Whether he’s drawing comics, painting ceramics, making an album, or tattooing his fans, first and foremost Grant Gronewold is a hustler—he gets things done. Which isn’t immediately evident when you first meet the man. I’ve interviewed him several times, and on each occasion he’s been stoned out of his mind, usually with a console control in hand cranking out levels of Mario Kart.
This time is no different; hunched at a desk tapping away on his phone he’s drawing deep on a vape full of THC, which makes him more ebullient with each inhalation.
“Man, I’m so much more happy at the moment,” he says. “There’s so many things in my life that have a good structure, and I’m really privileged to come to a point in my career where, if I work hard, there are people who are really willing to help me out.
“I always thought I was going to fail at all of this stuff and die disabled and unknown. But it looks like, if I keep working hard, I’ll be able to live in a way that I’m happy with for as long as I get to live.”
Gronewold has been on borrowed time for most of his life. Born with cystic fibrosis, he’s constantly in and out of hospital, making comics about his experiences of the Australian healthcare system from ward beds in Melbourne, or his bedroom in the house he shares with a bunch of other artists, or sometimes from a recording studio while working on new tracks. He’s exceeded his life expectancy three times. It’s a strange existence.
Right now he’s wondering whether to head into hospital the next morning to have a faulty surgical implant checked out by a nurse, or to keep an appointment with a producer putting the final touches to his new album. He can’t decide, “so I’m just going to get stoned and eat peanut butter toast.”
In the time since we last spoke a lot has changed for Gronewold, whose comics and illustration are made under the alias HTML Flowers. He’s released his first anthology of work, split and reunited with bandmate Oskar Key Sung—as Brother’s Hand Mirror, and latterly, Lossless—and parted ways with best friend and world-renowned comics artist Simon Hanselman, with whom he lived for seven years. Hanselman traded Gronewold for a wife and dog in Seattle, and a couple of New York Times bestselling books. “I miss him everyday,” says Gronewold. “Stupid fuck-job.”
“We Skype. We Skype a lot. We Facetime. It’s not the same as having my buddy right here though. We tried to work when I went to see him, but it’s never going to be the same. We can’t do those epic 16-hour drawing days. We were able to occasionally replicate the magic of always being stoned and literally having nothing else to do except work with each other. But Simon’s got a wife now. She gets home at six o’clock and, you know, it’s shit for her to come in if we’re just going to continue drawing.”
Outside of the heartache Gronewold has been making stacks of new comics, working with an agent on some commercial illustration, and producing ceramics with housemate Lucile Sciallano.
“People have always wanted my stuff on ceramics,” he says. “Certain motifs I can just regurgitate and make money. Eventually Lucile made a shit ton of cups and planters for me to be drawing on and we got really stoned one day and she showed me how to use the glaze. I’ve been going at it. It’s nice. Every time we put them up they sell out within a few hours.
“The cups are nice because I can be simple on them. I feel like when I make a piece I always want to try to advance what I’m doing, but with the cups it’s just the opposite. I just want to do something that I know will look nice and feels good. I’m just trying to make a nice image on the side of a beautiful ceramic—get some PayPal money for the menu log, you know? Pizza every day.”
Most importantly (as fas as I’m concerned) he’s pushing his comics work, drawing new episodes of ongoing series No Visitors. These are the most intensely personal of all Gronewold’s projects, following the escapades of a character called Little, a handicapped drug dealer who gets into bizarre scrapes. Gronewold’s new narratives see Little strike up a relationship with a sex worker, and details “…a weird house that he squats. Kind of just the hustle of living with a chronic illness. All of the kind of disgusting, ironically hilarious, painful things that you experience as somebody with a disability.
“The next one I’m working on is about him getting stoned before he goes to the hospital, which I actually did once. It was a terrible decision the first time. He just gets really stoned and ends up ordering a pizza up to the ward. He can’t get a bed because the hospital is so congested. He’s having a really good time, then a bunch of bodies roll past and it’s… That happened to me. I’m talking about it like it’s him, but it all happened to me.
“Little’s going to be sprawled out in the hallway watching horror films on his laptop, eating a pizza really loudly while crying families walk past. I’ve never done that, I just think it’s kinda funny for some reason.”
All joking aside, being in hospital all the time naturally takes its toll on Gronewold, and balancing his health, workload, and occasional bursts of substance abuse gets in the way of what would otherwise be an incredibly prolific career. It does affect my ability to work,” he says, “because the only time I can ever really sustain being this healthy is when I’m not drinking. I drink a lot just to deal with how shit the lifestyle is.
“I’ve been sober for a while now, and I’m sort of in the process of trying to reevaluate how much work I do compared to the effort I put into my health. My body’s just getting worse and worse.”
“It’s time to reassess the rations, you know? Like the ration of emotional happiness with physical health has to be re-calibrated at this point, because the physical is going so badly. It costs a little bit of time—a lot of time, actually. Luckily I’m terrible at being intimate with people and I like to spend most of my time alone anyways, so I just crank the work when I’m not trying to be healthy. I just gotta balance it for as long as I can, whether it’s another year or another 20.”
Gronewold’s banking on making it for more than just a year. He and estranged housemate Hanselmann have done some growing up recently, and are working on a project that’s going to take them to the next level of fame. But he can’t say what it is—there are too many lawyers involved.
“I think it’s okay to say we have something going. We’ve been talking to some people for a while and we’re just kind of delaying it a little bit. It’s a huge thing if we do decide to do it. We’re working with a lawyer at the moment to put it off as much as possible, just so we can get as much comics work done before it starts.
“There’d be like teams and budgets, and fucking tax invoices and shit, and we both want to make sure that we’re ready for that kind of commitment. It’s definitely something that we’re really into, but the entire idea of doing something that legitimate is crazy. Everything we do has always felt like some kind of minor scam. This would be real big-league shit. Mom needs her house.”