Ultimate Walking Encyclopedia #1

Hoffert garners massive collection of comics, self-publishes story

On May 6, 2014

  • Mike Hoffert Jr. sits with just six of his 67 boxes of comics in his parents’ home. His collection includes more than 14,000 comics. Brian Keschinger, The Spectrum
  • Hoffert’s bedroom walls are home to shelves covered with graphic novels, comic memorabilia and various other genres of literature. Brian Keschinger, The Spectrum

Sitting on custom-made shelving inside of a small room in his parents' basement are more than 65 cardboard storage boxes. The boxes measure 28.5 inches in length, 7.5 inches wide and 11 inches tall, and they can weigh more than 50 pounds when they're full. And all of them are full.

Mike Hoffert Jr. admits he has a "crippling addiction."

He has been hooked since he was 13 years old. But unlike some dependencies, this one isn't dangerous - unless you fear paper cuts.

"I'm not an addictive personality; I'm an obsessive personality," Hoffert said. "And I obsess about comics."

Hoffert, a senior technical theater major, has a growing comic book collection that exceeds 14,000 issues. His collection ranges from DC Comics' The Flash #127 (released in March 1962) to Image Comics' Southern Bastards #1 (released April 30, 2014). He makes sure not to exclude anything in the realm of comics to digest all he can.

Hoffert doesn't collect for the investment on rare issues or for completeness, but rather to read because he's "more or less addicted to stories."

"The most extreme thing about my collection, is my collection," Hoffert said. "Because it's larger than people's who have been collecting for a much longer time than me."

Hoffert's arrangement is home to comics of all different genres, publishers and styles. Having read "about 60 percent" of his collection, he cultivates his knowledge of the medium and expands his experiences to separate himself as an aspiring comic book writer.

"[Writing comics] is what I want to do until I die," Hoffert said.

Hoffert has known he's wanted to be a writer since fifth grade. But it wasn't until he read The Ultimate Spider-Man #8 that he felt the gears in his head "clicking into place."

Hoffert began writing comic scripts at 15 years old, but he didn't have his first comic published until about decade later.

Though he writes comics, he can't draw them well enough for publication. After sending messages to about 70 different illustrators on the popular, community-driven art website DeviantArt, Hoffert received three responses. After sending the script to those three, he heard back from just one. But one artist was all that he needed to self-publish his first comic.

Those unfamiliar with the medium may assume comics are solely about superheroes, but Hoffert, like many others, focuses on differing subjects.

"For somebody who really has no experience in the medium as of yet and doesn't really have a name, I think it's more important to do work in other genres [rather than superheroes]," he said. "Because if you're doing something superhero, it's kind of derivative."

His first published comic, titled The Event, is a six-page issue that tackles a controversial idea: What would happen if the citizens of earth discovered they weren't alone in the universe? The story is told through the responses of religious leaders, politicians, celebrities, oil barons and more. It displays how their lives would be directly impacted and how the new encounter should be dealt with.

Hoffert funded the entire project, paying both the artist, Maurice Wegulo, and for the cost of printing 100 copies. Even after charging $2.50 for the sci-fi story and $1 for shipping, Hoffert will lose money on the project. But that doesn't concern him; for Hoffert, it's more about gaining experience and growing as a writer.

He understands that he has a lot to learn as a comic writer and takes an active approach to furthering his dream. Though The Event was his first published comic, he wrote many scripts before that one and has numerous others in the works.

Along with continuing to write as many comics as he can, Hoffert has participated in a comic workshop put on by Comics Experience, an online school that teaches its students how to write, draw and edit for comics. The Comics Experience and the workshop Hoffert attended were founded and run by Andy Schmidt, a former editor at Marvel Comics and former senior editor at IDW Publishing.

"[The workshop] was great. I really feel like I learned a lot and have applied everything I learned toward honing my craft," Hoffert said. "It was very conversational and casual but also really in depth. Andy Schmidt was a super great teacher."

On top of cranking out scripts and attending workshops, Hoffert has attempted to extend the outreach of his work as far as possible. Top Cow Productions puts on an annual event called the Talent Hunt in search of up-and-coming comic writers and artists. Top Cow then picks four writers and four artists to collaborate and create a published single-issue comic.

Despite falling short last year, Hoffert has entered a new script this year with hopes of gaining recognition.

Along with submitting his work to competitions, Hoffert's comic The Event is stocked at local Buffalo comic shops Seeley & Kane's Comics and Queen City Bookstore. Hoffert was the best man in the wedding of Justin Colling, owner of Seeley & Kane's.

"He loves [comics]. He knows artists, he knows writers - I don't even know half of the artists and writers and he'll just shoot them off the top of his head," Colling said. "He knows his stuff."

Hoffert's mind is a database of comics that rivals Wikipedia. Asking him his thoughts on a particular comic will shoot him down a rabbit hole, connecting the comic's publisher, writer and artist to that of another comic. This ability can turn a question of curiosity into a 30-minute informational session on the famous debate of who now owns the rights to the superhero Marvelman. But these tangents aren't to be interrupted when Hoffert's comic knowledge is spilling out of him, while his voice exudes excitement and passion.

This amount of knowledge isn't something that can be obtained overnight - it's something that is earned through years of reading comics. But the knowledge comes at a cost. He spends as much as $100 a week on between 20 and 40 books, which could equate to the cost of full-time tuition at UB - unless you work and have an arrangement to be paid in comics instead of money.

Emil Novak, the owner of Queen City Bookstore, hired Hoffert to work at the comic store located near UB's South Campus to occasionally do inventory and help with customers. Hoffert's directory of comic book knowledge is something Novak admires and finds useful at the store because Queen City is "not selling cars or bread, so [customers] expect [the employees] to have some knowledge."

Novak said Hoffert still has a lot to learn, but believes the budding writer has the ingredients to be successful in the hyper-competitive industry.

"[Hoffert] knows what it takes. He reads a lot, he knows the narratives and he knows a lot about the history of comics," Novak said. "Basically, he's a natural and if he truly has the patience to put into [writing comics], he should succeed. And it looks like he's going to."

Hoffert's next script to be published is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Redhook for the Visions Anthology, a compilation of comics all written and drawn by Buffalo natives. The Novak-led collection is set to be released in October around Buffalo's annual Comic Con.

As if being a comic writer, working at a comic store and being president of the UB Comics club didn't yield enough panels, ink and onomatopoeia to fill Hoffert's days, he also spearheads a comic-based podcast titled "It Came From The Longbox." The podcast's title is a reference to how Hoffert stores his massive collection of comics and has been the moniker to more than 50 episodes in which he and his friends discuss their recent adventures in comics.

Comics are a "beautiful blending of literature and art" to Hoffert. It's a blending that he is still - after reading thousands of comics and writing them for more than 10 years - trying to perfect and turn into a career.

Hoffert's dedication begs one question: What would his life be like without comics?

"Honestly, I have no idea," he said. "Comics are my vice, and at the darkest points of my life sometimes the only thing that's kept me going, is knowing that there are new comics coming out Wednesday."


email: brian.keschinger@ubspecrum.com

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