The witty concept behind the books it so simple, yet so well executed. How did you come up with the idea?
J+A: All of this started with a button-maker, actually. We were working as counselors at a performing arts camp back in 2002 and — in between doing our actual jobs, which included “keeping children unhurt and alive” — we bought a button-maker and starting creating phrases and images that we thought were funny for buttons. At one point, we wrote the phrase “All my friends are dead” on an image of a dinosaur and our fellow counselors seemed to like it. (Note to creative types: fellow counselors are always a great focus-group. Also: always start with a button.) We traded the button away for some sort of camp good or service, perhaps a massage, or some snacks, and went on with our lives.
Later that summer, though, we remembered the idea and created a small print run of 50 white T-shirts with a dinosaur saying, “All my friends are dead,” which sold out almost immediately. Based on the response, we figured we were on to something so we created new dino-designs with the same phrase. When those shirts proved to be popular, too, we started thinking about other “All my friends are ____” ideas that would lend themselves to T-shirts. One idea we had was a tree who was saying, “All my friends are end-tables.” Right? He was lamenting the fact that all of his friends had been turned into furniture and not even very cool furniture. That was the joke and the explanation of the joke.
SO ANYWAY. After hours of discussion (seriously), we decided that the “end-tables” idea didn’t totally work out of context, but it would
work alongside the dinosaur and his original sentiment. That’s how we came up with the idea to do a little progression in a 12-page book, which we wrote, drew and stapled at Kinko’s. Much later, we were working with Chronicle Books on a book of humorous essays called I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York.
At an early editorial meeting about that
book, one of the editors we were working with pulled out our “All my friends are dead” mini-book from underneath a stack of stuff. It was actually a total surprise to us that they even had it. Very dramatic. (Can you feel the tension?) Well, it seems that one of them found the ‘zine at a small San Francisco boutique where we happened to be selling it. They asked if we might be willing and able to turn those 12 pages into 96 pages and we said, um, yes, we’d be willing.
You know — the usual story of a button evolving into a 96-page book.
The first book was a big success (an animated GIF of the first 10 pages of the book quickly became the most reblogged and liked post in Tumblr’s history at the time) and I’m sure the sequel will be as equally well received. In the early stages of the series, did you guys ever struggle with finding a publisher, or worry it wouldn’t appeal to a mass audience?
J+A: Oh, we worry about everything. Sudden noises, sharp pains, the future, the past, the present, why we’re both single, our family, hair loss, weight loss, weight gain, hair gain, politics, the world, the universe. We worry if we’re worrying too much, or not worrying enough. We’re worried that this interview isn’t going well, right now, or if it’s going TOO well, whatever that means. So if you’re asking if we worry about worrying, the answer is a firm “Yes.” Is that what you were asking?
Hang on. Let us read your question again. One sec …
OK. Got it. So … yes, just like almost everybody in any sort of artistic field, we toiled away in obscurity for years and years, just doing what we enjoyed and thought was funny, before finding a publisher. Along the way, we kept making new stuff, which we would sell through our website
or at street fairs and festivals. This was a great way to get feedback, actually, and we quickly learned what people seemed to like, right away, based on whether they were smiling or frowning. And, in those years, we became more confident about the stuff we were making and what made people laugh. So, All My Friends Are Dead
was pretty time-tested by the time it found a publisher. Still, a lot of credit goes to Chronicle Books for initially approaching us
with the idea. We know how rare that is.
When we started trying to transform All My Friends Are Dead
from a 12-page book to 96-pages, we were thinking of expanding the text using descriptions and “he saids” and such … and try to make it seem more book-like
, at least in the traditional sense. But then we quickly realized that we had a good thing on our hands with the ‘zine which, as we said, we were pretty confident about. So then we just tried to think of a ton more variations on the idea. We had no idea that it was going to appeal to so many people, but we’re very happy that it has. We’ve heard lots of nice things through our Facebook page
There’s been a recent influx in dark comedy storybooks which appeal to both children and adults alike (Jon Klassen’s I Want my Hat Back, Adam Mansback’s Go the F**k to Sleep) What genre would you classify your own series and why do you think people respond so well to it?
J+A: We usually call our AMFAD stuff “kids books for adults,” in that they look like kids books and plenty of kids do seem enjoy them, but they’ve got an edge to them that’s definitely geared toward young adults. When we were writing the ‘zine back in 2006 or so, there was no real attempt to classify what we were doing. We were just trying to take that original idea and make something readable and funny. We only started classifying our books when we’d be asked what, exactly, they were, or who they were meant for, but, in a real way, they are just extensions of our senses of humor.
We do love traditional kids books, though, and have plans to work more in that realm, too. We’ve got some ideas that we’re excited to get to, after we finish our next project, which is another kids book for adults.
With the publishing world increasingly turning virtual, do you believe printed books will still have a place on the next generation’s shelves?
J+A: We definitely hope so. There really is something about the physical object of a book that’s so appealing to us. We both have big book-collections. And, especially with books like ours, we think there’s a much wider range of appeal when you can hold the actual book in your hands, or discover it in a shop … as opposed to just staring at the pages on a screen. The object itself makes a much better gift. Although we’ve also had some success finding an audience online, too. And we do have electronic versions of three of our books. So, we want to believe that there can be a mutually beneficial relationship between print and digital books, well into the future, that publishers will find a way to keep making books on paper, no matter what tech advancements occur.
What advice would give to other illustrators and writers out there who wish to publish their own book series?
J+A: Make stuff! Get a pack of index cards and write down as many ideas as you can in an hour. Find a collaborator, or somebody to bounce your ideas off. Don’t wait around to be published. We created ‘zines at copy shops and then sold them ourselves or approached stores directly. We made shirts and then bought tables at street fairs. When it comes to writing humor, make a book that you think reflects your sense of humor and what you think is funny, not what you see already out there. It’s going to take a lot of energy and persistence to get noticed. Don’t be discouraged by that. That’s how it is for everybody. True story.
And finally, when can we look forward to the release of the book? :)
J+A: The good news is that our sequel All My Friends Are STILL Dead
is out, as of March 7. So you can get it signed on our website, or buy it from Chronicle Books or Amazon or Urban Outfitters or any number of other places. Or try the local bookshop wherever you live. That’s always a good idea. Also, you can see a preview of the book here
and check out an animated GIF of that preview here.
And this fall, we’re releasing a terrible book of advice and ideas for kids called “K is for Knifeball,” and hiring a team of lawyers shortly after that.
Thanks for talking to us!