Saturday, August 5, 2017

Oh. My. God. This book. What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives: The Most Honest Children's Book of All Time by Chelsea Marshall and Mary Dauterman is some kind of insane genius.

You want this book. You need this book.

Genius at work

 In this a charming, satirical "children’s" book, BuzzFeed’s lead animal editor Chelsea Marshall and acclaimed art director/illustrator Mary Dauterman introduce us to Digi Valley and 21st Century urban life. It's a town filled with animal people who run vegan cafes, Uber around, and stay on their cell phones, and it is total genius.

I'm thrilled to have them here, and I loved this book so much, I bought extra copies for friends so we can obsess about it together.

I loved this book so much, I want to marry it. It’s so slyly witty and so spot on about how and why we live the way we do. So when was the “we have to write and draw this book” moment? What happened right before the big decision? 

Mary: I had been drawing some of these characters for a while when I asked Chelsea to come onto the project. 

Chelsea: We both have really similar senses of humor and we started brainstorming where we could take all these characters and knew there was so much fun to be had with it. A lot of this process was “does this make you laugh?” and if it did, we went with it. 

Why a children’s book for all ages? (I bet I know the answer, but I want to hear you both talk about it!) 

Chelsea: A lot of our favorite cartoons (Rugrats + Spongebob for instance) were so funny and great as kids growing up, and then you watch them as an adult and they’re still really funny and great in a new way because you notice more of the adult themes. The world is a really weird place and it’s kind of a relief when you realize someone else is like “OMFG I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO NOTICED.” 

Mary: It’s pretty great to be the adults hiding multiple layers of jokes in the story. Lots of jokes buried in the phones and characters’ interactions within scenes. 
I bet it was hilarious fun to write and draw this book. Which came first, words or pictures? Did you brainstorm together? What thing do you now wish you had done that you didn’t? 

Chelsea: We did brainstorm a lot together. We’re BFFs IRL so it just came naturally and random jokes that we had ended up making it into the book. It’s was so fun to work with someone you can just go “hey can a parrot eating salami be renting out this room?” and without batting an eye she draws a character even greater than your imagination. Some brainstorms just turned into drinking wine and talking about how much we love Beyonce though. 

Mary: We had a long list of “scenes” and jobs, then Chelsea made a proper outline/flow of the book while I started drawing scenes and backgrounds. 

Chelsea: The flow is based off of an improv game where you have two characters in a scene, one leaves and a new one comes in. So each scene in the book has a character from the last one, even if they’re just in the background. 

Mary: There are a lot of stories woven together and recurring characters that we hope people discover and love as much as we do! Sometimes Chelsea would write something and then I would draw it how I was envisioning, then Chelsea would be excited about another character or
part of the drawing and tweak the writing a little or add more weirdness. I kept drawing this one kind of depressed looking bird and Chelsea came up with a whole backstory and made him kind of a perv, haha. 

Chelsea: The whole process was all very fluid and fun! If we had more time, we would have made more characters based on our friends, and a bigger storyline around Diana Flurmph, who is running for mayor of DigiValley. We had a lot to say post-election but the book was almost done by then. 

The characters are hilariously real from a beauty blogger to a freelancer (sigh, aren’t we all?) to a realtor (real estate in cities is always big, big, big). Was there any character type you considered but then rejected? And if so, why? And please will you do a sequel? 

Mary: There were definitely more characters, and most didn’t make it into the book just due to timing! We were talking about a baby DJ, food cart vendor, a college student, a dispensary, and a bunch of others buried somewhere in our emails. 

Chelsea: Of course we’d love to do a sequel! One of the first characters created was “Cat Landlord” and we’d love to explore his weird life as a reality TV star/cat landlord in depth. 

The Internet going down is one of my biggest fears—and it actually impacts Digtown. I love my iphone, but I also hate the zombification of everyone staring at their phones, and I resent being bumped into 50 times a day by people on the city streets watching their phones rather than sidewalk traffic. Is there a happy Medium? 

Chelsea: I love that technology can keep us connected to people we may not see everyday, and access to things we may never have seen or known otherwise. (full disclosure: this book was largely shaped over a series of google docs) Of course, that also means we can forget to connect with people in front of us or accidentally find the new 2 girls, one cup vid but there definitely is a balance. We suggest airplane mode from time to time. 

Digtown is totally busy! It reminded me of the Richard Scary Busytown books that my son adored—and in comparing and contrasting the two books, you can see a huge difference in how we live, or how we aspire to live...can you talk about this please? 

Chelsea: We were definitely influenced by Richard Scarry’s Busytown and we nod to it a few times. A thing we wanted to address that most kid’s books gloss over is how boring the everyday can be despite being hyperconnected all the time (every character has a phone nearby). The mundane is absurd and hilarious when you pull back from it a little bit and ask what the hell are we even doing?

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