In this final part of our interview with Pete Hodapp, we discuss the effects of winning the Isotope Award for his second mini, The Possum and the Pepper Spray.
Did you submit your books for the Isotope Award on a whim?
I was reading stuff online, because I made this comic, and I was like, ‘well, what the hell do I do with it?’ One suggest I read was that you can try for these awards, and, if nothing else, they’ll get you to a broader audience, and more people will know about your stuff.
I came really, really close to not even sending anything at all. I was like, ‘I’ll wait until next year, when I’m better.’ But I’m a firm believer in trying to do things that are uncomfortable, because that’s usually when you learn the most. So, I just kind of stuffed them in an envelope and tried not to think too much, and had my daughter give it a kiss, and sent it off, not expecting to hear anything at all.
How long was it until you heard something?
It was a few months. Three months, maybe.
Had you more or less forgotten about it, by that point?
Oh, completely. I’d completely forgotten about it.
Did they notify you that you were in the running?
Yeah, they notified me that I was a finalist, but one of the requirements that they have is that you have to be there to accept the prize. So, I got an e-mail saying that I was a finalist, and I got an e-mail saying, ‘can you come out here?’ And I was like, ‘well, it’s kind of far for me to hop on a plane. Do I really need to be there?’ And they were like, ‘yeah, you should really be here.’ So I went out there.
It’s part of APE.
Was that your first big comics show?
Yeah. I’d gone to the Minneapolis Expo (MIX) before that, which is really small, so the APE thing was pretty mind-blowing.
You were at MIX?
Yeah. I didn’t have a table or anything. I was just walking around. I’m also going to Stumptown, this year, for the first time. That will be the first time I’ve ever had stuff on display, for sale.
Did you table at all at APE?
They said, “make sure you bring a bunch.” I told them how many I had, and they were like, “that’s not nearly enough.” So, I made a second printing really fast. That’s one of the good things about being a high school teacher, you have free labor [laughs]. I rounded up some kids, and they helped me do the screenprinting on the front and the stapling and all of that stuff. I did a second printing before I came.
But going to APE, they gave me a spot at the Writers Old Fashioned Table. They already had it reserved and let me share a corner of it. Walking into that, it’s such a huge freakin’ warehouse full of people who are doing the same thing that you’re doing. It’s unbelievable. It’s one thing to go online. It’s another to go to a comic book shop and see these things on the rack. But to see this huge space just totally filled with people who are doing what you’re doing. Also, to see people who are buying these things because they love them. It was really encouraging.
Were people buying your book and engaging with you about it?
Yeah, a little bit. We were kind of in this weird corner, right by this wheelchair ramp, so I was kind of behind the guardrail [laughs]. I think a lot of people didn’t really notice me—which is fine. I wasn’t really prepared for it, I guess. But just to talk to anybody about it was amazing—to get any kind of feedback. It’s one thing for your friends or your spouse to say it’s great, but it’s another to have people who are doing the same thing as you to tell you that they like it and why. Or, even better is to say, “I like this, but I don’t like this one part, because…” That is so valuable, and it’s something I don’t really get here.
Right, right. It’s so rare.
And then there was a party for you, that night.
Well, the Isotope party was before that. That was crazy. Really crazy, overwhelming. I sent my comics to them, not thinking I would hear back. And, from what I understand, both of them were finalists, not just The Possum. The first two things I made were finalists? How is that even possible? It’s crazy.
Is it hard to go from not talking about your work at all, to being the center of attention.
No. I mean, I’m definitely not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd of a whole bunch of people, but I’m not uncomfortable talking about comics or my stuff, and I think a lot of that has to do with the teaching. I have to get up there every day and talk about my stuff, whether I’m in the mood or not.
Do you feel like people “got it?” Obviously they liked your work, but did they appreciate for the same reasons that you created it?
I don’t know. I think some people did, just from certain remarks that I’ve got. And I think that some people see it as kind of a novelty. That it’s something wacky and different, but they’re not necessarily taking it for what it is. Bottom line, I don’t care if they’re taking it the right way. I just want to make stuff and have it pay for itself and just keep making it, because I think there’s a lot more rural stuff that could be represented, and I’m doing my best to find those people.
Was some of that novelty the fact that it was produced by a person they’d never heard of from a place they’d never heard of?
Maybe there was some of that. Honestly, I think the whole Isotope thing was kind of a blur. I’d say it’s more novel to have stories about the country.
Are you helping your students get their work out there, as well?
With the stuff that we do in the class, we make a bunch of copies and they have to be okay with the fact that it’s going to be out there. With the private students, we make the comic, but they’re not done with the class until they’ve made the comic and put it out there. It’s one thing to make something, it’s another thing to have the guts to show it to people.