Paul F. Tompkins: True Gentleman

I cannot express how deftly Paul F. Tompkins handles a potentially mortifying situation. 

The amazing people who run Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts booked Paul F. Tompkins to come to Lebanon, IL. The population of Lebanon is around 4,000.

The venue, however, is excellent. I did not know this when I set out to buy tickets. I only knew about its existence from a FaceBook post from Paul. By the time I went to buy tickets, it was nearly sold out . I was excited to learn that there was a panel discussion moderated by my friend Nicole Hudson before the show. However, I realized I wouldn’t be going to the discussion. Why? Because my daughter would never sit through that, and she really wanted to meet Paul F. Tompkins.

Imagine a comedian your parents constantly listened to when you were a child. I don’t know how old you are, so I’m not going to give a specific example. For them, though, the person is an entertainer. For you, they were an institution. They were a fact of life. 

Every single time he appeared in one of her shows, I would talk about it. “Hey, that Cupid guy is Paul F. Tompkins! Hey, that were-skunk is Paul F. Tompkins!” It got to a point that when I asked her, “Hey, guess who THAT is?” Paul F. Tompkins was one of her default answers.

That is to say, in cartoons. Images of Paul F. Tompkins were unmistakeable to her, due to his, “Old-Timey Suit.” She did not like it when his mustache was not present, perhaps an extension of the betrayal she feels if I shave or even trim my beard. I will say that there have been some false positives in the past. Basically, if you have a suit and a mustache and are from an era earlier than the 40s, she may mistake your photograph for one of Paul F. Tompkins. 

Obviously, she had to go. 8:30 is normally her bedtime but there was no school the next day and he was going to be in Lebannon! A half hour away from our house! I saw him at Re-Bar once for my birthday. When we left Seattle, I had simply figured I’d never see him live again unless he came to St. Louis or I happened to visit Los Angeles.

Betty had school, I had work, and after a brief dinner we went to the car. I brought along Freak Warf for Paul F. Tompkins to sign and some of my Giraffe and Elephant books because I of course want the comedian I like to like my things. He also works with Jeremy Carter, a person who had expressed interest in the books but for whom I had been unable to secure an address. So, I brought extra. It’s the equivalent of buying someone a gift that you want them to have rather than something they’d like and then asking them to distribute other gifts to people. Actually, it’s exactly that. I’m a monster.

There was brief drama when all the routes the GPS takes us on were closed. There were brief reunions with friends I haven’t seen in decades. There was the show itself, both funny and heartwarming, where Paul F. Tompkins described his relationship with his wife. When the show ended, we hung out in the lobby to see if Paul F. Tompkins would do a meet and greet. He did.  

I was in line and my friend Steve told me to hold his place. I turn to look down at Betty, saying “That’s my friend Steve!” I had told her Steve’s name earlier, but parents get to annoy their children by repeating the same facts constantly. 

Of course, Betty was not there.

At this moment, I was struck by the fact that Paul F. Tompkins had described a very similar situation in his act. I suspected this might be a funny note I could bring up to Paul F. Tompkins, or the police.

 As a veteran parent, however, I did not panic for long. I simply looked for the worst possible place she could be. In this case, she was right in front of Paul F. Tompkins after line-jumping many many  people. 

I couldn’t hear what was going on, but she said something and everyone laughed. Paul F. Tompkins resoonded and everyone laughed harder. Taking a deep breath, I walked up to retrieve Betty. 

“I’m BETTY!” Betty yell-sang at him.

Paul F. Tompkins replied that he was Paul. Betty informed him that I was also Paul, to which he replied:

“Paul from Twitter, right?”

I confirmed. Always a horrible business person, I put the books down on his table and said, “Jeremy Carter. Also you.”

Paul F. Tompkins made eye contact, smiled and nodded.

At this point, an usher asked me to take Betty and get back in line. I took her by the hand. The usher was asking me to take my books, and That old mortification feeling was creeping up on me.

Then Paul F. Tompkins saved the day.

“Bring Betty back,” he said. “I want a picture.”

He posted it on Twitter.

I made a vine of it.

He went to shake her hand and she missed it. He handled it like a pro.

I made a vine of that, too.

I was worried that I accidentally gave Paul F. Tompkins three of “When Elephant Met Giraffe” and only one of “A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant.” The picture seems to indicate I may have gotten the ratio correctly. Right now, I feel relief in a way that only someone foisting their wares upon a beloved idol in correct proportion feels.

So, a big thank you to Paul F. Tompkins for making a potentially awkward situation into something great.

One final image:

As we were walking back to the car, shivering against the cold, Betty turns to me and said:

“Well, I’m probably never seeing HIM again!”

I take this as a sage balm against egotism and presumption rather than a dire warning.

Bless you, Paul F. Tompkins, and safe travels.

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A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant Is Out! Now What?

Hello, everyone!

I am pleased to announce that A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant is now out!

Below are some tips of things you can do to help our two pals spread their message of fun and friendship!

Buy the Book Online, Preferably Once or Twice Per Day

Some people feel guilty about buying books online. The mom-and-pop bookstores of the past are having a hard time keeping afloat. However, as someone who has lived far away from bookstores in the past, I know that online ordering of books can be great. It’s not something going away any time soon, so if you are inclined to buy books this way, do it!

There is a psychological effect that can occur when people look at a web page and see that my book is ranked below one million from that particular site’s inventory. “That book must not be very good,” they may think. “I will buy this stupid book instead, that a bunch of people I’ve never met bought.” Even one purchase a day can keep that from happening. So, please buy my book once a day.

If you can afford to buy it twice a day, or once every hour, so much the better.

Here are some places that sell the book:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Nobel

Books-a-Million

Indigo
Write a Good Review Online

People who buy books online cannot ask the bookseller if the book is good. The bookseller will want to sell them books at all costs. Also, the bookseller is a large organization of people and robots. They do not answer questions. Therefore, people read reviews to see if they should buy a book. If they read a good review, YOUR good review, they may be more apt to buy the book. That is good. That is what we want.

You can also write reviews places that do not sell books. Why not write a review on your own blog? It’s yours! Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Write a review for the book on a web site devoted to antique timepieces. Why not? They can’t stop you! Actually, they might be able to. If it’s a moderated community. You could probably give it a shot, though.

Can’t Write a Review? Fine. At Least Rate It. Rate It Very Very High.

Even if you think the book is a four out of five (and if you think that, you are wrong) there’s someone else rating it a one because some people are very bad at telling if things are good or not. You can stop this by rating the book as high as possible. You can do this more than once if you happen to be multiple people.

Do Not Write a Bad Review Online

This is not a bad book. Why would you write a bad review of it? That’s just a bad use of your time. Have fun with some friends instead.

Buy the Book at a Physical Location Where There Are Books

A big secret of the book industry is that there are places that you can walk in and buy books. An even BIGGER secret is that the book industry cares when someone buys books at these physical locations. The BIGGEST secret of all is that there are people who depend on selling books at this physical location for their livelihoods. They normally like books, too, and would be happy to order the book if they don’t have it in their current inventory.

Find a book place near you with IndieBound!

Go books!

Feature the Book Prominently in Your Cinematic Blockbuster

If you are currently filming a cinematic blockbuster that involves a parent reading to a child, why not have them read A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant? The answer is, “No reason at all!” Unless it’s a business decision. I’m not sure how the film industry works in that regard. Still, having a bunch of people see the book when they’re at a film and then realize it’s an actual book they could buy would be pretty great.

You could also do this on your sit-com. I’m not picky.

Turn the Book Into a Cinematic Blockbuster

People would probably buy the book if it was a popular film. If you can make that happen, it would be a big help.

Donate a Book to a Place That Is Boring

Waiting rooms. They’re SO BORING when you’re a kid. Coffee shops! You don’t drink coffee when you’re a kid. What are you going to do? Why not read a copy of A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant? What? You don’t own it? LUCKILY SOMEONE GAVE A COPY OF THE BOOK TO THIS BORING PLACE.

You could make the preceding paragraph a reality.

Put the Book in a Time Capsule 

Please include a note, “In 2015, this book was written by Paul Gude, PRESIDENT OF EARTH.”

I’m doing a few things on my end to make the story more believable.

Do Not Rob a Bank Using the Book

If you have somehow planned the perfect heist that involves robbing a bank with A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant, please do not do it. I know, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” but children might be afraid to hold the book lest they are mistaken as a bank robber by police. That would affect sales.

Do Not Make a Television Celebrity Eat the Book

If you are somehow influential enough that you could coerce a celebrity to eat A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant during a live television broadcast, I am impressed. However, I am worried about the message it would send. People will perhaps be worried they are supposed to eat the book instead of read it. While the purchase of the book is my primary concern, part of the reason parents and teachers recommend them is that they are fun to read. I don’t want to get too far off-brand.

Read the Book

I don’t mention this very often. My main concern is that you buy the book as many times as possible. However, reading the book is pretty fun as well.

Buy When Elephant Met Giraffe

When Elephant Met Giraffe is the first installment of the Giraffe and Elephant books. It is also a nice book and buying it would also not be a bad thing.

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Tomorrow

You guys.

You.

Guys.

My second Disney-Hyperion book for children comes out tomorrow. At the time of this writing, Amazon.com has it still listed as a 25% off pre-order:

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant

It is a great book.

I am proud of it.

There isn’t much more I can say about this, except that I hope that you will buy 50 copies and send them to people you love.

Barring that, you could tell other people about it.

Thanks for reading!

-Paul

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Death to “I Read Somewhere That…”

The Internet, and by extension social media, has had the potential to virtually eliminate hearsay for some time. Any stray thought we have about a subject could be verified by someone within our extended sphere of acquaintances who has studied this subject. Any questions we have about an event could be answered by someone known to a friend or family member who was actually there.

The archiving and search functions of the Internet are astounding. The connection potential of Twitter and Facebook have been well-documented. So, why then do we have things like this?

  • Someone asking their social media to answer a question they could have answered with a little research?
  • Someone using the phrase, “I read somewhere that…” in an online argument, rather than supplying the actual text that they read?
  • People giving their theories about *what actually occurred* at an event when people who were actually there are already talking about it?

I have some thoughts:

Not Searching

People ask questions that they could have answered with research for two reasons. One, people don’t know how to trust the information they search for online because the current model involves getting information from strangers. Strangers are putting conflicting information on the Internet, and people are unsure which information to trust. Therefore, they are asking their friends to help them sort through the opposing theories for a trustworthy answer. Secondly, sometimes people ask questions not because they couldn’t figure something out, but because they want to talk to you. Asking for information on the Internet is often the equivalent of small talk. You could go through life assuming everyone is an idiot who doesn’t know about Google, or you could consider the idea that they’re asking you something for another reason.

I Read Somewhere That

Again, this can be broken down into two root causes. One, people are lazy. I’m not saying that people don’t want to put effort into something. I’m saying people don’t want to put effort into things they don’t think deserving effort. They can write paragraph after paragraph about an event, but will they read a single paragraph about that event? Some will, but many won’t. Two, actual text sometimes has the problem of not actually supporting your statement. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people have a tendency to select only those portions of a greater work that support their ideas. If they supplied the entire text, others may determine that it doesn’t actually support them.

Excluding the Participant from the Conversation

As above, the tricky thing about witnesses to an event is that they don’t always support your interpretation of it. Inviting someone with more knowledge or experience of an event or subject also means relinquishing some control of the conversation. That’s not the way many of us want to argue. Secondly, witnesses and experts may not have the time or inclination to get involved in every conversation touching on their experiences.

Is There a Way Forward?

I have the following suggestions:

  • Reduce the conversation. Instead of writing to the entire Internet for an answer to your question, think about someone you actually know involved in that area of research. If you want to find out what happened at an event, think about someone you know who lives in the area. Ask them if they know anyone who was there. Ask these specific experts your question.
  • Rebroadcast experts. Once you get your answer in the manner listed above, ask this expert if they’ve ever written anything on the subject. If they have, link to that instead of rewriting what the expert told you. If they haven’t, ask them to do so. If you had the question, chances are someone else would have the same question. If they are uninterested, and you believe you can present their thoughts accurately, ask them if they would mind if you wrote something based on their information. If they agree, ask if they would have time to review it before you publish it. If they don’t agree, leave it alone.
  • Strengthen bonds and reduce focus. There is always a new outrage somewhere you’ve never been. Someone you’ve never heard of is always suffering. Compassion for strangers is not a bad trait, but writing about the causes of a stranger’s suffering when you have no personal connection to them turns them into a tool for your own purposes. If you feel you must write about events that occur outside your own experience, strengthen your bonds with those near to this experience so that they can be your channel to these strangers. Writing about another’s tragedy without personal knowledge turns them into your own fiction. Writing about a scientific discovery without personal knowledge of the researchers or research turns it into your own thought experiment. Large portions of the Internet are currently fan-fiction about real life. Do your best to change that.

A Final Observation

Having read this entire piece, an important fact may have come to light. It shall be nestled inside a large amount of words to dissuade those who are uncomfortable with writing to ignore it. Each of the rules outlined above was broken in the creation of this work. The term charlatan may be apt here. Let it be a private observation between friends. Furthermore, if one has reached this point through skipping to the end they will be disappointed.

Let us do our best to return research and accountability to our utterances, lest we find ourselves imprisoned in a world of historical fiction.

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Countdown to A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant!

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant will be released in February 17th of 2015 and is currently available for pre-order.

The link above takes you to Amazon.com, but Disney-Hyperion has great distribution, so your favorite bookseller should be able to get it.

It is a good book, and recently got a great review from Publisher’s Weekly:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4231-8311-2

A final note, I would love to answer questions for your publication, podcast, whatever. Contact me on Twitter @paul_gude.

An FAQ is here:

https://paulgude.wordpress.com/giraffe-and-elephant-faq/

Thanks for reading!

-Paul

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John Manly, Henry Darger, and the Voynich Manuscript

I’ve been listening to a podcast about the Voynich manuscript. At the time of this writing, I haven’t finished it but the podcast is great:

http://thinkingsidewayspodcast.com

Here’s the Wikipedia article on the manuscript:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript

Early on, the podcast mentions a researcher into the manuscript named John Manly:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Matthews_Manly

The name sounded familiar and I realized it’s the name of a villain in that sprawling work by Henry Darger:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger

This is a portion on Manley the villain, from the documentary on Darger:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HnX5nH2ZV8w

It is said that Manley was based on a boy from Darger’s childhood, so all of this may be coincidence. However, it’s fun to imagine this:

Manley’s article in Speculum about the Voynich manuscript was published within a year of when Darger was said to have started his work.

I find it interesting that the two men lived in Chicago at the same time, one creating a bizarre book and the other critiquing one.

Most likely coincidence, again, but the idea that Darger was trying to create his own version of the Voynich manuscript in a way is slightly poetic.

Granted, if Darger was going to research things, why not go to nearby DePaul?

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Why I Dislike the Banana Ladder

Several of my friends were sharing a graphic that mainly consisted of text. The text reported a scientific study that seemed dubious to me. When I expressed misgivings, my friend Chloe found an article that debunked it:

http://m.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201203/what-monkeys-can-teach-us-about-human-behavior-facts-fiction

However, several people asked me, “Isn’t this story still useful as an allegory?”

If we want to pursue that, I still have my original thoughts about the conclusion of “‘This is the way we’ve always done things’ is bad,” from this particular analogy.

Thought 1: There seems to be an idea that if the monkeys can’t verbally communicate that water is going to fall on all of them, somehow the communication of “We will all beat you if you go up there!” is less valid.

Thought 2: The idea that most of us follow the rules without knowing why is communicated as a bad thing, rather than a survival instinct. As a society, we count on our fellow humans to teach us what they’ve learned so we don’t die as often. “If everyone is beating me up when I try to go up this ladder, there must be a reason for it. I guess I’ll stop and warn others!” isn’t the hallmark of a dumb animal. It’s good sense.

Thought 3: These monkeys are the victims of a sadistic, omnipotent being. These monkeys are not beating up another monkey for no reason. There is some all-powerful demon who has created a banana that can change the weather. This small group of monkeys has to deal with things beyond their comprehension. Cut them some slack.

Thought 4: Guess what? These monkeys protected themselves from getting further abused. The scientists only stopped the showers after the first five monkeys quit going up the ladder. Some may assume that the scientists wouldn’t have doused the monkeys if the replacement monkeys had succeeded in getting up the ladder, but I see no indication that this would have happened. Those scientists were jerks.

Thought 5: Of course we need people to go against the rules established before anyone remembers. However, this isn’t a great example of how to do that.

“Why do we continue to do what we’re doing if there’s a different way?”

Why indeed? However, in this story there is no “different way” explored, nor opportunity presented. The moral is, “Why don’t we try to do things in the exact same way that has failed so many times before in a rigged system within which we are powerless?”

So there you have it. It pretends to be inspiration, but sets you up for failure.

What the story needs is an orangutan who figures out that if she picks the lock and then breaks the pipe outside of the cage, all the monkeys can get the bananas without getting wet.

Orangutans are cool.

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Exodus

My wife recently fell down the front steps of our rental house in Seattle. and had some minor injuries. She has a degenerative muscular condition that has been getting worse lately.

After this incident, it became apparent that:

1) She could not safely walk down the stairs unassisted.

2) We could use extra help taking care of Betty while navigating these issues.

At the same time as this was happening, things weren’t going well in my apprenticeship. A company to which I had been dispatched hadn’t been paying the union its fees, the end result being that my health insurance was canceled right before an important test for Jennifer.

The work was inconsistent. The pay did not cover our bills. Something had to happen.

So, I started looking for work near my parents’ house in Illinois.

The plan was to find a job and transition over the next couple of months.

Instead, I was offered more than I’d made in Seattle since the .com crash. There was one catch:

I had to start immediately. I had three days to get to Illinois.

I took the job.

I realize this decision may seem to make little sense to my friends back in Seattle. This area is not as bad as I thought when I was a young man. It is very affordable. There are some good people here. There are many interesting places. We will not just endure this move. We will enjoy our life and thrive.

Things will be hard the next couple of weeks. Jennifer was isolated in Seattle by the steps, now she’s isolated by a lack of a car when I go to work. My parents’ Internet is limited. We need to move to our own place, but to do that we need to get the old place cleaned out. Ben Laurance is doing an amazing job, considering we left everything right where it was. Thank you, Ben, and sorry.

I will miss everyone. Living here, however, I may be able to afford a visit.

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Self-Collaboration

I don’t know how other author/illustrators work. I haven’t spent much time studying this business. I took some creative writing classes in college and was lucky enough to study cartooning with Frank Stack. That said, my style has developed mostly through bullheaded persistence than formal instruction.

Therefore, this process may only work for me. Conversely, it may be the system everyone uses. At the moment I write this, I cannot say. Also, I should point out that this process is for picture books. Other things I’ve done follow a similar pattern, but not one so precise.

I start with a drawing.

Normally, it’s a picture in my head that I put down on paper. Often the final product is different that what I’ve envisioned. That’s okay.

I stare at the drawing as if it were a photograph. Who is this? What were they doing before this “picture” was taken? Where are they going? Who are their friends. Their enemies? Where were they born? How will they die?

In this way, I create an entire history for the character. Then I decide during what part of their life my story will take place. That’s when I start the process of self-collaboration.

The creative world-builder part of me has ideas. Many ideas. Too many ideas. The outliner part of me understands this and tries to force all of those ideas into a narrative structure. More importantly, the outliner throws out things that do not fit. When the outliner’s job is done, there’s a story structure that anyone could follow without knowing much about the rest of the world.

I pass the outline and drawing off to my agent, asking if the book interests him. If my agent thinks it’s something he can sell, I move on to the next step.

I break the outline up among a set number of pages, say, 48. For example, “There she sees a dragon,” might be broken up into “There she sees,” on page 15 and “A dragon,” on page 16. When the entire outline is spread across 48 pages, I put on the author hat.

I go through each page of my outline spread and decide whether words will be needed on that page. Using the above example, “there she sees” and “a dragon” might be eliminated if all I’ll be doing is drawing a princess and a dragon. If so, I simply leave those pages blank for my artist pass. If I’m feeling forgetful I may write [DRAW DRAGON HERE].

If I run across an outline note that says, “She greets the dragon,” I replace it with text that would actually appear in the book. “‘Hello, Dragon,’ she whispered, ‘I hope I didn’t wake you,'” for example. I repeat this process for every page in the book.

When I’ve finished the written manuscript, I put on my artist’s hat. I forget about how long the book is. I try not to give myself a deadline. I put on a comedy podcast or some mindless television. I look at the words on the first page of the manuscript and I draw that. I go on to the next one. I continue until I am done or the outside world intervenes.

Once I’ve finished all of my drawings, I’ll occasionally go back and redraw the first few. I tend to improve my technique as I continue, and it is sometimes a drastic difference. I may be the only one who deals with this issue, but it is a legitimate concern. It should be noted that most of the art is unfinished at this point. My agent only requires four completed pages of art for a submission. The rest are just sketches.

Next, I import the artwork. If I’m working purely digital, this step takes no time. If I’m using traditional media, it’s a huge slog. I often take this time to watch a show with subtitles, a luxury I can’t afford when I’m drawing.

When all the art is scanned, I replace the text with the picture on each page. Then, keeping the text in my mind, I rewrite it to better fit the picture I ended up drawing. The synthesis between the words and the pictures is a hard thing to describe. I just know when something “feels” right to me.

When I have an entire manuscript of words and pictures I convert it to a .pdf and send it to my agent.

From this point forward, I try to separate myself from the book. If my agent tells me something is confusing, I don’t defend it. I pretend that someone handed me someone else’s book and told me to solve the problem. If my agent tells me a company is interested in the book but wants an ogre instead of a dragon, I submit a revised version with drawings of an ogre. I maintain this attitude until the book is sold, then recommit to it until the book is published.

By compartmentalizing each part of the creative process, I am able to move forward incrementally without being overwhelmed by the scope of the project. By separating myself from the material, I am able to make tough choices that could kill a book deal if ignored.

This may not work for everyone, but it’s gotten me through two book deals so far and I am very happy with the results.

Thanks for reading!

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Artist’s Statement

A sentiment I hear often is, “If you can do anything besides write, do that.” Substitute any other form of artistic endeavor for “write” and you’ll hear this advice echoed throughout many communities.

I believe this wholeheartedly, but not in the way I think it is normally intended.

Too often, I fear, beginning artists fall under the idea that they must be making a living solely doing their art to be considered a professional. Worse, they fall into the trap of constructing elaborate rituals they need to observe in order to be creative. Stealing a half-hour to create something before your mind-numbing day job is impossible if you have to go through the process of making a cup of tea “just so” before you begin.

So, an established artist telling them that they should do things other than art if possible sounds suspiciously like an invitation to quit. Perhaps that’s even the usual intention. I’ve never asked. It could be selling the idea that true artists are extremely rare and special. I’ve no doubt that they are. However, the idea that a true artist must be incapable of any sort of work outside of a creative field diminishes their power instead of celebrating it.

If you view yourself as someone who can only perform creative functions, you put yourself at the mercy of the market price for art. Often, that price is not very high. If you have talents outside of the creative sphere, you have the ability to sustain yourself and produce the art you wish to make on your own terms. Embrace this.

This isn’t to say that if your circumstances allow you to spend your life making tea just-so before you create that you should stop. You are where all of us wish to be. You don’t need my advice.

However, if you are struggling to make rent each month and can do anything besides write, do that. If you can do anything besides star in a commercial for product you can’t stand, do that. If you can do anything besides design a logo for free because “great exposure” was promised, do that.

If you can do anything besides create, do that.

Additionally, keep creating.

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