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A Hodag Unlike Any Other —2006

Below is a Rhinelander Daily News article from Friday, May 19, 2006 announcing the release of my book Tales From The Trees.

I don't remember saying a lot of the things in this article and lol'd my way through a lot of it. As this is an interview from over ten years ago, it makes sense that I wouldn't remember some things, but I was pretty sure that at the launch of my first book I had zero intention of writing another. It wasn't until later in the Summer that it became clear that I needed to create another book to explain how on earth a hodag came to be friends with a bulldog.

I launched at Brown Street Books and the owner, Joan Belongia, had also been my editor and publishing mentor. It's funny, it never occurred to me at the time to ask any other stores in town if they would carry my book. That's how much of a plan had back then.

Here are a few other things to ponder about the year 2006:

  • Facebook was just becoming popular and was still only available to college students. It hit the tipping point just three years later with 350 million users by 2009, I didn't personally join until the following year and Happy didn't join until 2014!
  • Selling on my website was insanely complicated, very expensive and I had zero online orders for years.
  • The iPhone launched the next year basically putting a full computer, camera and jukebox in our pockets for the first time ever.
  • Insta what?

A Hodag Unlike Any Other

Rhinelander native adds new twist to the legend of the Hodag

By Heather Schaefer, Daily News Staff


Newsflash: There’s a new Hodag in town.

His name is Happy and he’s the brainchild of graphic designer and former Rhinelander resident, Jill Kuczmarski.

Happy is a kinder, gentler Hodag than what most of us are used to but that’s because Happy is a Hodag for a younger generation. He is the main character in “Tales From The Trees,” a read-to-me book for kids written and illustrated by Kuczmarski.

One thing that sets Happy apart from our traditional Hodag is his relationship with white bulldogs. As most self-respecting Rhinelander residents know, the Hodag (according to legend) eats white bulldogs, but that’s not the case with Happy at all. Happy is best friends with Buddy the Bulldog…

Kuczmarski, a 1994 graduate of Rhinelander High School, says she thinks Happy is a good way to introduce little ones… to the infamous Hodag and other Northwoods legends.

“Originally, I just wanted to create a friendlier Hodag character that children could enjoy,” Kuczmarski said. “My brother and sisters have kids now and I thought it would be fun if they could participate in the Hodag legend, but the traditional depiction of the Hodag is pretty intimidating.”

Kuczmarski says she went through a few drafts before coming up with Happy.

“Happy was first and it took me a while to come up with a character illustration I liked. I actually did a lot of illustration research and worked with several different styles before I settled on this [simple] illustration and I created Buddy... because I thought Happy should have a sidekick. Buddy is drawn from several adorable pictures I found of bulldog puppies whereas Happy came straight from my imagination."

Although she was satisfied with Happy and Buddy, Kuczmarski quickly realized her main characters were living in a vacuum.

“After I created Happy I realized that he didn’t make any sense without some sort of context, that’s when I started writing out some ideas for a Hodag story for kids,” she said. “I wanted my story to be a quick blended overview about what is currently shared on the Hodag, but mostly I wanted to show that the Hodag is as great a legend and tale as Paul and Babe, and just as mysterious and sought after as mythical creatures like Bigfoot.”

The fledgling author says she though about incorporating the “Hodag’s eats bulldogs” legend into her books but couldn’t come up with a way to do it that would fit with the tastes of young children. 

“The fact that I was creating this for children definitely created some issues when it came to the unsavory aspects of the Hodag legend,” she admitted. “I thought about it a lot and decided it could be a fun, kid-friendly twist to the legend if I could write in my first book something along the lines of ‘Buddy lived in a town and went to visit Happy the first Sunday of each month. People would see him leave, but they never saw him come back… thus the legend of eating white bulldogs on Sunday. One of my first drafts was leading to this and I just couldn’t make it work with the other ideas I wanted to incorporate. I finally just had to accept that I was going to have to do a couple of books, fleshing out relationships, and ties to the true legend,” she explained.

Kuczmarski says she hasn’t started work on it yet but she is planning at least one Happy and Buddy sequel.

“Older children are already asking what else Happy, Buddy and their friends do in the forest so I should get busy,” she said.

In fact, if “Tales from Trees” becomes a series, Kuczmarski says she plans to branch out and add more characters.

“I think Happy and Buddy will always be the main characters but other characters will definitely be introduced into story lines. Sadly some kids don’t even know who Babe (the blue ox) is so I’m thinking he (or is it she?) may need to have a larger role in upcoming stories. I also have illustrations that  didn’t make the cut on the first book where some other animals were forefront and I’m hoping to use them down the line,” she said. When not working on more tales involving Happy and Buddy, Kuczmarski, a graduate of Minneapolis College of Art and Design, works as an in-house corporate designer in the marketing department of a large law firm in Chicago. She also has her own business, Jill Kuczmarski Designs [LLC], through which she publishes and provides creative consulting services.

Tales from the Trees, Kuczmarski’s first attempt at designing her own product, was published through Kuczmarski Designs [LLC]. The book itself has a unique construction, a reverse fold, which is perfect for little hands to hold.

“I wanted my book to be ‘soft’ but it still needed to be durable enough for toddler handling, so I designed it as a reverse fold, bingeing on the loose end. This allowed the pages to remain soft but more durable against tears and also Mae it easier for little fingers to turn the pages. Printing and folding the pages like this also helped bulk up the book in order to be eligible for perfect binding instead of saddle stitching. I didn’t want the saddle stitching because the staples could come unbent or fall out with rough handling which is no good for little feet and carpet crawlers,” Kuczmarski explained.

The insides of the folds also harbor a nice surprise for young bookworms.

“I had originally intended to keep the insides of the fold blank but the designer in me just couldn’t handle it, it felt wrong and unfinished so I designed a one color peek-a-boo surprise  for the interiors. The least destructive way for little ones to check it out is to put the book upright on a table, stick a finger in the fold and then bow it out by pressing in on the folded outer edge of the page,” Kuczmarski advised. 

“Tales From The Trees” is available at Brown Street Books.

Kuczmarski will appear at Brown Street Books for a book signing on Saturday, May 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sunday, May 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Schaefer H (2006, May 19) 'A Hodag Like Any Other': Rhinelander native adds new twist to the legend of the Hodag. The Daily News: Northwoods Life
Copyright 2006 The Daily News


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