Life not so grim for Grums

Sanitary engineer by night. Off-the-wall creator of the My Life As A Grum by day.

Red Deer artist Rhian Engel is set to launch his comic strip in the Red Deer Advocate.

Red Deer artist Rhian Engel is set to launch his comic strip in the Red Deer Advocate.

Sanitary engineer by night. Off-the-wall creator of the My Life As A Grum by day.

Few artists would consider taking on the mop as muse. Red Deer artist Rhian Engel, on the other hand, finds inspiration for his ideas at his night job, while kicking the dust out of other people’s offices.

“That’s pretty much where I write half my material, is while I’m working. It’s kind of lonely at 3 o’clock in the morning, when you’re out there cleaning.”

Raised in Hanna and minted in the art and design program at Red Deer College, Engel, 33, will become the newest member of the Advocate’s creative team on Saturday, when his cartoon strip first hits the newly-expanded colour funny pages.

The colour comics package (on Pages D7 and D8 Saturday) are part of a major overhaul of the Saturday Advocate. Other changes include a page of puzzles and games, new columnists and other new features.

Engel has been pushing brooms since closing his store, Widowmaker Comic Books and Collectibles, just before the recession hit. The store was struggling and Engel needed steady income to support his wife, Shalae, and their three small children — now ranging in ages from two to eight years old.

A couple of years ago, Engel started developing a community of comic characters and drew cartoons of their antics, mainly to amuse his wife.

The name, Grum, just popped into his head as did Pat, the name of one of his principal characters. Only later did Engel learn that grum is a real word, combining grim and glum. His imaginary characters and the place in which they live are anything but, said Engel.

His work is drawn around an impulsive character named Squib and his warm-hearted best friend, Pat, who finds himself looking after three young nieces when his brother, Pete, is thrown in jail.

As the characters and their stories grew, he decided to compile his work.

Last October, he created a 24-page book with plans to self publish. But after discovering what it would cost, Engel decided to create and market a comic strip to finance the project.

“It was intended just for 20 strips and that was it. It kind of took on a life of its own from there.”

While the book languishes on the shelf, the strip has taken off, he said. Engel has been publishing his strips online (at www.mylifeasagrum.com), with the Advocate being the first newspaper that has actually offered to publish it.

It’s been a slow start, but Engel is encouraged to see his comic in print and earning an income. Even the legendary artist Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts, had to start somewhere, he said.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com