Interview with Paul Hornschemeier: Cartoonist on the Rise

After I read an interview with comic-book creator Paul Hornschemeier in the Chicago Tribune, and discovered that he, as a young child, said to his mother, “I don't care if I'm eating Cheez Whiz on the streets of San Francisco living in a gutter, I am going to draw comics,” I decided he had to be on ArtStyle. Hornschemeier (pronounced Hornsch-my-er) grew up in Ohio, thrived on comics (both reading and drawing), studied philosophy at Ohio State University (where he started cartooning at the school paper), and then ventured into self publishing his own comic books, which eventually led to a career as a comic-book creator and illustrator. His just-released hardcover, The Three Paradoxes, published by Fantagraphics Books, is now available in book stores. (The images in this blog are from The Three Paradoxes and provided by Paul Hornschemeier.)


ArtStyle: Do you call yourself a professional cartoonist, illustrator, or graphic story artist?

Paul Hornschemeier (PH): I always just say cartoonist. If I was being more broadly honest but unfortunately, I think sounding a little more pretentious, I would say story teller because I do write prose, too. Just for economy's sake, I always just say cartoonist.

If people ask questions about it, I usually say I do more literary comics, and they would say, what do you mean. I say, well, think of a good novel, and then imagine that as comics. I feel that people are much more aware of comics that are more serious because of folks like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware. They actually take the time to craft the narrative, symbolism, themes, and character development.

ArtStyle: How would you describe literary comics as the genre that you work in?

PH: Traditionally, it's known as underground or alternative comics although I think that's fallen by the wayside. Underground comics were the beginning with Robert Crumb and a lot of people back in the 1960s and 70s. When you have somebody like Dan Clowes nominated for an Academy Award, and Chris Ware winning the Guardian book prize, I don't know how underground it is at that point. My next book is coming out from Random House, and I don't think it gets less underground than Random House. The literary comic is kind of like describing a movie. Literary comics is the best description I can come up with.

Paul and Dad

ArtStyle: How would you describe your style?

PH: I'm not really sure. I think my style tends to be more realistic work where I use soft brush lines. I'm interested in the aesthetics of the Yellow Submarine, traditional animation, and other styles. To some degree you can't escape having some style, but for me, it was always what does the story need and then let's do that. If it needs to look like a Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic, it would look like that. You need to do what the story needs.

ArtStyle: I like all of the perspectives that you provide from different people's viewpoints. The other thing I like is your use of color, where you use color and then you switch to black and white or gray in the same story. I like your mix of emotions in the same story. Some of it is funny and then you have the realistic day-to day living, and you have an examination of the person's inner turmoil by having a close up of their face. It's like a panoramic view of everything that's going on. I think that’s part of your style.

PH: In a lot of different comics, I try to draw in the style to go with the different narratives. Obviously, things like pacing and how you set up the shots are very much a part of every artist's style. In looking at Marvel comics, which I aped in one section of The Three Paradoxes, I noticed that I was setting up the shots the way I would set them up, and that I would have to push it to actually produce them in a truly Marvel style. I would have to tilt the camera at a dramatic angle and do certain things that are just alien to me. I just sort of set up shots a certain way when I'm seeing the comics in my mind. I set up and take photographs the same way. It's just kind of the way my brain works.

On the Way Here

ArtStyle: What do you mean by setting up shots?

PH: I set up shots just in my mind. You think about it to some degree like a camera — zoom in to get a close up or zoom out for a long shot. Comics are in this weird space between literature and fine art illustration and cinematography. When I'm working on comics, I tend to write it out as a kind of screen play, and I will say things like close up of this or long shot of that.

ArtStyle: Do you work on the entire story line and then do the illustrations?

PH: It totally depends on what I'm working on. For my next book, I'm actually doing, to a large degree, a basic plot and key themes that I'm going to get to and key character development points, but that really is much more writing in my sketchbook. I'll actually draw out the page and then determine the details of the panel. So I'm writing in the words as I'm creating the imagery.

ArtStyle: When you're doing your art, do you ink everything first and then color it?

PH: Typically, I draw everything out on with pencil on paper, ink it with a brush, and then letter it with technical pens. All of that is on Bristol board in the real world. I scan the art into the computer, and I do almost all of the coloring in Photoshop. Occasionally, I'll do something in colored pencil and crayon.


ArtStyle: How do you determine what colors to use?

PH: It's an intuitive thing. Sometimes you look at something, and you know that it needs to be blue or earth tones or psychedelic or magenta, depending on what the story calls for. Usually I'll have a few colors in mind. Maybe it's a character and you know what the jacket color is, and you kind of build the page off that. It's kind of the same way when someone is painting. It's digital painting in a way.

ArtStyle: How do you know how much detail to put in?

PH: I think my basic rule is not much. I grew up with certain comics, reading Peanuts, New Yorker and reprints of Spiderman, all of which are simply, flatly colored. I think that works best. I use very simple, flat colors and that's something I have an affinity with and really love, and I really like some painterly comics but at a certain point, they don't feel like comics any more. They feel like illustrations with some text slapped on top of them. I feel the main genius of the cartoons like Peanuts, Krazy Kat, and others is the simplicity of it.

Paul and Magic Pencil

ArtStyle: Could you tell me a little bit about the book you just published?

PH: For The Three Paradoxes, I typed out the entire script first and then I did the drawing. There are six narratives going on at the same time. It's an autobiographical comic, but it's also a story within a story.

I've gone to my parent's home in southern Ohio. While I'm there, I'm trying to finish a story called Paul and the Magic Pencil, which is a cartoon but clearly it's an autobiographical story, but I'm having a really hard time with it. It's not really going anywhere so as a distraction, I take a walk with my father through my home town. I promised this girl I'm going to meet in about a week in the story that I would take pictures of my home town for her, and she can kind of see where I grew up. In taking those pictures, I sort of re-live an entire experience that I had when I was in fifth grade where I was kind of bullied and tried to act cool and it didn't turn out too well. The story goes back and forth with me trying to come up with this cartoon in the present and then going backward in time to me in fifth grade, and then it sort of goes into somebody else's life when we stop at a store. It goes into the life of someone we run into there and how they've changed from when they were a little kid from fifth grade. The all encompassing bit is when the story flashes back into pre-Socratic times when Zeno, a philosopher, explains his paradoxes. His paradoxes are about motion and change, sort of the lack of the possibility of motion and change. He was arguing that motion and change don't exist.


ArtStyle: Could you talk about the new book you're working on?

PH: The new book, Life with Mr. Dangerous, has a main character named Amy. She's trying to come to terms with getting older, and she's trying to figure out what her place is. She kind of sees herself becoming her mother; she loves her mother but she really doesn't identify with her mother. She doesn't really connect with her, and she's trying to establish herself as a truly autonomous adult. At the same time, she's in love with this friend of hers who used to live in the same town that she lives in but moved out to California. She lives in the Midwest but she's not really coming to terms with the fact that she's in love with him and trying to fill her life up with kind of desperate romantic relationships with various guys.

Mr. Dangerous is a cartoon show that she's obsessed with. She kind of loses herself in that show. She really loves it so much but a lot of people don't really get the show. In her world, Mr. Dangerous has almost the popularity of Simpsons in our world, but a little bit less. Mr. Dangerous is a little more cultish. The whole premise of the Mr. Dangerous show is that Mr. Dangerous' neighbor is Farmer Greg, but Farmer Greg doesn't know that. One day Farmer Greg is out farming too long in the sun and gets amnesia and can't remember who Mr. Dangerous is, and so every show has Farmer Greg thinking Mr. Dangerous is something else. There's all this weird symbolism happening where Amy reads into the episodes because she's trying to get her mother to see her for who she really is.

ArtStyle: What are your future plans?

PH: I’ll be working on Life with Mr. Dangerous, then preparing work for my series Forlorn Funnies, which I plan to resume some time next year. In and around those will be a variety of illustration and music projects, but I can’t pretend my life’s so orderly that I know exactly what those projects will entail.

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