In this second part of our interview with the Possum and the Pepper Spray author, we discuss the influence of comics in Pete Hodapp’s small town, the role of the battle between man and nature in his work, and why it’s important to tell the rural story.
What was your original distribution plan for your work? Were you sending things out? Was there a place in town to sell your stuff?
Hell no. There is now, I guess. My wife opened a store last year, so I’m in charge of comics. We’re infecting the youth. At the time, I just kind of made it and had no idea what I was going to do with it, so I just did research on the Internet, trying to find stores or places that would review it, hoping more than anything that someone would give me an honest opinion. I have no one here to give me feedback, at all. It’s totally a vacuum.
Is your wife too close to it?
With three kids and all this stuff, it’s just too busy. We kind of dwell in our own worlds, so to speak. When I lived in Minneapolis, I was really fortunate. I had a lot of friends who did art. Here, there’s pretty much nobody [laughs].
Yawning Void is fitting name, seeing as how you were sort of tossing it out into the ether.
Yeah, I guess [laughs].
What sort of work are you carrying in the store?
The thing we’re working on now is distribution. That’s obviously the hardest part, dealing with disributors. It’s a small town, it’s a small shop. The town is like 4,500 people. To be able to put in an order with Diamond is a lot. We started with Top Shelf and Microcosm, because they had affordable minimums. But everything has pretty much flown off the racks. Man, it’s getting eaten alive. I’m serious.
The kids are so into it. And we have an adult section and a kid section, and after the holidays, there was nothing at all.
Are you engaging people who come in, or are they just coming in, flipping through, and buying?
I’m never in the shop, myself. They’re seeing stuff on the shelf. And I’ve been teaching at the school for six years, so I have all of those kids who have graduated who are now looking at it. And my stuff is in the paper now, and I think more people are just paying attention. I’m sure it’s not just strictly because of me, but I’m sure it certainly helps, just having it out there.
Are you starting to see minicomics from the kids you’ve been teaching?
Oh yeah, for sure. That’s what we do in the class that I teach at the high school. Every kid makes a piece. It has to be three pages or more, and then we make a class minicomic.
Are you stocking any in the store yet?
Oh yeah, for sure. But I think the first year ones sold out. I’m not sure about the others. And since I’ve been doing this, I’ve started having private classes, too. People are approaching me and asking me if I’ll teach their kids who are, for the most part, home schooled. I’m on, I think, the third kid. It’s just me and them and we just work through whatever we want to do.
So the feedback as far as teaching kids comics has been universally positive in the community?
Oh yeah, totally. I think part of the way we’re explaining it to the parents is that it’s where writing and visual arts come together. So they’re using the English skills they learned throughout their careers. They’re using their visual art skills and kind of putting them together.
And the last two years, I did autobiographical, strictly. That was the only limitation. And for a high school kid, there’s no more vulnerable time in your life. And some of the stories they tell are just crazy. And I try to tell them to be as honest as they possibly can. So we get these amazing stories. I think the kids really enjoy it.
Does being self-taught and somewhat out of the scene hinder your ability to teach? Does it help, not having those external influences as limitations?
I guess what I try to teach the kids—I’m a strong believer in the idea that you’ve got to know the rules before you can break them, so I try to teach them really traditional ideas like paying attention to panel structure, line quality, and really, really basic stuff. But also tell them that developing a story is completely up to them. I’m really just giving them raw tools and not trying to be too rigid about the structure itself.
Have you read any Scott McCloud?
Have you used it as reference?
No, but I’ve read it. I guess I would probably say that I’ve ended up using the Lynda Barry books more, because they’re more about pure writing. As far as the visual stuff goes, they have no problem with that.
One of the themes of your work is this concept of man versus nature.
And in Yawning Void there’s an image of two men fighting, with the words “Urban vs. Rural” below them. Having spent time in Los Angeles, is that dichotomy still an important part of who you are?
The “Rural vs. Urban” was more of a joke that anything. I think the more accurate description is man versus nature, and the toll that civilization is taking on the place we live. I guess my overall goal is to tell more rural stories, because I feel like, for the most part, autobiographical stories are dominated by urban stories. I think there is a lot of cool rural stuff out there that people don’t know about. And I think there’s a lot that even I don’t know about, at all.
I would like to see that represented more, because I think that some of those stories are really neat and really amazing.
What’s role does this idea of “man versus nature” play in The Possum and the Pepper Spray?
My mom gave me a can of mace when I moved to Minneapolis, because she grew up in Los Angeles and was pretty terrified all of the time. She was pretty sure I was going to get mugged at some point. So shemade me absolutely promise that I would carry it around all the time, which I did.
But the only time it got used is when a friend used it on me, on accident. He thought it would spray out like Binaca, like a little puff, but really, those things are made to shoot 40 or 50 feet. I remember watching the stream come toward me, into my eyes.
But the rest of the book is about how that same can of mace ended up moving with me. We were at the farm—and this goes back to the Yawning Void thing—you have to haul your own garbage out there. You don’t have a garbage man. So, we didn’t really know what to expect, so I just set the cans outside.
Of course, animals are hungry and they want to eat food, and if there’s a ready supply of food on your back porch, they’re going to come and get it. So the rest of it is me borrowing a gun from my neighbor to shoot the possum and other animals that show up and start rooting through our garbage, but basically being a wuss on not being able to shoot it.
Going back to that idea of man vs. nature, is there a sense of guilt that this is their land that you’re living on?
It’s not so much that as I’m kind of a wuss [laughs]. I just couldn’t do it. maybe growing up around nature a lot, I guess I have a little appreciation of it. I ended up pepper spraying this possum instead. But one of the things I said in there is that I was trying to teach it a lesson, but it’s not going to learn a lesson. I’m the one who learned the lesson. I ended up moving my garbage to a place where the animals couldn’t get it.
Those tiny adjustments that you have to make when you’re in contact with nature on a regular basis.
Isn’t the lesson to fear the hand of man?
But they don’t. in the middle of winter, they’re hungry enough. They’ll do whatever.
[Continued in Part Three]