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Feature Mon Jan 03 2011

Answers and Questions: Paul Hornschemeier

Answers and Questions is a biweekly column that asks Chicago writers to remember the funniest or strangest things they've been asked in a question-and-answer session, during a talk, or in an interview.

In interviewing Evanston-based graphic novelist Paul Hornschemeier for a magazine story [aside: big thanks to the proofreader/fact-checker for making sure I didn't misspell his name], one thing he said more than once was that what's most important for creating a graphic novel is the ability to tell a story -- more important, even, than artistic ability.

This guy can tell a story:

On two separate occasions I've had people argue with me that I am not me. There is apparently some existential comedian writing the script of my life for moments like these to not only happen at conventions but also on the street (I am routinely the person stopped on the bus, on the street, etc. by someone who needs a special someone to explore their mental landscape... I just have that kind of face, I guess).

At one convention -- I was around 25 at the time -- I was setting up my books on the table when a man walked by. He noticed the name on the book, and he stopped.

"Is he here?" the man asked.

Never presuming anyone would be asking about me, especially not at a point where I had only a few things in publication, I responded, "Sorry, who?"

"Him," he repeated, pointing to the book. "Paul Hornschemeier."

"Oh, sorry, yeah. I'm him. That's me."

The man leaned back and cocked an eyebrow, momentarily entertaining the joke I had unknowingly made. "Okay, sure. But seriously, is he here?"

I wasn't sure what was going on. "Yes, I'm... I'm Paul Hornschemeier, like I said."

The man sighed and waved my gag off. "Okay, never mind, I just wondered if he was here."

I stood there open mouthed. Should I produce a driver's license? Was this even happening? Had I finally lost it?

The man walking away when he passed the next table, occupied by a cartoonist who knew me fairly well. The cartoonist looked up at the man and pointed back at me. "Um, that really is him."

The man took this as gospel. "OH! I thought you were joking. Sorry, but I thought you were like 50 years old and bald with a beard."

One of the characters in my books looks like this. And this isn't the only occasion where people expected me to look like the character. That character is also a symbolic logic professor and suicidally depressed, but nobody ever argued with me about having neither of those characteristics.

Also I was once asked if I thought Brandon Routh would reprise his role as Superman during a discussion of comics as fine art, but that was a far less sweat-inducing exchange.

See Hornschemeier's work at the Museum of Contemporary Art January 8-30 for a group show, New Chicago Comics.

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