Monday, March 21, 2016

Late in Life


Welcome to the “Saturday” update, which comes out every couple of weeks like clockwork. If, that is, you happened to fish your clock out of a tar-filled dumpster. And then you gave that clock a laundry list of things to do on top of telling the time. And then you bashed it with a framing hammer.

Brief Progress Report:

“Saturday” is now available at Hastings. But only the one in Moscow, Idaho. Which is great. If you happen to already live here. Or if you happen to be passing through for some reason. Or you got lost and you wound up here. Otherwise, the new venue just isn’t going to be all that helpful to you. I should maybe work on my salesmanship.

I’m also working on putting “Saturday” up for sale through Amazon. And by “I’m working” I mean some very nice, Amazon-savvy people have agreed to do it for me. It’s one of the few times where I’m letting my own complete ignorance stop me from doing something instead of blundering on ahead. And I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize once again for that unfortunate eulogy I tried to deliver in Hebrew. I swear I didn’t know that word meant “buttface”.

I think I can also safely announce at this point that the East Coast book signing and presentation will take place at Gibson’s bookstore in New Hampshire on Wednesday, April 13th. Time TBD. Again, this is a pretty specific location, but if you happen to be near that place on that day, groovy. Swing on by. You can watch me make a jackass of myself in person, rather than having to see me do it through the computer screen. I’ve always believed firmly that jackasserey is a very personal medium and should be done up close. It’s just more satisfying that way. For you, I mean. For me, it’s much, much more humiliating because I have to see the look of disappointment and empathetic embarrassment written on your face in a way I don’t have to when I type these on the magic machine. These are things I’m learning as I go.

Have I ever mentioned that I learn things late?

Last week I learned that the month of August was named after the Roman emperor Augustus, because of his fondness for summer wear. I learned recently that the word “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist”. I also just learned that peanuts grow underground.

That last one messed me up. I seriously thought peanuts grew on trees. Or at least on some kind of bush, like a lot of the other nuts. Nope. Having to admit that I didn’t know one of the most basic facts about one of the most vital building blocks of the snack-osphere…well, it was humbling.

This very slow, arduous crawl up the side of the learning curve doesn’t just apply to small things, like nuts and months named after long-dead Roman dudes. In my case, it also totally applies to big things. Let’s take one at random, like, say…decade-long projects involving lavishly-illustrated books.

With “Saturday”, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to make until I’d made it. Let’s be clear about this: That’s a stupid, stupid way to do anything.

But one of the things I learned from it was that there’s a certain kind of story I want to tell and a certain way I want to tell that story. Again, I didn’t know that until I had worked on “Saturday” for nine years. Which is weird, right? Who does that? It’s like some kind of crazy automatic writing or a Ouija Board, except with drawing. A LOT of drawing. The kind that eventually reveals as much about the author as it does the endeavor.

That kind of trite premise could easily be the flimsy plot of an inspirational “Lifetime” movie event of the week. Let’s imagine some tag lines for said garbage parade, shall we?

“He thought he was discovering how to write a book. But he ended up discovering…himself.”

“The journey took him into a world he’d never been before…his own heart.”

“He told the story he’d always wanted to tell. And ended up telling the story he never wanted to tell…the story of his heartbreaking addiction to prescription nasal spray.”

That last one really went off the rails. And I totally want to watch it now.


Imagine if you could only learn after you’d already done something. Seems like it would bode poorly for most undertakings, particularly the important ones. It’s inefficient if I have to screw it up royally on the first attempt before I can produce anything half way decent. And by the time I’ve finished that first attempt, it’s too late to do it over again. It’s going to be an awkward conversation to have with my first born. Probably through a plexi-glass window while he or she is wearing an orange jumper.

“Look, Icepick, sweetheart,” I’ll say in my most conciliatory tone of voice, “I know I didn’t do so hot with you. And I’m pretty sorry about it. But on the bright side, your younger sibling is doing super well.”

 Well, that’s how I roll. To quote Ben Bernanke, “It’s like trying to drive a car forward by only looking in the rearview mirror.”  At least my first try at stuff gets to be a surprise for me, too. Granted, the word ”surprise” doesn’t always connote good things. A hamburger with steel wool in the middle is a surprise, but not one you’re overjoyed to discover.

Also in the bright side category: I kind of know vaguely what I want to do for the foreseeable future: Make fun books. Ones with odd characters, crazy drawings, lots of detail, and a very specific kind of humor. I also want to tell different stories every time. I can pretty much promise that there will never be another “Saturday” (not from me, anyway). And, as already discussed, it’s too late to make “Saturday” for the first time. Which is kind of a shame, because it was real fun. But if you’re up for a lot more drawing, puns, babbling, and hand-wringing, I’d also love to share whatever results with yous guys.

So. What have we learned?

I’m not sure. Give me a minute.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Heaping Portions

Hullo friends!

Hope you’re hungry, because here comes the “Saturday” update: a hefty word casserole that’s been ever so slightly warmed by the 11-watt bulb of my Easy-Bake brain.

First off, a progress report for the past couple of weeks: I’m still prepping to deliver a speech about “Saturday” and the creative process at a conference in early April. The speeches will be filmed and possibly posted on the intertubes. I say “possibly” because the organization in charge carefully curates everything, so not every speech will be posted. If mine DOES make the cut, I’ll post a link. If my speech and I go over like Conway Twitty opening up for Anthrax, I’ll at least post the text of the speech so you can gleefully watch where it all went wrong.

The week after that conference, I have a show of my illustrations (including some pages from “Saturday”) at New England College (second week in April). While on the east coast, I’ll probably also be doing an event at a bookstore where I jaw about “Saturday”. I’ll let you know the specifics when I have them. If you’re within a convenient distance around then and you’re up/down for swinging by, I’d love to meet you in person. If you’re in the area and, for whatever reason, no matter how crucial, you can’t make it, you’ll be dead to me. I don’t care if you’re donating an organ, under house arrest, having a baby, or all three at once.

I also gave the “Saturday” bookstore presentation to a group of near-graduation B.F.A. students. The class, called Professional Practices, helps to prepare seniors for the realities of life outside college’s serene, ivory bosom. I assume I was invited to speak as a cautionary example. I’m essentially a hobo with a B.F.A., except I don’t carry a bindle. I DO, however, wear those boots where my toes stick out of the front and can oft be heard whistling my merry hobo tunes like “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” or “It’s Rainin’ Men”. So I gives my speech to the class like the Ghost of B.F.A. Students Past, warning them to change their ways lest they end up in a horrible place (standing up in front of college students, for instance) and the response was…measured. College students are a tough crowd. It turns out I may not be as cool as I thought I was. Maybe more hobo jokes will win them over next time.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what exactly “Saturday” is. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that what it is is problematic. Like a Duck Billed Platypus, brunch, or a keytar, “Saturday” seems to sit squarely on the fence between several pairs of classifications. It’s a graphic novel and a children’s book. It’s for kids and adults. It’s a brainless romp and a dense, esoteric tome on existence. Or whatevs.

As if that weren’t enough inbetween-iness, here’s one more: “Saturday” is a product. It looks and quacks like a book, it’s sold in stores, and it has a barcode and everything. And not to brag, but once every six weeks or so another sucker—er…informed, intelligent consumer, exchanges legal tender for a copy of “Saturday”. That’s a product. Case closed.

Except, as I may have possibly already said like a gajillion times: I didn’t bother following the rules you’re supposed to follow when you’re making a product like this. Publishers and agents tell you in no uncertain terms what they want: Clearly defined genres, clearly defined target audiences, page counts commensurate with said audiences, etc, etc, etc. And I, like a petulant, Schmidt-for-brains teenager, was like, “Pffft. Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not the boss of me, publishers and agents with decades of experience.”

Like my parents, driver’s education instructors, and parole officers, you might reasonably ask me at this point: “Son, what in god’s name were you thinking?” And, true to my greasy, slouching, teenage form, the only answer I can muster is a slack-jawed, “Uhhhh…I don’t know.”

I guess I was following my passion, trying to make the thing I wanted to see out in the world, and acting on instinct and intuition without really bothering to think about the money or the consequences. And I think that might make “Saturday”…(shudder)…art.

I can’t honestly say I ever set out to be anything in particular. But I did set out NOT to be an artist. Mostly because I had a cartoony conception of who and what artists were: A cross between a mustachioed villain and an uppity, self-absorbed pseudo-philosopher. Like if Snidely Whiplash did performance art. I have no clue as to where this idea came from, but I was sure I didn’t want to be seen that way. But it turns out that pretty much all the artists I’ve ever met have been decent, normal humans who are just trying to make genuine, interesting stuff. And that’s what I was trying to do with this book.

So I guess that makes “Saturday” a product and art.

This amorphous-ness is a real pain in the area between the lower back and the upper thighs. I likes it when things fit nicely into pre-determined categories. And I guess so does just about every agent and publisher out there. It’s just easier to sort and organize the world when there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. Think of the cleanliness and simplicit of a place where the pieces all fit nicely somewhere.

And then, some jerk like me comes along and purposefully makes a thing that won’t fit in the categories or on the shelves. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance going on between the part of me that likes order and the part of me that creates things that disrupt that order. It’s like that old story about Dr. Organized Jeckyll and Mr. “Don’t tell me what to do I’ll make whatever I want and there’s nothing you can do about it Hyde”. I wonder how he fit all that on to his business cards.

Anyhoo, the fact that “Saturday” don’t fit into categories real good makes marketing and promoting a bit tricky. BUT, there’s something you can do to help, iffin’ you’re so inclined: Would you think of some nice things to say about “Saturday”? You don’t have to send them to me or anything. For now, if you’re game, all I’m asking you to do is think of one or two things you like about the book and frame them in your head. I’m not fer sure where they’ll go just yet. I may ask you to post them to Amazon at some point or I may put them up on a new website if you’re amenable to such a thing. But you’ve said some pretty astounding things about the book. You’ve said them far better than I could. And I think people would listen to you more than they would to me.

It would help. But, like I said, no big deal if you don’t wanna. You’ve totally already done enough. And I’m still grateful for that.

Ok. That’s that. You made it to the end of the casserole. It’s time to unbutton your pants and push yourself back from the computer screen. You probably feel that you’ll never want to read again. But in a couple of hours, leftover update sandwiches are going to sound really good.

What? That makes ZERO sense.

I know.