The Arrow will hit the mark Saturday for Free Comic Book Day at the Maryville-based comic shop The Golden Age, 1942.
Comic book writer and artist Mike Grell will be a featured guest at the event. He is known for his work on titles such as “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters,” “Green Lantern/Green Arrow,” “Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” “The Warlord” and “Jon Sable Freelance.”
FCBD is held the first Saturday of May. The event started in 2002 and is used to bring new readers into independent comic book stores. Free Comic Book Day 2019 will feature free titles by such acclaimed series as The Avengers, Spider-Man, Catwoman, Stranger Things, Pokemon, The Tick and Spawn.
“I always try to go to some type of event on Free Comic Book Day,” Grell said. “It’s a great way to get close to the fans, and hopefully expose them to something (comic book title) they have not picked up before. It is a great way for young readers to get started in comic books. They go for free comics and the next thing you know, they are hooked.”
Lines can get long waiting for comic shops to open on FCBD, yet the determined will wait for hours and endure inclement weather to get their hands on the free comics.
“I did a show in Cheyenne, Wyo., a couple of years ago,” Grell said. “The temperature was hovering in the low 40s and it was raining. Over 400 people lined up for over three hours waiting to get in the shop.”
The artist/writer shows FCBD attendees his portfolio and offers art for sale in the form of prints and various other forms.
“I have a great time,” Grell said. “You get to talk to a lot of people and find out what they like about the stories. There are debates and interactions between people that might not otherwise come together. You have moms, dads, kids — the whole nine yards.”
Grell began his long tenure at DC Comics in the early 1970s.
“I was in New York trying to break into comic strips,” he said. “I had an action/adventure story but nobody was interested. At the time, they were only interested things like Beetle Bailey and Peanuts.
“I went to a comic convention in New York hoping that there would be somebody interested in my work. There were not any comic strip people there, and that blew my mind. I talked to people from DC Comics, and a man I didn’t know asked to look at my portfolio. He looked at it and then told me in no uncertain terms to get my butt to (editor) Julius Schwartz’s office at DC Comics. He said to just tell them that Irv sent you. I later found out I had been talking to the artist of Batman, Irv Novick.”
In 1973, Grell began working for DC.
“I had this salesman speech prepared for Schwartz,” he said. “Before I could get started with (the pitch), Schwartz asked ‘What the hell makes you think that you can draw comics?’ I put my portfolio on his desk and said take a look and you tell me. I walked out 30 minutes later with a script in my hand. My first assignment was an Aquaman story that was only seven pages, but it launched me.”
The first regular assignment for Grell was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The previous artist, Dave Cocrum, left the title, and Grell was immediately snagged as a replacement.
“The story was set a thousand years in the future,” he said. “Superboy and his friends were young and going through the typical teen-aged angst and drama, while defending the galaxy. It was fun to work on.”
In 1987, Grell wrote and drew the three-issue limited series “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.” Green Arrow was redesigned: The robin hood hat was replaced by a hood, and the trick arrows were traded for penetrating broadheads that actually killed the bad guys.
“The trick arrows didn’t jive for me,” Grell said. “The trick arrows were crazy. He had a boomerang arrow, and the idea of an arrow that could turn back at you scared me. Using the real arrows was necessary. Green Arrow was turned into an urban hunter.
”He is in a big city (Seattle), and the villains are viscious and bloodthirsty. Things are going to get intense and he will be forced to use extreme measures. The hood was useful because he is in Seattle, where it rains a lot. I dropped the mask because that is not going to really conceal Oliver Queen’s identity.”
The “Longbow” series led to Grell writing, and occasionally drawing, 80 issues of the Green Arrow title from 1988-93. Grell used as much hard-hitting realism as possible. When Green Arrow kills a villain that is holding hostage his fellow hero Black Canary, there are serious repercussions.
“He could have shot the guy’s hand,” Grell said. “Instead he goes for the heart. He kills somebody because he wanted to. The relationship between Queen and Black Canary changes. Topics like that kept coming up in Green Arrow and the stories became so real. Green Arrow is my (favorite) character and I love writing/drawing him.”
Other guests appearing at The Golden Age, 1942 on FCBD include artist Tom Nguyen (Green Lantern, JLA, and “Superman: The Man of Steel”) and Maryville’s own Robyn Long McCammon (“Don’t Fear Dawn”).