Ever the optimist, even artist Molly Hahn was surprised when she was offered a book deal. It came about after her Buddha Doodles, one-page drawings with mindfulness-inducing captions, had gathered a healthy social media following. So popular was it that Hahn started an online store selling pillows and blankets emblazoned with her drawings. Suddenly she needed an assistant to fill the orders. “I got hundreds of emails, and I tried to keep up,” Hahn said. Then one day, amid the glut of missives was an email from a book publisher. “My assistant was checking them and said, ‘Molls, did you see this email from Andrews McMeel?’” It was from one of the publishing house’s editors, and it read, “I think we can do a book of these.” Hahn was thrilled, explaining, “Andrews McMeel! They do Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, The Far Side, and Oatmeal! I had to go for a walk after I read it.” She signed with them, and the book drops in January 2016. “They told me last week [Buddha Doodles] got the most pre-orders of any of their books, and they’re taking it to a big book-industry convention,” Hahn said.
Her many Santa Barbara friends will not be surprised by Hahn’s victory. She’s a vivid presence around town, funny and effervescent with enthusiasms that include regular dance videos for her Facebook friends. On the other hand, her pals are also familiar with Hahn’s serious side, and that her doodles infer a “journey” or “therapy work” won’t surprise them either. She’s pulled success out of very dark times.
Hahn hails from Arcata, California. “My parents were both mentally ill and abusive, and when I was 18, I divorced myself from them,” she explained. They were also poor. “But drawing was always my escape. Later on it became what I needed to heal my heart, to explore my wounds.” She’s also a wiz at numbers and entered UCSB as a math major, though she quickly switched to liberal arts, taking myriad subjects from global studies to film production classes. “But I had also been doing a cartoon ever since high school,” she said. Her Patty strip ran in the Daily Nexus (where she learned about deadlines). After graduating, Hahn took a brief sojourn in Los Angeles working for Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s The Animation Show as well as doing production on a number of art projects, including working with UCSB classmate Kazu Kibuishi, who created the underappreciated Flight graphic novels.
In 2001, Hahn abandoned Los Angeles and returned to Santa Barbara, where she has long had an art studio/apartment downtown. She began a doodle-a-day project, which became her website Mollycules, and was doing fine until her world collapsed. “I suddenly wasn’t getting any production work, I had relationship problems, and my grandmother died,” she said. She lay on her studio floor (where she was behind on rent) wondering, as she put it, “What the fuck am I going to do?” Then all of a sudden the phrase Buddha Doodles swam into her head. It was just an experiment at first, she said, an attempt to create some kind of medicine for the soul. And now it has by one estimate a million fans. “It’s been quite a journey,” said the irrepressible Hahn.
The rest isn’t exactly history, but it does seem like the stuff of movies, and with Hahn’s film studies background, that may be the next aspect of her empire. Meanwhile she’s still doodling with cosmic purpose and keeping up with the lucrative store. Pretty good for a girl who began life on welfare. “I don’t even know what’s next,” Hahn said. “But I think it will be great.” —D.J. Palladino
4.1.1 Molly Hahn will sign copies of Buddha Doodles at her book-release party Tuesday, January 19, 2016, at 7 p.m. at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.). Call (805) 682-6787 or see chaucersbooks.com. For all things Buddha Doodles, see buddhadoodles.com.