TalkingComics / Underdogs

#TalkingComics: Underdog Spotlight Ft. Dory Holtzman (Poharex)

This week’s #TalkingComics turns its Sauron Eye on Dory Holtzman’s long-running webcomic known as Poharex. Watching the comic evolve over its expansive lifetime is really an inspirational glimpse into the evolution of one’s art and is one of the topics of our great little chat!

Poharex

Kevin Cullen: According to your Facebook page, Poharex has been running since 2007! Almost a decade of making comics and, from what I can tell, you’re still going strong! Did you plan for Poharex to run for as long as it has? And do you see it continuing on for another 10+ years?

Dory Holtzman: I had conceived the character of Poharex back in 2003. At first I didn’t think too much of it, it was just another one of those fun little concepts I liked to toy around with but never had any grand vision for. But the more I thought of it, the more it felt like there was something in there, some untapped potential. It was around late 2003 when I decided I wanted to tell the epic saga of a dinosaur hero. Over the next three years I tried my hand at storytelling through comics and other media. Looking back, none of it was really that good, but I’d rather think of it as practice.

Then came 2007. I sat myself down and tried to think about “where is this relationship going”, so to speak. The stories I wrote so far were starting to look like a mess, and my dilemma was whether to try and “clean them up” or just wipe the whole board clean and start anew. Fortunately, I chose the latter. That’s how the Poharex series as you know it today was born. You can say, in a way, it’s kind of a reboot.

Honestly, when I started back then I had no idea how long it would last. Sometimes I imagined it would be no more than a couple of years, but most of the time I didn’t think about it at all. Looking back now, though, I think I’ve got something good in my hands and I barely scratched the surface. There’s a lot more stories to tell (including Poharex’s origin story, which I only alluded to thus far) and a lot more awesome adventures to be had, so I guess Poharex is going to be here for a while.

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KC: I’ve talked to a few other Underdogs about sustaining their motivation – from juggling several different projects to several different comics themselves. In terms of sheer longevity though, I’m interested in how you’ve managed to keep yours! I’m guessing drawing dinosaurs has a fairly large role to play…

DH: Staying motivated was tough. I got a lot of flak over the years for doing the things I do. In fact, even nowadays I still get dirty looks and the occasional condescending remark. For some unfathomable reason, most people in my immediate environment just don’t like dinosaurs. And yet, here I am.

Probably the most notable case I can think of dates back to 2008. Some news website had a (short-lived) webcomic review corner. They made a rather lukewarm review of my comic, in which they commended my talent and passion for the project but ultimately concluded that the basic premise of Poharex was a failure, and that hopefully one day I will “mature” and make a better comic. Even that article was mild compared to the toxic bile spilling out of some of the comments. Still, back then I saw that as an achievement rather than a blow. It was my first ever (and up until this point, only) exposure in online journalism.

A lot of the “critiques” I got, both online and offline, don’t actually have anything to do with any inherent problem my comic may have, but simply with the fact it’s about dinosaurs. What I’ve been getting often is that many people assume that if there’s dinosaurs, then the work in question must be immature or only suitable for a young audience. Suffice it to say I do not conform to such arbitrary impositions. Bottom line, I have faith that the basic premise behind my comics is good (even if its execution can be improved) and this is something that never changed.

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KC: I was skimming Poharex (something I don’t recommend – everyone should read through its cohesive epicness!) when I noticed that, up until recently, you’d been drawing the comic with what looked like colored pencils. Now, however, your comic appears to be drawn digitally! Why the shift?

DH: Yes, for most of my artistic career I’ve been using traditional methods, from watercolor and acrylic paint to the aforementioned pen and pencils. The reason for that is this is simply what I was trained in. I had the privilege of being mentored by an experienced cartoonist from a young age, and it is mostly thanks to his faith and encouragement that I’m able to draw at all today. When I first got into making comics I didn’t really make any extensive research on “how it ought to be done”- I just made sequential art using whatever tools I had. I didn’t think much of it, nor did I envy those who made art digitally (a yet uncommon practice back then). Eventually, some (like the online critique I mentioned in answer #2, and some of its readers) gave me a hard time for “not using Photoshop” but all that did was annoy me. There’s nothing wrong with traditional tools, even for webcomics. Besides, let’s face it- how many people can afford Photoshop?

Somewhere circa 2011 I’ve learned of other options. Namely, GIMP -a free Photoshop alternative- and tablets becoming cheaper and more commonly available. By the time I was drawing issue #11, and planning the story for issue #12, I still thought I was going to stick with pencils, but somewhere along the way it didn’t really feel as good anymore. The pencils I used were getting old, and somehow got a life of their own and started attacking the paper. At the same time, my scanner also got totaled. That was the second time I found myself at a significant crossroad: do I just throw them away and buy new equipment, or should I give digital art a try? Up until that point I was curious, but wasn’t going to invest in it if it wasn’t for a big project like Poharex. But once I got a tablet and started practicing, it was love at first sight. Now I can’t imagine myself going back to the old methods.

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KC: Have you found any positives or negatives with the switch from hand drawn to digitally drawn? I did notice that the lighting effects became much more dynamic!

DH: With digital art I have much more control. When I was using traditional tools there was any number of things that could go wrong at any given moment: from me making an inking error to the eraser smearing the ink or tearing the page, and of course I got tired of throwing myself at the mercy of crazy pencils and suicidal scanners. Tablets and GIMP have opened up a whole new world of options. By using different layers I could control each aspect of the page independently, correct errors and experiment with new effects and techniques in a non-destructive way. Looking back, I have no regrets switching from traditional to digital- only that I hadn’t done it sooner!

KC: Has your work space changed much since you started drawing digitally vs. with the…messier tools?

DH: Back when I started, I had a very humble workspace- just a small room with a tiny desk, my bed and my computer, a whole lot of book shelves, and not a lot of privacy. The aforementioned desk was constantly cluttered with pages, cups and holders full of pencils and pens, scattered erasers and sharpeners, and to top it all off these had to share quarters with all of my school gear and other bits and bobs. It wasn’t much, but I managed.

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A positive change in my life occurred a few years ago when I moved to a new place. My bedroom has a lot more breathing space now, and as a result my workspace grew as well. My desk is bigger so it’s a lot more tidy now. The centerpiece of it all consists of my trusty desktop computer and tablet. Besides that I’ve got a nice little bookcase and places where I can store my numerous memorabilia. I also picked up the hobby of gardening a while back, so the room is full of plants. It’s basically the bat-cave, if Poison Ivy had taken over.

KC: You’ve also made a game (or two!) for Poharex, which is insanely cool! Can you talk about what went into making the Poharex games and why you decided to make a game in the first place?

DH: Video games are my other greatest passion besides webcomics. Obviously I always loved playing games, but I also always wanted to make my own. From a young age I’ve been experimenting around with modding existing games, and over the years I’ve tried to mod almost everything from Red Alert 2 to Skyrim. Most of these modifications were small and not worth talking about, but some grew into more polished projects. Around 2004 I also found out about Game Maker and started toying around with it. I’ve gained a bit of experience in game design from both my modding and Game Maker escapades, and while my abilities are nowhere near professional-grade I still managed to carry a lot of it into designing the Poharex games.

I’ve actually made many attempts at making games that are worthy of being included in the Poharex series. The vast majority of these attempts were failed prototypes that never got past the pre-Alpha stage. These vary from platformers, to isometric games and even first-person shooters. Some I did complete (or at least got close to completing) and publish, but eventually I’ve decided to take them off the Internet. Maybe one day I’ll bring one or two back. Then again, maybe not.

The only games I made that should be considered part of the canon are the ones featured on my website. The first, “Poharex: King of the Jungle” is a fun little platformer I made back in 2007 and finally updated in 2012. It’s a pretty short game, and implements experimental hand-drawn graphics in the same style as the comics themselves. My goal with these games was always to supplement the comics, tell stories in a different way and bring the world of Poharex to life. With “King of the Jungle” I felt for the first time that I really managed to do that. The second game, titled “Poharex: The Second Invasion” is currently still a work in progress, but there’s a short Alpha version out there if you want to give it a try. It’s far from perfect, but I have faith in this project and wouldn’t let it fail as quickly as some of the previous ones. For the past few months I’ve been gathering players’ opinions about it and right now I’m planning my next moves.

For more epic dinosaur adventures, click right here!

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3 Responses to “#TalkingComics: Underdog Spotlight Ft. Dory Holtzman (Poharex)”

  1. GaBe

    Interesting interview! Thanks for letting us get a glimpse into the world of Poharex. =) I love dinosaurs and I binge-read Poharex from time to time, so this was a real treat. =)

    Reply

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