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December 20, 2007

CR Holiday Interview #6: Tim Hodler on the Year in Art Comics



Despite having worked on some of the initial issues of The Ganzfeld, the writer Tim Hodler didn't show up on my radar until the debut of Comics Comics, kind of an ad-less Comics Buyer's Guide if the Spiegelman/Mouly RAW and the Claremont/Byrne X-Men had switched commercial and cultural places 25-30 years ago. Hodler's writing on comics is smart and to the point. It isn't designed to get himself over with a perceived audience. It's not a wedge to get the author's foot in the door for a career writing comics. He doesn't rant, or even vent. What he does is carefully analyze each book in a way where it seems as if he's come to every comic he talks about with wide-open eyes and a complete lack of agenda or obvious bias. I was pleased that he decided to talk to me a bit about himself, his work and the year in art/alt comics now fading. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: Where the heck did you come from? Suddenly I turn around and you're writing and you're married to a prominent alt-cartoonist and you're working with PictureBox. What did I miss? I take it you're an artist, or that you've done art?

TIMOTHY HODLER You didn't miss much, really. I'm not an artist at all, outside of the occasional mindless doodle, though I've taken a few courses in drawing here and there. Besides the handful of short comics stories I did as a child, the only comics I've ever published were two stories I wrote and drew in college for my school's student-run annual comics anthology, Bug. Both of them were pretty awkward and sophomoric, though people seemed to think they were funny at the time. I was going for a Doug Allen type of vibe, and was very proud to have successfully figured out how to use a brush.

I attended Washington University in St. Louis, where I majored in English literature (thesis on Dostoevsky and D.H. Lawrence) and minored in religious and film studies. That's where I first met a lot of the people who I still know very well, including my wife Lauren [Weinstein] and my Comics Comics co-editor Dan [Nadel].

In my senior year, I became the editor of the aforementioned Bug, along with another good friend, Patrick Smith, and we actually published Lauren's very first comic strips. At the time, I was also the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper's weekly entertainment magazine, Cadenza, where I published and edited an early column by Dan called Hey Kids! Comics!, in which the young legendary anthologist- and publisher-to-be regularly and strenuously promoted the idea that comics weren't just for children anymore. (I should dig some of those old articles out and post them on the Comics Comics blog to embarrass him some time.) I also asked a really funny guy named Marc Deckter to draw a comic strip for the magazine which I thought was hilarious, though many people seemed to find it idiotic. This fueled my youthful imagination with the idea that Marc was the George Herriman to my William Randolph Hearst. (Last I heard, Marc's now working for John Kricfalusi, by the way, which is perfect.)

imageAfter I graduated, I moved to New York and worked in the book publishing industry for a couple years as a scouting assistant, which allowed me the opportunity to read literally hundreds of terrible and not-so-terrible not-yet-published novels (one of our clients was Oprah Winfrey, which meant I got to read a lot of empowering stories about recovering from domestic abuse). Dan and Patrick moved to New York the following year, and in 1999, the three of us co-founded and edited The Ganzfeld, which, if you haven't read the first issue, was much different then than it is today. We wrote almost all of the contents ourselves (I did most of the unbylined "humor" pieces), and Patrick drew a really amazing wordless comic -- somewhat reminiscent of a collaboration between Jim Woodring and Richard McGuire -- that I still hear admiring comments about from cartoonists to this day. Patrick's gone on to do some very remarkable work in painting ( and on the Web (, but apparently got comics out of his system in one go. His new stuff is so great that it's had to fault him for that, but I'm still sorry I never got to read any more of his comics.

Anyway, we got a surprisingly positive and welcoming response to the first issue of The Ganzfeld, but due to various creative disagreements about the direction of the magazine, the partnership broke up. Patrick left after the first issue came out, and I left shortly before we finished putting the final touches on the second. At the time, it all seemed like a monumental tragedy, but I think it worked out in the end. We were all young and stupid (well, Patrick wasn't). Dan ended up turning The Ganzfeld into a fantastic publication of a much more professional and impressive kind, and it eventually led him to PictureBox and all of his various other endeavors. I left book publishing at around that time, and have since worked as a writer and researcher for New York and Details magazines. Also around that time, Lauren was pitching an animated series to Nickelodeon, and she asked me to help her write it. Nothing ever came of the series (more proof of my Midas touch), but it led to us getting married in 2005, so that was good. Around then, Dan and I patched up our differences, which by that time seemed petty and unimportant, and Dan generously asked me to start contributing to The Ganzfeld again, specifically pushing for a long story on Steve Gerber. That ended up not seeming appropriate for The Ganzfeld, but by that point, Comics Comics had been born.

SPURGEON: Can you describe your comics reading from the point it intensified until now? Did you grow up reading comics and the move into different types of comics like a lot of readers? Is there a comics reading experience that you remember as being particularly important in terms of still having a echo effect today?

HODLER You shouldn't ask that question unless you have a lot of time to kill... I was one of those kids who year after year, when assign
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