MOME Interview 1: Paul Hornschemeier

gg: Are you pretty optimistic about the future of cartooning, the future of your own work?

ph: If we take that in the void of what’s going on in the world, sure. [Laughs.] Because am I optimistic in general? No. But, I would certainly say that provided we’re all still here. It certainly seems like comics, particularly in North America, are really experiencing a decent amount of boom time. It certainly seems like things are being better received by the press, there is a little bit less mention of superheroes and the “zap, pow, boom” kind of crap when people write about more literary comics. I’m definitely pretty optimistic about it.

I do feel like things are being better received; nothing against cartoonists who do this, but a lot of people go on about how everyone hates cartoonists; I really don’t think that’s true. When I tell people that I’m a cartoonist, that’s actually pretty warmly received by pretty much everybody. There’s maybe a negative stigma to being a comic fan to some degree after you explain what kind of stuff you’re into, but I really feel like a lot of that stuff is starting to fall by the wayside. I think that’s one thing that’s good about the more recent crop you have coming through now, these are people, just everyday people that I don’t think anybody could call any of us more freakish than the next person. It seems like there’s a more diversified field… I mean, it’s not as ghettoized as it used to be, I think, and that’s starting to be true of the talent pool as well, these are people that aren’t necessarily like “Oh, we’re crazy counterculture types,” or something like that.

In France, buying a comic is just like buying a CD. I would go into a Virgin Megastore and there’s the CDs, there’s the DVDs, and there’s the entire floor of comics. I think we’re moving toward that here, albeit slowly.

{mosimage}Comics are always going to have an uphill battle in that it is an active medium, it requires participation. I overheard John Porcellino saying something like this to someone, “Unfortunately you have this set of people who can read, and then you’ve got the subset of people who buy and read books, and then this subset of people who are willing to read the books that we produce, and you’ve just gotten to a very small set of people.”

gg: That’s a good description of the readership.

ph: I do think it will grow, obviously it is going to be a gradual thing, certainly with people like Chris [Ware] and Dan [Clowes] getting more mainstream attention and people in general getting more attention through things. I’m pretty hopeful about things.

gg: Your next book is The Three Paradoxes. How’s that going?

{product_snapshot:id=1203,true,false,true,left}ph: It’s going well, but honestly, it’s [sighs] my God, it’s a huge, huge, problem because it’s just going really slow at this point. I’ve unfortunately had several projects that have been going on and on and on that are really interfering with it, because I have to pay rent, apparently. That’s the thing, man. I’m just throwing my hands up, “God, can’t I get a movie deal or something?” I need to sell out, hardcore. [Laughter]

I was hoping I’d finish by the end of April. Now I don’t know, I don’t think it’s going to happen, because there were some pages that I was fine with, and then once I got toward completion, certain pages weren’t even working. This is easily the most bizarre book I’ve ever done.

gg: The Three Paradoxes also revolves around a father and son. I haven’t seen much of this, but it certainly looks like it’s about a father and son, which was very much what Mother, Come Home was about, and it also looks like you’re pushing the formal structural elements —

ph: This one is pushing that far more than Mother, Come Home. Mother, Come Home, in my opinion, had certain formal elements that were being messed with; this one is very, very much doing that.

gg: There’s a postmodern narrative element to it, isn’t there, where the narrator is a cartoonist who’s working on a story that interweaves with his own story…

{mosimage}ph: It’s just flat-out autobiographical. The main character is Paul, me. I mean, there are some strange scenes where the cartoon then I’m drawing is actually — there’s a scene where I’m talking on the phone and it’s a real conversation that I had with a girl that I was supposed to meet in the near future in the book, and the actual person who’s talking on the phone in the story is the cartoon character… there’s a lot of zooming into and out of and blurring of various realities, hopefully not just for the sake of being a formal experiment.

gg: What purpose do you think that serves in terms of narrative?

ph: For me, it’s all trying to convey what we talked about before, trying to convey things without really saying them. Switching to other styles or doing something else is, for me, trying to evoke something without coming right out and saying, “Oh yes, and this is how you should feel.” If there’s anything I absolutely want to stay away from, it’s smacking people over the head in this Spielberg-esque kind of way, like “OK, here’s where you should cry, here’s where you should do this.” Because that’s just ugly and dirty and manipulative, but then again, what I’m doing is manipulative; I guess I just want to be secretly manipulative. [Laughs.]

It’s hard to put a finger on, but there’s about five distinct narratives going on in the book, but they all share this common theme about what is — I don’t want to give much away?

gg: Give a little away.

ph: I would say the gist of the book is looking for some kind of control or certainty in life, debating whether or not that actually exists; whether or not one can actually influence anything, whether one can take control of various aspects of one’s life; whether one can change from where one has been in the past. I guess that’s a long gist. Those are the sort of things that run through the book. Most of it’s just me, but there’s also fictionalized parts and parts with pre- Socratic philosophers and hopefully it all makes sense in the end.

Featured books by Paul Hornschemeier (click covers for complete product details)

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All books by Paul Hornschemeier