Paul Hornschemeier on Life With Mr. Dangerous | Interview
The cartoonist discusses his new book, Life With Mr. Dangerous.
Once you’ve sounded it out, it’s not such a difficult name. Hornschemeier. Still, it does tend to give people pause. Something about that daunting series of consonants, then the odd grouping of vowels.
“It is one of those names: You’re destined to either be a writer or scientist,” says local author-artist Paul, the man both blessed and saddled with the brainy surname. “You’re not going to be a rock star with a name like Hornschemeier.”
Not that his world doesn’t contain vague elements of the rock-star lifestyle. For one thing, the 33-year-old used to sing and play guitar in the local band Arks. He’s also about to go on tour to promote his new graphic novel, Life with Mr. Dangerous (Villard, $22), a droll look at the driftless life of Amy, a woman stumbling into her late twenties with a self-imposed sense of dread about her job and love life. His book tour will take him all the way to San Diego in July for the Hollywood-dominated Comic-Con International. But Hornschemeier’s first two appearances will be local (and, most likely, a far better match for his artistry): a book launch at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tuesday 24, and a signing at Comix Revolution Wednesday 25.
Like any American cartoonist—that’s the noun he generally prefers, although if anyone deserves a description with literary associations like graphic novelist, it’s Hornschemeier—he grew up in central Ohio on a diet of superhero comics. His artistic and intellectual interests expanded as he grew older; as a college student at Ohio State University, he studied both physics and psychology, ultimately receiving his bachelor’s in philosophy.
The fruits of that philosophy degree are on full display in The Three Paradoxes, an impressive if underappreciated 2007 work that’s part memoir, part lighthearted look at Socrates and Zeno. He’d made an auspicious publishing debut four years earlier with Mother, Come Home, a graphic novel depicting a father and son coping with grief.
“One reason some people really like [Mother, Come Home] and one reason why it turned some people off is because it’s so melancholy and so relentlessly sad. It needed to be that way. I felt I needed to work it out of myself,” Hornschemeier says, though the story isn’t autobiographical. “There was a period where I was very depressed. But that isn’t what my life is like anymore.”
That shift becomes apparent upon reading Mr. Dangerous, which was originally serialized in the comics anthology Mome. The story ranges from despondent to surreal to laugh-out-loud funny, all grounded in Hornschemeier’s handsome, pliable drawings. His keen ability to interpret body language finds a perfect outlet here. Multiple sequences depict Amy’s rote existence, many of them dialogue-free yet chock full of mood. Through the lens of Amy’s awkward search for love and meaning, the comic embraces its creator’s evolving perspective on life, moving beyond the forlorn outlook that suffused his earlier work.
“I think this book, to a large degree, was me sort of writing the correct decisions for myself,” Hornschemeier reflects. “I was caught in this cycle of pursuing relationships that were never really going to go anywhere. It was sort of weird: As I was completing the book, I met [my wife] Emily. It was sort of life imitating fiction.” The two had an instant rapport: “We went on one date, and it was like, ‘Oh, there you are.’ ” Together now for three years, they married six months ago and moved to Evanston from Pilsen.
“She has, despite all good reason, taken my last name,” Hornschemeier notes. “She says, ‘I like your name better.’ I told her: ‘You have to tell people you volunteered to do this.’ ”