For this year’s Comic-Con the San Diego Uptown News looked no farther than its own back yard — Mission Hills, to be precise — to locate long-time Comic-Con devotee and full-time cartoonist and graphic artist Paul Horn, whose work has graced the pages of this publication and many others.
Clever Headline Here!
By Charles Shaw
Paul Horn is the creator of Cool Jerk, one of the longest-running regular comics features created exclusively for the Internet. Cool Jerk follows “the diverse denizens of Spittle Beach, California, primarily wise-ass hodad (and title character) Armpit Beachhead and his superior-in-every-way girlfriend Puppy Fizgig as they battle the forces of stupidity, inanity and pop-culture horror.” It’s a strip geared towards the “iPod generation and anyone with an offbeat sense of humor,” Horn says.
Cool Jerk ran in the Reno Gazette-Journal from 1991 to 1996, and was picked up later by Gannett and distributed via its wire service to The (Palm Springs) Desert Sun, (Guam) Pacific Daily News, Rockford (Ill.) Register-Star, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, Niagara (NY) Gazette, among others. Horn moved from Reno to San Diego in 1994 but continued it for Gannett until 1996. After a hiatus the strip was given a new home online and it’s been there ever since.
Horn has been attending Comic-Con every year since 1983, when he was 14 years old. We sat down with him to discuss the evolution of Comic-Con and the comics industry over the twenty-six years he had attended.
Q: When did you begin your comics odyssey?
A: In 1983 I was 14 years old and living in Nevada and a friend from San Diego told me about the convention. At that time the convention was held at the Civic Center downtown. I remember that the most striking aspect to the convention was that the artists who attended at the time were very approachable … you could just go right up and talk to them. I was blown away by the way that you could interact directly with these huge comic strip artists. So I decided to go every year, and haven’t missed one since. I got to meet many people from Marvel and DC Comics, who would bring out a fairly large chunk of their staff every year. I met Stan Lee, Mike Carlin, Will Eisner, George Perez, Walt Simonson, Gil Kane, Frank Miller. It was pretty amazing for someone who aspired to be a comic book artist.
Q: What was the Comic-Con like in those days? Who went? What were some of the features or attractions?
A: For as long as I had been going it was a four-day affair. Between 1983 and 1989 it was the place to go to buy back issues of comics books, buy original comic artwork, see previews of upcoming comics, and go to panels that had Q & As with comic artists and publishers. There was some Hollywood presence there, but it was not significant in any way even though the tradition of Hollywood at the Comic-Con began, I have heard, back in 1976 when George Lucas held a legendarily disastrous screening of an early cut of Star Wars. In the 80s it was still a pretty big convention, but it wasn’t chokingly, claustrophobically big like it is now. Until the mid-1990s the demographics were consistent with the stereotypical “comic book guy.” It seemed like the women that were there were either really into comics themselves, which was strange since there wasn’t much content directed at women beyond Betty and Veronica, or there were the girlfriends and wives and kids who went along for the spectacle. It seemed like 90% of the attendants were male. During this period there wasn’t much of a comic strip presence, it was geared much more toward comic books and graphic novels.
Q: How did Comic-Con inspire your work?
A: When I first started going, in my teen years, I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do with my life. I mean, I could always draw, but I was not really thinking about being an full-fledged comic artist. I was interested in honing my skills enough to be able to draw comic book art, but it wasn’t until I went and saw pros giving critiques to amateurs and aspiring artists … sometimes they would get ripped to shreds, but it was incredibly direct and honest criticism. They taught us about not only what needed to go into the panels, but what did not need to go in them. After witnessing enough of those, I definitely didn’t feel like I had the chops for mainstream comic book art. It wasn’t until I went to University of Nevada, Reno and was offered a spot drawing a comic strip for the school paper that I really took it seriously. This was 1987, and I began the strip that would eventually become Cool Jerk, but like I said, back then there wasn’t much programming geared toward newspaper comics. Mike Peters, who does Mother Goose and Grimm, was one of the only prominent strip artists I remember meeting. Certainly none of my inspirations like Berke Breathed (Bloom County, Outland, Opus) ever went.
Aspiring comic book artists go to Comic-Con to get noticed and try to get picked up by one of the big comic book publishers. But when newspaper cartoonists want to get into a paper, they have to talk to the syndicates directly, like King Features. And none of them ever went to Comic-Con. If I wanted to get Cool Jerk into the papers, I would have to put together packets and send them in directly. This was definitely one of my only disappointments with Comic-Con over the years.
Q: Who did inspire your work?
A: Berke Breathed, who always did a four-panel strip and always made it work. I mean, I hated doing lettering (the dialogue in a comic strip), it always drove me crazy and was my least favorite part of the process. Berke Breathed’s lettering was his own, and it had such character and life and passion behind it. This was certainly novel. Art-wise I have always appreciated the British illustrator Alan Davis. And then of course there’s Gary Larson (The Far Side). There’s no way you can look at Cool Jerk and see any connection to The Far Side, but I was floored at how he was able to “bring the funny” every day of the year. Every one of his comics is good, timeless, perfect. I don’t use any of his tricks — I don’t have talking cows or women in beehive hairdos and horn-rimmed glasses — but his overall influence on comic strips and comedy in general is unparalleled.
Q: When did Comic-Con begin to change?
A: When the convention moved it to the new convention center in 1991 it really felt like the paradigm was shifting from the “boys’ club” it had been to a diverse crowd that had clusters of women going individually, small packs of four or five at time. This was very unique for this place. Then in the mid-1990s, and building right on up to the present era, there have been less and less of the “stereotypical.” It stopped being so nerdy. Its amazing what the inclusion of women can do.
Technology didn’t have as much of a revolutionary presence at Comic-Con as you might think. It wasn’t unique. I remember about a dozen years ago there were developers selling animation software, but that was really about it. Of course, around 1997 there was a booth for this new thing called eBay. Sometimes you would see vendors for those touch-sensitive drawing tablets. I remember seeing a notice banning pagers … remember pagers?
Q: What do you think of the new comic drawing technology?
A: Berke Breathed came back to comic strip work after ten years when the technology had improved, and the result was the Opus series (the lead character from Bloom County and Outland). I’d read he originally quit doing comic strips in part because of the tedious hassle of coloring and lettering. When he came back, he used computer assisted techniques, and — to me — it killed the spirit of the whole thing. The computer font Breathed used to replace his hand lettering was devoid of character and life and passion. Now, I mentioned I hate lettering, so I dont want to be a hypocrite by admitting that I use a font of my own creation for my lettering, but I will acknowledge that it doesn’t have nearly the same character as when I letter by hand. The computer animation and coloring was weird because Breathed originally used flat tones with mechanical separations. But once he got a hold of Photoshop, everything was over-colored and didn’t really hold up to his previous work.
Q: What is Comic-Con like now?
A: It is bigger attendance-wise on Saturday than the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony! There are 125,000 people on any given day. In the old days you could go in for your lunch and be back at work in an hour. These days, you can’t find parking unless you start looking the night before! It’s no longer a “comics” convention as much as it is a celebration of all the popular arts, including animation, gaming, et cetera. Hollywood is huge there now. All kids of stationery makers, craftspeople, traditional artists. There are small press and independent publishers as well as “big media.” It’s the entire spectrum. These days the biggest hubbub is about the “Twilight” series having a booth presence …. some old-time comic book guys are afraid of what the infusion of thousands of shrieking screaming tweenage girls will do to the “integrity” of their event.
Q: What’s up with Cool Jerk?
A: I’ve been cartooning these characters since 1987. I was in print until 1996 then moved the strip online. From 1996 until 2003 I was writing and posting the comic each week to keep up with my skills and to keep people laughing. But in 2002 I was walking through the Small Press area of Comic-Con and I started talking to people there about how to go about getting a vending table. So beginning in 2003, I have been tabling Cool Jerk there in the Small Press area. In the seven years since I built upon that, and in 2007 I self-published my first Cool Jerk book, Hodabeast, which was distributed through Diamond, a huge comic book distributor. It’s a 144-page collection, like you’d see from Foxtrot, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, etc. In 2008 I self-published my second Cool Jerk collection, Chickadoowa. This week I release my third book, Doc Splatter Ominous Omnibus, a kind of spin-off of the Cool Jerk series. It’s a collection of material dating all the way back to college, and lots of divergent material along the way.
I look forward to Comic-Con every year. It’s the biggest event of its kind. You would think attendance would be dropping because of the economy, but it sold out two months ago! This is exceptionally encouraging for the small fry like myself who is not represented by a comic syndicate or a book publisher or toy company. And there are so many people like me, independent artists and creators with unique visions and skill sets who deserve to get seen, and it’s so encouraging that there will be huge crowds on hand for them.
Twenty years ago it was important for comic book artists. Now it is the equivalent of Cannes or Sundance or the Oscars. On any given day you can walk from one end of the convention center to the other and see scads of big-time celebrities, from comics and the art world to TV and Hollywood. It is as important to the pop culture industry as any film or music festival. Reputations and fortunes can be made or broken there.
Paul Horn can be found during this year’s Comic-Con at the Cool Jerk booth in the Small Press area. Drop in and say hi, and tell him you read about him in the Uptown News.
The 40th annual San Diego Comic-Con opened July 23 and runs through July 26
If you don’t already have tickets, it’s too late! Comic-Con sold out months ago.
If you do, however, some things you may need to know:
Where it is: The San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Drive.
: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Reselling or transferring badges is prohibited — so are smoking, pets and “functional” weapons.
Special guest appearances include: author Ray Bradbury, political cartoonist Patrick Oliphant, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, and MAD magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones.