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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

An interview with Tom Grummett

When I discovered that Tom Grummett was appearing at the Montreal Comiccon, I felt like I had won the lottery. Not only was Grummett the Teen Titans penciller from the late 80s to the early 90s, but he had also worked on the Death and Return of Superman story line from the early 90s, and a spin-off title [Superboy] that I was avidly collecting at the time. Interviews with Tom Grummett are far and few on the internet (but we did find a few — see links below), so I felt incredibly lucky to sit with the man himself.

I want to thank Mark Belkin (who is a more knowledgeable Teen Titans fan than I) for accompanying me in this interview and helping me drive the questions home when they may not have always been very clear.


Justin: Thanks for agreeing to chat with us, Mr Grummett. We wanted to start with your late 80's DC comics material. We couldn't find too many interviews about your work on Teen Titans. You were drawing The New Titans v1 from, I think, #58 to #100...

Grummett: ...around #100, yeah.

Justin: ...and that was a BIG run. That was one of your first major DC works. You were picking up the series after George Perez had left... and I remember that being a really good run. You were penciling during the Titans Hunt story line and you were also credited for introducing a few characters, too — you were there for the introduction of the Team Titans, and you have a co-credit [with Marv Wolfman] on the creation of Pantha, Baby Wildebeest and there's a few other characters I'm drawing a blank on...

Grummett: Phantasm

Justin: Phantasm? You did Phantasm? You designed him? [surprised]

Grummett: Yeah

[This is news to me. Prior to this interview, while doing research, there was no information about Tom Grummett creating Phantasm — which is a shame since I always found Phantasm to be one of the more interesting members of the New Titans. -J]

Phantasm. New Titans #73 (1990). Pencilled by Tom Grummett and inked by Al Vey.

Justin: You were also at 'the summit'. I remember talks about a big 'hush-hush' Teen Titans summit where the plan was to totally revamp Teen Titans. The idea was "we want to turn this into a really successful franchise book, so we need some ways to 'shake it up'".

Mark: How did it lead from your starting out and then how did it lead to the summit?

Grummett: I guess what kinda happened is, over time, the book became more and more popular with the fans. It's very difficult for a book that starts off with a huge fan base, and then has it's fan base sort of trickle away over time, to suddenly start getting a whole NEW fan base. It can happen, though. And I guess that's kinda what occurred. At the time, I guess the thinking editorially was "okay, we've got a lot of people buying New Titans, we should try and expand that and turn it into a franchise. Either we can maybe draw in more fans, or get fans who were already buying this one book to possibly buy two books". So I'm pretty sure that was what the impetus was: to kind of, for the first part, try launching the second title and then trying to further maintain that, and see if we could run a Superman-style or Batman-style franchise.

Justin: Mike Carlin was editing The New Titans at the time, right?

Grummett: Mike was the editor for the first two or three years that I was working on it. Now he may have been the official editor beyond that point, but the guy I tended to work with the most was Jonathan Peterson. When I first got on the book, he was the assistant editor.

Mark: And so, with the Titans Hunt — the story arc where they were eliminating a lot of the Titans — were you part of the decision-making on who got altered? Such as Cyborg becoming less of a human, and some of the other deaths? How did that work editorially? Did you have a lot of input on that?
Cyborg the war machine. New Titans #78 (1991). Pencilled by Tom Grummett.

Justin: To further that point, to me it seemed liked the goal of Titans Hunt was to cull down the Teen Titans roster... I always imagined you guys sat down and decided "there's too many card-carrying Teen Titans running around, we want to trim it down to the original core and bring it back to the 1980's New Teen Titans v1 #1 line-up"...

Grummett: I don't believe that was actually the way it worked. I think it was a conversation that Marv Wolfman had with either Jonathan [Peterson] or Mike [Carlin], and somebody blurted out the idea "well how about a story where someone is picking off the Titans one by one and no one knows who it is?"

Mark: Well everyone thought it was Deathstroke, but...

The New Titans v1 #72 (1991). Cover by Grummett.
Grummett: Yeah. So, it really got Marv fired up with this idea. At that time we would mostly work together via phone and we would talk over different ideas about how this would unfold. When you start with an idea that someone is slowly picking them off one-by-one and you don't know by who or anything like that. And then you start working out who's behind it. To be perfectly honest, right at the beginning we had no idea.

Justin: Oh really?

Grummett: Not a clue. And as time went on, it kind of grew organically into the thing it finally became. There's lots of pros I've talked to who have said "That Titans Hunt story line... it was GREAT".

Justin: I think Jericho really ended up drawing the short straw on that one. Why was that? Did you guys just not like him anymore, or...?

Grummett: That totally came from Marv.

Mark: He birthed him, and then he took him back.

Grummett: Yeah, that kind of thing.

Jericho. New Titans #79 (1991).

Mark: How was it working with Marv, because he'd already been on Teen Titans since 1980 and he'd worked through Crisis On Infinite Earths and now it's 1989... was he already burned out on Titans? Did he still have energy going into it? How did that work towards 1989 working on the Titans?

Grummett: I think Marv would be able to answer that better than I could. My experience with working with Marv was: George [Perez] had come back to the book for issue #50. This was a big deal. Work progressed for a few months that way until George got into a car accident. What with recovery and pain medication and who knows what (I don't even know), he felt that he was unable to continue on the book - but he would do layouts. So, the job was offered to me: working from George's layouts I would pencil the book. I worked that way through the Lonely Place of Dying story arc — where Tim Drake became Robin — so there was a cross-over with the Batman books at that point. I would get the layouts from George and the scripts from Marv, I would work away on these things. And then finally George decided to just leave the book entirely — hopefully because he felt it was in good hands. So he left ME behind with Marv. I'm a NEW guy and suddenly I'm working with Marv Wolfman and it's ALL me.

Justin: Those are big shoes to fill.

Grummett: Well exactly. It was a little intimidating in the beginning. Marv and I did a panel a few years back, and we were talking about that, I said "so here I am, slight case of flop sweat, working on this book with you — now all by myself — with no George Perez to hold me by my hand to guide me through it and I found Marv was very generous and he listened to my ideas" and he said "eh, you knew what you were doing".

Justin: Were you getting to add input to story ideas?

Grummett: Absolutely!

Justin: I'm curious what you specifically brought to the title?

Grummett: This was so long ago... it was usually stuff would come up in the course of a story and I'd get the plot and I'd maybe get an idea of the way a scene should unfold, and I'd phone up Marv and he's say "sure! do it!". It'd be like that.

Justin: Team Titans. You guys brought back Terra. Was it you that suggested bringing back Terra for Team Titans — or should I say "the clone of Terra"...?

Grummett: That I don't even remember. There was a big room with a lot of people in it. [laughs]

[I asked because Grummett is co-credited with the creation of Terra II (aka Doppelganger Terra). -J]

Terra II. New Titans #86 (1992). Pencilled by Tom Grummett.

Justin: After The New Titans you did some work on the Superman books. Which was huge. Although I grew up reading comic in the 80s (and this spilled over into the early 90s) one of the biggest events, for me, was The Death of Superman. I remember it being ALL OVER the media. Superman died, and that was all well and done, but then they had the four potential Supermen who could be replacing him. I knew for a fact it that neither Steel nor Superboy would be revealed as the replacement. I figured it was either the Eradicator or Cyborg Superman. I was positive DC was going to keep the Eradicator as the new Superman. That was the whole gimmick — 'which of these four is the REAL deal?' — not realizing that the original Superman would evidently return. You created Superboy. That was yours. You designed Superboy with a kind of 90s/Gen X/punk-type look... do you have memories of working on that character?

Grummett: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I remember that [Superman] Summit. The summit meeting where we had to come up with how we were bringing Superman back. There was no question that Superman was coming back.

Mark: If Jean Grey's coming back, then anyone's coming back...

Grummett: Well, yeah. From the time we decided to do this Death of Superman story line, he was coming back. As far as we were concerned, EVERYONE in the industry knew it, and all the fans knew it.

Justin: In my defense, I was twelve years old. I was still naive enough to believe *anything* could happen... [laughing]

Poster from Adventures of Superman #501 (1993). Pencilled by Tom Grummett, inked by Doug Hazlewood.

Grummett: What we didn't realize was that a lot of people thought we were taking Superman away from them forever. And for some reason, that thinking pervaded throughout the whole thing. Of course Superman was going to come back. Of course it was going to be Clark. It wasn't going to be the Eradicator, it wasn't going to be Steel, it wasn't...

Justin: My point is that it was a REALLY good hook. It re-invigorated my interest in DC comics (and the Superman franchise) by a hundredfold.

Grummett: It was a tremendous hook. It was four people claiming to be Superman. It was like Elvis sightings. That's the way we looked at it. None of these guys were actually going to be [Superman], because they couldn't be. They couldn't be Superman because none of the WERE Superman. They had mysterious connections TO [Superman], but none of them were going to be able to take over his spot. At least that was our theory.

Justin: Did you raise your hand to volunteer the Superboy idea? "I'd like Superboy to be one of the four contenders"

Grummett: Actually, in reality, it was Jon Bogdanove and [Jackson] Guice who threw out the name 'Superboy' and I responded with "Don't call me Superboy!". There was a little back-and-forth between us about who was actually going to do this Superboy character and they said "You know what? You guys do it. You seem to have some ideas for this one — really good ones — we've got some other ideas we'd like to play with" and they came up with Steel.

Page from Adventures of Superman v1 #500 (1993). Pencilled by Tom Grummett and inked by Doug Hazlewood.

Justin: When you were creating Superboy from scratch, did you have a model? Was it based on some actor/celebrity at the time?

Grummett: Nope. I actually drew the original sketch of Superboy, fully-formed — the way he looked in the comic book — on an airline napkin on the flight home. As soon as I got off and back to my studio and was settled in again, I re-drew it with the jacket, without the jacket, front and back, faxed it in to Carlin and said "this is what I think he looks like".

Mark: Was the success of Superboy then what led you to work on Robin? Is that editorial's decision of having one artist of a youthful superhero moving onto another youthful superhero or was there no connection at all?

Robin v4 #6 (1994). Cover pencilled by Tom Grummett and inked by Ray Kryssing

Grummett: I believe I took on the Robin book because the Tom Lyle mini-series' were all done and they decided to launch an ongoing. I think the thinking out there was that I was the 'teen' artist, because I'd done 'Teen' Titans and Superboy...

Mark: ..."so give him, Robin"...

Grummett: Right. "He'll do Robin, too". I got to do both.

Justin: You did Superboy for a LONG time, from 1994 up to 2001.

Grummett: Issues 1 to 26 before Karl [Kessel] and I went off the book, and then we came back on again with issue 50. [The reason for the hiatus was because] Karl had run out of ideas on what to do with Superboy but then came up with a bunch of new ideas and asked the editor, who said "sure! you can come back!".

Justin: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Mr Grummett.

Grummett: My pleasure.


Tom Grummett poses with two Teen Titans cosplayers at the 2016 Montreal Comiccon

I had about a thousand more questions to ask about his work on Teen Titans, Superboy and Robin (and even a few Marvel comics projects he had work on afterwards), but Saturdays at comiccons are typically the busiest for artists and I didn't want to take him away too long from the rest of his fans. I'm just grateful we got this. Thanks again for your time, Mr Grummett.

-Justin


As promised... Links:

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