'NEXT GREAT CARTOONIST': Finalist launches 'Hoxwinder Hall' webcomic
For nearly a quarter-century, Daniel Boris had kept a pet alligator. Boris conceived of his scaly cartoon character while in art school in the '80s, and the wisecracking animal often elicited a strong response. So when The Post announced its "America's Next Great Cartoonist" Contest in May, the artist decided it was time to revisit the reptile.
"Those earlier strip concepts were very different from my current strip, but the one character that always got a great reaction was the alligator character, Dozi," Boris tells Comic Riffs. "One syndicate editor sent a note along with the rejection slip telling me he liked the gator."
Decades later, the revivified gator struck a chord with many of the contest's readers, who voted Boris's strip, "Hoxwinder Hall," as one of the top-five finalists. Boris's strip didn't win the contest, but the feedback from voters and pros -- including Stan Lee and "Cul de Sac's" Richard Thompson -- was enough to help stoke his creative passion.
Now, this weekend, the Virginia husband and father -- a self-described "professional artist working in the online education field" -- is launching his feature as a webcomic.
Boris's "Hoxwinder Hall" website features merchandise, his bio and his webcomic, which he says he'll update weekly.
Comic Riffs caught up with Boris to discuss his webcomic launch, his contest experience and what creative hopes he has for the future of Dozi.
MICHAEL CAVNA: So what spurred you to say: "Hey, now's the time to do this as a webcomic!"?
DANIEL BORIS: The Washington Post contest. Plain and simple. This project was on the back burner until I was selected as a Top 10 Finalist.
MC: When I first saw "Hoxwinder Hall," it seemed fairly fleshed-out already. How long had you worked on "HH" before you entered it in the contest?
DB: Thanks. I first started conceptualizing this strip as I graduated art school -- 1986. I submitted earlier iterations to syndicates a few years later. Got rejected by all. Those earlier strip concepts were very different from my current strip, but the one character that always got a great reaction was the alligator character -- Dozi. One syndicate editor sent a note along with the rejection slip telling me he liked the gator. I was in contact with that individual for several months afterward, sending new material, and he would grade me on the gag quality, etc. Long story short, back then I do not believe I had the gag writing ability, and that experience basically ended with the syndicate editor saying, "Keep at it, kid!"
I was pretty deflated after that experience, and the strip soon gathered dust. Years later I got inspired to rework the concept, characters, setting -- and that is what everyone saw in the Post contest.
MC: If you would, recount your reactions to the Post Contest as it unfolded -- your decision to enter, your reaction to being a finalist, the amount of public feedback ... the whole experience.
DB: One day a co-worker friend of mine IM'd the Post contest info to me, and I decided to select the best six strips from the revised "Hoxwinder Hall" and enter the strip. I did not expect to hear back from the contest, and was thrilled when I got the call telling me I was selected as a Top-10 finalist! I still have that congratulatory voice-mail from [former Post web producer] Sarah Marston saved on my cellphone! Haha!
The public feedback was very interesting to read. Most of the comments were very positive, but I had my share of negative responses also. Those are difficult to read, but I tried not to take them personally. I tried to take them all with a grain of salt, so to speak. As you know, we were told not to respond to any comments. That was difficult too!
MC: Did the feedback from the contest encourage you to press on? < /em>
DB: Yes, the feedback and encouragement is the reason I decided to move forward with the development of the strip. Since the contest, I've done a lot of thinking and writing new material for "Hoxwinder Hall." I always knew there was something there, with my strip, and now I am going to explore the possibilities see where it leads. I am focused now.
MC: Since the contest, have you approached any syndicates, newspapers, magazines or other publishers?
DB: No, I have not yet approached any syndicates or publishers since the contest. I intend to in the future, but for now my plan is to just develop the strip on my own, and post new strips to my website. Hopefully I'll attract a following and more good things will happen. I wish I could devote more time to the strip, but my family and job takes up most of my time, naturally.
My hope and goal is to build a nice body of work on the site. Create many months worth of strips, and take another shot at syndication. I definitely know the strip can attract a good following.
MC: What do you think of the current state of the industry for aspiring cartoonists? What about the state of the field encourages you, or frustrates you to no end?
DB: Yeah, everybody knows the newspaper industry is struggling, and circulations are down. I know I am biased, but I've always believed people still love reading the comics pages so the comics pages should be growing, not shrinking.
I'm not expert on the field, but I guess the thing that frustrates me most about the field is that newspapers are reluctant to give new strips a chance. Also, "legacy strips" that go on for decades past their usefulness. I see a comic strip as just a story that you tell, and all stories have a beginning, middle and end. There are a lot of strips out there that need to end. Make room for new blood already. Yeah!
MC: Lastly, anything you'd like to say to the "Hoxwinder" fans you made during the contest?
DB: I'd just like to acknowledge and congratulate the other contest finalists. They all created some really nice work and I hope they keep on going with it. Also would like to give a big shout out to Zach Snyder [whose strip "Stupid Inventor" was also a finalist] Zach and I become pretty decent friends since the contest, and Zach has been very helpful getting my website working. Thanks, Zach!
| October 10, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: America's Next Great Cartoonist, The Comic Strip, The Webcomic | Tags: Daniel Boris, Hoxwinder Hall
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