Souris Plaindealer article

Late Artist to be Honoured by Friends, Family in Book

Friendships that start in childhood and withstand the test of time are not unusual, however, one that has extended beyond the passing of one friend might be.  Such friends – the late Stephen Arnett Groves and T. Keith Edmunds – had a bond that transcended the usual. After years of hanging out in Souris, they created a few stories together. Today, Keith is paying homage to his childhood friend, the co-creator of their online comic strip Dumb Guys, and the artist whose wealth of work had not yet been presented to the world.

“Steve was a fantastic, talented artist who never got the audience he deserved in life. With the help of his family, I’m hoping to put together a book so that more people can enjoy his art,” said Edmunds, who has started a Kickstarter project to see this dream to fruition. “Being an artist is often a solitary endeavour and selling one’s work can be daunting. Steve’s greatest hurdle was the business of comic art in that he was forever inventing, creating, drawing, but not necessarily reaching out and selling his amazing work.”

Originally from Souris, Groves attended the Alberta College of Art and Design for a few years, before starting a freelance career. He returned to live in Brandon in the early 2000s. His driving force was on his own imagination, his own characters and scenarios and his own projects, including the newspaper strip The Grove, which appeared in the Wheat City Journal from 2005 to 2007. He is remembered fondly by well-known comic book artist and writer Kaare Andrews, who was his college roommate. The two shared a passion for comics.

“There was only one other guy at Art School that would gush over comics the way I did. We were brothers in arms, taking on the post-modernist artistic ideology with our shared love of fantastical stories in comics,” said Andrews. “After those two years–more in the middle of them, really–we both dropped out of the same art school that John Byrne and Joni Mitchell once dropped out of, and we moved away. But somehow we managed to keep in touch for all these years. These small co-conspirators in our lives leave a mark (and) in some way, (Steve) will always be a part of my work in comics.  His was a talent that left this world too soon.”

Another long-time Souris friend, film composer Jeff Tymoschuk recalls with fondness his teen years spent with Groves and their tightknit group of friends. An admirer of Groves’ talent, he also feels that the world has lost a unique artistic voice.

“Steve was one of the most creatively gifted people I’ve ever met, in addition to being an excellent artist he was a storyteller, a singer, a songwriter, and a drummer.  He was good enough at them all to have headed down any one of those other paths, but drawing was his first love, and that’s what he stuck with,” said Tymoschuk, who is now based in Vancouver. “Like many creative types, the big problem with having a million ideas is that it’s often less enjoyable to finish with one than starting on the next, hence this book.  His life had many bumps in the road along the way, but through it all his work kept a sense of whimsy and magic, his characters always with a smile, a quizzical look, or a wisecrack. This book is a story of untapped potential, but more than that it’s a celebration of the joy found in the pursuit of the Next Big Idea.”

Local teacher and writer, Joanne F. Villeneuve collaborated with Groves on a children’s book entitled Akiak and the Sky Jewels. She was pleasantly surprised at how he perfectly interpreted the characters of her story, which has been shared digitally at several school assemblies.

“I had never worked with a visual artist before, and it was such a positive experience. He truly brought my tale to life. He really got the message, the feelings I was trying to convey. The students respond really well to the images, which are at once endearing and whimsical, but done in Steve’s own contemporary comic style,” said Villeneuve. “I really appreciate what he brought to the project and I so wish we could create a follow-up story.”

The Kickstarter project aims to gather support for a book that will focus on Groves’ art – his characters, storylines and ideas. During his life, his family was a constant support and is enthusiastic of this endeavour.

“It means the world to his mom and his family to see Stephen’s dreams coming to life with this book,” said Erin Groves, one Groves’ sisters. “It breaks our hearts that he was never able to achieve his true potential in life, but this will finally show everyone what he could never admit: He was an amazing artist, and his passion needs to be shared with the world.”

The deadline to participate in this project is Saturday, March 31. For more information about this Kickstarter project, please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/115465592/unfinished-stories-the-art-of-stephen-groves

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The Dumb Guys Strip – An Even Briefer History

I’m not going to get into the history of the real Dumb Guys or really anything about the guys at all, other than to say the Dumb Guys strip is based very loosely on real people.  The real Dumb Guys.

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The Dumb Guys (2005)

This was the original doodle of the Dumb Guys that started the ball rolling on the Dumb Guys strip.  The caricatures above gave rise to the idea that Steve should do an on-going Dumb Guys web comic.  Who came up with the idea first, it’s hard to say.  It’s one of those key pieces that are lost to time.  In 2009, however, Steve and I had a healthy email exchange underway about personalities and motivations and back stories and lots and lots of art that would never be used for anything.

Nonetheless, the idea had come to be.

And, in time, so did the strip.

The real Dumb Guys disappeared from the story, but their images more or less stuck around.

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Dumb Guys web comic promo art (2010)

Some of the characters’ appearances changes more than others, and they all received new names.  From left to right, we have Scott, Art, Owen, and Tommy.  By this point, they had become fully developed individuals in their own right.

I wrote a few comic strip scripts, Steve wrote a few others, and he spent no small amount of time drawing and redrawing the strips.

Steve and I acquired a domain name (www.dumbguysonline.com, which is no longer ours and I take no responsibility for what might find there), and by 2010 we had several strips ready.  On January 1, 2011, the Dumb Guys webcomic started being posted on an almost regular schedule.

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The first Dumb Guys webcomic (2011)

By early 2012, the Dumb Guys comic was being updated more and more infrequently.  The last comic was posted on April 21, 2012.  In total, 58 strips were posted.

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The last Dumb Guys webcomic (2012)

During this period, a number of the strips that had originally appeared on the website were printed, with permission, in the Ontarion — the University of Guelph’s student newspaper.

By mid-2012, Steve had become unhappy with the design of the entire website and his energies went into learning how to redesign the site, including development of logos and icons and more promo material and all manner of other busyness.  A newly redesigned site would occasionally emerge, but no new strips were forthcoming.

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Steve being self-aware – Puck and Tommy (2013)

In late 2013, the Dumb Guys project had been reimagined as a full-length graphic novel.  A script was completed and work began on the book.  Steve put a lot of time into developing locations and deciding on fonts and color palettes and all sorts of other things that he found very exciting.

While puttering away on the Dumb Guys project, Steve continued to work on other creative projects.  This meant that the Dumb Guys was sometimes put on the backburner for months at a time, with the odd piece suddenly appearing on his social media feeds or his friends’ emails.

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“Dumb Guys Scrapbook” (2017)

In April 2017, Steve completed a 5-page Dumb Guys mini-comic he had written.

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A very small version of the mini-comic, entitled “2z a Crowd” (2017).  I will post a larger version once I can find it!

To my knowledge, this mini-comic was the last Dumb Guys art Steve completed.

The Grove – a brief history

Steve’s most enduring, and probably most recognized, character is Puck the raccoon.

Say hello, Puck.

puck think youre awesome

Puck was the seed from which sprung The Grove.  Originally, Puck was simply a hand-painted picture of a raccoon — nameless, but recognizable.

first puck

Around this raccoon, who very quickly acquired his name, a cast of characters assembled.

Exactly when Steve started creating comic strips with these characters is difficult to say. He posted these strips on a webpage hosted on a site run by acquaintances in Calgary.  There was by no means a regular update schedule. It would not be unreasonable to think that he began this process in 1997 or 1998, because in 1999 Steve distributed a booklet of photocopied comic strips that featured Puck and friends.  The comic strip at that point was entitled “Wildwood.”

The webpage with the Wildwood strips went on permanent hiatus in 2000, and has since disappeared from the internet entirely.  At some point after Christmas 2000, Wildwood changed its name.

Snipped from blitter

I remember Steve’s sigh of resignation when he discovered that there was already a comic strip with the name “Wildwood.”  After much hemming and hawing, he chose to name his strip “The Grove.”

cool puck

But that didn’t end The Grove.

In mid-to-late 2005 (it is hard to exactly pin down a beginning date as it was a bit of a stuttering start), The Grove began to appear in a weekly paper — the Wheat City Journal (now Westman Journal).  Once Steve found his groove, The Grove remained a weekly feature until it ended the same way it began… slowly.  There would be a missed week, then a strip, then another couple of missed weeks, and so on.  Again, it would be difficult to say exactly when The Grove stopped being a regular feature in the paper, but mid-to-late 2007 would be the general vicinity.  [Thanks to Westman Journal for allowing me to dig through their archives!]

snow

While there were a couple of aborted attempts to establish The Grove as a regularly-updated webcomic, the characters continued to appear in Steve’s art.  Puck, in particular.

Although Steve always had a number of projects on the go, Puck stuck around.  Although he might not have been part of any ‘official’ project, he was Steve’s unofficial mascot.

Hey puck

Puck will absolutely be included in Unfinished Stories: The Art of Stephen Groves.  Please check out the Kickstarter for more information about the project.

Steve was a doodler

Many years ago (I’d say “about 25 years ago”, but that would make me feel way too old), Steve and I were roommates.  On occasion, I would be away from the apartment for a few days.

Upon my return, from behind his drawing board set up in our living room, Steve would gesture vaguely in the direction of where he had piled my mail.  Invariably, there would be little doodles on the envelopes where Steve had sketched idly while watching television.

They weren’t cute little messages or anything.  Steve was just a habitual doodler.  On whatever was nearby.  Constantly.

Even now, two and a half decades later, as I rummage through his hard drives for images to include in the book of his work (see the Kickstarter page to contribute), I am finding scans of images complete with the return address on the envelope in which they were sketched or with the text over which Steve had drawn.

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“Eddy” (2013)

What he did with them or how he did it, I can’t say.  What I do know, however, is that for every scanned sketch I can find, there are probably dozens that Steve never scanned for reasons that were only his to know.

I took pictures of a couple of examples of unscanned doodles as examples.

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I think with this doodle, Steve was trying to layout a page for one of his stories.  Maybe.  In any case, what I want to make clear is that the little guy with the hat is, on the page, is almost exactly an inch and a half tall.  That dog’s head popping out of the snowball?  Half an inch.

Steve could doodle small.

On the other hand, he also left us pages like this:

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These are sketches of the Dumb Guys.  My hand is in the bottom of the photo for reference, but in the interest of exactitude, Tom (the fully-drawn character scowling and pointing to the right) stands 11 inches tall on the page.  Surrounding him are other characters, hands, feet, cars and whatnot.

Doodles.

Steve doodled.  A lot.

The Kickstarter is Live!

Too anxious to wait until March 1, on the evening of February 28, I pulled the trigger on launching the Kickstarter for “Unfinished Stories:  The Art of Stephen Groves.”

While most of the action regarding this book will be taking place over at Kickstarter (that’s https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/115465592/unfinished-stories-the-art-of-stephen-groves, if you want to know the exact address), I will nonetheless add the odd tidbit here on the website.

Today, I thought I would post a quick note about my thinking behind the name I chose for Steve’s book:  “Unfinished Stories.”  (The other part – “The Art of Stephen Groves” -should be self-evident, and if I need to explain that part to you, there are bigger issues afoot).

The “Unfinished Stories” part of the title, too, may seem self-evident.  However, I like to think myself clever and choose to explain anyways.

Steve had a lot of story ideas.  Perhaps he had the whole story stored somewhere in his head, but as far as I can tell, almost none were completed anywhere that anyone else could experience them.  He left us a lot of partial stories.

Porcelain gazed out the window. The sheds and the barn were falling apart, as they had been for ages, and the ground was bare, awaiting the inevitable snow.

It was a rather dreary day that day. It was as though she was staring at a black and white photo of the view she usually took in. The sheer lack of any motion added to it. The animals were all gone, as were most of the trees. Everything had just dried up and drifted away.

That’s what mama said happened to papa. Then everything else just up and followed him as the days and months went on.

Porcelain had been lonely for a long time after that. Mama was getting sicker and sicker, and papa never returned with the doctor like he said. She was scared that mama was going to dry up and drift away, too.

An excerpt from a file entitled “Peaches and Pears,” last edited September 2016

Steve also left us all sorts of characters.  Maybe they had a place in a story somewhere, but I suspect they were often characters in search of  a story.  One such character was Gish.  All I know is what he looks like.

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“Gish,” created December 2013

Then there were stories that had much more content, but still left unfinished.  I am thinking of Steve’s opus “Winds of Balmorgan” on which he worked for at least 15 years, if not much longer.

And story arcs from his comics strips “The Grove” and “The Dumb Guys” that left readers hanging.

I suspect Steve had many more stories in him than any of us realized.  And, of the ones we have evidence of, the vast majority are unfinished.

That’s the obvious part.  Now for the self-proclaimed clever part (and, really, it’s not that clever)…

Steve’s own story… the story of his life… was cut far too short.  A man of many talents, there is no telling what kinds of projects may have flowed out of him in the future.  And that is tragic.

Unfinished Stories: The Art of Stephen Groves is now live on Kickstarter.  I encourage you all to participate.