Paul Hornschemeier interview

Chicago cartoonist on new graphic novel

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Once you’ve sounded it out, it’s not such a difficult name. Hornschemeier. Still, it does tend to give people pause. ‘It’s one of those names: you’re destined to either be a writer or scientist,’ says author-artist Paul, the man blessed 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 local band Arks. He’s on tour promoting his new graphic novel, Life with Mr Dangerous, a droll look at the life of Amy, a woman stumbling into her late twenties with a self-imposed sense of dread about her job and love life.

Like any American cartoonist (that’s the noun he prefers), he grew up on a diet of superhero comics. His artistic and intellectual interests expanded as he grew older; as a college student 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 like Mother, Come Home and one reason why it turned some people off is because it’s so relentlessly sad. It needed to be that way. I needed to work it out of myself,’ he 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 any more.’

That shift becomes apparent upon reading Mr Dangerous. 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 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 anywhere. It was 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.
Life with Mr Dangerous is available at www.amazon.com

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