Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Grell, and the issue is The Warlord #49, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1981. Enjoy!
As I’ve mentioned a few times, I like to show comics as close to their original state as possible, which is why I’m showing some oddly random Mike Grell issues – there’s nothing terribly special about The Warlord #49, except that like yesterday’s example, I found it in the 50¢-boxes at my comics shoppe, and since it’s a few years after yesterday’s example, it’s a good place to head next! I also own a Warlord comic from 1979, but I had to make a tough choice, and this issue had a scantily-clad female. Again, sometimes it’s just that easy.
We begin with Morgan hanging out with Shakira, whose pose in Panel 1 would be awfully weird if we didn’t know she was a shapeshifter who turns into a cat (just like MANIMAL, motherfuckers!!!). Shakira makes a bet with him, as you can see, and then spots a weird temple not far from them. That’s just the way things are in Skartaris! I couldn’t make up Panel 1 if I tried – Grell draws Shakira drinking from the water hole, sure, but she also looks very receptive to … you know, something else, while Travis gently strokes his … you know, let’s just stop there. Travis Morgan is probably the first great “Grell male” – we’ve seen in the previous examples that Grell had a type of man in his head, and Morgan is really the early apotheosis of that. We don’t see him too well in this sequence, but we will see him better later. Meanwhile, Grell doesn’t draw women in as distinctive a style – his women are attractive, naturally, but Grell doesn’t make them look that much different from the way a lot of artists draw them. Still, Shakira is drawn nicely. I mean, she’s wearing a fur bikini. You can’t resist the fur bikini!
Okay, so the funniest part of this issue is that Travis and Shakira have no reason to go inside the creepy temple on which someone carved a warning about it being sacred to the “evil one.” Grell makes sure to let us know in every issue that Skartaris is a ridiculously dangerous world where death lurks around every corner, yet Travis and Shakira simply wander into the freaky temple that appeared seemingly out of nowhere instead of saying, “Yeah, I’m good here at the camp fire – we don’t need to go into the spooky temple.” They’re like those people in the Geico commercial – Travis and Shakira say, “Let’s hide behind the chainsaws!”
Anyway, the other thing you might notice about this artwork is that it’s a bit sketchy. It’s certainly Grell’s work, but I wonder if he was doing more layouts with the immortal Vince Colletta doing more finishing than inking. Grell’s work often looks sketchy, but in a tighter way? I know that doesn’t make any sense, but what I mean is that Grell loves swooping around pages a lot, which necessitates a lot of motion lines, so his art often looks sketchy, but you can see the detailed line work. This looks a bit sketchier without as much of the detailed stuff, so I wonder if Grell was, in fact, being a bit sketchier with his pencils. The hands, mostly of Shakira, look somewhat less detailed than we might expect, and Grell doesn’t do too much with Shakira’s face, either. He draws in some more details on Travis’s face, but that might be because he had gotten so comfortable drawing the Warlord’s face over the course of six years. The line work on Travis’s manly chest is nicely done, but Shakira looks a bit more simplistic. It’s tough to describe. Sorry!
This is better, mainly because Grell goes in for close-ups. The ragged clothing on the skeleton in Panel 1, the bone work in Panel 3, and Travis’s quizzical look in Panel 4 are nicely done. We’ve seen above how curly and lush Travis’s hair is, and we see that well in Panel 4 too. It’s probably not surprising that Grell and Colletta are more detailed the closer they get to the action, but this is a fine example of it. That skeleton in Panel 1 really reminds me of Joe Kubert. Weird.
Travis puts the sliver back in its place, and this happens. Oh dear. Grell does some nice work in Panel 1 – we’re looking down at Shakira a bit (the placement of the two heads is a bit wonky), so it’s not surprising that we don’t see her eyes, and while I doubt if her lashes would that great in such a savage world as Skartaris, they do look nice. In the close-up, we can see that her hair is a bit more ragged – she really should ask Travis what conditioner he’s using – which makes her seem a bit more wild. Travis, meanwhile, looks as dashing as he always does. Grell does a nice job with the two bottom panels – yes, Shakira foolishly starts touching things without knowing what she’s doing (women, amirite?), but Grell lays that panel out well, with Shakira in the background, Travis turning toward her quickly, with Travis pushed against the right side of the panel to lead us to Panel 3, where he tackles her out of the way. Grell’s figures are nice and fluid as Travis dives, and while the characters move us to the left, the explosion flows to the right, which works nicely. It’s not too crazy a layout, but it’s still smart.
According to this very issue, Travis went to Skartaris in 1969, so his Evel Knievel reference, while not exactly anachronistic (Kneivel was getting famous at least in 1967, if not earlier), still shows that Travis had his finger on the pulse on the thrill-jumping scene years before Knievel became a superstar. Or he just liked The Joey Bishop Show. Anyway, Travis takes care of the scary guardian mummy awfully easily – he cuts its arm off and slashes it once, which causes it to disintegrate. That’s just shoddy workmanship. Grell draws Travis well, though, as he does a nice double slash in Panel 2, and in Panel 3, the sketchiness of the artwork works well, because the mummy is coming apart and all the dust inside it is whooshing outward. The mummy’s bandages are good, too, as they look fairly thick in Panels 1 and 2 but then become shreds as it falls apart. It’s pretty clever. I don’t know how much of this is Grell and how much is Colletta, but the hatching on Travis’s body is nicely done. It makes him look rugged without being too rough, so the ladies will still dig running their hands all over his bod. That’s what’s important! Also, notice Shakira in Panel 3. Why she turned into a cat is beyond me. She probably could have helped Travis a lot more if she had stayed human, but I guess she knew what she was doing!
Grell gets to do a bit more with the character interaction on this page, after Travis has lost the wager by shooting a jaguar that attacked them. He gives Travis a somewhat perturbed look in Panel 2 (I guess Travis isn’t too sad about losing a bet to a woman in a fur bikini), while Shakira looks slyly triumphant because she reminds him that he used his gun. In Panel 3, Grell does a nice job having him look pensively at the gun as he wonders if he’s too dependent on it. Shakira turns the tables on him, and Travis looks a bit put out in Panel 4, and then Grell draws Shakira as a playful tease in Panel 6, as she says he owes her. It’s nice work – I haven’t read much of The Warlord, so I have no idea if those two ever made the beast with two backs, but Grell does a nice job both with the dialogue and the artwork showing that they have good chemistry together. Take one last look at Travis’s beautiful, beautiful hair – obviously, we’ll see more gorgeous hair in the next two days, but it won’t be Travis Morgan’s!
This is near the end of Grell’s time as artist on The Warlord, as he was apparently itching to draw some other stuff. So tomorrow we’ll move on to another of his very famous series … but which one? Will I dare skip that one, you know, that one?!? You’ll have to join me to find out! In the interim, don’t skip out on the archives!
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