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.

Scan with text

“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.

IMG_20180305_172253.jpg

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:

IMG_20180305_172238

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.

Print

“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.