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A Calgary Expo Origin Story: Tom Grummett, comic book artist

"I started being fascinated with comic books and comic strips before I could read them," artist Tom Grummett says. "I started being fascinated with comic books and comic strips before I could read them," artist Tom Grummett says.

Odds are, Tom Grummett has drawn many an adventure of whichever costumed crusader you count as your favourite.

Superman? For years.

Clark Kent's younger, cloned counterpart Superboy? For sure.

That guy's buddy, the boy wonder Robin? Oh yeah.

Various incarnations of and characters from the Titans, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Thunderbolts (one version or another of which is due a movie, soon-ish)? Check, check, check and check.

If the Archie/Riverdale Renaissance is more your bag than Batmen and Spider-Guys, the Canadian comic book legend's pencilled pages have popped up there, too.

He's been at this since the late '80s.

That's... well, that's a lot of drawing.

But it's all he's ever wanted.

And it's what he'd prepared for long before his hands held in them the ability to bring other realities into existence before your eyes.


"I started being fascinated with comic books and comic strips before I could read them," Grummett said sometime during a marathon four days at this year's Calgary Comics and Entertainment Expo.

"I was fascinated by the idea, even when I was small, that the comic book panel was like looking into a window of a world ... I think I instinctually understood that the space in between the panels, I could fill in with whatever pictures I wanted to move from one to the next.

"I never lost that fascination."

By the time he'd hit high school, Grummett was convinced he'd graduate and head straight away to the United States and New York City, then home to the "big two" mainstream comic book publishers of the day, DC and Marvel.

He didn't.

Instead, Other Things, and so time passed.

"Life had other plans for me and by my mid- to late 20s, I'd more or less given up on the whole idea of that even being a possibility," he said.

But then, suddenly:

"I started doing comics in the mid-'80s for a bunch of small, independent publishers," he said.

"The thing about them was, they didn't last very long.

"You'd start working on a project for one of them, more or less on spec because none of them had any money to pay for the work upfront, and they would go out of business by the time you were working on the second."

Grummett built a body of work, and soon had a portfolio he could show off to those willing to have a look.

And one day, he found the right person.

"I was at a convention in Toronto ... where I met Ty Templeton, who was at that time drawing Justice League for DC," Grummett said.

"He was familiar with my work and he offered to send copies of my books to his editor.

"The day after I got back from the convention, I got a phone call from his editor, offering me work, and that's how it started. I believe (that first title) was Secret Origins."


Grummett figures landing Superman in the '90s was probably the first real hallmark moment.

"That was big," he said.

The first time he met the editor of the Superman line of comic books, he made his desire to draw Superman known.

Any opportunity would do.

A one-and-done yarn.

A fill-in tale.

A backup story.

"I didn't care what it was. I wanted to take a crack at drawing Superman," Grummett said.

He had to settle for becoming the new regular artist on one of the monthly Superman books, each being churned out, month after month, by different groups people, collectively responsible for the overall direction of a pop culture icon.

No pressure.

During Grummett's time in the Office of Steel, he had a part in headline-grabbing storylines including killing off the lead character, bringing back four different characters in his place (one being Grummett's previously mentioned Superboy), resurrecting the original, marrying him to his main foil, and many, many more.

Seriously, no pressure.

Week after week, the FedEx packages would arrive at his door, containing the photocopies of what everyone was producing.

OK, maybe a little pressure.

But Grummett calls it a standout great time in a career full of 'em.

Also, a time of great growth.

"I think I got better by leaps and bounds when I started working on the Superman titles," he said.

"We had four different creative teams. It wasn't a competition but it was more like, 'Well, I have to be at least as good as the rest of these guys.' So I had something to strive for, every single week.

"It made me work harder at it and get better."


In Artists' Alley at the Calgary Comics and Entertainment Expo, Grummett is one of very few to still have original comic book pages - pencil on bristol - on display for attendees to peruse for potential purchase.

A lot of comic book drawing is done digitally now, leaving no physical product behind.

Not necessarily better.

Not necessarily worse.

Just different, Grummett says.

And so much in the comic book industry is, from how you make 'em to how you get to make' em.

The way Grummett broke in? He's not even sure that would work anymore.

But he's also not sure it matters.

"I'm asked, 'What advice do you have for a younger artist?' and I have not got a clue what to tell them," he said.

"Back when I broke in, there were certain pathways you could take to get there, and I don't know what those are now."

Grummett points out, there was no internet when he came up.

No social media.

"There was none of that stuff," he said.

"These days, with those things, young artists don't necessarily need to work for DC or Marvel to find an audience.

"They can find that audience on their own on various different platforms."

"I never lost that fascination (in comics)," artist Tom Grummett says. Top Stories

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