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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 18: Jon Sable, Freelance #9

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Jon Sable, Freelance #9, which was published by First Comics (although this scan is from the Omnibus edition published by IDW) and is cover dated February 1984. Enjoy!

It's Grell-eriffic!

Mike Grell writes and draws this, because he can! Janice Cohen colored it and Pete Iro lettered it. Let’s check it out!

Grell doesn’t quite go nuts with page layouts as he often does, but he does have some fun with it. The page goes from the top left, slanting downward slightly to the right, then zig-zagging back to the left. It’s a natural movement for the eye to make, but Grell does goose us a little bit. Then, of course, we go straight down and then right. In case that’s not enough, look at Sonny’s arm as he massages Trina’s shoulders. The arm flows right to Trina’s eyes, which look downward to her word balloon, and then of course to the panel below it. It’s a nifty little trick.

We get a decent amount of information, too. Jon Sable is trying to clear Trina of a crime (safecracking), and Sonny forwarded a package to him, but it’s been a while since they’ve heard anything. Sonny knows that Jon is a smart dude, and if anyone can help her, it’s him. Not a bad bunch of things to know if you’re coming to this issue cold.

As this is relatively early in Grell’s career (about a decade into it, but still), he doesn’t experiment too much with the style, but the impressionistic trees outside Jon’s apartment building and the way Sonny appears in the final panel (which is, of course, as much due to Cohen as it is Grell) show that he’s trying some stuff that leads into more interesting artwork even later in this series. Throughout the early part of this series, you can see Grell working through some stuff, and this is just a small example.

I’m not sure if this is the most exciting first page in the universe (the second page is much more exciting), but Grell does set us up nicely for the rest of the issue. That’s not a bad thing!

Next: Alan Moore takes the stage!

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This is a good page, but it doesn’t feel like a first page at all. It would make a dandy page 10 or something.

That page was inked by Grell himself. Iro was the letterer.

Also, it may be the first page, but isn’t the splash page– Grell preferred big dramatic double-page splash-pages. Due to the rules of comics layout, that required a first page that served as a bit of a catch-up prologue. True , I suppose he may lose any reader who’s already gotten too bored to flip one page, but anybody getting to the following big two-page spread won’t be disappointed.

I’ve always been a fan of quiet first pages leading to loud second pages. I’ll have to dig out my Jon Sables because this story doesn’t ring a bell. Mike Grell constructed a fun action series out of the character, with good doses of both humor and heartbreak.

Matt: Whoops. Thanks – I’ll have to go in and change that.

I know that first pages often lead to big double-page splashes, so I’m certainly willing to forgive that if the creator is going for that. Grell often did four or five of these pages before a big splash, so there’s that, too. I do think the first page should at least make the reader WANT to turn the page, and I think Grell does that here, even if it’s not that exciting.

Bit of a quibble with you about coming to this issue cold. We don’t actually know that the woman’s name is Trina from this page (unless my eyes are that bad). Other than that, this is a pretty good “catch up” for us, along with the last sentence obviously leading to some ironic take on the “on top of things” bit with the next pages (I assume. While I have this issue, I haven’t read my Sable issues yet.)

Travis: Yeah, sorry. I didn’t want to keep referring to her as “the woman,” but based on this page alone, we wouldn’t know her name.

Unfortunately, I would have loved if the next page showed Jon getting it on with a foxy female, but it shows him not on top of things in a figurative sense, as instead of being in charge of his mission, he’s surrounded by goons with guns. That just gives him an opportunity for ass-kicking!

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