosen I'd be the first to greet him. You could do a short list yourself by flipping through anyone who's done comics adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard's Conan. That's the kind of feel we're looking for.

NRAMA: Back in 2006 there was an earlier attempt to revive the The Warlord, but that was shelved after ten issues. Does this anything to do with that?

MG: No. As point of fact to that, that series didn't have much to do with the Warlord at all. I don't mean to be too harsh of a critic – I have the greatest respect for Bart Sears and Bruce Jones, but I was disappointed in that series with the respect to the fact that it had no bearing on the original besides the names. They did themselves a disservice attaching the name…. a new name would have better. The audience was looking for the Warlord in that book and they couldn't find him.

NRAMA: When exactly can we be expecting the first issue of this, Mike?

MG: 2009. That's the only thing I know, is 2009. Joey Cavalieri was just assigned as editor 45 days ago, and it's too new and too fresh to discuss that. My guess is that it'll be sometime – I'm thinking spring 2009.

NRAMA: Before we go, where can SDCC attendees find you this weekend?

MG: When I'm not booked for anything in particular, I have a table in Artist's Alley, so I'll be going back and forth. At some stage of the game I'll be stopping by DC booth and spending time with the fans there.

Stay tuned to Newsarama later this month for more with Grell, as he talks about The Pilgrim, Jon Sable and what he does in his spare time – raising horses!

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