More with Paul Hornschemeier
After a string of acclaimed releases from Fantagraphics, a small, well-respected publishing company that promotes comics as literature and art, local author-artist Paul Hornschemeier sees his career take another step forward next week. Tonight, he celebrates the release of Life with Mr. Dangerous, his first graphic novel for a big-name publisher (Random House imprint Villard), with a reception at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which earlier this year showcased pages from the book.
It’s a busy season for the longtime Chicagoan, who recently got married and moved to Evanston (as he told us when he recently stopped by our offices to chat). Following the launch party, he embarks on a summer tour of bookstores and comics shops that includes several Chicago-area stops. Meanwhile, he’s wrapping up a project for Chronicle Books—So-So Heroes, a collection of 30 original postcards showcasing his dark and quirky humor—and also working on the cover for the upcoming book compiling the election-season tweets of @MayorEmanuel (the infamously savage fake mayor, not the actual Rahm).
Here are some exclusive excerpts from Life with Mr. Dangerous, along with additional observations that don’t appear in our profile in this week’s issue.
Time Out Chicago: It looks like everything here is hand-lettered—the cover, and even the frontispiece.
Paul Hornschemeier: The only thing that isn’t hand-lettered is the price and the numbers on the barcode, which they wouldn’t let me hand-letter. I really thought they were going to shit themselves when I said I’m going to hand-letter all the text on the front cover. They were like, “Oh, yeah, the title. That’s fine.” And I was like, “No, no. All the text on the cover.” “What do you mean? Like quotes and everything?”
For Fantagraphics, that’s the vernacular. I think it’s more odd for a cartoonist to not do all that stuff by hand. With Random House, where you have whatever big seller, hand lettering makes no sense. It’s been interesting working with them.…We just had to figure out how to speak each other’s language. Once everyone got on the same page it was fine.
TOC: Is it fair to say your earlier works were melancholy? You did have a series called Forlorn Funnies.
PH: I think that’s very fair to say. I’m drawn to those kinds of stories, to some degree. It’s funny: When people meet me, I’m very jokey. I think they’re like, “How is that the same person [as the guy who wrote these books]?” But I don’t tend to put on Groucho Marx glasses and yuk it up when I’m sitting by myself and writing books. My native state is to be pretty introspective and a little bit on the sad side.
I remember—well, I don’t actually remember this, but my mom told me this story many times: I was walking with her when I was little, 3 or 4. I looked up at her and said, “Mom, sometimes I miss you even when you’re here.” What a sad—well, it’s cute, but gosh, I was lonely even then, walking with my mom! It’s just kind of how I’m wired.
TOC: You’ve written and drawn several wordless sequences in Mr. Dangerous, but you give the reader volumes of information about the characters there—especially about the protagonist Amy. There’s so much silent storytelling there. That ability comes out of your introspection and your talent for observation, don’t you think?
PH: I constantly talk about the volumes of information that people don’t intend to give you, just with little tics of their face or twitches of their thumbs. The little things that people do speak so much about what they’re really feeling. It drives [my wife] Emily craaazy, because she walks in and I’ll say, “So what’s up?” and she’ll say, “What do you mean? I’m fine.” “No, something’s bothering you.” And then, maybe three minutes later, she’ll say, “OK, actually, yeah, this thing happened at work. How did you know?” and I’ll say, “You do this thing with your hand where your fingers are closer together when you’re upset in a certain way.”
TOC: I had a funny experience looking up some of your earlier books at the Harold Washington Library downtown. That library’s huge, and I didn’t remember exactly where to go to find their impressive graphic-novel collection. I told the librarian, “I’m looking for some fiction, and I have the call numbers.” He said, “Fiction doesn’t have call numbers.” I said, “Oh. Well, it’s a comic book.” And he said, “Oh! The PN1748s! Graphic novels DO have a call number.” It’s funny: They even use the word novel, which clearly indicates fiction, but the graphic novels are shelved in the midst of non-fiction. So I wonder: What nouns do you use to describe your work?
PN: I don’t know. I write and draw books. I don’t know what to call it. It’s funny: I get very different responses from people, depending on whether I say I’m a cartoonist or an author. I tend to say cartoonist because it gets so confusing to people. If I say I’m an author, people say, “OK, you just write words.” Then you’re like, “Well, no, I draw pictures.” “Oh, so you’re an illustrator.” So [shrugs], eh, I say, “I’m a cartoonist” and let people think of Dilbert.