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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:

When people ask me my favorite webcomic, the answer is easy: Cool Jerk. Paul Horn’s wickedly funny strip first came to my attention in 2004, and as good as Horn was then, he’s light years ahead of himself at this point. With a keen eye for detail, a professional-level brand of pop culture snark, and characters that are both well-defined and damned funny, Horn always finds a way to make me laugh. After years of communication, both online and in person, this is the first time I’ve sat down to interview him about his work.

MM: Paul, let's start at the beginning. When did you start cartooning? Were you the kid that sat in the back of the class and did snarky doodles of the teacher?

PH: Oh I've always been drawing. In class, I was the kid who was drawing on the back of dittos and defacing Pee Chee folders. But while the other kids were drawing tricked-out cars and hot-rods, I was drawing people. So that's why -- to this day -- I cannot draw cars. Cartooning -- at least in the aspect of creating an image or a series of images with a joke or punchline -- came in college.

MM: What role did comic books play in your childhood? Was there a point where you thought to yourself that maybe doing comics was your destiny?

PH: My first comic book was Fantastic Four #197. I decided to keep getting it each month, to this day. My fifth-grade best friend and I created a little superhero comic book and while it amused us, neither really thought to go into comic books. And neither of us did.

MM: When you decided to pursue art, did you undertake any formal training?

PH: It was my senior year in high school, Carson City, Nev. I was taking two art classes and was involved with the school newspaper, yearbook and the literary magazine. I'd been to the San Diego Comic-Con three years in a row and was starting to think in that direction (of comics, specifically Marvel). But, again, that meant learning how to draw cars so I veered toward studio art in general. I loaded up on those courses at UNR (University of Nevada, Reno). Sadly, UNR was not known for being a very strong "art school," so I feel like most of my formal training as a waste. I guess I'm more-or-less self-taught.

MM: How did you wind up in the newspaper arena?

PH: My first day at UNR was also my first day at the Sagebrush, the twice-weekly student paper. It was a win-win: I was doing production and desktop publishing (back then, the Macintosh was still relatively new and newspaper design on the Mac was "cutting-edge") and I started cartooning, filling an open slot on their comics page.

MM: Was there a part of you that wanted to pursue journalism at any point?

PH: Ha! You could say that. After three years at the Sagebrush I was hired at the Reno Gazette-Journal as a newsroom graphics journalist. You know... charts, maps, diagrams, infographics. I also did illustrations and, soon, a comic strip for the new, weekly teen page. And that strip was Cool Jerk.

MM: How many concepts did you go through before you locked on to COOL JERK as your winner?

PH: None. In 1991, the Gazette-Journal wanted a strip aimed at teens, starring teens. By coincidence, my comic strips for the Sagebrush -- called Like, For Shore! -- were just that. Since I was already in that mindset, I started up Cool Jerk on the fly. After a couple months of Cool Jerk I turned the unnamed, titular main character into Armpit, introduced his girlfriend Puppy and voilá! A new home and new life for characters I left hanging in college.

MM: Was the strip a hit quickly? Or was it a slow build?

PH: Hard to say. I know a lot of folks in the newsroom, including the editor, really liked it from day one. I rarely got any direct feedback from the "outside world" (this was a bit before most people had e-mail, mind you) but word-of-mouth was strong. The editor made some calls and soon Cool Jerk was being distributed throughout the Gannett newspaper chain via their online intranet. For a while Cool Jerk was running in about a dozen-and-a-half papers each week, including Palm Springs, Rockford, Ill., Niagara, N.Y., Great Falls, Mont. and Guam. I get a surprise every now and then when I meet someone who remembers it from those newspaper days of the early- to mid-1990s.

MM: One of the most unique things about the strip is the character names. Armpit, Puppy, Yuri Tomato... was going for the odd one of your ways of marketing the strip as something different from everything else on the comics page?

PH: Well, many names were actually a joint effort between my friend Cory Freeman and me. I like names that are reflective of their personalities. Yuri Tomato was originally called "Chippie Tenderloin" and Manuel Dexterity was originally called "Rupert Sprayface." As an 18-year-old, I thought those names were no less clever than a "Miss Buxley." But when Like, For Shore! ended and became Cool Jerk, I made the name changes. I still like Armpit and Puppy, though.

MM: At what point did you begin to consider taking the strip private and building your own personal webcomics "empire" with it?

PH: I moved to San Diego in 1994 to work for The San Diego Union-Tribune as the Graphics Team Leader. The Union-Tribune is not part of Gannett, so I couldn't do the strip anymore, at least not as part of my job. So, on my own time, I still did Cool Jerk for Gannett distribution until 1996. But since no money was changing hands and Cool Jerk wasn't running in the home town, it became a chore instead of a passion. A couple of good friends gave me the "tough love" talk and convinced me to take it out of newspapers and put it online for everyone to see (luckily, I secured the cooljerk.com domain name in 1995 for just such an occasion). I took a couple years off from Cool Jerk, but started up again in 1998 and have been at it ever since. That's where you'll see the new strip(s) each week.

MM: I remember buying one of your minis that collect the strip at San Diego in 2004 and being struck at how detailed and polished the art looked and how wickedly funny the dialogue was, and I think the first thing I wrote in a review afterwards was "this needs to be collected in trade paperback" or something to that effect. You've now produced two COOL JERK collections- what was the process like of putting the book together, and how has response been from your fanbase?

PH: The first hurdle I had to conquer was confidence in myself and my product. At my first San Diego Comic-Con (as a professional, that is) in 2003, I gave away the mini-comics! I felt... uneasy selling booklets of my strips for a buck a pop, especially when people could read them online for free. But I'm a believer of viral marketing and contagious enthusiasm. People signed onto my weekly e-mailer (a courtesy note I send out each week to let people know when there's a new strip online to read). I made friends. I promised people that Cool Jerk was NOT a flash-in-the-pan, and that I've been cartooning the adventures of Armpit and Puppy since before there WAS an Internet. I cherish my fan-- er, my friendbase, and try to never disappointment them. Before I forget, thanks for enjoying my art and sense of humor.

So the time came where I had to wear my Pull-Ups and make a real book (ISBN, UPC, printed and bound, etc.). Hodabeast (Cool Jerk Vol. 1) was printed in Hong Kong in 2007 and Chickadoowa (Cool Jerk Vol. 2) was printed stateside last summer. The books were created 100% by me via QuarkXPress on a Mac. I re-mastered all the artwork so the printed strips really clobber the online versions (600dpi vs 72 dpi). Response from my friendbase has been robust and humbling. Between my e-mailer and Web 2.0 shout-outs (Facebook, Twitter), several hundred friends are kept in the loop of my endeavors. Feedback from book-buyers has been terrific.

MM: You listed them for the first time in PREVIEWS his past fall- how did that work out?

PH: I won't sugar-coat it. It was bleak. I picked the worst timing to launch a book without a massive P.R. machine. Cool Jerk doesn't yet have the household name, so I suspect retailers were likely very wary of taking any risks, especially in today's economy. The upshot is that both Cool Jerk collections can be purchased directly from me and delivered personalized with a note and a sketch. Plus, my books have gimmicks that kind of force the reader to read the books two, three, four times. I make sure people truly get their money's worth. Yes, I'm a whore. What?

MM: COOL JERK has merchandise, books, and a weekly web-mailer that delivers new strips to your readers. What comes next? Any interest in producing web-animation or something of that nature?

PH: Animation of any kind sounds fun, but I'm hoping Cool Jerk will please the right people somewhere and someone (cough Adult Swim cough) will want to do the animation for me. Otherwise, I'm still cartooning every week, publishing books, doing comic conventions, in-store signings and learning how to get Cool Jerk into more homes, hands and hearts.

MM: Is COOL JERK your lifelong work? Or do you see yourself tackling other strips or comics as your career progresses?

PH: Funny you should mention that. I have no plans to end Cool Jerk, but my third book of collected comics WON'T be Cool Jerk. That'll be out this summer.

MM: What is the one thing that people don't know about Paul Horn, but should?

PH: I'm in a Eurythmics video? I have a forked uvula? I'm learning how to draw cars? Everyone knows I'm a sasquatchphobe... I'm running out of secrets! 

Marc Mason 

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