Today I’m going to talk about the biggest travesty in publishing.
1. Is it the DOJ settlement? No!
2. The schmaltzy inappropriate covers put on trade paperback fiction? No!
3. What about increasing amount of newsprint used in book publishing? Terrible, but no!
The biggest travesty in publishing is that Dwellephant is not illustrating children’s books for a major publisher.
I first met Dwellephant (who also goes by the name Milan but I will not use it here as it will be too confusing) when I was the buyer at Schwartz. Joe (who designed our logo) came to Carol (my former boss at Schwartz and still friend) and said he had a friend who wanted to paint a mural in the kids’ section. For free. The timing was off and it didn’t happen. But I didn’t forget that artwork.
So Schwartz closed, Boswell opened, and Dwellephant came to me with a book project he had just finished, called Missing the Boat, a Noah’s Arc tale about a species that didn’t make it on board. The book was a collaboration with Wayne Chinsang and Justin Shady, and was published by a kids’ imprint at Diamond Comics.
He had the idea to put together a Saturday marketplace, with booths from all his creative friends, with an all day book signing. And then he had the idea to promote it by painting over old books he found at thrift sales with artwork promoting the event. It was a really great event and I still treasure the books.
In between, I’d see Dwellephant’s work appearing around town—at WMSE radio, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Classic Slice Pizza. Some of his work has a dark edge, while other pieces belied a wide-eyed innocence, but all his work has a playfulness that’s infectious.
He was at Boswell (a book lover, of course) when I suggested he do a tee shirt for us. Someday, we agreed. Below right is my Alverno Presents Global Union tee from several years ago.
And then he asked me to be the bookseller for a signing he was doing at an elementary school art fair. I watched him sign about sixty books, but it was not like anything I’d ever seen anyone do in my life, and that includes all the children’s book illustrators we’ve ever hosted.
Dwellephant would ask the kid, “What do you want in your book?”
And the boy or girl would say “an elephant playing the violin” or “a crocodile skateboarding under water” or “a monkey eating a banana while riding a unicycle” or any number of creative scenarios.
And in very short order, Dwellephant would draw that picture, and it would be perfect. And that’s when I thought, “Why isn’t this guy in demand in the publishing world?” He’s amazing, he takes direction, he’s fast, and his work always packs a lot of emotion.
So I went to a few of my sales reps, who of course fell in love with his work, connected them with Dwellephant, and gave them a portfolio and pronounced, “Go findeth an editor.”
But we didn’t findeth. I scratched my head as I continued to see artwork coming out in children’s books that one would categorize similarly, yet was, to be honest, not as good. I know that the thing now is to be a writer/illustrator. The total package seems to be in ascendance. But I know publishers are still matching up illustrators with writers, and we have upcoming events with Marla Frazee and Derek Anderson to prove it.
I just didn’t get it. And I said to Dwellephant, “We have to do that tee shirt.” And then he gave me the design. And then I sat on it for six months while I putzed around doing other stuff.
But we finally got it in production at Brew City Promotions (and George said, “You have to do kids’ sizes, and by the way, I’m buying one”) and they printed it and it’s here.
The Read Like a Monster tee even looks good on a middle-aged bookstore owner with a great deal of wrinkles.
And if that doesn’t say, “I’m your next picture book illustrator,” I don’t know what more I can do, except for writing this blog. The tee shirts are available now. We have unisex in small to 2XL, women’s fitted in small to XL, and youth small, medium, and large. We'll eventually have a link to purchase on our web site, but for now, stop by, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 414-332-1181.
PS—I’ll give the first major editor who signs Dwellephant up a free tee shirt, if we have any left.
PPS—We’ve also reprinted Aaron Boyd’s fishy tee, so we now have a complete range of sizes again. I think we’re going to reprint K Polly’s tee in a darker shade when we sell down, by request.