Fans watching TV’s “The Walking Dead” are definitely aware of Michonne, a character shrouded in mystery. Many characteristics contribute to Michonne’s persona and a large part of that identity is tied to props created by Mark Grzybowski of Slinger.
He created the blade Michonne’s character uses on the show. He was responsible for every detail of the weapon, from the feel and shine of the blade to the look of the sheath that covers it.
“The propmaster called and left a voicemail message, saying there is a new character that needed a sword,” Grzybowski said.
He was asked to make four swords. They provided the design and he had to make them in one month.
“It was really cool seeing my sword on television,” Grzybowski said. “I didn’t have cable at the time so I was driving back and forth to my parents’ house.” For Grzybowski, the opportunity was an amalgamation of past experience, passion and an abiding faith he could make a living from his talents. His interest in weaponry began when he was 10. He grew up watching movies like “Conan the Barbarian” and “Beastmaster,” which piqued his interest in swords.
“I have a brother and we were raised without guns,” Grzybowski said. “Swords were the only weapons we could pretend to play with. I think that was the early ‘80s.” The interest petered out for a few years as he was growing up, and he was less interested with the object and more attracted to the creative process. He enjoyed the creativity and appreciated designing the finer details of the weapon.
He went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and went through several majors before settling on the arts, where he found his passion. He began in the technical areas, engineering and computer science. He then went to Spanish, but eventually found art.
“The program was interesting,” Grzybowski said. “A student can major in art, but have an emphasis in different mediums. There is sculpture, ceramics and everything else.” His interest became metalsmithing. He learned to mold and shape a variety of metals, both by machine and by hand. There was a class where he learned how to cut sheets of metal.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with the major,” Grzybowski said. “It was something I just wanted to do.” He graduated in 1999 and took a few jobs in retail, but it was not a good fit.
“I was going crazy and needed to create things again, so I worked at a higher-end woodworking store,” Grzybowski said. “I applied and got a retail job there. It turns out some of people from the sword place I eventually worked at got their supplies from where I worked. One of my coworkers got their information.” Grzybowski was given a chance.
“Basically I worked for Jody Samson,” Grzybowski said. “Whatever he wanted me to do, I would do. I cleaned the shop. A lot of it was preparing materials for him. He had free rein with his part of the company, so he could make whatever swords he wanted. He would draw the designs on bars of metal and I would have to cut out the profile of the blades, and eventually fitting guards on the sword.” In exchange, he learned from Samsons expertise. Practically, he learned a hollow grinding technique that is aesthetically pleasing. He then found a job in Indiana, working for a swordsmith there on a project for Nintendo and learned how to make swords designed in the Far East, before his family started his own business.
“My family had a meeting and they wanted to start a business,” Grzybowski said. “The deal was that I could work in the shop and they would handle everything else.” He made many types of swords for customers, mainly historical pieces ordered on the Internet. He worked with the company for a few years before it closed down and he transferred out of the business.
But he built a reputation for himself in the industry, and that is why representatives from “The Walking Dead” contacted him in 2013 for a sword.
The rest is history.
“The coolest part is there is an action figure with the sword,” Grzybowski said. “She has had four different figures. I bought them and gave them to everybody.”
An AP member exchange story.