I read. I read a lot. I read so much that sometimes I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered a particular title. I know that when I lived in Dallas, TX, that I’d see Sam Hurt’s Eyebeam in the Austin Statesman when I made occasional drives down to Austin on a weekend. I enjoyed the surreal elements, like Sally’s hair continuing through every panel, and Eyebeam’s “hallucinations”, as well as the artstyle as a whole. Eyebeam has a quirky, polished look that supports the activities taking place within this universe. I was very happy to see Eyebeam show up on GoComics and I’m beside myself (literally – the left me is typing the letter keys, and the right me focuses on Alt, Shift, Backspace and moving the mouse around) to have Sam here now.
BC: Sam, what personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
SH: I was born in Austin, TX. Grew up in West Texas (Odessa/Midland), near where Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly lived. I used to joke that it was like spending 18 years in a sensory deprivation tank. Moved back to Austin in 1976 to attend University of Texas, and stayed for Law School. Then I just stayed. I’ve been here in Austin most of my life now. As a cartoonist, I’m an autodidact, having studied Liberal Arts and Law instead of art. But more accurately, I learned from the cartoonists I loved to read. (R. Crumb, Dr. Seuss, Quino, Schulz, Gilbert Shelton, Geo. Herriman, EC Segar, to name a few.)
BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, or an artist?
SH: Cartoonist, former illustrator, painter.
BC: How did you get your start?
SH: Drawing for fun since an early age. Copying stuff I really liked. Padding thank-you notes to aunts and grandparents with drawings. Cartooning for my high school newspaper. Then cartooning for the UT student paper (The Daily Texan) which really took off and put me on the map later when I was in Law School.
BC: Some time back, I was following Eyebeam when I was still in the U.S., and I know you’ve been at this for a long time. What have your biggest challenges been? Your biggest breaks?
SH: First the breaks: After struggling for years to appear more regularly in The Daily Texan, there came a time when someone at the paper was a big fan and wanted me to contribute every day. (By then I was in Law School, 1980.) Then a year or two later, after Eyebeam had become established as a campus presence, I participated in a prank of sorts, where an Eyebeam character named Hank the Hallucination ran for student government president. Somehow this brought lots of press and attention, and one result was that the Austin’s daily paper, the Austin American Statesman asked to include Eyebeam on their comics page, which brought the strip out of the campus fishbowl. One challenge was after I graduated Law School and passed the bar exam, and drawing Eyebeam went from the thing I did to escape from studying to the thing I was supposed to do as a job. Somehow it became more of a chore. Also, I realized at that point that a campus strip has the advantage of having a very defined audience who all share a frame of reference, making it relatively easy to find common ground.
SH: Then another break – in 1990, United Feature Syndicate syndicated a spin-off of Eyebeam called Queen of the Universe. Then a challenge – the strip was dropped after two years. I was pretty confused about where to go from there, and tried to do everything at once; animation, cartooning, illustration, teaching, and just about anything else I was offered. (Oh, yeah – practicing law…) Eventually, I settled on weekly cartooning, and painting. (I got out of the practice of law before I did any lasting damage.)
BC: Did Hank the Hallucination win the student government president election? Would he be able to win the national election if he ran now? What would his platform be?
SH: Voters had to write in Hank, because he did not appear on the ballot. (Arguably appropriate, since, being non-existent, he does not actually appear anywhere.) He received more votes than any two human candidates, for a strong plurality. It gets a little fuzzy at this point, but Paul Begala won the runoff, and served as the next president. (In my opinion, he achieved this by use of political acumen that served him well in his later careers.) I don’t think Hank is crazy enough for this current election cycle. His platform would probably be “Get real.”
BC: What led up to your starting Eyebeam, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
SH: I think I covered the first part, what led me into Eyebeam, above. Other poker in the fire is the “fine art” (as in art for people’s walls) I’m doing now: paintings, ink drawings, silkscreen prints.
BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
SH: I’m really happy with a lot of the old daily Eyebeams, when the strip became sort of a sit-com sci-fi soap opera. Robots and time machines, and love triangles. I’m also happy with the book Eyebeam Returns, which is some of my post-daily work, and includes some autobiographical works, but also reprises ongoing characters from Eyebeam and Queen of the Universe (particularly the League of Slime characters.) And I’m really pleased with some of the paintings I’ve done in the last 10 years. I’m really enjoying the open-ended aspect of paintings, which don’t require tying the tidy bow of a punchline, and allow the viewer to participate in the narrative.
BC: Is the Eyebeam GoComics page going to go from weekly to more frequently? Are these new works, or reprints? Are you interested in rerunning the older Eyebeams on GoComics?
SH: I haven’t produced a daily comic strip since the end of Queen of the Universe’s run. After that, I started producing strips on a weekly basis. The current Eyebeam feature collects those strips, and will continue on a weekly basis. (Although you will spot occasional re-runs of the old daily strips among these.) I am working to prepare all the old daily strips (thousands of them!) for GoComics, to be released as an alternate feature. We will probably call it “Eyebeam Classic”, and it should be up in the next few months. Readers will have the option to read it daily, as if it were being produced that way.
BC: Where can readers find your books?
SH: Try my new Etsy store
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
SH: One approach is to just start doodling. Then the next time you look at it, you can become an editor, which is so much easier than pulling something out of nothing. Other times, something from real life, or a wisecrack or an observation will provide the seed of an idea.
BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
SH: The music of Brave Combo would work nicely.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
SH: Shel Silverstein, Benjamin Franklin, Kurt Vonnegut…
SH: Writers I admire and also know: Matt Groening, Steve O’Donnell, Mark O’Donnell, Chris Ware, Shannon Wheeler, Mike Judge, Berkely Breathed, Lawrence Wright, Cornell Hurd, Carl Finch, Steve Adams, Chan Chandler, John Hawkes. (No dirt. They’re all squeaky clean, like me.)
BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
SH: I’m terrible about that for some reason, and don’t read comics regularly. When I do, I look for Baldo, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Perry Bible Fellowship, Doonesbury, Outland, For Better or for Worse…
BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
SH: I guess I’m not looking for anything because I want to be surprised. Of course, with someone like Trudeau or Breathed, I’m interested to see what they’ll do with current events.
BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
SH: You just blew my mind. I’m gonna have to meditate in the dessert for a few weeks and get back to you on that. (Not desert. Dessert.) Actually, I think there are several different ways a strip can work well. Strong characters whose dialog come from their particular personalities rather than them just being gag-sources. Good, unexpected gags that you don’t see coming. Beautiful, intricate art, or art that’s deceptively simple.
BC: Do you want to plug your site?
SH: I’m trying to figure out how to get more traffic to my GoComics page.
BC: If Eyebeam were in the room right now as part of the interview, what question would he ask you, and how would you answer it?
SH: He would ask “Why did you make my hair so weird?” I would answer “Just be grateful you exist at all. You’re welcome.”
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Sam Hurt © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)
Poll: Do you turn your eyebeams off at night?