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Daniel Boris jumped into public view last year as on of the finalists in a Washington Post comic strip contest. Judge Richard Thompson said of  Boris’ alligator character, “And who can’t warm to a tiny pet with a potential taste for kids?” For the contest, participants had to submit a week of daily comic strips, design character sheets for the strip, and then do a Sunday strip. While his strip was not the first place winner, a few months after the contest Boris continued his comic entry as a Web comic. Currently Boris has his strip in another contest: The Cartoonist Studio’s  “So Ya Wanna Be A Cartoonist”.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

DB: I created a comic strip Hoxwinder Hall. It was voted a Top 5 finalist in The Washington Post’s 2010 “America’s Next Great Cartoonist” contest. I believe (or like to believe) it placed a very close 2nd…but the Post never disclosed the final vote tally.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

DB: It is a combination of all of the above.  I draw on paper, trace final art with pen and ink on tracing paper, scan tracing paper into Photoshop where I arrange the final composition, add text and other details that usually also include more drawing with a digital pen and tablet.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

DB: I came to America the same year as the Beatles…1964. I was born in Arlington, Va. Both of my children were born in the same hospital where I was born. (Cue “The Circle of Life” music here)

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

DB: I live in Leesburg, Va. The reason I live here is because the job market is one of the best in the country.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

DB: I’m a professional artist.  I attended George Mason for a year (OK, my grades were terrible, and the only reason I was accepted into Mason because I was a pretty good long-distance runner when I was in high school—-Chantilly High School in Virginia). I studied fine art, but when I realized that most of my classes were going to be non-art-related, I lost interest and dropped out—-but not before getting a B+ in Astronomy, babyyy! Ha! Eat that, crappy SAT score!  A year later I enrolled in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where I graduated a few years later.

WCP: Who are your influences?

DB: Artistically, my influences run the gamut. I have pretty eclectic tastes.  When it comes to comic strip, comic book, editorial cartooning, and illustration, I grew up admiring like Frank Frazetta. I used to spend hours trying to copy Frazetta drawings and paintings, and reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Marvel comics. I love the editorial cartooning work of Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly. As for comic strips, I am a great admirer of the “usual suspects”…  Berkley Breathed’s Bloom County made a great impression on me, and you can see that influence in my own strip. The writing in Bloom County was what really impressed me; just insanely and consistently funny. Bill Watterson took the genre to a whole other level and set the standard for how great a comic strip can be.  Gary Larson’s  The Far Side is another amazing comic. Richard Thompson has a good one going now, too. I bow in all of those guy’s general directions.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

DB: That’s a tough one. I mean, I’ve been employed as a professional artist since I got out of art school, so I must have done something right. I dunno, maybe get my BA degree from college? The only pedigree I have is an Associate’s Degree from art school, but it has held up pretty well so far. If I had to choose a completely different career path, I would have gone to Cal Arts and become an animator. I love all of the classic Disney animation, and now the Pixar classics. Love the story telling aspect of those films too.  Just awesome.

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

DB: I’d have to say the work I am best known for is my comic strip.  After the Post contest, people know me as “that cartoonist”.  I get the “Hey! Mr. Hoxwinder Hall. I loved that strip. That alligator is awesome!  Man, you so should have won that contest!”  It’s a good feeling for sure.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

DB: See above answer… Haha!  I think my “eureka” moment was when I created Dozi—-my alligator character. That little guy is the heart of Hoxwinder Hall. People absolutely love that little dude!

WCP: How did being selected as a finalist for the Post‘s America’s Next Great Cartoonist Contest affect you, or the strip?

DB: When it comes to my cartooning, it changed everything really. I had the idea for Hoxwinder Hall for over a decade, but having judges—-renowned  professionals in the comic strip and entertainment business—-select my strip to be in the Top 10 was an awakening for me. Suddenly it completely validated what I thought I knew for a long time: that I had a very good and marketable idea. Then, when the public voted Hoxwinder Hall into the final Top 5, well that sealed the deal for me.  Then I knew the strip was as good as I had thought. All the encouraging comments from the public, the judges, total strangers—-all of it. I know this comic strip can be a huge hit if only given the chance on a bigger stage. I am sure of it.

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

DB: I’ve always aspired to be a syndicated cartoonist. That has been my “dream job” for as long as I can remember. I think the thing I had previously lacked was the writing ability, but somehow I have learned to write better, write funny. It’s hard work, but I think I finally figured it out. The really cool part is the characters really do start writing themselves. I’ll be stuck thinking of a story line or gag, and then I’ll just ask myself, “What would Dozi say to this, or react to that?”, and then I’m off to the races.  It’s pretty awesome.

WCP: What do you do when you’re in a rut or have writer’s block?

DB: I just set it all aside and take a break. It’s not like I don’t have other things to do. I’m lucky enough to have a great full-time job, and a great wife and two kids. There are lots of other things to do and get done. But truthfully, a lot of ideas seem to come when I am lying in bed at night. I’ll just see the characters doing their thing in my head, and hear a punch line or whatever. I don’t know if that is weird or not, but that is how it works for me.  I have to write it down, so I keep paper and pen close by.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

DB: Eh. I’ve wondered if I may be too late.  If I was at this moment 10 years ago, I’d be pretty excited at the potential of it all.  But these days, as newspaper circulations continue to decline, and everybody wanting content for free…I just don’t know what to think. What I do know is that people still love reading the comics, and keep thinking that newspapers should be increasing their comics pages, not the other way around. But what do I know?  I don’t even have a college degree remember.

WCP: What’s your favorite thing about D.C.?

DB: Man. There are so many cool things about D.C. I guess my favorite would be that the American government is in D.C. The President, Congress, the Supremes all do their thing in D.C. I know that might be a politically incorrect thing to say right now, but I LOVE that you can just drive around that city and see all the great historic sites. The White House is one of my favorite places.  I’m a History buff, and when I take the White House tour I just soak up the sheer awesomeness of that great house, man!  I stand in each room and take it all in.  I mean, to think about all the great people and things that passed through and transpired in those same places… wow!

Side note: My dad used to be a Senate Court Reporter, and I have great memories of sitting in Senate hearings and walking through the Capitol building, and the Dirksen and Hart buildings. Of Riding the little underground subway cars that connect Congress. Back then the public could go anywhere they liked, and you would sit right next to Congressmen and women. One time in a Foreign Relations committee hearing, as it was wrapping up, my dad waved me to come forward and meet Senators Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole. I’m telling ya—-I have awesome memories of D.C.

WCP: Least favorite?

Traffic. Parking.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

DB: Air and Space Museum, the Capitol, the White House, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and the Washington Monument.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

DB:www.hoxwinderhall.com and www.danboris.com