A page from John and Monsen's 'All My Friends Are Dead.' (Flickr/Phil King)
Avery Monsen is an actor, artist, and writer who lives in New York City. He performs frequently at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @averymonsen. Jory John is a writer, editor, and journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. You should follow him, too: @joryjohn. Together, they co-wrote All My Friends Are Dead, All My Friends Are Still Dead, I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York, Pirate's Log: A Handbook For Aspiring Swashbucklers, and the upcoming K is for Knifeball. In their spare time, they make t-shirts at bigstonehead.net.
A lot of people seem to think writing for kids is easy. What have you found is the hardest part about writing for a young audience?
JORY: We definitely think of ourselves more as humor writers than children's book authors. When we published All My Friends Are Dead, we knew it was going to look like a children's book, but not necessarily read like one.
There are all kinds of things in there that kids do seem to enjoy. It is illustrated, after all. And we've heard from classrooms who have taken our idea and run with it and created their own little storybooks and such. But we'd call most of what we do "children's book for adults," whatever that means. Here's what it means: there's a little spread in AMFAD where a ventriloquist passionately kisses his dummy ... and you probably wouldn't see that in a Berenstain Bears book.
Our first Chronicle book, published back in 2008, was called Pirate's Log: A Handbook For Aspiring Swashbucklers, which is a writing and activity guide, and that was definitely intended as a children's book. But then we heard from our editor that adults seemed to be gravitating toward it and all the inside jokes that we tried to cram in there and it was kind of hazy who the intended audience was. We were all, "Whoops!"
AVERY: With all that said, we do have a bunch of ideas for children's books. For example, we have a new one in the works called, Puppeteer Making Out With His Puppet. It's gonna get NAAAAASTY. But it still has heart, hopefully. Like, it's definitely raunchy but, in many ways, still very sweet and tender and strangely erotic. That's our newest children's book. Does that answer your question?
What were your favorite books when you were kids?
JORY: I read tons of stuff by Shel Silverstein, James Thurber and a fantasy writer named Piers Anthony, who had this endless series of books where everybody got a different power. I also had a love for cartoonists and comics collections like Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side and Peanuts. I'd say that The Prehistory of The Far Side influenced me as a kid more than any book I can remember. I loved having the comics there alongside Gary Larson's explanations. I should also point out that very little in my reading tastes have changed.
AVERY: I read a lot of Roald Dahl when I was a kid. I especially loved Matilda. That book led to me trying to teach myself telekinesis from age 8 until today. So far: very little success.
JORY: That's the same reason that I love John Travolta's Phenomenon.
AVERY: It's also the same reason I love John Travolta's Face/Off.
JORY: Claire, is this how you were hoping this interview would go?
You’ve thought way outside the box when it comes to publicizing your books. What are some of your favorite publicity moves by other authors?
JORY: I remember hearing about some early Dave Eggers readings where, say, Vince Vaughn would suddenly stand up in the audience and ask a question. I thought that was great. I like when authors hold readings outside of traditional venues, too. McSweeney's is super creative about their approaches, sometimes involving food or music or just a cross-section of different types of writers and artists at one venue.
What’s your favorite thing online lately, whether it’s a gif, article, blog, facebook post?
What did you differently for All My Friends Are Still Dead in terms of writing, illustrating, publicity?
JORY: At first, we were actually going to go in a totally different direction. It was still going to be an illustrated book about death, etc., but not necessarily an All My Friends ... book.
Then, we reconsidered because we felt that we had plenty of ideas left that we didn't use in the first book. So there are some of the same characters, but there plenty of new ones, too.
Also, I think we felt like we could go a little bit further with the jokes. What's the point of doing a sequel if you don't go further? We were confident that if people liked that first one, they'd want to see how far we could go with this. For example, there's an angel who pops up in the beginning of the book and admits that, out of boredom, he's going to go watch some living people showering. Later in the book, we return to him, peering down from a cloud ... just ... watching. Also, SPOILER ALERT: We kill everybody in the end.
AVERY: We'll probably regret killing everyone off if Chronicle Books asks us to write a three-quel.
Avery, who are some of your favorite illustrators?
JORY: I'll go ahead and answer this one. Avery's favorite illustrators include both "Painters of Light," J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Kincade. (Too soon?)
AVERY: I'm a big fan of both light and painters.
Explain this as if you were talking to my parents: What’s Tumblr and how can you be the king of it?
JORY: Tumblr is like that doily over there and we're like the tea cup sitting on top of that doily. (We figure your parents are really into teacups and doilies.) So, when somebody wants to get their teacup out to as many sub-doilies as possible, they put that cup on the main-doily that is Tumblr and hope like hell that it gets a bunch of reblogs. Avery?
AVERY: The important thing to remember is that tea doesn't taste very good without sugar. Animated GIFs are the sugar of the internet, in the sense that they are delicious but also cause irreversible tooth decay. (We're so sorry about all this.)
What are some great book ideas that you haven’t pulled off yet?
JORY: We're interested in creating a book that also serves as a life-companion. Basically, a husband or a wife.
So far, the hardest part has been to make the book's texture mimic the feel of human flesh. Sidebar: Is this the most terrifying thing ever written on Zulkey.com
I read that All My Friends Are Dead started off as a button: Were there any buttons you made that could conceivably become good books?
JORY: You've done your research, Zulkey! I remember two other button ideas that we created at the same time, neither of which would make a good book. One was a dog asking, "Does anybody have any poo I could roll around in?" The other was a half-apple/half-cat, which we named "Apple-Cat." Those sold for a dollar, each.
AVERY: Remember, though, that this was back in 2004. In today's currency, they were probably only worth about ¢95.
What’s the last nonelectronic book either of you bought?
JORY: Those are the only types of books I buy! The last one I purchased was an instructional manual called, How to Make Electronic Books. Good one, huh? If you want an honest answer, I bought a book of Hunter Thompson's letters, recently, which I'm loving.
AVERY: I just bought the Hark! A Vagrant book. Kate Beaton is the very best.
What’s next that we can see from you?
JORY: We have a book coming out this fall called K is for Knifeball: An Alphabet of Terrible Advice. It's illustrated and written in verse. Avery, you want to give them a stanza?
AVERY: C is for cop with a big, shiny gun.
Sneak up and tickle him! That'll be fun!
How does it feel to be the 310th and 311th people interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ?
JORY: As the 310th person interviewed, I'm just glad I got in here before Avery.
AVERY: I get the final word, though. And that last word is: doilies. (I should have chosen that last word more carefully.) And now the last word is: carefully.