Howie, thanks for speaking and sharing with our readers. To begin, was Mr. Scootles really your first published comic strip work? What was the production and timeframe like?
Thank you for interviewing me! I had a comic strip published once in my local newspaper and I did some cartoons for my college newspaper, but Mr Scootles is my first comic work professionally published. I created the character in 2000 and self-published the first chapter in 2003. It's been a long journey!
As that book is what you're best known for (so far), where did the character come from? Is there some Tex Avery and Chuck Jones influence in there? I know there is a great modern cartoonist named Rich Koslowski who explored some similar themes in his excellent book Three Fingers, but ya know, I think you actually beat him to the punchline by a few years there.
There's definitely some Tex Avery and Chuck Jones in that book. A lot of influence from early black and white Walt Disney films too. I love that stuff! I definitely wanted the look of the book to tribute animation. My other work like Vincent: The Painter of Death and Tara Normal, all have a different stylistic approach to the art side of the storytelling.
Did you take classes for this stuff in school, or were you just a natural doodler? When did you know undeniably that you wanted to be a storyteller?
I've always drawn, since I was young. My mom is an artist and art teacher and she always encouraged me. Growing up, teachers were also encouraging, so I kept drawing. I went to Pratt Institute and received a BFA in Illustration. A lot of Mr. Scootles is based on my time at Pratt. I've always had stories in my head and when I was younger I had wanted to be a syndicated cartoonist, but switched to long form cartooning as it was more suitable for the larger stories I wanted to tell. For me, my imagination plays like a film in my mind and I'm just trying to capture it on paper to share with my readers.
I think you do pull off that connection. You really do seem to be one of the ones who leave folks divided- either they love your work or they just haven't read it yet. As sharp-tongued as Mr. Scootles is, your next book, Vincent: The Painter of Death, was a very different creature. Were you actively trying to keep from being pigeon-holed as a "cartoon guy"?
I think I was in, a way. I wanted to show more of my ability. When I draw, you can always tell I've created it but it does change depending on the story. With Vincent, I wanted a more realistic feel to the characters and I wanted a darkness to the linework. I like to think of that story as a Dr. Seuss murder story because of some of the linework I implemented and the use of only red, black and white as colors.
Experimenting with different styles as you have, has it been at all intimidating? I mean, is it harder to find an audience for your stories, or does the compulsion for creativity itself take precedence, like cause over effect?
I draw for what fits each story so I don't feel any intimidation that way. Once people hear the idea for the book, it's either something they'd like to read or it's not. Mr. Scootles is about a living cartoon character who gets sent to Hell and his journey to get out so I think the art being stylistically cartoony, while also portraying darkness, is a neat combo for the reader. I really want them to enjoy the visuals as much as the text. The experimentation of the art is really natural so it's not a problem. It's fun to expand on my style.
What sort of writers do you like to read? What artists impress you regularly?
My favorite authors are Stephen King, Charles Bukowski, and Edgar Allen Poe. I love the art of Mort Drucker, J. Scott Campbell, Berkley Breathed, Dr. Seuss and many, many more!
What can you tell us about your new webcomic, Tara Normal? When did she launch, and what's her story? Have you been satisfied by the reception thus far?
Tara Normal is a female paranormal investigator who solves cases involving the supernatural. She tries to find the truth behind each mystery. She believes in the paranormal but also looks to debunk things as she investigates. It's like X-Files meets Scooby Doo. She hangs around with her friend Shadowman, an inter-dimensional traveler who looks like a living shadow and is currently being followed by Baby Cthulhu. I started the webcomic last April and will soon be celebrating a year working on it without missing an update on Wednesday. Tara Normal is also published in TAPS Paramagazine, the official magazine from the crew of Ghost Hunters. That's a huge honor for me because I love the show, everyone on it and their philosophy of doing paranormal investigating. I love the reception so far. I started doing the comic because I really enjoy seeing a project grow and gain new readers. I also run a blog on the site pointing out weird things in the world and the usual favorite government conspiracies. I love hearing monster sighting stories and ghost stories so I encourage readers to send me things they want posted.
Is this a premise that you would like to keep going for awhile, or do you have a distinct end in mind?
I would say I know the middle moreso than the ending. There's a large storyline that everything's leading to but Tara's the kind of character I could write forever. I know where the overall arc leads and each case has an ending. However, she'll always be investigating and there will always be stories to tell.
Have you ever found interest in working outside of comics? For that matter, are you a purist, or would you be open to seeing any of your properties become animated films, games, toys, etc?
I would love to see my work in other mediums. A movie of my properties would be great. There is an interest in a Tara Normal TV show in Hollywood and I'm very open to that. It's a great fit with the episodic format and I'm big fan of the medium. I would love a video game and toyline, as I'm a collector myself too.
As your work has gone more and more into digital formats, have your tools of choice changed along the way as well? How do you get those crisp ink lines?
I pencil and ink on paper and then scan them into Photoshop for coloring. Thank you for the remark about my linework. I spend a lot of time on the linework to make sure it's varied and crisp. I'm glad you appreciate it! Before I cut your chains loose, how do you stay so upbeat and focused? If there is a common theme to your stories, it does seem to be humor in the face of darkness. Is that something you especially believe in, in the real world?
I think you nailed it. That's how I strive to be in life. My characters have an easier time living that way than I do sometimes. I think it's important to keep a sense of humor when times are really rough. It will help you through it.
Look for HC Noel on the web via cafepress, comicspace, facebook, myspace, and twitter.
And follow his Tara Normal on facebook and twitter, too!