Paul Hoppe: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday October 28, 2013

Paul Hoppe, an illustrator and comics artist, has been a friend of DART since his work first appeared in AI26. At the New York City comics fairs, he acts as a semaphore: a tall fellow, he is also one of a few participants who has figured out how to be visible in a crowded hall—often standing alongside his even taller Rabid Rabbit vertical banner. Next week, a 10-year survey of Paul’s work will be seen in an exhibition at the German Consulate in New York.

You live in Brooklyn, you grew up in the south of Germany and were born in Poland. As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

In Brooklyn you can't throw a rock without hitting an illustrator. Last year I even moved into a studio at the Pencil Factory; it's just nice to be surrounded with like-minded, talented and hard-working people.

 The German House in New York, 2013.

What do you miss the most about home?

I do miss my family and friends in Germany, and the German language and culture. On the other hand, here in Greenpoint, I can speak Polish, which is another side of my upbringing.

How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

Through comics and illustrated books that I read as a child. I wanted to do that, too!

What was your first commercial assignment?

It might have been a cover for a demo tape of a friend's band. It was paid in beer.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

All parts of the process have potential to be super-satisfying or immensely frustrating. My favorite would probably be either the very early sketching and roughs (where everything is possible) or the "inking", (which can be very Zen).

Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

I have two: one at work for my professional stuff, thumbnails, sketches and sometimes finishes. And one that I have at home (and carry around) for personal work, containing mostly my personal comics. I love to draw on paper. I force myself to "finish" the piece as a black-and-white hard copy. Only my coloring happens on the computer.

What is your favorite time of day for working? How do you spend the first hour of your workday?

My brain is freshest in the morning, it's a pity I waste it often on correspondence and social media. In the afternoon usually I get another good run in. I avoid working into the night, except for my personal comics: I do them frequently while watching TV in the evening. That's not work; it's recreation.

What are you reading?

Random vintage comic books from the ‘70s.

Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

I love the old guard: Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Saul Steinberg, and everybody who was part of Pushpin Studios. I looked a lot at Marshall Arisman and Robert Weaver, Yuko Shimizu, Nathan Fox, and John Hendrix. In comics, Moeubius, Jaques Tardi, David Mazzucchelli, Lewis Trondheim and Ben Katchor, and the awesome John Buscema and Jack Kirby. Not to forget: Monty Python, The Beatles and The Simpsons.

What are some of your favorite blogs/websites/places for inspiration?

Through social media I stay posted on my colleague's and friend's work, but otherwise I rather step away from the screen: a walk to the waterfront or the park, the roof of our studio or the Metropolitan Museum. Also, stores like Books of Wonder, Desert Island or Time Machine where I can get my fix.

From Peanut, written Ayun Halliday, published by Schwartz & Wade / Random House 2013.

Your work bridges a broad range of interests, from post-goth punk to urban studies to fun stuff for kids. What is there in your make-up that enables you to have a strong hand in so many different areas?

It's natural curiosity mixed with the refusal and/or inability to do the same thing too many times. Also my path from studying graphic design and fine arts (a lack of an illustration program at home), then working as a background designer in animation (because the urge for drawing came back strong), and finally doing the MFA in actual illustration—all this creates a colorful mix in my head.

Has social media been a boon for self-promotion? Or do you have methods you’ve always used that still work?

It's hard to quantify in real numbers what it actually does. But networking and knowing people is a requirement for our job, and social media is just another way of interacting with people.

What do you get out of the time you spend/the experiences you have at the New York comics fairs, such as MOCCA and Brooklyn Comics Fest?

The direct feedback (and hopefully excitement) from random people is a thrill because as an illustrator you work mostly without seeing your audience. And the different worlds I work in converge: people from all the fields visit me, from children's book editors to editorial art directors to former students.

Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?

I teach every summer in the SVA Illustration Residency, where people from all over the world come to spend a month in New York and have classes with Viktor Koen, Gregory Crane and me. It's an illustration bootcamp and intense for all of us, but really amazing to work with such a diverse and unique group.

What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

Does New York ComicCon count? If so, then it taught me that there are a *lot* of people out there.

When did you create your first zine or book? What was it? Did you sell any of the copies you made?

My first publication, right out of high-school, was a relatively professional comic-magazine for our hometown, that I started with friends. Called Pulp, it was, in spirit, something between Mad magazine and The Onion. Published in an edition of 5,000, it was free, distributed in cafés, bars and other places, and financed with advertising.

What is there about independent publishing that attracted you?

Working with big publishers and on real jobs is very exciting and I love it. But with self-publishing, the content can be more raw, experimental, self-indulgent, subversive and unfiltered. I think our culture needs both things, and I myself need both things.

That was the spirit behind starting the comic anthology, Rabid Rabbit, with CM Butzer, besides getting our (super-talented) friends from the School of Visual Arts MFA program together. For a while it became sort of an alumni organization of the department. I'm so grateful to everybody who contributed.

A few years later, I found the need to produce work that was even rawer and sillier, totally self-indulgent, and without agenda or propose. That was when I started my mini-comics, Journey Into Misery and Tales to Behold.

What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?

If you're getting noticed that's great, keep doing what you do! Obviously you need to work hard and put yourself out there, but you're already doing that, which is great. Now we'll just have to see if you have the stamina and stomach to keep at it for years. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Good luck!

Journey Into Misery 1-2 and Tales To Behold 3, 2010.

Paul Hoppe is a freelance-illustrator for newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies, a graphic designer, and an author and illustrator of children’s books and graphic novels.

Paul has written and illustrated several picture books: his self-written debut Hat has as been translated into 7 languages. Paul co-founded the comic-anthology Rabid Rabbit and served as its art director for years. His other clients have included The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Addidas and IBM. His work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts, 3x3 and PRINT.

His latest books are the graphic novel Peanut (written by Ayun Halliday), published by Schwartz & Wade / Random House, and the chapter book series Last-But-Not-Least Lola (written by Christine Pakkala) with Boyd Mills. Currently, he is illustrating a series of books for Highlights for Children.

There will be an opening reception for The Art of Paul Hoppe | 10 Years of New York, on Tuesday, November 5, 6-8 pm, at the German Consulate, NY, NY. RSVP.