Thursday, August 25, 2022

Me and Tom Grummett

Around a year ago, it really felt like the world was slowly-but surely-getting back to normal. People were allowed to eat out at restaurants, go to the movies, visit bars, breweries, attend concerts and even...comic book conventions.

Despite the show normally being held in April, in September of last year, the Calgary Expo returned in a slightly limited capacity. But I have to honest...I really enjoyed it. It felt a lot more organized and I thought it was great having all of the convention in one building instead of having vendors in the BMO Center and all the comic pros and Artists Alley (Along with other, smaller, vendors) in the Big Four Building.

Plus, I got a lot of cool things, a whole bunch of comics autographed, I picked up some art from new artists...and I also got COVID.

So on the plus side, I now had ten days off to myself in quarantine. The downside was the whole fun of being in quarantine wore off by the four hour mark. I passed a lot of the time getting some reading done, as I have a massive collection of books and comics in my apartment. But I found myself getting reacquainted with a series and protagonist that had me obsessed when I was a kid: Superboy.

Back in 1994 when I got this comic, it felt like this was a comic that was made for me. I had become fanatic about the Man of Steel thanks to the Lois and Clark show and my teacher would bring in all his old comic for us rugrats to read. So to see this comic where a teenage clone of Superman was fighting bad guys, it was everything a dorky seven-year old Schweitzer-Man could want.

Plus...the art. Look, I'll be honest, I don't remember much of the story or dialogue but that art stayed in my mind for years. My original copy of Superboy's first issue got lost like a lot of comics in my youth but like most of them, I got them again as an adult.
When I opened that copy of Superboy #1 and saw that glorious splash page of him flying over Hawaii, just for a moment I felt like I was seven years old again and reading it for the first time.

So I got caught up with the adventures of Superboy, did a binge-read of some of the early Robin stories by the great Chuck Dixon, and plenty of other comics which made isolation a little more tolerable. But once I was done, I couldn't stop thinking about the art and man who made it, Tom Grummett. So I made a promise to myself that the next time he showed up at the Calgary Expo, I was going to get a commission from him.

I had met Tom in the past; the first time in 2017 where I brought him that first issue of Superboy as well as an early issue of Robin. When I informed his lovely wife, Nancy, that the latter issue was the first comic I bought with my own money as a kid, she got so excited that she interrupted a conversation he was having to inform him of this. He was quite pleased to know how much his work meant to me.
It would be more than ten years before I owned another issue of 'Robin'.

Early this year when guest announcements for the 2022 Calgary Expo came in, I kept on the lookout for him and in March they announced he was going to be coming.

To say I was excited about this Calgary Expo would be an understatement; I was bouncing off the walls with electricity. At work, I was so filled with energy that I ended up getting a four hour job done in two and a half. When I got home shortly before 1AM I was actually worried that I was going to oversleep. I set two alarm clocks for myself, sent a text message to my parents asking them to call me endlessly until I responded.

I was awake by 7:30 that morning, and by nine, I had my cameras & comics in hand and I was boarding a bus to take me to my destination. By the time I had my pass registered, I was ready to make my way inside the Big Four building.
I didn't have a map with me so I zoomed about like a hummingbird up one lane when I noticed a large banner at the end of the building that bore the name "Tom Grummett".

I was ready to race towards his table like it was the exit during a fire but quickly realized, It's probably NOT a good look to be running psychotically towards someone's table.

So instead I decided upon a casual pace up towards his table and probably tried a bit too hard to look casual and that finding him at his table was purely a random occurrence.
Oh, you're at this show? How interesting...
I don't know what it was but I was just incredibly nervous.

However I worked up the nerve to speak to him, asked if he was doing commissions and told him that I would love to get a bust commission of Superboy. I had the option of a head shot, upper body bust or a full body shot. I went with the upper body.

"That's great," Tom said as he got out a piece of paper, detailing the character, what size I was getting and how much I owed. As I got my wallet out, Tom put up a hand.

"Oh, no. Money doesn't get exchanged until the piece is complete," he explained.

That was a bit unusual for me; as in my experience I've always paid upfront and collected the art later. But if he wanted to have it done first, I certainly wasn't going to argue.

"This should take me about an hour," he said as he started to get to work on the head of Superboy. "You're first on the list for today."

First on the list, I thought. This is going to be great!

"I've been wanting to get this for quite a while," I explained. "So I hope you'll forgive me if I start to weep with joy when I get this."

"Don't worry, that wouldn't be the first time it happened," Tom replied as he worked.
Keep in mind, it wasn't even 10 AM yet and already I was having a comic legend draw one of my boyhood comic heroes for me.

I decided I would explore the rest of the show because there was some other stuff I wanted to get autographed like comics, prints as well as get in some other commissions.

It was probably after I got Khary Payton's autograph that I realized the time and that by now my commission must be complete.

Then something dawned on me.

You didn't tell him WHICH version of Superboy you wanted.

See, in comics, there have been a few Superboys. The first Superboy was just Superman as a young kid having adventures in Smallville, Kansas. The second Superboy was Conner Kent, the version I was hoping to have drawn.
The third was Superman's son Johnathan Kent who is now Superman.
So if someone were to say the name 'Superboy', you have to be a bit specific.

You idiot, I thought. You're probably going to get a commission of a character you didn't want. Are you going to make him draw another one or just smile and accept it?

I slowly made my way out of the BMO Center (I'd be coming back for Nolan North's autograph later) and made the trek back to the Big Four Building. 
What if the commission wasn't what I wanted? Would I say anything? Would I refuse to pay for it and ask for the character I wanted?

What are you so worried about? I suddenly thought. This is an artist who's famous for drawing his version of Superboy. He's the damn co-creator; it's one of his most famous creations. He probably gets requests all the time to draw him. If he was uncertain, he would have brought something up. And in the off chance it's not what you want, who cares? What you do know is that it's going to be worth paying for because the man knows how to draw. So if it's Superboy, Wolverine or Bat-Mite, it's going to be something that'll be awesome to hang in your apartment and also make some people a little jealous.

I walked with a brisker pace into the Big Four Building, all doubt cast aside. I made my way up to Tom's table and reminded him that I had requested the commission of Superboy. Tom reached into a nearby folder and pulled out a piece of paper, quickly turning it to face me.
If you told me when I was seven that as an adult I'd own something so cool, I'd say you were lying.

I remember gasping and tears starting to form but I quickly wiped them away and immediately couldn't stop smiling at what Tom had presented. All the doubts, dreads and worrying had been for naught; he and I were on the same wavelength the moment I said the name 'Superboy'.

I thanked him, paid up and put it in a plastic sleeve which held some art from Caanan Grall-creator of the webcomic 'Max Overacts'-and Tom paused to look at what I had bought.
"Who did this?" he inquired about the drawing of Peter & Mary-Jane's domestic life.
"That's from Caanan," I answered and pointed down at the other end of the building where his table was.
"That's really good stuff," noted Tom.
You're clearly doing something right if a legend like Tom Grummett likes it.

I asked if it would be OK if he signed some comics I had brought with me. Tom said it would be no problem.
In past years, I've brought books for him to autograph but I always felt a little bad about it because: A) Unlike a lot of pros, he'll sign anything for free.
B) I was usually interrupting him while he was drawing but again, he didn't mind.

This year, though, I brought quite a collection of comics that either had interior artwork or the cover done by Tom. I think the total was around...26 or 27.
As I started to get some books out, his wife Nancy asked, "Do you have 'Earth Prime #2'?"

I frowned, not completely understanding what she meant but then it hit me.
"Yes, I do," I exclaimed. "I got it on Tuesday."
Earlier that week, DC released an issue of limited series called "Earth Prime" which contained tie-in stories to their TV series airing on the CW. This second issue focused on the show 'Superman & Lois' and had interior art by Tom. It was actually a great issue that was getting good reviews online.

"Do you mind if I look at it?" asked Tom.
"Oh sure, go right ahead," I said as I got some more books out their protective sleeves.
He began looking over the pages. "This is my first time seeing it," he explained.
I stopped. "What do you mean this is your first time seeing it?"
"I haven't seen the finished comic yet," Tom said.

This shocked me because I would have thought that DC Comics would have mailed out a few free copies for him to give away or at least own. Either that wasn't the case or the mail was slow but here was a legendary comic artist using my copy of his latest comic to see how the finished product looked.
"They did great job on the color," he observed.

"Everybody's loving it," I told him. "I mean, I was seeing people getting excited over the page with Superman fighting Nuclear-Man!"
Tom shrugged. "I didn't think so many people would be so excited to see Nuclear-Man in a comic," he admitted as he closed the comic and put his surname on the cover. "I've seen a few online reviews and I think it all turned out very nicely."
"Well, trust me," I said, "the consensus I'm seeing from people is 'come for the story, stay for the art'. They're loving it."
"You're the first person who's brought me this to autograph," Tom informed me.

That was a dubious honor to have but it also made me a bit sad; this is a comic legend, returning to work on a character he's famously associated with, it comes out the week of a major show...and I'm the first person to bring him a copy? On the third day?
If it were up to me, the Expo would have promoted that comic (And the comic of any pro in attendance coming out that week or prior) in the hopes of getting people to read these books and maybe bring them to get autographed.

He signed a few more books (I was worried I might be monopolizing his time) and Nancy asked me if I wanted a picture. I thought, why not and she was more than happy to take a picture of me and Tom.
Tom Grummett and some nerd who was several weeks overdue for a haircut.

I would visit Tom's table several more times over the weekend to get more of the books I brought autographed and some new ones I picked up while I was there. There was a part of me that wanted to get another commission, this time of the third Robin-Tim Drake-but I told myself not to.

It wasn't due to any financial reasons but I told myself that if I did get another slot on his commission list, I didn't want to possibly take it from someone who hadn't gotten a commission yet. And I snuck a peek at his list, Tom was very busy that weekend.

Also, I wanted to have something to look forward to next year. Yes, there are more comics to be autographed (At the end of the show I told myself, You've bothered that poor man enough. Just leave him alone now) but it'll be really cool if he comes back in a year or two and allow me to revisit the anticipation of getting a drawing of a superhero and feeling like a kid again.

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