Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Art Hondros

Art Hondros has had an interesting year.  You may have seen his story "Fox Guy" in the Washington Post Magazine this March. He also did the cover to the latest edition of Magic Bullet. Now, he has just finished "Song of Sandy Hook," a comic on gun control.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Art Hondros: Humorous but somewhat realistic. Maybe less realism in the one with the talking T-Rex. Though lately I’ve taken more to the journalistic angle. People seem to pay more attention to that, at least with my stuff.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

AH: Conventional. Ink on paper, though I scan it afterward to integrate it with the rest of today’s world.

WCP: When and where were you born?

AH: I’m a product of the 1960s and the American South. My folks were Democrats after it was no longer popular to be such in that
region. My dad worked at a newspaper, and he used to bring home these stacks of blank newsprint that the pressmen had trimmed. I’d fold them and draw comic books.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

AH: In spite of living here, I don’t speak good wonk or work with politics. I came here a while back, wanting to return to publishing. I do production work at National Geographic, so I’m in a pretty decent place for that. Many folks I know back in North Carolina are or have been out of work for months, years at a time. So I feel the move here was the right thing (sound of employed knuckles knocking on wood).

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

AH: Nothing formal in comics, but I attended the Colorado Art Institute for advertising design—a modern name for commercial art. Cartoons weren’t on their radar, though it was a well-rounded curriculum. And it was great of my dad to provide for the Associate Degree, though I guess what really counted was much earlier, when he’d bring all that blank paper home.

WCP: Who are your influences?

AH: Many of the Mad magazine contributors from the old days, especially Mort Drucker. It’s magic how his likenesses are so comical and yet so real. Before that it was Carl Barks and his vintage Uncle Scrooge/Donald Duck comics, which my mom read to us, even after we could read ourselves. When people see my work, they often mention R. Crumb, who is a terrific comics artist, but I honestly had no awareness of him growing up besides those "Keep on Truckin" posters in the head shops. I suppose mentioning head shops gives you an idea of influences on my youth in general.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

AH: Not waste those few years working at a place for licensed T-shirt designs. If I’d paid closer attention I could’ve learned more about cutthroat business tactics, which I’m sure is profitable, but not as much fun for me as comics.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

AH: I guess the only thing to date is “Fox Guy,” the eulogy bio piece that ran in the Washington Post Magazine about Walt Rave. He was an eccentric local character and animal rights activist. A lot of people here knew who he was before my comic.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

AH: It always seems to be what’s in the works. Which right now is a stand-alone mini comic, a sort of illustrated essay, about guns in this country. It’s less than flattering to the NRA and Congress, surprise, surprise.

During the holidays last winter, I tried to keep my focus on comics projects I had currently in the works, but my mind kept going back to what it must've been like in the halls and classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School on that wretched day. Finally I realized I couldn't work on anything else but what follows here. Call it a process of dealing with the collective grief of that news. But I also felt that, as an illustrative storyteller, I could attempt something, just one more thing besides voting to keep someone in or out of office, or donating money to a cause one might think useful. No matter how feeble it may turn out, "Song of Sandy Hook" is that attempt.

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

AH: If there were ever time, I’d love to do an unauthorized graphic novelization of Dick Cheney’s memoir. There could be some fun with that.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

AH: Switch to a different project where I know what comes next. Or enjoy an India pale ale.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

AH: Hopefully something that includes me. Seriously, though, aside from whether comics are read on paper, digital tablets or contact lenses, I hope the mentality towards them shifts. Lots of otherwise respectable people think comics are only for juveniles.

WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

AH: I always try to make it to Small Press Expo. It’s a wonderful event to meet, greet, and buy material from other do-it-yourselfers. I’m always impressed with my colleagues in the DC Conspiracy collective, who make the year-round convention circuit across the country. With younger kids at home, travel is limited, but I’m lucky SPX is nearby.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

AH: It’s become one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., from what I read. Which means it’s still a ways off from, say, the Netherlands, but it’s a start. It’s my main mode of commuting, so I enjoy the benefits of what Fenty began when he was mayor. Plus, there are some truly great neighborhoods here.

WCP: Least favorite?

AH: The middle schoolers currently in Congress. That and the general  mood of the populace at large, which is a bit hangdog and unfriendly. I suppose that’s natural with more A-types per capita who’re working to change the world on paper. Washington, by the way, isn’t really a Southern city, regardless of what the snarkier among us may think.

WCP: What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

AH: That old boarded-up canal lockhouse on the Mall at the corner of 17th and Constitution. I’ll tell people it was the Hondros Museum of Comics, but the sequester closed it up.

WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?

AH: Tastee Diner in downtown Silver Spring. For comfort, not so much for health. It’s a classic greasy spoon experience. And they know how to handle crowds. It was moved a few blocks in 2001 from its original location when they cleared space for an office building. It survived.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

AH: Aside from Facebook, no, I don’t. And if you interview me in five years, that’ll probably be the answer to the above question concerning do-overs. [Note: ComicsDC will be serializing his Song of Sandy Hook comic.]

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