LOOKING BACK WITH TOM GRINDBERG
Tom Grindberg is a polarising artist to a lot of people. For years he was dismissed as being a poor man’s Neal Adams, or a Neal Adams clone at best. This is more than slightly unfair to both Grindberg and Adams, and as much as some of Grindberg's early work is reminiscent of Adams, Grindberg was no more a clone than any amount of other artists, some of whom have managed to get away with swiping Neal for years and never got the criticism that Grindberg received. A lot of people became aware of Grindberg and his unique style when he was assigned the book Warlock, which saw him collaborating with Jim Starlin and Ron Marz in the early 1990s. Since that time Grindberg has been an artist in demand, but a quiet achiever all the same. He has worked on almost every major character for both marvel and DC, has dabbled in advertising art, produced pin-ups and much more.
As good an artist as Grindberg is it’s his sketches where he really shines. His rough work shows almost Frazettaish tendencies and his most recent work has enabled him to draw in his own unique style, which is highly rendered and showcases influences as varied as John Buscema, Neal Adams, Howard Pyle, Wyeth, Schoonover and Mac Raboy.
Tom Grindberg is an artist who has more than earned respect and it is gratifying that such respect is now coming his way.
DANIEL BEST: What is your background, where did you grow up?
TOM GRINDBERG: I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. A wonderful place to grow up. Far removed from anything related to struggle or poverty, completely surround by more fortunate but fit in nicely and had many friends who all loved art and appreciated my talents during those years. A great time I remember and lament fondly of those years. Art was secondary and horsing around the neighborhood, getting into trouble you name it. All in an era before computers or video games, but Slurpees from 7 Eleven with Conan and Red Sonja on them, and Luge Cage swearing "Sweet Mother of Jesus" was just the rage! I was a huge Cage fan back then.
DB: What was your first exposure to comic books?
TG: My first exposure to comic books was funny animals and Archie comics and those freebie ashcan books from Buster Brown shoe stores. After a short stint building model airplanes and dreaming of being an astronaut I discovered Superheroes! Soon I was buying every issue of Spiderman, Hulk, FF Avengers, and Conan the only non-superhero. I was a huge Conan fan back then as well as Spider-man which were my two favorite titles. I even went to Conventions which were few and far between back then. I would read comic books in small chunks at a time so that they would last late into the night. 19 pages just were not enough and the 4 or 5 weeks of down time between issues was just tiring. I guess that is why they came out with so many Spider-man titles back then.
DB: What art training did you have?
TG: Quite honestly, I had no formal art training whatsoever. Back in those years, parents frowned on art and would prefer there son or daughters going into business or becoming a lawyer/doctor, heck even a writer would of gotten more respect. Thus, I never went to formal art school other than the cute little assignments you would get in high school. The funny thing was I was teaching other kids art along side my teacher. I knew Bridgemans book of anatomy real well and still to this day look his book for inspiration. The real training started only when I broke into the real world of comic books and advertising which was demanding to say the least. I was slow and I wasn't as good as I thought either but I was very eager full of energy like you wouldn't believe. I worked with Neal Adams studio for a while; I worked only with Marvel comics and also DC comics. Those were the only real deals out there besides the few indie publishers of the day which could not pay as well as the two majors. I just wanted to make a ton of money and make a name for myself. It’s nice to dream you know.
DB: What are your art influences?
TG: As far as influences in comics are concerned...I absolutely loved Berni Wrightsons work! His Swamp Thing work was so inspiring and fun to look at. Then again, so was Frazetta's Conan paperback covers which eventually led to his Famous Funnies covers which really isn't a whole lot of comic book work, but still wonderful. Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Roy Krenkle and Neal Adams' work up at Warren, DC and Marvel comics was a joy to view, Barry Smith which led to Big John Buscema's work on Conan were of utmost important works to have and learn from. Oh, and by the way, the granddaddy of all the great storytellers....Howard Pyle! His work along with NC Wyeth, Schoonover and Hal Foster Are very key foundations to my work. There are so many more to name here. Sorry Rembrandt, Vermeer…I have to say, I always wished that I grew up in 30's and 40's just so I could be a great illustrator like those who graced so many magazines during the heyday of illustration. Kudo's to all those Austin Brigg's out there! You just cannot go wrong with these guys!
DB: What made you want to be a comic book artist, and how did you break into the industry?
TG: I think it was around 14 years old when I decided I wanted to be a comic book artist. I was buying about every Marvel DC book as well as the occasional Warren title like Creepy. I really had become a total comic book junkie by that point plus, I drew better than most of the kids in school anyway and was always being asked to draw stuff for them. It’s a wonder full feeling to be needed and wanted especially as a budding young artist. Everyone knew I could draw real well. A year after high school I had a few nice black and white horror stories in portfolio before embarking on New York and the two major's. I also had a few pages of Spider-man to show them that I could draw superheroes. I flew up to New York with no appointment with Marvel comics but managed to see the editor in chief there and DC's talent coordinator. I had no clue that both would hire me on the same day. I came in with only a few pages of art and both companies offered me work. I still cannot believe I was hired. From that day on I have worked with either Marvel or DC comics as a freelancer.
DB: Your rough sketches show an energy that isn't always apparent in your finished work, how do you approach your preliminary work as opposed to your finished work?
TG: The "rough sketches" are the backbone and foundation to all my work. In preparation to anything committed to paper is done this way. Nothing out the ordinary with my approach it’s just the time-honored-traditional way to go about art. When you compare my pencils to my layouts they are very consistent, clean with a high emphasis to good draftsmanship and plenty of energy. Unfortunately, this stage is seldom seen and in most cases is totally lost in the translation when my worked is passed further down the assembly line.
DB: Do you think that inkers are always able to capture the feel of your pencils?
TG: Yes and No. It’s not fair to say inkers do not know what they are doing nor is it fair to say they ruined my work. Nobody is a mind reader and this is a business. Inkers have only one thing to do and that's make a line look better than pencillers or if they can, to embellish the work. In many cases some have done competent work while others just do not mesh. In those cases, my work has suffered. Many inkers just do not have the control I guess or their style is not suited to my approach.
DB: Do you prefer to ink your own work?
DB: You worked with Neal Adams - how much did he influence you?
TG: Again, great draftsmanship and compositions. I worked for him for about 5 years. ‘Nuff said!
DB: What was Neal like?
TG: Hmmm, open question huh?! Well lets see...I used to say everyone in the comic book industry should go up to Continuity and see how long they would last working with Neal. Hahahaha! He is a tough person to deal with. In addition, the work that I did for him had nothing but his stamp all over it. Ad agencies wanted Neal's work and that’s exactly what they got. Not Tom Grindbergs art. It was a house style approach. Otherwise, Neal is like a father type figure that likes great art and likes to draw a lot, just like me. He's a big fanboy just like me.
DB: You’ve done a bit of work for Fleetway early in your career, which is slightly unusual for an American artist – how did that come about?
TG: The main reason why I got involved with this project was due to my association/friendship with Sal Qaurtuccio aka S.Q.P. He was the guy who was asked to re-package old material from Fleetway for resale here in the states. I did about 30 covers for them and my ex-wife Eva colored them on greyline. The printing was not the greatest I remember since the budget was tight. Some of the strangest characters I ever worked on.
DB: You name John Buscema as an influence – did you ever get to meet him?
TG: I met John one time up at Marvel's offices and really and sadly didn't get to say much to him since he looked really pissed about something.... It goes without saying how many artists from that generation borrowed a few panels or ideas from this guy and owe a great debt of gratitude for his accomplishments. John is sorely missed by us all.
DB: You’re in an envious position in that you’ve worked at both Marvel and DC and worked on some of their biggest characters – Superman, Batman, Spider-man etc – was there ever a ‘dream job’, so to speak?
TG: Actually, all the characters you mentioned were all dream jobs hahahaha! I still love drawing Surfer, Conan and Batman the most. I wish they would hire me again for anything. They (Marvel and DC) seem to have forgotten little ol' me.
DB: Is there any character or book that you’d love to work on?
TG: Yes, I would love to develop another Surfer story for Marvel and of course a few film niorish stories about Batman. Both characters were by far my best efforts in the business however, secretly, I would love to bring back westerns, romance and science fiction for a little diversion from superheros. The Airboy covers are so far filling that void nicely as is my own publishing venture.
TG: I like collaborating with Jim Starlin and Ron Marz. They both know how to write visually with the artist in mind. I did a number of projects with both of them and I always liked collaborating with each person. It’s been years since I picked up a pencil and worked with either one. I miss those days.
DB: Your recent Airboy cover image was very reminiscent of Fred Kida's classic covers indeed. Were artists like Kida and Alex Schomburg any influence?
TG: I do know of their work and there impact and yes, the look is indirectly inspired. Before starting anything, I like to research the material and getting all the knobs and switches down pat. I like drawin' planes and dames a lot so, this was pure fun for me! It brought out my best effort and many people did appreciate this cover more than anything else I have drawn to date. Thank you all for the nice comments I promise to deliver more.