December 11, 2009

It's Time to Make the Change

Friends, we admire your persistence. We celebrate your fortitude! But, simply put, you are in the wrong place.

Examining the interweb statistics for The Barnstorming and Idiots'Blog, we see that many of you are stubbornly clinging to the old instead of embracing the new. We know that old habits are hard to break, but the fact remains, in order to keep up to date on the latest, you will have to retune your RSS feeds to, because that's where the party's at.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:11 AM | Comments (53)

December 08, 2009

What You're Missing

Hello. If you are reading this post, you might not realize that the hard-hitting journalism that is The Barnstorming has moved to a new address. We're now blogging (and so much more) from the new, improved, sleek, functional, and downright sexy version of

We suggest that you go there promptly to see all the fun and excitement.

Here's a link to the new site. And here's another. And yet another. Why are you still here?

Posted by bogenamp at 11:57 AM

December 06, 2009

End of an Era

Hello, friends.

This is the 657th edition of The Barnstorming and probably the last. For the past six months or so, Robbi has toiled admirably to build the new Idiots'Books web site/blog. At long last, it is complete and ready for your perusal.

The URL is the same as the old Idiots'Books site, and you can link to it by clicking here.

Some of you have written with concern about the fate of The Barnstorming and our intentions for its successor. Perhaps you will take comfort to hear that although we'll no longer be adding new content to The Barnstorming, it will remain intact and available should you ever feel the need to surf posterity for photos of Alden in various containers. As for the all-new Idiots'Blog, its look and feel might differ, but the same unexacting journalistic standards will be maintained. Meaning, there will still be lots of photos of babies with occasional mention of bookmaking and life in the barn.

Thanks to all of you who have spent your precious minutes with us on this site. It has been a lot of fun for us. Rest assured, we think the best is yet to come.


Posted by bogenamp at 08:48 PM | Comments (4)

November 30, 2009

So Many Ways to Die

As subscribers know well, we recently collaborated with the rock band Bombadil, creating the album art for their most recent record, Tarpits and Canyonlands.


Robbi also illustrated the lyrics to each song, which we bound together in a small book (which you can also get in PDF form when you download the album from iTunes).


Just today, Bombadil released a new video for one of my favorite songs from the album, So Many Ways to Die.

The clip is worth watching just to hear the song, but it also contains all sorts of fantastic footage of people doing inadvisable, perilous, disastrous things--a history of bad ideas: roller skating on the edge of tall buildings, throwing knives at little girls, plunging over waterfalls in barrels, fighting bulls, attempting to use a homemade jetpack, etc. It's beautiful and tragic and rife with the futile, reckless hope that makes us human.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:16 PM

November 24, 2009

Help from the Masses

Hello everyone - Robbi here. We are currently in the process of revamping our Idiots'Books website (spoiler alert! - theBarnstorming will soon be subsumed under the new Idiots'Blog. No worries, though - it will still include pictures of babies, pancakes, ice cream, jumping, etc). One of the exciting new things we plan to offer other than books (and pictures of babies, pancakes, ice cream, jumping, etc.) will be t-shirts. But since we don't really know what we are doing, we thought we'd post some of our ideas here and see what you think of them.

I am even turning on comments so you can have your say. Here's hoping V!agara2339 and Russ!an_Lady don't keep coming back and posting lewd (but compelling) comments. Matthew just can't help but click those links.

Here they are, in no particular order:













Oh, and I forgot - we might also carry these, though we're still trying to decide whether I should draw the binkie instead of having the vector art. And whether anyone would possibly buy them:


I mean, we know we would, but you all know in what low regard we hold our child.


Any suggestions, likes, dislikes, requests, etc are welcome. You are also welcome to include comments about our fantastic hot models (compliments of American Apparel). Apparently, according to Alden, the gent with the fair hair looks like Mama. Maybe it's the skeptical sidelong glance that is fooling her.

But basically, do you like these shirts and would you buy any of them?

Posted by ribbu at 09:47 AM | Comments (31)

November 15, 2009

In the Books

The first annual Chestertown Book Festival has come and gone. By all accounts, it was a resounding success. Some highlights include a Saturday morning brunch in which we learned about making gingerbread houses from a father/son duo who had written a book on the subject. Here is a gingerbread version of Chestertown's Imperial Hotel, the building in which the brunch was taking place.


Alden expressed her keen desire to eat the gingerbread hotel. Fortunately, she was adequately restrained (if not a bit contrite).


After brunch, we headed over to Bookplate to get ready for our panel discussion. While we were getting ready to speak, we watched a letterpress demonstration.


The panel (with various people who run small presses) went well and lots of people came. Because we were busy being on the panel, we took no pictures of it. We have no good excuse for taking no pictures of the next event, an enjoyable talk by Fresh Air book reviewer Maureen Corrigan.

At 3:00 it was time for our reading. I did manage to snap this shot of Robbi regaling the crowd as they gathered.


At the appointed hour, we began. Local art patron Carla Massoni gave us a wonderful introduction, and then we read from The Baby is Disappointing, Dawn of the Fats, For the Love of God (excerpts), and Nasty Chipmunk. After reading, we answered questions and ended up having a nice discussion of what we do and why we do it.

In addition to the many Chestertonians present, friends and subscribers drove in from DC, Baltimore, and southern PA. Thanks to all who made the trek to support us.

Apparently, it has already been decided that there will be a second annual Chestertown Book Festival, to take place the weekend of October 9-10, if I remember correctly. Rest assured, I will remind you of the date at some point between now and then--but quite possibly not until moments before it begins.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:50 PM

November 13, 2009

Chestertown Book Festival This Weekend

When the time comes to make my resolutions this year, I will add to the long list of pressing imperfections my consistent failure to give you all sufficient notice of coming events.

Today is yet another example. This evening marks the start of the first annual Chestertown Book Festival. Former poet laureate of Maryland Michael Collier will be reading at Bookplate at 7:00 tonight. I'm sure that all you Collier fans out there would have appreciated more than 90 minutes notice.


Tomorrow's lineup is an ambitious affair of more than 30 events and more than 50 authors, poets, printers, and critics--giving readings, hosting demonstrations, sitting on panels, and hosting lunches. Here's the Festival web site should you want to have a look at what's in the offing.

Robbi and I are directly involved in two events, as described below.

Small and Independent Press Panel
12:00-1:30 p.m.

Jim Dissette, small-press author of Fierce Blessings, from Chester River Press; Dawn L.C. Miller, self-published author of A Feather From A Winged Horse; The Moon, The Menhir, and The Memory; and Champagne Dawn, under Blue Kettle Books; Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, author-illustrator duo of Idiots’Books; Emily Kalwaitis and Lindsay Lusby, painter-poet duo of Thread Lock Press
Back Room, Bookplate, 112 S. Cross St.

Idiots’Books Presents: Nasty Chipmunks, Funnel Cakes, and Disappointing Babies

3:00-4:00 p.m.

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson of Idiots’Books, introduced by Carla Massoni
Back Room, Bookplate, 112 S. Cross St.

In this latter event, we'll be reading from a number of books, including our latest, Nasty Chipmunk, and then answering questions and talking about what we do. Our friend and mentor Carla Massoni will be introducing us and helping to moderate discussion.

I'm sure your now well-formed weekend plans preclude your coming to the Festival, but if you happen to be available interested, I know we'd all appreciate the audience.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:57 PM

November 08, 2009

A Day in the Barn

Today was the final day of the two-weekend, four-day studio tour. I got up early for some reason, and took some photos of the barn while I was waiting for my coffee to brew.




After a while Alden got up, and Iggy. We opened the shades and let the light in.


Eventually 10:00 rolled around, and we opened the doors.


The crowds failed to roll in, so we sat at our desks catching up on projects.


Robbi asked me to change a lightbulb, which required a ladder. The view from up high was interesting, so I took a few photos.

Some of the original beams.


Our usually-concealed bedroom.


Robbi meddling with my computer.


Eventually there was some commerce.


I wouldn't describe today's business as "brisk," but we were competing with absolutely beautiful weather.

Six years ago today Robbi and I got married not far from the beach just outside of Savannah. Our friends were there, and our families. It was pretty nice. Back then we had not an inkling that six years later we'd be sitting in a studio in a barn in Chestertown selling books we'd made together. I don't even want to guess what we'll be doing six years from now.

This thing, for example, will be almost eight.



Posted by bogenamp at 08:49 PM

November 07, 2009

Open Studio Today and Tomorrow

I should have said it yesterday, of course, or the day before, even, when you were making your weekend plans, but the Idiots'Books studio is open for business or browsing today (Saturday) and tomorrow from 10-5. We will be here not enjoying the sunshine. Please come not enjoy it with us.

Note: The photo below, wholly irrelevant to this post, is meant to manipulate you emotionally. This baby has nothing to do with the acquisition of books. I can't guarantee that she will be on hand when you arrive. I can offer no promise that she will be looking cute or in a good mood. But seeing her there with sour cream on her lips does make you want to climb our spiral staircase and have a cup of hot tea and pull all the money out of your wallet to buy Christmas presents. Doesn't it? I mean, doesn't it?


Posted by bogenamp at 08:07 AM

November 05, 2009

Nasty Unleashed

After an unprecedented three-month gap between volumes, Idiots'Books Volume 23, Nasty Chipmunk, hit the US Mail today. Subscribers everywhere should brace for its arrival. (Non-subscribers everywhere should shudder with regret.)

Continuing our ongoing mission to have as many of our books as possible printed by professionals, we worked with some very nice folks in Columbia, MD to produce a sleek, glossy-covered, perfect-bound version of Nasty. We drove over there at the end of last week to pick it up.


Alden tried--and failed--to be helpful.


But she did get in a little exercise while we were there.


The books in hand at long last, we tackled what is perhaps my least favorite aspect of our entire enterprise: the mailing.

First, there is the matter of writing the letter, a thing I enjoy, at least at first. For those of you who are not subscribers, each book is accompanied by an earnest letter, which informs the subscribership of various news and updates and sometimes poses essay questions and offers prizes. The problem with the letters is Robbi. As soon as I finish writing each letter, Robbi grabs it, takes it over to her desk, and changes many (if not most) of the words. She crosses out, edits, adds, mocks, scribbles, and adds awful little pictures. It's humiliating. But this is just the beginning of the horror that is assembling the mailing.

There are also the mundane tasks of folding all the letters, stuffing the letters and the books in the envelopes, putting stamps on the envelopes, etc. I don't mind these tasks because they are mindless and can be done while watching network television. The thing that kills me about the mailings is the part where we have to go through the list of subscribers and pay very close attention to a whole lot of details, such who gets international postage, who needs a "your subscription is going to lapse and you'd better do something about it pronto," letter, who needs a special note of congratulations upon successful completion of a new kitchen appliance or kidney transplant, etc...

Robbi is very sanguine about the mailing. She is a patient and careful soul.


But I am not sanguine. Quite the opposite. Assembling a mailing requires the two things that I loathe most in the entire world:

1) sitting still
2) paying attention

But I try. What choice do I have?


And yet eventually we get through it. And in retrospect it never seems quite as painful as it did at the time (but still pretty painful).

Usually I have a full 6-7 weeks to recover between mailings, but just tonight, I had yet another round of mailing to attend to, this brought on by the recent surge of interest in After Everafter, a brilliant yet lowbrow work, apparently.


But I will not complain. Mailing is a fact of our lives. And more mailings mean more of our books in the world. I just wish I didn't have to lick all of the envelopes.

I'm waiting for the willing army of unpaid interns to arrive at the doorstep and demand to oversee the next mailing. So far, we've only had two applicants.


Their credentials are thin, and still I'm tempted...

Posted by bogenamp at 11:22 PM

November 02, 2009

Brilliant and Lowbrow

We were surprised (and rather pleased) to learn today that we have been included in this week's New York magazine Approval Matrix. Apparently, every issue of this esteemed publication contains a grid that serves as a "deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on [their] taste hierarchies."

Here is the Approval Matrix (you can click to make it bigger or link to it directly here.)


After we were finished being excited and surprised at the sheer fact of having been noticed by a swanky, national magazine, we took a closer look to see what sort of things they had to say about us. The Approval Matrix plots items in a two-dimensional grid, from "despicable" to "brilliant" along the X-axis and from "lowbrow" to "highbrow" along the Y.

Apparently, we have been deemed "brilliant" and "lowbrow".


We can live with that, I think.


In fact, I now have a far firmer grasp now on how our work stacks up against other notable cultural contributions. I had no idea, for example, that we were higher brow (though slightly less brilliant than) than the next generation of DVDs (which will, apparently, be made using technology derived from shrimp eyes). Nor did I realize that we were not quite as brilliant as (though considerably higher brow than) Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who (apparently) ate a hot dog while his team was running up the scoreboard on the Raiders last Sunday.

A man likes to be understood, firmly situated, and precisely located on a grid so that he knows where he stands in relation to Maria Carey's performance in Precious (37 grid units more brilliant and 66 grid units less highbrow).

The Approval Matrix appears in the print version of New York, too, apparently. If you want to do something nice for us and happen to see a copy somewhere in the world, please buy us one and send it to us with a note that says, "Hey, Losers, maybe someday you'll be as highbrow as the American Girl collection's homeless doll (retail $95). Good luck with that."

Or something else along those lines.

Note: If you are suddenly inspired to own a copy of the brilliant and lowbrow After Everafter, you may order it here.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:25 PM

October 30, 2009

Open Studio this Weekend (and Next)

October 30, 2009
Open Studio this Weekend (and Next)

If you have been itching to see the barn in it's glory, this or next weekend offers a prime opportunity. Of course, we are almost always willing to open our doors to you whenever you might find yourself in Chestertown, but this weekend (and next) is the Artworks Studio Tour, when we and 51 other artists from the area will be hanging out in our studios from 10-5 Saturday and Sunday waiting for people to drop by.


According to the Artworks web site, this is "the most enjoyable studio tour in Maryland." Perhaps you are aware of another extremely enjoyable Maryland-based studio tour and think that Artworks might be overstating things? There's only one way to find out.

The other reason you might want to consider a trip to Chestertown this weekend is that some of the most spectacular tall ships from ports up and down the East coast will be gathering here for the yearly downrigging.


You can look at tall ships, walk on tall ships, sail on tall ships, eat stuff, listen to smart people talk about tall ships, and visit our studio. Here's the schedule.

Oh, and the Chestertown Halloween Parade kicks off at 10:00 tomorrow morning. Alden will not be dressed up as Charlie Brown.


In preparation for the likely hundreds of people who will be forcing their way up our tight spiral staircase and into our studio, Robbi decided to do some interior decorating. In a rare fit of domestic inspiration, she pulled out the Bernina and the long-neglected bolts of cloth from Ikea and started feverishly measuring, cutting, pinning, etc.


What was she up to, I wondered. She would not say.


Alden and I played in the other room while Robbi worked. When she was done, she called us over for a look.


The result was surprisingly competent (in case you don't know Robbi is not known for being a canny seamstress). But what were these things?


No, you are not seeing things. And yes, it is ok to shake your head. It's true. Robbi made printer cozies. I blame it on the pregnancy. I blame a lot of things on the pregnancy.


So there you have it. We invite you to Chestertown this weekend to gaze at art, bask in the glory of tall ships, gawk at the cuteness of costumed youth, and to shake your head in bemusement at the remarkable, unlikely sight of Robbi's striped printer cozies.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:41 PM

October 15, 2009

The Untold Story

It has been one of those weeks. Tomorrow morning I will drive across the Bay Bridge for the fourth time in seven days. My days of late have been long and stimulating. And long. I am grateful to Robbi for so ably telling the story of our weekend at the Baltimore Comic Con. But I must quibble with a few of the things that she did not include.

For example, she did not share our encounter with Mini Batman.


Or our serendipitous sighting of Mario and his brother Luigi.


For baffling reasons, she chose not to show you this photo of Predator and Guy Who Tries to Kill Predator.


Also, you would have had no way of knowing that we ran into this superhero with a mace whose name I should know but somehow can't remember.


And this greenish girl superhero with white stripe in hair whose name I'm also supposed to know and also somehow can't remember.


And, of course, the Joker (even I cannot forget the Joker).


And the ever-terrifying Powdered Toast Man.


And the ever lovable, roly-poly (yet still quite terrifying) Great Big Butterfly Guy.


Perhaps most conspicuous among the many omissions to Robbi's post was the following shot of a rather compelling hero.


Neither heroic nor awe-inspiring, nor physically impressive nor agile nor able to fly nor capable of shooting beams from his eyes nor armed in any obvious way, the hero nevertheless knows how to pose. (And jump, though admittedly the photo provides no evidence of it.)


Here he is with others from his fearsome band of evil-fighting black-leather green-haired hero people.


Inspiring, no? It's why we go to Comic Con, for sights like these.

Can you believe that Robbi had the gall to omit these images from her post? I can only attribute it to an utter lack of vision, an intractable refusal to dream, a prudish unwillingness to dress up in lycra, wield a rubber weapon, and harness her inner superhero.

At least this small-mindedness has not been passed along to Alden, who shows no qualms about dressing up as her hero.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:00 PM

October 09, 2009

Comic-Con, Here We Come!

Hello all - it's Robbi. In Matthew's long VACATION in Kansas City (only Matthew would think to vacation in Kansas City) he was so busy eating bonbons/ribs and getting his nails done/watching football that he forgot to let you all know that we will have a booth at the Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend.
So, if you happen to be in the Baltimore area, and are undaunted by 12,000 people who look like this guy or another 22,000 people who look like this, please come on down. No one ever said it was a bad idea to mix comic geeks and marathoners. I imagine there couldn't be a more unrevealing Venn Diagram.

Hope to see you there.

And the only pictures I have to post are of me, passed out on my keyboard in a pool of drool. Not quite what you're looking for, I'm sure. Charming and attractive is right.


Posted by ribbu at 08:48 PM

October 08, 2009

Charming and Attractive?

We were floored yesterday to receive an email from award-winning, New Yorker-appearing, illustratrix/cartoonista extraordinaire Emily Flake, who was letting us know that she had recently been blogging for Print magazine about the things she saw and admired at this year's Small Press Expo.


We are honored to have been mentioned in the same breath as a comic book about oral herpes, a comicbookification of Wuthering Heights, and a newly released retrospective of Gahan Wilson's 50 years of Playboy cartoons.

Here's what Emily had to say about Idiots'Books.

Charming, attractive married couple Matthew Swanson (writer) and Robbi Behr (illustrator) offer a subscription service to their self-published, spiral-bound books (they also indulge in letterpress, but it costs more. Lead's not free, pal). The funniest selection: The Baby is Disappointing, a lament of dashed expectations: "It's worse than last year's bankruptcy, this baby. It's worse than when the basement flooded. Our shame is blazoned on our brows, chronicled in our ravaged check register." The thread of Swanson's black humor and Behr's delightfully scribbly work runs through all the couple's output, including, one hopes, their own disappointing baby (Ms. Behr is expecting another. Hope springs eternal).

Print magazine, whose tagline is "design for curious minds", is a fairly shmancy publication, with no small degree of prominence and credibility in the world of design. As a result, we are feeling rather shmancy this morning and more tempted then we might otherwise be to believe the nice things Emily had to say about us (except for the bald-faced lies about our appearance and demeanor, which we cannot abide).

Posted by bogenamp at 09:40 AM

October 06, 2009


Imagine our surprise when our Google Alerts let us know that we had been mentioned on Game Culture, a blog devoted to writing about all things game-related, including video games, sports, movies (based on games)--and novel-inspired, illustration-based recombining tile projects, it seems.


Follow this link to the most comprehensive, satisfying write-up to date on the Makers project and the associated tile game.

The post reminded me that I have been woefully remiss in sharing the latest Makers tiles with you. Without further delay, here are tiles 29-40.













And there you have it. 40 tiles may be a lot, but in this project is still one tile shy of halfway there--a fact of which Robbi is painfully aware.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:44 PM

Big in Deutschland

We wonder about you, Barnstorming reader. Who are you? Where do you live? What are your hopes and dreams? How often do you bathe? What deficiency compels you to waste your time with us?

As we puzzle through these ineluctable questions, we peer periodically at the network statistics, which provide such useful information as which sites refer people to The Barnstorming. Several times of late, I have discovered posts in a strange and baffling language beyond my comprehension. Luckily, Robbi lived in Germany for a year and retains a workable (read "barely literate") proficiency with its mother tongue.

She was therefore able to read this post.


And translated it for me thusly (with full acknowledgment of halting, flawed understanding of the language):

The Blog for Unbelievable and Unique Books, Films and Music

"Handkerchief Books"

About two weeks ago, and the independent publisher IdiotsBooks presented an excellent project: One Page Wonders. In it, umpteen stories are "hidden" in a single A4-sized piece of paper... a scissor-cut in the right spot, a little folding and you've got lots and lots of colorful mini-picture books.

It began with "Captain A-OK Fight Blug-Glub-Glub" on March 11, and yesterday "Revenge of the Moonmen" was posted. All of the stories are available on the Collection Page as pdfs.

For the right cut, there are instructions - but it's easier to figure out after the How-To video.

Without this post, I would never have thought to refer to the One Page Wonders as "handkerchief books". Ah, the virtues of globalism!

Just last week, we discovered the following post, again on a German blog. Here is a screenshot of the accompanying comment.


Robbi tells me that the main post is written from a baby's perspective of discovering itself in a mirror (she did not bother to translate it since it has nothing to do with us and she is firmly opposed to doing any translating that is not motivated by narcissism).

Here's a rough (flawed, imperfect, terrible, etc.) translation of the comment from the husband of Nina, who was Robbi's host sister during Robbi's exchange year in Germany.

"Hallo Eike -
here's the correct link:

Originally only Nina read it, because they are friends of hers, but at some point I also became a regular reader, because Matthew writes in a really entertaining way and has really wonderful "out there" ideas. Plus, I think that he pretty much could pass as the brother of the lead singer of the Eels, lookswise.

I especially like the Idiots'Books that he and Robbi make, and think that you should definitely take the opportunity to search for "The Baby is Disappointing" - or just go to the site listed here - to get yourself a copy, since we love it so much."

I was, of course, gratified to learn that not only do Germans think my writing is entertaining, but that I look like a pop star.

What say the American masses? You be the judge:

eels.jpg 100_9233.jpg

It's uncanny. Other than the fact that he accessorizes with a stogie and I with a baby, we're practically the same person. Which has to explain our appeal among the Germans.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:01 PM

September 30, 2009

Is this Font Dumb?

I posted yesterday about many things, one of which is the album/book collaboration we're doing with our friend Drew Bunting. I posted a link to Drew's site yesterday without realizing that he has recently launched a new one, one which offers a number of intriguing, and heretofore unknown, possibilities.

First of all, you can preview the cover of The New South. In case you missed it yesterday, here it is again.


In case you are wondering, it is indeed a drawing of a bird floating on a watermelon while waiting for the floodwaters to recede in the wake of the glorious but not-quite-all-consuming rapture.

Drew's site also offers a free MP3 download, a live recording of I Want a Flava Flav from our show at Williams College last winter. It's an amazing song, a studio version of which will appear on The New South, and it's yours for exactly zero dollars if you take the time to visit Drew's site.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit Drew's site, however, is the contest he is sponsoring in which he aims to answer the eternal question of whether or not Garamond is a dumb font. Whether you have strong opinions on this front, or whether you merely seek the eternal fame of impacting the typeface that graces the site of one of our generation's most rocking Episcopal priests, I encourage you to visit Drew's site and try your hand at web design.

The contest deadline is November 2, so get cracking.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:14 PM

Kansas City, Here We Are

Early this evening, Alden and I left the state of Maryland and headed to Kansas City to visit Dad and Judy for ten days. In addition to communing with the grandparents, we skipped town to give Robbi the time she needs to dive headfirst into a few lingering projects. She will be working on the following:

The new Idiots'Books web site.
For some time, we have been dissatisfied with the current site. It is static and dull. People visit occasionally to buy books, which we don't mind, but we know that it could be so much more. The new site will be home to the new Idiots'Blog (yes, loyal readers, The Barnstorming's days are numbered), will have a much-improved store with many new ways to spend money, will host a somewhat regular auction of Robbi's original art, will enable people to read most of our books online, and will (eventually) be home to our web comic. But Robbi is a self-taught web designer and programmer, and many hours of anguished tinkering lie in store for her in the days ahead. If you see her walking the streets of Chestertown with a deranged look in her eyes, hand her a cookie and point her back in the direction of the barn.

Here's a screenshot of the current site


(Are you asleep yet?)

Once the new site is up, we're imagining reactions more like this one:


The rest of the Makers tiles. 81 is a lot of illustrations, and though Robbi has been making steady progress, about 25 tiles remain to be imagined and drawn. Here is the latest, published Monday on


Volume, 24, The New South. So pleased were we with the results of Tarpits and Canyonlands, our book/album collaboration with the band Bombadil, that we have decided to take on a new music-related project. For the past few months, we have been working closely with old friend and musician Drew Bunting to develop illustrations and a companion story for his new album. Robbi has to, like, finish drawing the pictures and do the graphic design and stuff. The production end of packaging albums gives Robbi the fits, and so I am glad to be 1,135 miles away from her right now.

Robbi is here.


I am here.


I feel safely out of range (just barely).


Here is The New South's cover.


Here is Drew's web site and here is Drew.


Isn't he purty?

Work on her response to my web comic ideas.
Our concept for the comic is to have me develop an idea and sketch it out in my terrible scrawl. Robbi will then interpret what I've done, adding lovely, legible illustrations that may or may not take a cue from whatever I've done. She is a rebellious sort of collaborator and threatens even to change the words. And how am I to stop her? Occasionally, I am reminded of this photo, and I tremble.


I can't wait to see what she comes up with. What, I ask myself in idle moments, will become of Twilight Man?


What will be the ultimate fate of Paco and his ruffians?


Once she's done, if we still like the comic, we plan to publish her version alongside mine, so that readers can get a better sense of how we work together. So much of our collaboration is invisible in the finished product. This approach will hopefully provide an interesting glimpse into our process.

On the one hand, ten days isn't so long, but I have to worry in what state I will find Robbi upon my return. I wasn't kidding about the need for cookies and other forms of nourishment. Left to her own devices with creative projects on the books, Robbi tends to fall into a sublime hibernation. She does not eat. She sleeps fitfully and at odd hours. I have no doubt that she will create beautiful work while I am gone, but will she remember to bathe? Your guess is as good as mine.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:11 AM

September 27, 2009

Back from the Expo

We have just returned from North Bethesda, where we passed an enjoyable, productive weekend selling books and talking to various book-loving people at the Small Press Expo.

Here is Robbi in the booth. See that winning smile? She was made for retail.


But back to the beginning of the story. Saturday morning, we rose at 6:00, dropped Alden off with our good friends and neighbors across the street, and drove to Bethesda. Rather, I drove to Bethesda and Robbi slept like a log. When we arrived, I loaded up the hand truck with our various books and booth accoutrements.


Once inside, I started to set up the booth while Robbi continued to sleep like a log.


But then I put up our new banner, and something awakened in Robbi's soul. She was suddenly full of vim and chanting the words of our new marketing slogan over and over again, louder and more enthusiastic with each ensuing iteration: Making Books. Seeking Genre. Living in a Barn.


I knew right away that we were going to have a very good weekend.

Because I was in charge of the scheduling, we got to the convention hall early. We were among the few exhibitors in the room as we started setting up our booth.


But as we continued fussing endlessly with our signage and little stacks of books, the room started to fill up around us.


Eventually we were all set up and ready for the public.


Moments later the public arrived en masse. They were determined, these people. They wanted to buy books and they wanted to buy them right now.


People stopped to read our stuff. Some of them laughed. Some smiled. Others burst into tears. (We suspect the people who burst into tears were bothered by other things unrelated to our books, which are generally not tear-jerkers.)


As is usually the case at these shows, Ten Thousand Stories and After Everafter were the big sellers, with The Baby is Disappointing and Nasty Chipmunk close on their heels. Also popular were Last of the Real Small Farmers, My Henderson Robot, and Dawn of the Fats.

In addition to selling books, we were visited by the CinnaBomber, a fellow book-hawker who was handing out fresh-baked treats as an elaborate means of driving traffic to his booth.


Though tempted, we did not feed the Kevin.


From time to time, Robbi fought bitterly with our friend in the next booth, Kenan Rubenstein. If you like smart writing, beautiful artwork, and compelling comics, have a look at his blog and comics.


Near the end of the day today we made an important discovery. I have been having difficulty identifying the particular spark of inspiration that compelled me to write Nasty Chipmunk. At one point Robbi sidled up next to the rotating book display and made one of her usual faces. The similarity was too uncanny to be attributable to coincidence.


I've suggested renaming the book Nasty Robbi, but apparently only one of us thinks that this is a good idea.

It was by far the best show we've had to date, both in terms of number of books sold and number of great conversations, connections, etc. People are starting to remember us from past shows and are returning to the booth to see our latest releases or to buy additional copies of books they've enjoyed to give their friends as gifts. But we keep on meeting new people, too.

We had a nice discussion with a teacher/translator/children's writer named Jane who wrote a really wonderful blog entry about The Baby is Disappointing.

We were interviewed by a guy who claimed that he was going to podcast our comments on After Everafter. I'll be sure to let you know if it comes to pass.

We are back home and have collected our child. By all appearances, she missed us not at all. If anything, she was disappointed to have to say farewell to our friends across the street and return to her own bed. Our stuff isn't as nice as theirs by a long shot.


In disgust, she decided to wear the dog bed as a hat. It's not her fault that her best attempts at protest ended up being nothing but endearing.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:00 PM

September 25, 2009

Getting Ready for SPX

We'll be spending the weekend at the annual Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda. We'll stand behind a six-foot table on which are displayed our various titles. We'll smile and try to look interesting, approachable, and worth spending a few minutes talking to. Sometimes this will work and people will stop to talk or browse the books. Other times, the masses will pass by without looking, leaving us to wonder if we have bits of breakfast clinging to our faces.

We're doing a few things differently this year. For one, we'll be debuting a book for the first time. About a week ago, Robbi frantically started illustrating a book we've been talking about doing for some time--Nasty Chipmunk. For about 12 hours straight, she hunched over her table with her ink and quill.


Fortunately, Nasty Chipmunk is full of endearing woodland animals, which Robbi enjoys drawing. There is a lion, a vulture, a rhinoceros, a grandmother, an elephant, and a homicidal bunny, among others.


In the middle of things, Alden expressed an interest in launching her painting career.


Robbi says the baby has a nice sense of line.


At the end Robbi's artistic flurry, Nasty Chipmunk was illustrated, and in just enough time to scan the images and place them in the layout. We made 50 copies and hope to find 50 people who each want one. Or 25 people who each want two.

All week we have been making books. Now that we have 28 titles in our catalog, preparing for each book show is an ordeal. But Alden has been pitching in, and we've been getting the work done.


In the midst of it all, Robbi designed us some new business cards. We used to each have our own card, but now both of our names are on one, which seems appropriate, given that we are almost always in the exact same place.



In preparation for SPX, we've also tackled one of the most vexing problems we've faced at these various shows--that of finding a way to make a prominent, readable sign to let people know who we are. The biggest sheet our biggest printer can produce is 13 x 19. Not exactly tiny, to be sure, but a size that still gets lost in a huge ballroom. Lots of other creators and small presses have created elaborate signage that hangs from elaborate scaffolds behind the booth. We have never felt quite so bold as to consider this option. But the other day, Robbi got inspired, did some online research, and ordered us a banner.

Before she ordered it, however, we had to figure out what to put on it. It seemed natural that "Idiots'Books" should appear. Also, we added the two illustrations that describe our respective efforts on our web site: a skillet with a typewriter to stand in for the writing side of things and a skillet with an easel for the illustration.


We wondered if we might add an additional layer of texture and interest: a phrase, perhaps, to describe what we do and also raise questions among those browsing the aisles. After a long conversation in which many potential phrases were discussed, critiqued, praised, and mocked, we settled on the following:

Making books. Seeking genre. Living in a barn.

As seen on the finished banner:


We are, in fact, making books. This much is clear. We do, in fact, live in a barn. It's the excuse we offer for our child's poor manners. As for the genre seeking, I can't say that we spend much time or energy trying to find words to describe what we do, but it is true that what we do persistently eludes attempts to be defined. Genre is important for mainstream publishing, because things that don't fit into pre-established categories with pre-established audiences are really hard to sell. "Seeking genre" is a quick way of letting people know that we're not about easy answers, whether the question is about what, how, or why we're doing what we're doing.

Once we had the banner in hand, the next challenge was how to hang the thing. Again it was Robbi who threw herself into the problem. She went to Home Depot and came back with elaborate clamps that hold pipes perpendicular to the surface they are clamped onto. She also came back with two six-foot lengths of lead pipe. Putting it all together, we were able to create two parallel standards between which to display our banner (note that these are two three-foot lengths of pipe; the actual banner will hang 3 feet higher).


Today, fearing that the six-foot lengths of lead pipe (very heavy) might slip from their moorings and crush the skulls of nearby book lovers, we decided to see if aluminum replacements could be found. Robbi returned with eight-foot lengths.


Which were quickly tamed with the help of the hack saw.


This evening we have been packing our books, pens, table cover, clamps, pipes, business cards, and yes, the brand new banner for tomorrow's early morning drive across the Bay Bridge.


It's lucky we have a minivan now.


If you are in DC, Baltimore, or somewhere else nearby, think about swinging by for the day on either Saturday or Sunday. We will be giving out free copies of the Story Circles we created for Urbanite.

Alden will not be with us, however. She has agreed to stay home and answer phones. We figure once the world picks up our new business card, sees our new banner, and reads our new marketing slogan, the orders will come rolling on in.


I think she's ready.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:48 PM

Who Wants a New Mac?

Have a look:


This is the latest and greatest: A 13-inch MacBook Pro with aluminum unibody enclosure, brilliant glass display, seven-hour battery life.

Is your heart going pitter-pat?

Whether you are a longtime Mac user looking to upgrade to the next generation of sleek, elegant, functional Mac laptops or a self-loathing PC user seeking liberation from the sordid depths of computing hell, we are prepared to offer up our grand prize MacBook Pro from the Xerox contest to the first qualified bidder willing to part with $1,000 (we will pay for shipping).

The machine in question retails for $1,199 and has not been removed from its box. The seal is intact. It is just waiting for you to take it home and give it your love. Here are the specifications.

-2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor; 3MB shared level 2 cache
-2GB of 1066MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
- 160 GB 5400-rpm hard drive
- 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display; 1,280x800 pixels
- NVIDA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory
- Built-in iSight video camera
- 8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD+RW/CD-RW)
- Mini DisplayPort
- SD card slot, Firewire 800 port, two USB 2.0 ports
- Optical digital audio output/analog line out; built-in stereo speakers
- Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
- Built-in AirPort Extreme wireless networking (802.11n) and Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR
- Backlit keyboard and ambient light sensor
- Preinstalled Max OS X and iLife
- Size and weight: 12.78 by 8.94 by .95 inches (32.5 by 22.7 by 2.41 cm); 4.5 pounds (2.04kg)
- Meets ENERGY STAR requirements

And here's the MacBook Pro site, which you may consult if you want to look at more sexy photos of this laptop and its kin.

It kills me that I cannot keep this machine for myself, but I got a new Mac just a year ago, and must gracefully allow this one to seek a greener pasture.

Email me
with questions or to claim your newest, best friend.

Remember, Mac users are happy people. People with brand new Macs are the happiest of all.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:13 PM

September 24, 2009

Makers Tile Game v. 5.0: The Funnest One Yet

The 5x5 version of the Makers Tile Game has launched. To much fanfare:

On BoingBoing!


On Ephblog!

Here is Cory Doctorow's very own mashup of the first 25 illustrations. Apparently, he likes them.


Play now!

Posted by bogenamp at 03:56 PM

September 22, 2009

Idiots'Books at SPX

This weekend we will be manning a booth at the 15th annual Small Press Expo, a veritable extravaganza of comic artists, publishers, and enthusiasts. If you enjoy the prospect of talking to lots of interesting people and seeing inventive, compelling, and sometimes downright beautiful work that you simply cannot find in any bookstore, you ought to swing by. If only to see us.

Here's this year's poster.


You can click here to learn all about the show, the exhibitors, etc., but I'll list the essential info below.

Where: Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center

When: Saturday, Sept 26 (11:00am - 7:00pm) and Sunday, September 27 (noon - 6:00pm)

How much: $10 for one day or $15 for a weekend pass.

Why?: In addition to the many wonderful things there are to look at, read, and buy, Idiots'Books will be debuting its new banner and marketing slogan and will be offering a first glimpse at its latest title, Nasty Chipmunk.

Warning: don't come to the show expecting to see Alden. In light of her behavior at the last book fair we attended, she has been cordially disinvited to this one. We had almost forgiven her for being altogether wild and unpredictable--and then she did this:


And this:


When asked to apologize, all she had to say for herself was this:


I rest my case. She's staying home with Iggy and the cats. But we will be there. Looking something like this:


Posted by bogenamp at 04:02 PM

September 18, 2009

Big National Debut!

A few months back, we posted about winning the Xerox Solid Ink Print Sample Contest (in the Graphic Arts category). We were pleased to have been recognized by a huge, multinational company and to have won a Mac laptop. Even better, Xerox was going to feature us in an upcoming newsletter. Since then, we have been spending money hand over fist in anticipation of the catapult to fame and riches that was sure to come as soon as we had Xerox's public endorsement.

I should have known better.

Yesterday, Robbi received her copy of the Xerox Office Advisor, a sort of e-newsletter they send around to their customers. We were excited when we saw the familiar banner.


We held our breath in anticipation of what Xerox would have to say about us. Surely, such a large and well-off company would have hired literary critics and art historians to carefully examine and critique the work we had submitted. Surely they would present elaborate essays describing the nuanced ways in which we were exploiting the inherent tension between images and words and the richness of expression that resulted. Surely they would include dozens of screenshots of the work itself, that people across this big round world might have a first-hand look at what we do.

I should have known better.

I should have known that given the opportunity, large, multinational corporations exploit every opportunity to endorse themselves.

I should have known that, given the opportunity, large, multinational corporations misspell the name of the press to which they are awarding the top prize.


Part of the submission requirements was a sheet of short-answer questions. Looks like they were pleased by my enthusiasm for the Phaser, which I must admit, has been a very fine printer.

If you own a large, multinational corporation and would like to engage in a slightly more thorough investigation of Idiots'Books and its many mysteries, please give me a call. As long as you have a Mac laptop you're willing to part with.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:39 AM

September 09, 2009

Makers: The Latest Batch

Makers continues apace. Here are tiles 25-28.





With yesterday's publication of tile 28, the serialization enters its second third. Robbi continues to hunch feverishly at her desk--drawing, drawing, drawing.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:42 PM

September 02, 2009

Idiots'Books in Utne Reader

Imagine our surprise today to find this article about our work in Utne Reader's "Great Writing" blog.


The piece features excerpts from our recent Urbanite interview and uses some rather encouraging words to describe what Robbi and I do. I could tell you more about the post, but I think instead I'll recommend you read it.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:26 PM

August 31, 2009

The Latest on Makers

Late last week, Irene Gallo, the art director at, did a nice post on her blog about the Makers serialization. Basically, she writes out the story that the illustrations tell when considered without the text.

Here is the grid to date:


And here is Irene's interpretation of the story, according to what she sees in the illustrations:

Once upon a time there were two dinosaurs. And lots of people that went off to build something. Until it burnt down. They rebuilt it but there was a rat in the mix! (Isn't there always.) They were very industrious and good at multitasking until...Sabotage! And love. And maybe a little crabbiness. The usual ups and downs and ideological wars -- punk rock keepin' it real Vs. Helvetica men in ties. But with marriage in the air and death on the horizon.....

Those of you who are reading along with Makers will notice that the above bears little resemblance to the actual story. Which isn't too surprising, considering what we're up to.

Although some of the illustrations play on the book's major narrative elements, we've also taken a highly conceptual approach in imagining many of the tiles. There aren't any actual dinosaurs, octopuses, or crabs in Makers, for example, just metaphorical ones. So, when considered literally without the text, the visual narrative gets kind of wacky.

Which is, I suppose, why it's called illustration. There's a collaboration going on between Cory's words and our images. Together, they harmonize and make a larger point. Alone, the illustrations might amuse but don't result in the intended narrative coherence.

Though I might argue that narrative coherence is not always a virtue.

Speaking of Makers, here is last week's batch of tiles, the illustrations for episodes 23-24.




For those of you who are counting the days until this project ends (count Robbi among them) so that we will finally stop talking about these tiles, you may take comfort to know that there are only 57 more to go.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:30 AM

August 22, 2009

Look Out, Universe

The serial release of Makers marches on, as does the conversation among mathematicians on Ephblog about how to quantify the number of possible permutations for the tiles if they are removed from the 9x9 grid and allowed to roam free in whatever configuration they desire. The rising consensus seems to be that it might be mathematically impossible to say for sure, but that, in any case, (and I quote directly from the comment thread) "It seems quite reasonable to say, then, that the number of free-form tile arrangements when using all 81 exceeds by many orders of magnitude the number of atoms in the universe."

Little did we know we were stumbling into a proposition of such cosmic proportions.

Picking up where I left off last week, here are tiles 18-21.





We are heading off today for the wilds of central Virginia. My intrepid colleagues and their collective families are gathering for a weekend of hiking, boating, eating, camping, and gun shooting. Yes, gun shooting. I will not be participating in the gun shooting.

I will focus on the eating.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:53 AM

August 18, 2009

Makers Tile Game, V 3.0

Friends, the Makers Tile Game has expanded once again, this time to a 4x4, 16-tile grid.


I apologize in advance for the hours of reckless merriment that will likely now ensue.

Go to it.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:33 PM

August 12, 2009

Catching Up with Makers

We are in Lake George, NY, enjoying life beneath the trees. Fun things have been happening involving babies and swimsuits and photos and movies have been taken. But the internet connection here is weak, and so I will make you wait until next week to see them.

For now, I will post the last few Makers illustrations (the following accompany sections 14-17). I see that I have been falling behind.





I'm off, now, to a shuffleboard tournament. I'm not expecting it to go well for me.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:15 PM

August 07, 2009

A Really Big Number

Yesterday, a nice piece about the Makers Tile Game was posted on EphBlog, a blog that is for the most part authored and read by graduates of (and other people interested in) Williams College.

The fellow who authored the post ended with an invitation to mathematicians (or anyone, I suppose) to offer some clarity on the number of different illustrations that could be produced with the 81 tiles, keeping in mind that they need not be bound in a 9x9 grid.

The post set off a flurry of computation, which I will do my layman's best to summarize.

There seems to be consensus that the number of permutations of the 81 tiles, provided they remain in a 9x9 configuration, is represented by the formula:


This solution was offered by a reader in the Williams class of 2013, which means s/he has yet to start her/his first year of college.

In response to Robbi's and my bleary-eyed confusion, another reader (this one in the class of 2010) offered an elaboration:

If you're not used to standard math notation, maybe the formula would be clearer as

(81 factorial) times (4 to the 81st power)

81 factorial is the number of possible orderings of tiles, since there are 81 tiles, 81 squares, and each tile can only be used once, so there are 81 options for the first square, 80 for the second, and so on: 81*80*79*78*77*...*2*1 = 81 factorial, which is written 81!
Given a particular ordering of tiles, there are 4 possible rotations of the first tile, 4 possible rotations of the second tile, and so on, so the total number of possible rotations of all tiles is 4*4*4*4*...(81 times)..*4*4 = 4 to the 81st power, written 4^81.
This is all (essentially) middle school math - nothing too arcane here. If you plug this into Wolfram Alpha you can get the decimal expansion, which is:

Did you catch that number? If we could get a penny for each permutation, I think I'd be able to eat Chipotle for every meal between now and the apocalypse.

The above reader went on to derive a methodology for determining the total number of permutations for the tiles in the case that they were not bound by the 9x9 grid and came up with


Which would, I think, allow me to double my Chipotle consumption between now and the end of days.

But, the reader went on to lament, the formula was flawed (for reasons beyond my ability to articulate) and was providing an over-large estimate.

Therefore, it stands to reason from the perspective of this English/religion double major, that the total number of two-dimensional permutations for the Makers tiles is somewhere between




In either case, I shouldn't go hungry any time soon.

Perhaps the most reasonable solution was offered by Robbi's and my Williams classmate Jeff Zeeman, who attended Williams back before the kids got so damn smart.


The conversation/debate appears to be ongoing, so join the fun if you have an answer of your own.

As far as I can tell, no one has yet tackled the question of what happens if the third dimension is introduced...

Posted by bogenamp at 07:49 AM

August 05, 2009

Makers Tile Game, V 2.0: Bigger and Badder

As promised, the Makers Tile Game has expanded to incorporate more tiles.


The 3x3 version has just been released, and you probably want to drop everything and play with it. But wait! In addition to containing nine tiles instead of four, the new version has some exciting new features:

1) you can now save your tile configurations to your desktop as a jpeg.

Like this, for example:


Or this:


If you make a configuration you are particularly proud of and send it to me, I will post it here along with your name (or without your name, if you are full of shame).

2) you can now click off of the live area to make the heavy red border along the "live" tile go away

3) you can now toggle between the various versions of the game (from V 2.0 to V 1.0, for example) if you want to, though you won't want to because nine recombining tiles is much more badass than four any day.

Enough blather. Go play. Now. Your boss won't mind. He/she is playing the Makers Tile Game V 2.0 at this very moment!

Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 AM

August 03, 2009

Makers, Part 13

Part 13 of Makers has posted. Today's section marks the beginning of Part 2 of the book.

Here's the related illustration.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:13 PM

August 01, 2009

Idiots'Books in Urbanite Magazine: Story Circles

This weekend, the August 2009 issue of Urbanite (a magazine devoted to Baltimore and the people who live there), will hit the newsstands. The August issue is focused on emerging writers and features an interview and original work by Idiots'Books.


That's right.

You heard it here first.

We are emerging.

Robbi and I are the subjects of this month's "Keynote", a recurring feature interview that frames the central theme of each month's issue. We had a very nice conversation with Urbanite's editor-in-chief David Dudley, who edited our responses and printed them in his magazine. I suspect he was interested in what we had to say in large part due because (as I may have already mentioned) Robbi and I are emerging (and at least one of us is a writer).

The good people of Urbanite commissioned us to do a piece of original work that somehow dealt with the issue's theme. After some stewing, we came up with the idea to riff on the One-Page Wonders series we did with this past spring. Working with a folded-paper concept we found in a Cracker Jack box a few years ago, we came up with a two-sided page that contained three circles (or pieces of circles) of image and narrative, which can be combined and recombined in many, many ways. (The formula is not as simple as it was for Ten Thousand Stories).

Each of the three narrative/illustration pairs focus on the angst, trials, and fates of a struggling literary striver, hence the title, The Plight of the Emerging Writer.

Here's the front side.


And here's the back side.


And here is a short video (featuring a song by our friends at Bombadil) that shows you how it works.

Those of you who live in Baltimore (or feel compelled to go there some time soon) may pick up a hard copy of the magazine in locations around the city.

Those of you who live everywhere else, may link to the interview.
This photo appears in the print version, but not online. Why should you, remote reader, be denied the full experience?


Just below the interview is a link you can click to download a PDF of the story circle. Note, however, that you will have to print it out on the two sides of the PDF of the same piece of paper (with the top of both sides oriented in the same direction). This requires advanced home printing skills. If you have difficulty and are very, very motivated, you may take the file to your local Kinkos. (We imagine that few of you will be so motivated.)

But if you do, and if you come up with a particularly pleasing combination, please send us a photo or scan and we will be sure to post it here. And if someone feels that he can identify the correct number of possible permutations, we'd be interested in hearing. We will post any reasonable (or far-fetched) theories, as long as they are based on sound mathematics (or wild, unsubstantiated conjecture).

Posted by bogenamp at 12:34 PM

July 31, 2009

Makers, Part 12

Here's Part 12 of Makers.


It comes at a point in the book in which things are going badly for our protagonists, hence the reiteration of the illustration for part 8 (in which things were going swimmingly).


Posted by bogenamp at 09:22 AM

July 26, 2009

Makers Illustrations: Background and Process

As Robbi and I continue working on the Makers illustrations, some of you have been writing with questions about where the idea came from.

To recap: Cory Doctorow, blogger, author, activist, and cape-wearing modern-day superhero, has written a book called Makers about two guys living in the not-too-distant future who invent things out of junk, start a movement, eat lots of IHOP, and end up having all sorts of dicey legal adventures with minions of the Disney corporation.


Makers is, at root, a celebratory yawp on the relentlessness of human inventiveness, a love song to our unending thirst (and capacity) to manipulate the world around us. Makers' thesis fits nicely with a number of past Idiots'Books projects: the world is full of parts that can be combined to make other, more complex things. From artful manipulation comes innovation, fresh possibility, and sometimes even beauty.

Cory, a leading advocate of free distribution of creative property, decided to do an online serialization of Makers in advance of the print release, which is being published by Tor. The folks at (related to Tor proper, but a separate entity, and arguably more badass) are publishing the serialization. They wondered: wouldn't it be cool if each section of Makers could have a related illustration which would be one small piece of a larger illustration that would serve as the "cover" of the e-book?

Enter Idiots'Books. On the heels of our other experiments in creating texts and illustrations with intercombining properties (Ten Thousand Stories, After Everafter, and the One-Page Wonders, most notably), the Makers illustration challenge seemed like the kind of thing Robbi and I might be crazy enough to attempt, so the folks at sent us a copy of the book and asked us to do our thing.

Usually when Robbi and I collaborate, we're combining my written narrative and her visual one, challenging the reader to reconcile the contradictions and tensions between the two. With the Makers project, we're working together to digest and respond to someone else's words. My job is to represent the writing (and the ideas therein), while Robbi's is to come up with the right illustration style.

With this division of labor, we started with's basic concept, but decided to take things a step further, wondering if we might draw the small illustrations in such a way that each of the 81 would be interchangeable with any of the others. In this way, the various "tiles" could be arranged to create a nearly endless variety of configurations, or even three-dimensional objects (like a breadbox).

The illustrations in question would have to be square, we decided, and each side of each square would have to have a common "crossover". Robbi cut out four squares and started sketching. She came up with the following, which convinced us that an extended version was possible, at least in theory.


After many abortive attempts, gnashing, and near despair, Robbi and I settled on an approach that feels right for the world of Makers while falling well outside of Robbi's usual line-driven style.

Typical Robbi:


Atypical Robbi ("Makers tiles" 5-8):


The real fun comes from manipulating the tiles yourself. Working with a game developer, the folks at have put together an online Flash-based game that lets you create your own Makers grid (you can even rotate the tiles).


Give it a try.

That's the background. If you're still with me, you must actually be interested. Of course, there's more to say, but Robbi (who usually knows best) has instructed me to preserve a bit of mystery for a later post.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:14 PM

July 23, 2009

Because We are Very Vain

We cannot resist the opportunity to let you know that Idiots'Books was on BoingBoing again today.

Here, as your compensation for enduring our hubris, is a photo of our child, giddy in the throes of a cheesecake rush.


Posted by bogenamp at 05:32 PM

July 22, 2009

Makers Tile Game Launches

I know, I know. You have been admiring the Makers illustrations as they have been posted. You've been enjoying the odd compositions, the reliance on negative space, and the muted palette. You have been listening to me harp about how they are interchangeable and recombinable, and you wonder what this really means. You want to try it for yourself.

Thanks to Pablo of, today you will finally get your chance. Lo! The Makers Tile Game has launched.


Click here to play the game and interact with the first four Makers tiles. You can move them around, rotate them, and play with various combinations.

As additional tiles are released, the live area of the game will grow. The current 2x2 grid will be replaced by a 3x3 grid, and so on, until the final 9x9, 81-tile game is released in its glory. Click here to hear from Pablo himself on his plans for the game.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:50 PM

July 21, 2009

Makers Part 7

Here is the illustration for part 7 of Makers.


Posted by bogenamp at 08:50 AM

July 17, 2009

Makers Part 6

The sixth installment of Makers has been posted to this morning. For those of you just want to look at the pretty pictures, here is today's illustration.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:10 AM

July 15, 2009

"Makers" Serial Release Under Way

Dispatches from the tundra will be coming in the days ahead, but for now, I am pleased to announce that the serial release of Cory Doctorow's Makers on has begun. In fact, the fifth installment (of 81) was released this morning. This is particularly exciting news for Robbi and me because each of the 81 installments will be illustrated by Idiots'Books (meaning Robbi and I have an engrossing conversation/discussion/argument/wrestling match about what should be drawn and then she draws it while I stand there trying to look busy).

Here is the illustration for part one, which was posted last Monday.


Part two:


Part three:


Part four:


You get the idea.

As previously mentioned, there is an added dimension to these illustrations that is not readily apparent by looking at them individually. Though each one serves as a standalone companion to the section it accompanies, together, the 81 illustrations form a grid of interchangable "tiles" that can be placed in any configuration and still line up with one another. You can sort of get a sense of what I'm talking about when you see them placed side-by side.


Or, the same four illustrations can be reordered and still line up with one another:


Or they can be stacked on top of one another and arranged in a grid.


This idea will be extended. This should give you an idea of how it will work.


When all is said and done, there will be 81 "tiles" that form a huge, complex 9x9 grid. is releasing a new chunk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next six months. Sometime in the next few weeks, they will be launching an interactive game that will enable readers to manipulate the tiles to make their own illustration landscapes. I'll let you know as soon as it's available.

Here is a link to the series index on From here, you can link to any of the 81 sections as they are released. You can subscribe to an RSS feed if you want to be alerted as each new section is posted.

We would be particularly gratified if you read the introductory post, which has all sorts of nice things to say about Robbi and me.

Here is a link to Cory Doctorow's post about the Makers serialization on BoingBoing. If reading about us on BoingBoing makes you happy and you would like to do it again, you can see Cory's post about our One-Page-Wonders series by clicking here.

Robbi has completed the first 11 illustrations so far. Which means there are only 70 to go. She cringes whenever I remind her of this.

Back to work.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:32 PM

June 20, 2009

Idiots'Books in Urbanite Magazine

In the third of three consecutive emails not centered around endearing photos of my child, I am happy to announce that Idiots'Books will have a piece featured in the August issue of Baltimore's Urbanite magazine.

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Urbanite is a free Baltimore magazine that focuses on "the issues affecting the relationship between the city and those who live there." It prizes strong writing, an independent perspective, and really nice design. The August issue has a literary theme, and we have been asked to contribute.

The piece we have been working on is difficult to describe. It is part story, part illustration, and is perhaps most akin to the One-Page Wonders we published on The piece consists of three circles of narrative and illustration that recombine with one another to create a seemingly endless number of new stories, but this time, the words and pictures are featured on both sides of the piece of paper. The reader makes a series of folds and an "X"-shaped cut in the middle of the page to assemble the thing, and the number of possible permutations is many. Unlike Ten Thousand Stories, there is no straightforward mathematical formula one can apply to compute the number of different stories one can assemble. Or perhaps there is, and I simply do not know it.

We will post word when the magazine is out on the shelves and available for distribution. And eventually we'll post a version on the site for you to download and assemble at home. For now, though, it's back to work. We need to finish putting this together before we leave for Alaska. Exactly 96 hours from now, we will be en route to Seattle with baby and dog in tow.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:52 AM

June 17, 2009

Cory Doctorow and Idiots'Books

So we've been sitting on some exciting news for the past few weeks and are finally ready to share it with you all. We got a call from the folks at a few weeks back asking whether or not we might be interested in a challenging project. We said yes.

Here's the scoop. The great and accomplished Cory Doctorow (journalist, author, activist, and BoingBoing co-editor) is coming out with a new book in the fall. The book, called Makers, is about a couple of guys who invent things out of discarded stuff. They have many adventures with disgruntled goths, kindly squatters, and lawyers from the Disney Corporation.

In addition to the hardback version of Makers, is going to release the entire book on its website in 81 sections, starting in early July. Every three days for about six months a new section will be released for your reading enjoyment. And each of the 81 sections is going to be imagined and illustrated by Idiots'Books.

This gets more exciting, though. The folks at Tor thought of us, in part, because of the work we've done with recombining image and narrative in Ten Thousand Stories and the One-Page Wonders series. They were interested in seeing if it would be possible to construct the 81 illustrations in such a way that all 81 would come together to form one huge illustration, like pieces of a gigantic puzzle.

Robbi and I put our heads together and decided that it could be done. And we decided to take it one step further. Each of the 81 illustrations functions as one piece of a 9x9 grid that forms a huge, complex illustration when assembled, but each also functions as a "tile" that is drawn so as to be completely interchangeable with any of the other 80 illustrations. Any side of any tile can line up against any side of any other tile without loss of visual coherence. This means that a person with a printout of all 81 "tiles" could arrange them side-by-side in any configuration (and with the tiles turned in any direction) and create an entirely new illustration each time.

It's difficult to describe this in writing, but in a few short weeks you will be able to go to and start reading the story and downloading the illustrations every three days. Additionally, the folks at are in the process of developing an online game that will enable you to move and rotate the "tiles" in virtual space, creating new configurations and new illustrations each time you play.

Here is Cory Doctorow. You can learn more about him by reading his blog, Craphound.


Getting the opportunity to work with him is a genuine thrill.

Here he is in goggles and a cape. If you read his Wikipedia article, you'll understand why.


Much more on this to come. For now, we're just excited to get the word out.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:28 PM

June 16, 2009

Congratulations from Xerox!

We were having this sort of afternoon.


Sluggish, lackluster, laconic.

And then I received the following email, and things took a sudden turn.

Dear Matthew Swanson of Idiots'Books,

You recently submitted an entry into the Xerox Solid Ink Print Sample Contest and I am happy to inform you that your entry has been chosen as the winner for the Entry Category of "Professional Graphic Arts!" You have 5 business days to decide if you would like to receive your prize. You have the choice of either a Phaser 8560N Solid Ink Color Printer with 2 months worth of Solid Ink OR a 2GHz Aluminum 13" Apple MacBook.

Congratulations from Xerox!


Xerox Dude

We had won?! We had to pinch ourselves.

It has been a long time since either Robbi or I won a prize, and we were elated. Especially Robbi.




I was elated.


Alden was elated.


Iggy was still depressed, but had to go through the motions nonetheless.


To explain, we use Xerox solid ink to print our books. Instead of laser toner, which is a fine powder that is affixed to the page in the printing process, solid ink is a waxy chunk that kind of feels like a crayon. The "ink" is melted onto the page as the printing occurs. The resulting images are rich and high-quality, which is one of the reasons we use this technology. Xerox hosted a competition for all materials printed using solid ink. We submitted a handful of books and an essay explaining what we do.

We hadn't had much in the way of expectations, but now we're awfully glad we decided to enter. Now, apparently, we have five days to decide whether we want to receive our prize. I'm trying to think of a scenario in which someone would not want a free printer or a free laptop, but have so far come up dry.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:31 PM

June 08, 2009

There and Back Again

Robbi and I (and Alden) spent the weekend sitting behind the Idiots'Books table at the 2009 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts show. This year, it was housed in an armory on Lexington Avenue (apparently the building was used as the exterior shot of the place where Toby Maguire wrestles in the first Spiderman movie).

Here, the expectant crowds wait for the show to open.


Alden helped Robbi set up our booth.


Slowly but surely...


...everything came together.


Eventually, we were all set up.


Her work complete, Alden tried to escape into the city. As I chased her, I heard her muttering, "Broadway, here I come..."


Eventually, I convinced her to stay, citing such fun things as puppets.


She was utterly unimpressed.


Eventually, she fell asleep in the middle of the floor behind our table.


We used her as an object lesson to the folks who stopped by, citing her as the inspiration for The Baby is Disappointing.


While she was asleep, Robbi considered trading her for this less disappointing baby, the property of our friend Shawn Cheng of Partyka fame.


Ultimately, Shawn decided to keep his baby, so we nudged Alden further under the table and resolved to wait for her to grow up.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:10 AM

June 05, 2009

Idiots'Books at MoCCA

This weekend Robbi, Alden, and I will be standing behind the Idiots'Books table at the 2009 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Festival in New York City. MoCCA is a huge gathering of people who make independent comics and publishing houses who produce high-end comics and graphic novels. It is, according to The Village Voice, ""the best small-press nexus (anywhere!)" In addition to its hundreds of exhibitors, MoCCA offers panels, lectures, and a chance to have books signed by various well-known comic artists.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, the show is open from 11am-6pm Saturday and Sunday (June 6-7). The show is at the 69th Regiment Armory (68 Lexington Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets). We can be found at table 432, which appears to be pretty much in the center of the room. It costs $10 to get in the door.

Here's the poster.


As for our booth, we'll have all 27 of our titles for sale, plus our very first item of Idiots'Books apparel, a baby onesie that Robbi dreamed up in the middle of the night last week, designed at 4:00am, and had printed later the following day.

If you happen to be in the city or near enough to come in for the day, we'd love to see you. We'll trade books for babysitting.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:49 PM

May 19, 2009

Search Strings

As I like to do from time to time, I had a peek at the Barnstorming logs today. It is fun to see how many people have been reading, how long they spend on the site, and what sorts of search strings they use to find us. I was pleased by the latest batch of phrases, and thought I'd share them with you.


I can't help but feel sorry for those poor suckers who were in the hunt for different types of excitement than the kind we offer at the Barnstorming, where we seem to talk about nothing but babies, books, and murals. But whomever was looking for our friend Jon Kravis would have had something useful to read.

Perhaps when we are in Alaska, I will have occasion to snap some photos of country boys on 4-wheelers (though given that it's usually about 45 degrees up there in the summer, the boys in question are unlikely to be hot).

The other items on this list, I am afraid, are better left to others.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:00 PM

May 17, 2009

The Unveiling

As we suspected would be the case, Robbi worked right down to the wire. Here she is on Friday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on the mural key.


She paid special attention to Kevin Bacon's hair. Given his literary chops, Philip Roth can get away with looking a bit ruffled. But Kevin Bacon's got nothing but his looks and his fancy footwork.


The last thing she painted was the mural's title panel, which was placed on the left side of the sliding door between the mural room and the kitchen.


The last order of business was extracting the ladder/strip of paper sculpture that had been steadily growing and taking on an identity of its own over the week or so of muraling.


When Robbi finally called it quits and left for the airport to pick me up, several of her helpers sprayed the entire mural with a clear coating, meant to protect it from the sweaty forearms of well-meaning wall-leaners.

Saturday came, and we showed up for the Barth reading. It was fun watching people read the mural.


There's really no right way to do it, but pointing enthusiastically helps.


I was so pleased to see it in the flesh after having to take it in by looking at pictures all week.


Eventually the reading started, and Joshua Wolf Shenk got things started.


Then Barth read from his latest book, a book of stories called The Development. He was kind enough to mention Robbi and me and our work (he is a subscriber) in his introduction.


Our friends Dahna and Sarah surprised us by driving in from D.C. for the unveiling.


They joined us for Chestertown's finest pizza and a walk along the water, where Alden suddenly discovered that knowing how to walk brings the accompanying joy of being able to terrorize ducks and geese.


She has gone straight from crawl to jog, and so it was only with a great burst of paternal speed that I was able to catch up with her and prevent her from plunging headfirst into the drink.


As a walking child, she is fearless and haughtily independent. She will not take the hand of one who is trying to help her stabilize or navigate. Instead, she heads across bridges without looking back.


At the end of our walk, Iggy came upon three cats who wanted to do her harm. There was a tense standoff, at the conclusion of which Iggy wisely decided that slinking meekly away was the best course of action.


Iggy almost never recognizes the best course of action, but is such a natural slinker, that she occasionally gets lucky and escapes unscathed.

This afternoon, we began work on Robbi's garden. Our "yard" consists of a tiny patch of grass out front. But Robbi's ambition has not been dampened by lack of real estate. She has been growing tiny plants from seeds near the window in our dining room. Out front, she is using wooden posts to frame out her garden.


I was charged with driving in some stakes to stabilize the corners.


We screwed the posts into the stakes, and the simple frame was done.


On Tuesday, we'll pour in some topsoil. Tomorrow we head to Baltimore to meet with some people about yet another new project.

When it rains, it pours. We're standing outside with no raincoats, aiming for full-on saturation.

But at least the mural is complete.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:20 PM

May 13, 2009

The End in Sight

I just got a new batch of photos from Robbi, who is home from the mural at the uncharacteristically early hour of 10:30pm. She has another project to complete tonight, due tomorrow: some illustrations for our friends at Bombadil. Robbi and I developed a story and illustration that provide the framework for their soon-to-be released album, Tarpits and Canyonlands, and they have asked her to illustrate the extended liner notes that will come bundled with an iTunes purchase of the album. She has developed a series of images that will accompany the lyrics, and the result is much like an illustrated book of poetry. I think it looks quite nice.

Here's a link to the post discussing our collaboration with Bomabdil. And here's the cover of the album, which will be released on July 7.


For now, here the latest pics of the mural. The portraits are pretty much done (except for a last-minute revision or two), almost all of the lines representing the relationships have been painted in, and the arduous process of inking the words is under way (notice how she's had to work around the ceiling beams). Two more full days on top of the ladder and Robbi should be done, just in time to pick Alden and me up from the airport on Friday night. Fingers crossed.

Here is Samuel Johnson, who is critical of just about everyone, with the notable exceptions of God Almighty and J.K. Rowling for whom, it seems, he has a surprising fondness.


And here is Jonathan Swift, who "made an immodest proposal to" J.K. Rowing. Who knew she was such a hit with the old dead British guys?


And here is a pulled-back glimpse at the unconscionable sprawl. Perhaps the best way to view this mural will be to lie in the middle of the floor for an hour or so.


Another view. Continued chaos.


We've aimed to cover every available inch of the room, so much so that we had to coordinate with the Lit House folks to find out the exact dimensions of the furniture they intended for the room so that we could plan around it.


I swear that I have been busy as well, while Robbi has been doing her best impression of Superwoman. I'm busy at work on the concepting for our next big project: a sizable commission that will keep us very busy from now until we leave for Alaska. More on that to come in days ahead.

For now, should you see Robbi, give her a pat on the back or a shoulder rub or hand her a sandwich or utter encouraging words. I wonder if I'll get to see her when I get back home or if she'll be asleep for the next ten days.

But by all means, stop by the Lit House at 2:30on Saturday to hear John Barth and see the mural in its glory.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:33 PM

May 12, 2009

More Faces Emerge

Just a quick post this morning to show more progress. I'll try to stay out of the way.

Emily Dickinson


Jonathan Swift




Jane Austen


Miguel de Cervantes


J.D. Salinger


Herman Melville


Gabriel Garcia Marquez


A handful down, but many more to go. At this point, it's a race against the clock. Robbi is aiming to finish this sucker by Saturday at 2:30 when it is officially unveiled at the John Barth reading.

At first our intention was to include the name of each writer next to his or her face, but as we went along, a couple of smart, trustworthy people suggested that the mural might be more engaging and stimulating if we left the names off and made it the task of the reader to identify the writers by their faces and linking phrases. We came to like this approach, and plan on excluding the names.

But, the relative obscurity of some of the folks we've included compelled us to provide an identification key for those we might otherwise frustrate. But we didn't want the key to be too obvious or prominent. We wanted to have it accessible, but hidden. How to solve this problem?

Robbi had the idea: print it on the sliding pocket doors between the mural room and the kitchen. The doors are almost always closed.


So now you know where the key is hidden when you come to see the mural. But try to use it as a last resort. I'd like to think that every reader of the mural should be required to puzzle the thing out for a few minutes, at least, before consulting with the key. At least until one gets a neck cramp.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:41 AM

May 11, 2009

And Now for the Fun Stuff

Now that the lines have been transferred and the portraits are painted in, Robbi gets to enjoy the most gratifying part of this process, which is painting in the linework. The simple black line is everything, adding dimension and definition to the paint-by-number patches of solid color that provide the background and shading for each portrait.

For example, here is Leo Tolstoy, recently emerged from blobby color blocks into the sharp, odd-looking man that he is.


And here is the newly-detailed Francis Bacon. Notice the linework template taped next to him for reference.


And Allen Ginsberg. What a beard.


And Poe, poor tortured man.


In our mural, he gets to go to a Ravens game with Ernest Hemingway.

Here is the artist at work. Painting on the ceiling is plain awful.


Caroline has continued to be a huge help.


And here is the mural as it is tonight, waiting in the darkness of the sleeping Lit House for the new day and Robbi's return.


Posted by bogenamp at 12:59 AM

May 10, 2009

Working on the Mural, Day 5

Robbi and her stalwart band of students are in the midst of day five of mural painting. Below are photos of days three and four.

For the most part, the students have been working on painting in the 50 portraits while Robbi continues transferring all of the lines and words to the wall. Robbi printed out a color template of each portrait. The template includes just the major color blocks but not the black lines, which Robbi will add at the very end.

Here is Liz painting in Charles Dickens using the Charles Dickens color template.


Slowly but surely, the various portraits are starting to emerge. (Notice the handsome portrait of Edith Wharton, the Lit House cat/mascot/spiritual leader.)


Robbi reports that the portraits on the four walls were the first to be painted. Everyone was somewhat leery of venturing onto the ceiling (where at least half of the portraits appear), as painting on the ceiling is uncomfortable, difficult, and painfully slow. Caroline was the first to take the plunge and attack the ceiling portraits.


She has been boldly painting them ever since (joined by Liz, in this photo).


Here's a long view of the room.


You may have noticed the blue stripes in the photo above. These are the masking lines that will help Robbi and the students paint the crisp gray lines that will connect the various portraits. They are slowly emerging across the ceiling and walls.



And even across doorways.


Robbi has been working from mid-morning to the middle of the night for the last five days. I get the sense that the students are starting to feel sorry for her. Yesterday, one of them baked her a cake.


And today, Caroline made her a grilled cheese sandwich.

As Robbi continued to transfer the strips of words (the phrases that link the various portraits), she worried about throwing any away, in case they might be needed again in the case of some unexpected mural-related emergency (stranger things have happened). Given that they were covered with tape, and bent, and difficult to store in any reasonable way, she started hanging them off of her ladder, creating a piece of inadvertent installation art that she has now grown somewhat attached to.


I expect to find it in the middle of the living room when I return to Chestertown.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:18 PM

May 08, 2009

Working on the Mural

The following is a dispatch from Robbi, who early this morning completed her second full day (and first full night) of working on painting the Literary House mural. She worked from 10:00am on Thursday to 6:00am this morning and still had the fortitude to send these photos and commentary for me to post. With much respect and without further ado:


I laid out the mural in a page layout program in my computer so that I could print the entire thing out and transfer it directly onto the Lit House wall by using transfer paper (kind of like the old carbon copy paper). I also printed out a mini version/schematic to use as a reference, along with a list of things to remember. Here they are.


The schematic, alas, is incomplete, since I lost the two side walls somewhere between home and the Lit House. There were very important notes on those side walls.

The life-sized mural printed out as panels on a grid, and we had to hang them as such. Everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle (except without the little odd-shaped knobbies to let you know that things actually fit properly together). So it took a lot of jiggering and shifting to make things fit. We had, on the previous day, made our first attempt at hanging this grid, but were aghast to find that Kevin Bacon was not where we thought he was supposed to be. He was, in fact, on the opposite wall. I thought I was going to have to totally rework the schematic (again! horrors!) until Joe pointed out that I had just mislabeled the print shop door and the library door and had gotten them reversed. Whoo Nellie. Was that good news. So, anyway. We started with Kevin Bacon and worked our way out.

Note from Matthew: (You may wonder why Kevin Bacon is included in a mural of literary greats. The mural takes its cue from the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and is a satirical take on what might happen if we treated our literary stars in the same manner as we do the stars of the screen. Hence the mural is titled Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, but we felt Kevin deserved to make an appearance. After all, who else would engage in an all-night dance off with the Marquis de Sade?)


The hanging continued across the ceiling.


Things got substantially more complicated once we started across the ceiling. Those crossbeams, for one. The humidity in the air, for two, and the general lack of stickiness in the tape, for three. Things were saggy and sad-looking, but I did not despair.


While I was not despairing at that end of the room, I got Erica and Owen to start hanging paper on the other end of the room. This would prove to be a fatal mistake, but at the time I thought to myself, "There are all these people here who want to be put to work. I must find something useful for them to do. Even if it means that later on, we'll have to move everything, because when the two sides meet in the middle, there will be a 6-inch overlap." Ah well.


Owen and Joe starting to plaster another wall. These tiles were assembled first on the floor by Nick, then taped up en masse. It was a nice idea, and worked pretty well since we had a lot of hands. This idea, unfortunately, only worked on the walls. Once we started having to deal with gravity and crooked beams and lumpy plaster, it was a lost cause. Tile by tile it was.


This helpful student started to transfer the linework in a very tedious fashion (not her that's at fault for the tedium - the procedure itself is what's tedious). Later, on my own, and in a more practical state of mind, I discovered just how tedious this method was, and made some adjustments. I just feel sorry that this poor soul had to suffer through the tedious way. Boo hoo.


Caroline also suffered through the tedious way. The tedious way is to lift each panel, getting it unstuck from the wall/ceiling, slide a piece of transfer paper underneath, then carefully trace the lines with a pencil, which transfers the line to the wall. What I ended up doing was tracing just the outline of the portrait and then using a ruler to place and draw the lines between them. I still have to go back and transfer the words, but there won't be that pathetic wobbliness to the lines that happens when you're craning your neck trying to draw upside-down and opposite-handed.

Nick observed the tedium, and decided that he had made a good decision by remaining on the floor.


Even Joshua Wolf Shenk, fearless Literary House director helped out. You see, I even trusted him with advanced-level taping technique - the level that involves working around the track for the track lighting.

Actually, I'm telling a bit of a lie. About two seconds after I took this picture, I made him come down so I could work around the track. It was a pain in the ass.


It's hard to see, but at this point the left wall had been all transferred, and the ceiling was close to being all plastered.


This photo shows the state of things at the end of the day on Wednesday. We left the room a complete disaster. We were afraid to throw away any pieces in case we needed them, so the floor just got to be a big pile of paper and tape. Whenever you walked around, you would get a piece of tape stuck to your foot, that would then collect paper, and more tape, and pretty soon you're walking around in a big ball of trash. That got all trampled and torn, but we still didn't want to throw anything away. Since printing this thing out takes a long time, and there's no way I can tell it just to print out one part of the mural (without some recropping etc of the file), I just didn't want to risk it.

This is the sign we left overnight.


Painting started happening on Thursday morning. I was still drawing lines and transferring stuff on the ceiling, but because of all of the shifting that had occurred (and because I hadn't really accounted for the track lights) I sort of had to make adjustments as I went along, which basically meant I was the only one who could be working on it at the time. So I had the students start doing paint-by-numbers on the portraits. Here is Mike painting in Poe. He had to leave early to attend a crab-fest, which was a particularly dirty insult to the rest of us.


Our friend Emily Kalwaitis (who is a real-live painter) came to help.


And mom and dad brought sushi!

It was SOOOOO yummy. I took a picture to make you jealous. You can see the paint-by-number cutouts in the background. The idea is the painters take the cutouts, transfer the interior detail, and paint in the blocks of color. Then I'll go back and do all the linework myself.


Caroline a careful and exacting painter. And she loves Edith. So she got to paint her. I was trying to figure out why our paint was so runny and not opaque. I guess because it's house paint. I forgot that we weren't going to be covering huge areas of color. I could have bought artists acrylics. We did end up replacing a couple colors, but some of the house paints look fine.

Note from Matthew: Edith Wharton the cat is the long-time Literary House mascot. Given her literary name and her central place in Lit House culture, it seemed appropriate to include her among the towering greats of the canon. The other, less beloved (to the Literary House community, anyway) Edith Wharton also appears.


Caroline had to finish Poe because of Mike leaving us for his stinking crab fest.


The portrait painting continued at the far end of the room.


As the day wore on, people started disappearing. Caroline and I were the only ones there from about dinnertime to midnight. She amazed me by painting with one hand and eating a popsicle with the other. Upside-down, no less, because it was a really awkward corner she was in.


This is how the room looked at 4:00 this morning. After Caroline left, I finished transferring all the lines and circles so that people could keep painting in various portraits the next day, while I transferred the writing. I decided it was time to clean up, so I would know which bits of text we needed to keep and how much of the rest we could recycle.


Iggy insisted on helping.


She barked at the cleaning lady like a maniac when she came in a little after 4.

This is how the room looked when I left. Still a lot to do, but we're coming along.


I'm so tired, I have to go to bed now. I'm going to try to get back there for another long day tomorrow. It's gotten light out in the time that I've written this.

Good night.


I edited out the mushy stuff, which was mostly directed at Alden, anyway.

I'll post more photos as the work continues. If you happen to see Robbi sleeping on a sidewalk or slumped over her shopping cart in the grocery store, please give her a helpful nudge and a compassionate pat on the shoulder. These are the sorts of responsibilities that would fall to me, were I in Chestertown this week.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:28 AM

May 04, 2009

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

Robbi and I have been asked by the folks at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College to imagine and produce a mural in the house's entry room. As is our fashion, we pursued the most complex and time-consuming idea that we could think of. It is titled Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll share the press release, which gives a pretty good idea of what we're up to:

Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots'Books are in the process of creating a mural that will greet Lit House visitors with a satirical take on history of the written word. Taking its cue from the popular game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", the mural functions as an elaborate web of literary associations. Robbi will paint portraits of fifty or so major writers on the four walls and ceiling of the Lit House entrance room. Each writer will be connected to various others with language describing the relationship. For example, Leo Tolstoy will be connected to Walt Whitman with the phrase, "won a beard-growing contest with," and Charles Dickens will be connected to Phillip Roth with the words, "accidentally sang a Christmas carol to".

By way of disclaimer, the mural makes no claim to accuracy, comprehensiveness, or fussy deference to the history of literature. A few of the writers featured include Shakespeare the Marquis de Sade, J.K. Rowling, John Barth, Danielle Steel, Ernest Hemmingway, the dude who wrote Beowulf, and yes, Francis Bacon.

Please join us at 2:30pm on May 16th, when the completed mural will be unveiled on the occasion of John' Barth's reading.

One of Robbi's tasks while I am in Kansas City has been to render all 49 portraits, to lay out the mural in a page-layout program, and now, starting today at 2:00, to paint the sucker with the help of a small army of Washington College students.

In her fashion, Robbi has been staying up all night to get her prep work done. To give you a glimpse into the mind of the artist, I will document my email inbox as it greeted me this morning.

1:54am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Mark Twain


2:09am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Danielle Steel (containing unprintable editorial comment about the portrait's subject)


2:32am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Murasaki Shikibu (who wrote Tale of Genji)


2:46am: email from Robbi containing portrait of James Joyce


3:05am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Stephen King


3:24am: email from Robbi containing portrait of The Dude Who Wrote Beowulf


4:45am: email from Robbi containing portrait of William Shakespeare


5:10am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Allen Ginsberg


5:53am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Walt Whitman


6:14am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Samuel Beckett


6:28am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Edgar Allan Poe


6:47am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Ernest Hemingway


7:21am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Henry David Thoreau


At this point, the flow of emails suddenly stopped, which leads me to believe that Robbi is slumped in her painting chair in a deep and dreamless slumber. When she will emerge is not known. But what gifts she has left us in the night.

I marvel at the sheer productivity can transpire when you steal an artist's baby, give her a Cintiq, and put no limits on her ice cream consumption.

Stop by the Lit House after May 16th to see these and the other 36 portraits in full painted glory. And come read the story of how they are connected. And if you happen to be in Chestertown at 2:30 on May 16, come hear a reading by the legendary John Barth, one of the most important literary voices of the 20th Century. He, too, has a role to play in Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:05 AM

April 26, 2009

New Tool

A few days ago, a box arrived in the mail containing a new illustration tool for Robbi. Although she was extremely excited about the contents, she told herself that she would not open the box until she had finished painting the illustrations for Volume 21. In the wee hours of last night, she finished painting and so allowed herself to open the box. Inside was the Wacom Cintiq tablet. (Watch the short movie if you're interested in seeing how it works.)

One might argue that Robbi's two 23-inch monitors should be sufficient to meet her needs when it comes to total square inches of screen space. One would be wrong. Given the abundance of illustrator/designer page layout sorts of things she has to do all the time, Robbi covers up every inch of monitor space with a mountain of windows and menus. Indeed, Robbi claimed to need one more screen, and so we secured the Cintiq.


The Cintiq basically functions as a virtual canvas/sketchpad. Its surface is pressure sensitive and interacts with a stylus, enabling Robbi to draw or paint directly onto the screen.


Which makes her very happy.


Robbi is particularly happy to have the Cintiq at this particular moment in time because she has to create 50 portraits of famous writers over the next few days. The portraits will be central to the massive, five-wall mural we have been commissioned to paint in the Literary House here at Washington College in early May. The rendering of these 50 portraits should be greatly expedited by the Cintiq and all of its helpful space-age features.

She is over there oohing and aahing over the Cintiq as I write this. I know in my heart that I will not be able to get her attention for at least two weeks. It is so much more efficient, sleek, and time-saving than I am.

This just in: Robbi's first creation on the new tablet.


It seems that there might yet be room for the Cintiq and me in Robbi's crowded heart.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:59 PM

April 23, 2009

The Time Machine

Our fourth and final One-Page Wonder has been published on Having already exhausted such topics as fights between spacemen and monsters, interplanatary warfare, and deadly love between man and robot, we delve this time into the perils of misbegotten time travel. The Time Machine is without question the oddest of the four One-Page Wonders, but it is perhaps our favorite.

Here are the main characters of this tragic tale.


Click here to download, print, cut, fold, and properly read the tragic tale of Little Dickie, Old Richard, and the wealthy widow. See how time travel leads inevitably to disappointment, how diamonds are not as great as they seem to be, and how bald wigs, though an effective form of disguise, will always get a fellow into trouble. Every time.


If you are devastated to know that the One-Page Wonder oeuvre is now complete, take heart in the fact that we are likely to collaborate with Tor on future work. And if you've somehow made it to this point without viewing Robbi's fun YouTube video with soundtrack by Drew Bunting (and Brian Slattery), put aside your knitting for a minute and have a look.

For those of you who aren't into bald wigs, here is Alden, trying to escape from Cannon's porch, where we went the other day to play in his sandbox.


Realizing escape was impossible, she eventually settled down and decided to enjoy herself instead.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:34 PM

April 15, 2009

What We Like to See

As you may (or may not) know, Idiots'Books is a subscription service. People sign up to receive a year's worth of our books (eight a year at present). Each time we produce a new book (every 6-7 weeks), we send it out to the subscribership--bringing joy, aesthetic bliss, and occasionally confusion to households all over the country (and in four foreign countries). When a subscription expires, subscribers have to carefully weigh the decision of whether or not to sign on for another year.

Some slip away into obscurity. Others return with enthusiasm. Some document their thought processes for our enjoyment.

We thought you might enjoy seeing a few.

For example, the Fantastic Family Haske, (whose blog is worth a look, especially for those of you who enjoy pictures of babies) sent the following postcard as a means of letting us know that they intended to renew their subscription:



Another subscriber from Vermont let his enthusiasm be known by including a note on his envelope:


And this note on his check:


Perhaps my favorite such subscriber contribution is from our friend Drew, who documented the saga of his subscription's end and ensuing renewal with satisfying drama:


In addition to being deft with large knives, Drew is a singer, songwriter, and certified badass. You may be pleased to know that he has recently created a MySpace page from which you can listen to a bunch of new songs. Or you can become a fan of his on Facebook.

But getting back now to the moral of this post: we love it when you resubscribe with a flourish. Life is too short to merely send a check.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:50 PM

April 08, 2009

Unit 31B Incinerates Jon

The latest One-Page Wonder has been posted to You can download it by clicking here.

Unit 31B Incinerates Jon is the tragic tale of love that was never meant to be.

Here is the tremendously desirable Unit 31B, the object of hapless spaceman Jon's unwavering affections.


Unfortunately the shapely mechanic has little use for Jon and his special feelings. She deals with the unwelcome attention efficiently and with ruthless precision.

Here's an excerpt from Robbi's illustration.


If you haven't printed out and constructed any of these yet, it only takes a few minutes, and from what I hear, it is a lot of fun.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:15 AM

March 24, 2009

Revenge of the Moonmen

I am sorry to preempt the post on Alden's first birthday with other news, but frankly something far more important has just transpired. The second of our One-Page Wonders has just been published on Revenge of the Moonmen is now available by clicking here.

At first glance, Revenge of the Moonmen may seem to be nothing more than a silly comic, but look closer and you will see that it is, in fact, a macabre tale of ruthless dismemberment, mindless commercial exploitation, and bloody revenge. Bloody, I say!

Here is one of the hapless Venus People, blissfully unaware of the intergalactic whoop ass that is about to be unleashed upon her.


Take out your scissors and get to work.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:35 PM

March 17, 2009

Idiots'Books and Bombadil: Sneak Preview

At the most basic level, what interests Robbi and me artistically is collaboration: the thing that happens when two minds set themselves the task of wrestling with the same question, problem, or mystery from two fundamentally separate starting points. In most cases, the collaboration involves Robbi's images and my words. Recently, we've had the opportunity to add an entirely new dimension to the equation.

I have written here previously of our friends in the band Bombadil. We met them when they came to Chestertown last winter, and quickly we discovered that we and they shared a compatible sensibility.


We loved their music and they loved our books and so it seemed to them a natural fit to have us design and name their new album. Bombadil let us operate with a fairly blank slate, saying only that the album art should be some sort of story with pictures. They shared demos of the new material and gave us a bit of insight into what they were thinking when they wrote the songs, but for the most part they charged us with doing what we do. And so we did.

The result is Tarpits and Canyonlands (which the subscribership will come to know as Volume 22) an album wrapped in an illustrated story which will be released July 7th of this year. The band has started publicizing the album and has released the cover artwork, which I am happy to share with you today.


We'll post the entirety of the album art after the release, but for now you can savor the anticipation along with the rest of Bombadil nation.

Here's their MySpace page, if you want to listen to tracks from their last album, A Buzz, a buzz (you can download the whole thing via iStore) and see more of Robbi's album art for Tarpits and Canyonlands.

And here is thier website, if you want to learn how to be a better groupie.

These guys are amazing. And they take really good promotional pictures.

Like this one, for instance:


And here's another:


I mean, doesn't this make you want to be 25 and in an up-and-coming rock band?

Posted by bogenamp at 03:35 PM

March 16, 2009

Idiots'Books on USA Today's Pop Candy: Hip and Hidden

Friends, the triumphant march of Captain A-OK continues! Just now, we have been blogged about by Whitney Matheson of USA Today's Pop Candy. Click here to see!

Here is Whitney (isn't she cute?):


Her blog is devoted to:


Following this line of reasoning, Robbi and I must be...hip. Such a thing had never occurred to us. Naturally, we're hidden, by dint of living in Chestertown. But hip? Little old we? Does she know how we dress? The mind reels. Thank you Whitney Matheson for making our day. And for initiating a minor identity crisis.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:13 PM

March 14, 2009


I have spent most of the last couple of days in production mode. If all goes according to plan, we will be mailing Volume 20 to the subscribership on Monday. Which means that I have to make 200 copies of it.

The first step is printing it out. This step is more complicated than you might think. The printer is a finicky beast. Robbi has to spend a lot of time making sure that the ink heads don't get clogged and cause unsightly streaks, for example. But fortunately, the printer is capable of collating the pages so that we don't have to set all of the individual pages out on the work table and order them by hand.


Unless Robbi forgets to push the collate button. In which case we do have to set all of the individual pages out on the work table and order them by hand. Robbi really hates it when she forgets to push the collate button.


After printing (and collating), it was time for trimming. Ever since my acquisition of the large, impressive guillotine cutter, my life has gotten a lot easier on the trimming front.

Behold the guillotine cutter:


I put the paper in:


I pull the big lever:



Producing a neatly trimmed stack of pages.


Which I place on the table to admire.


Sometimes I admire them up close.


Next up, I staple each book along the spine. We did not photograph the stapling, though I have to wonder why. Stapling is a very sexy part of the process. My stapler is very powerful. If I asked it to, it could staple through 210 pages at once. I have never asked it to.

After the stapling, I had to pound down the stapes to make them flat. I do this with a hammer and a concrete floor. We did not photograph the staple pounding either. I am glad that we did not. Kneeling on a concrete floor pounding staples is an undignified affair.

The final step in producing this particular book is adding a strip of binding tape to form a spine. This part is best done in near-darkness, by a single bulb.

First I have to trim the strip of tape.


Next I contemplate an untaped copy of Jericho.


And then I place the tape along the spine.


I do this 200 times, and then I'm done.


There is a certain pleasure in seeing the finished books all stacked together in neat piles.

Next up, we prepare the mailing. This is another wholly unphotogenic enterprise.

Which means we will conclude with something that is photogenic, a small child proudly baring her two-and-a-half teeth.


Thanks to friends Peter and Veronica for snapping this shot. And for taking this one, in which the babies in containers contest continues.


Note the backdrop for this shot: Veronica is an ardent Red Sox fan. Peter is a lifelong Yankees guy. Notice the prominent Boston "B" on the side of the bowl. I'm guessing that Peter won't be inviting Alden back to their place any time soon.

No matter. She's needed around home. As soon as she can hold a hammer, she is going to take on the role of staple pounder. Though she tells me that she'd much prefer to write the books.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:03 AM

March 12, 2009

And Now EphBlog!

Capping a three-day string of self-congratulatory posts, we are happy to announce that Captain A-Ok Fights Blug-Glub-Glub has now been posted to EphBlog, a blog dedicated to the dissemination and discussion of all things related to Williams College and its wide universe of people (of which Robbi and I are two).


Click here to read a very nice post by Ronit Bhattacharyya. (Raise your hand if you know anyone else with consecutive "Y"s in his name.)

If you have been a faithful reader and clicker these past three days, the story in question might by now start to seem rather stale . Resist the temptation to let familiarity dull delight. If you haven't actually printed Captain A-OK out yet, if you haven't actually folded and cut the paper to see how the various narrative combinations arise, you might want give it a try. It's really kind of neat.

Be sure to check in tomorrow to see us posted on Drudge Report. After, BoingBoing, and EphBlog, what else is there?

Posted by bogenamp at 10:40 AM

March 11, 2009


Friends, it has come to my attention that our new story, Captain A-OK Fights Blug-Glub-Glub has been posted to BoingBoing, which is, according to my friend Stella, "the internet's greatest consolidator or DIY, art, news, politics, and ephemera." We are pleased to have been considered worthy of such company.


Even if you've already found the story on, feel free to check it out on BoingBoing by clicking right here. Following the principle that leftovers are sometimes even tastier than the meal itself.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:54 PM

March 09, 2009

Captain A-OK Fights Blug-Glub-Glub

HIGH EXCITEMENT. CLICK HERE NOW. (Then read the rest once you've come back down to earth.)

A few months ago, we were approached by the folks at (major scifi publishing house) about producing a series of stories for them.


Apparently, the folks at are convinced that the printing of books as we know it (on paper and sold in stores, for example) is soon to come to a crashing halt, and so they have committed themselves to amassing a body of quality online literature/art/comics, etc.

Robbi and I put our heads together and tried to come up with something interesting that would work well in this context. Our solution: a single page of words and pictures that can be downloaded, printed out, cut once, folded three times, and then recombined into ten separate stories (with pictures). For those of you who are familiar with our books Ten Thousand Stories and After Everafter, here is a one-sheet riff on that idea. We call them One-Page Wonders.

Over the next few months, will be publishing a series of four of these. We are happy to announce that the first of them, Captain A-OK Fights Blug-Glub-Glub is available now. By clicking here. So do it. And click here to see our glorious prominence (for the short-lived present) on the homepage.

Here is Captain A-OK.


Isn't he dashing? I think Robbi must have modeled him after me.

Be sure to take a moment to watch the nifty instructional film (with soundtrack by Drew Bunting and mad banjo by Brian Slattery) that Robbi produced to teach the teeming masses the various ways to combine the One-Page Wonders.

Get some scissors. Warm up your printer. Have fun.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 PM

March 05, 2009

Model Student

Robbi and I are teaching a class at Washington College this spring. The course, called Pictures and Words, aims to get writers and artists to collaborate with one another, working across media to think about ways in which word and image can work with, against, and in spite of one another to create interesting, interdependent expressions that neither one alone could accomplish. Last week, each writer/artist pairing was asked to pitch three ideas for the major project that will consume the rest of the semester.

One of the groups pitched an idea in which a seemingly lovable teddy bear named Commerce would embody the insidious influence of commercialism on unwitting youth. Or something like that. The main point was that Commerce had Freddy Kruger/Wolverine knifefingers, which delighted me considerably.


Ultimately the Commerce approach was not the idea we selected, but I was so smitten with the idea of this lovable, yet homicidal teddy bear that I pleaded with the illustrator in question to draw me a picture of Commerce mutilating one of his victims. I was merely expressing a wish for the sake of expressing it, in the manner that one will often yearn wistfully for things that will likely never come to pass.

But late last night, even though he didn't have to, Mike sent me the following:


It is cultivating such expressions of intellectual energy that make teaching so rewarding. This is better than an apple any day.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:53 AM

February 12, 2009

Rock Star for Four Days

So the first annual Idiots'Books East Coast Tour has come and gone. We have returned home, aglow with the glories of the road and inflicted with physical distress both abdominal and systemic.

To recap:

We pulled out of town last Saturday afternoon, the minivan full of gear, baby, dog, and Drew Bunting, who had flown in from Milwaukee to make the drive north with us. We landed that evening in Metuchen, NY, home of Brian Wecht and his lovely wife Rachel.

Before heading over to the Raconteur for our gig, the guys warmed up playing Rock Band on the Wii.


While I spent some quality time with Alden.


The Raconteur is an outstanding independent bookstore in downtown Metuchen. We set up in a cozy little nook in the back. The eager crowds got seated a full half hour before the show began.


While we warmed up, Drew got funky with the banjo uke.


And Slattery got all moody on the guitar.


The Raconteur's proprietor Alex got things started with an introduction and a plea to those assembled not to stop buying books in response to the downturn.


As for the show itself, Robbi and I read a few books, Drew played a few songs, and Brian Slattery did a few readings from his new novel Liberation while the band played on.

It was practically a WIlliams class of 1997 reunion. In addition to the band members, Kenny Harmon and Maria Plantilla drove in from New York City.


That night we drove to New Haven to crash for the night before heading on to Williamstown the next day. We spent the afternoon with our friend Gina Coleman and her family, including her son Garcia, who we met for the first time.


The babies got to know one another. By which I mean, Alden tried to strangle Garcia.


And acted like a little punk while playing with his toys.


And then tried to look all innocent about it.


On Monday morning, we picked up the PA and started setting up for the day's events. Although a large part of the spirit of these performances is derived from the mostly improvisational aspect of the proceedings, the band did do a bit of rehearsal.

We were lucky to be joined by Kris Kirby, PhD (Where did your drummer get his PhD?)


Drew led the way on guitar.


Slattery added fiddle (And banjo. And guitar.)


Wecht jumped in on keys.


And Steinway.


And sax.


Rich anchored it all on bass.


That afternoon, we opened the proceedings with a panel focused on our various trajectories from the Williams English major to lives (more or less) in the arts. Many more students came than I had expected, and a handful of professors also stopped by to hear what we had to say. I think that we were at least marginally helpful and occasionally amusing. I'll post the sound file for download once I figure out how.

Then a handful of interested students joined us for dinner.

At 7:30, we unleashed the full dose of rock, joined by teen drumming prodigy Aidan Shepard. Drew led the way with a set of his songs that acknowledge the tension between his callings to be a priest and his callings to be a musician. Then Robbi and I read from our books. Slattery brought us home with a series of readings from Liberation, followed by a spirited reading of the children's book Salmon and a finale that included a death metal interpretation of Little House on the Prairie.

I love my friends and am so glad that we all are able to get together every once in a while to do things like this.


The tour ended, as all good tours should, with two babies in an empty box of Huggies.


Here is the mood shot we took for the cover of their upcoming album of wistful duets.


Which will be released within the month.


Someday when Garcia and Alden are on a tour of their own, may they think back happily on the role they played in their parents' fleeting glory days. May their crowds be even larger than ours, and their roadies more numerous.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:15 AM

Dirty Mouthed Toys

We have returned from our tour, but the entire family is sick and so the comprehensive recap will have to wait a bit.

To tide you over, I offer a photo sent in by reader Neil B of Oklahoma. Apparently he spotted this bin when picking up his small child from daycare a few days back.


This photo needs no clever commentary. I only wish that Neil had thought to put his daughter into the bin before taking the snapshot.

More to come once our stomachs settle and our fevers pass.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:23 AM

February 01, 2009

Idiots'Books Tour, 2009

Yes, friends, the time has come. In five short days, we depart for the first annual Idiots'Books east coast tour. I call it a tour because we are leaving town and will be performing in two separate venues in two separate states. Just as two points make a line, two venues make a tour. If I sound defensive it is because I fully realize that the upcoming itinerary is the bare minimum of public performances that could feasibly constitute a "tour". Yet I am not above stretching a bit for the sake of glory.

Here is what lies ahead.

This coming Saturday, February 7, at 8:00pm, Robbi and I, along with Brian Slattery (novelist and musician), Drew Bunting (punk rocking preacher), Rich Flynn (bass playing bacon enthusiast), and Brian Wecht (string theorist and musician) will be performing at the Raconteur, an independent bookstore in Metuchen, NJ.

The aforementioned gentlemen:

4018226-thumb.jpgIMG_6667-thumb.jpg rich-thumb.jpg headshot-brianwecht-thumb.jpg

Go to this link and scroll down to see the posting on the Raconteur schedule of events, or just read this blurb (written by Brian Slattery) to get the gist of what we'll be up to:

A couple of years ago, a husband & wife named Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr decided to live in a barn in Maryland and make books. He wrote the text; she did the illustrations. What are these books you're making? the townspeople said. They weren't children's books. They weren't comics, either. The duo shrugged and said they did not know. They just kept making them. Thus was Idiots'Books born. Around the same time, a public policy editor living in New Haven, CT published a novel. What is this book you wrote? the towns- people said. It wasn't exactly literary fiction. It wasn't exactly science fiction, either. He shrugged and said he did not know, but he wrote another one, and that was published, too. Thus did Brian Francis Slattery change from the name of that kid you knew who went to Catholic school (though he did not go to Catholic school) to weird science-fiction author. Swanson, Behr, & Slattery all happened to know each other. They also happened to be pretty good musicians and know a bunch of musicians who were even better--bass player Rich Flynn and clarinet/saxophone/keyboard player Brian Wecht, among others. All of them shared a flair for the dramatic. So they decided to join forces and do readings from their books, accompanied by projections and a backup band. Like the Beats in their heyday might have done, except with more rock and a projector. The results are unrehearsed, unpredictable, and, according to those that have seen them, thoroughly entertaining.

The second part of the "tour" takes place two days later (February 9) in Williamstown, Massachusetts, home of the alma mater of all of those mentioned above, the small, understated college known as Williams.

The Williams event was the impetus for the tour, and so it called for professional marketing materials. Here is the poster/postcard Robbi designed to advertise the happening:


And here is the back of the postcard, which goes into greater detail regarding the lineup (click image to enlarge).


Basically, we're going to have a panel in which we will describe for current students our various routes to lives in the arts, explaining that being an artist sometimes means finding a way to pay the bills by non-artistic means as a way of subsidizing the creative habit. We will then eat dinner with any of them who might enjoy the proposition before returning to the stage for a performance that will include music, literature (variously defined), and images. It will be a boiled-down version of the lineup at last February's Idiots'Fest (though sadly without a National Book Award finalist in the lineup).

We will once again be joined by teen drumming sensation Aidan Shepard.


Iggy will be coming on tour as well, though her role in the act is yet to be defined. It might involve some sort of dramatic reading while wearing her blue polka-dotted bathrobe, but then again, it might not.


She'd like to preserve a bit of mystery, if you don't mind.

So if you find yourself near Metuchen or Williamstown on the appropriate evenings, we'd love to see you. And if we aren't coming to your city this time around, know that we will try to make next year's Idiots'Books tour even longer and action-packed than this year's thrill ride.

Stay tuned.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:48 PM

January 18, 2009

Unbridled Enthusiasm

For the most part, Robbi and I make our books for the sheer pleasure of creation. Unencumbered by the profit motive that drives most commercial printing efforts (and free from the accompanying editorial scrutiny), we are at liberty to do whatever the heck we want to. The pleasure comes from the act of expression and not from any accolades or sales figures.

But occasionally we get letters like this one (from two subscribers making the valiant decision to renew their subscriptions for another year in spite of the sour economic climate). Letters that so overflow with enthusiasm and gush with adulation that we remember the other side of the equation: we make books so that they may find readers whose lives are changed for the better by having read them.


Thank you R2 and T for reminding us why we do this.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:17 PM

January 13, 2009

Containing the Beast

We have heard from subscribers that our books present a problem. Due to their widely varying sizes, formats, shapes, and binding methods, the books are difficult to shelve. Some people have vented bitterly on this front, though these same people, when asked if they would prefer uniformity of size, format, shape, and binding method, have been quick to protest that in fact they love the variety of size, format, shape, and binding method, and that they enjoy opening their envelope each month wondering what we will have come up with this time.

It is a conundrum, impossible to reconcile.

But one creative and enthusiastic subscriber sent us this photo today, her solution of the problem of how to store our books.


Needless to say, Robbi and I were honored to learn that Anne had gone to such trouble, but at the same time it pained us both to know that Volume 19, which will be sent out in about two weeks, will not fit into Anne's Idiots'Books box. Nor will it arrive in an envelope.

If I have managed to create some small element of suspense, I am delighted.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:24 PM

December 11, 2008

A Dark and Stormy Night

It is stormy tonight in Chestertown, as it is up and down the entire eastern seaboard. We went to a party that was literally across the street tonight and were soaked by the time we arrived. I love rain, but can't help but thinking how nice it would be if the temperature was below freezing...

I have discovered an entirely new application for Facebook today, that of facilitating collaborative authorship. I sat down to try and write a new story this morning and didn't get very far. I lamented to the void via my Facebook "status." Moments later, I received encouragement and prompts from a number of my online "friends." I decided to change my status to the following:

Matthew wants any interested party to contribute to a collaborative story.

I then commented on my status with "It was a dark and stormy night..."

And then something wonderful happened.

Over the next twelve hours, thirteen authors contributed to the story in 42 separate segments. An amazing narrative unfolded. I'll share it for you below:

A Dark and Stormy Night
By Matthew Swanson, Sam Sommers, Jessica Ralston, JA Chong, Beth Duncan, Don Schulz, Natasha Stanley, Maria Plantilla, Maggie Adler, Aidan Shepard, Sarah Altschuller, Michelle Crouse Needham, and Jeff Zeeman, Matthew Rouse, and Dahna Goldstein (so far)

It was a dark and stormy night...

But then again, this is a story, and story nights always seem to start off dark and stormy. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. It was a Mexican burro-seller . . . and why is someone always knocking on the door in those dark and stormy nights? I don't ever recall getting a knock on my door when it was storming.

"I have a secret to tell you," he said (in Spanish).

I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak Spanish." So the Mexican burro seller took out a notepad and began to write out his story in broken English.

"Esta noche, how do you say, dark and muy stormy..."

Then his pencil broke and we stood there. In the dark. And the storm. Staring at one another for what felt like eternity. Until suddenly the Mexican burro seller reached into his pocket, and pulled out a jar so dirty and rusty that it looked as though it had been through quite a bit of adventure.

Looking closely, I could see something moving inside. In the background, I noticed the burro beginning to back away, whining, visibly disturbed by the contents of the jar. The smell. The smell was just awful. And Mexican fear has a distinct smell. Was it Mexican jumping beans? The burro seller began to whisper under his breath, caressing the jar, and passing his hand over the opening.

Right then I began to wish I hadn't been so lazy about replacing the burnt out porch light or fixing the rusty hinges on the trap door. At that moment, either one would have been helpful. I thought of stepping back and closing the door, but didn't want to offend the man standing before me. That, and I was growing curious despite my unease.

The burro seller began to speak: "Before I show you the contents of the jar, you must be aware of three rules: The first rule: Never double down against an Ace," he said. "The second: never mix whites and reds. The third: Do not feed it after midnight."

The Mexican burrito seller looked fearful as he uttered the third rule. His eyes darted from side to side, as if at any moment a terrifying transformation could take place.

Just then the burro snorted and bellowed. It was a hideous sound. I didn't know what to make of it, so I tried to shut the door, but the old Mexican was too quick and darted in behind me. In a panic, I threw a judo chop, which launched the mysterious jar into the air!

Out of the blue, there was a flash of light, and I found myself flat on my back, staring up at a very ticked-off burro seller.

"Que paso?! Are you loco?" he exclaimed. Suddenly a John Williams soundtrack approached from the distance, signifying impending bowel movement. John Williams always, inexplicably, caused the runs. I rolled over on my side, struggling to sit up, and it was then I saw the shattered jar.

More importantly, I saw what had been inside, and was now set free. I couldn't believe what I saw. At first, I thought maybe my young daughter had left one of her toys out on the floor, but then when I saw it moving, I realized that it was . . .


It seems to me that this story is not yet complete. If you are inspired to contribute, please go to Facebook and do so. I trust that someone will know when the story is finished and will inform the rest of us.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:31 PM

December 10, 2008

After Everafter

Idiots'Books Volume 18, After Everafter, was mailed out to the subscribership yesterday.

Those of you who have been with Idiots'Books for the long haul will recognize the format as a reprise of the one used in Volume 3, Ten Thousand Stories.

Like Ten Thousand Stories, After Everafter is wire-bound, and each page is cut into four horizontal sections. The content consists of ten full-page illustrations corresponding to ten related narratives. By flipping the sections of each story/illustration, the illustrations and stories can be recombined without loss of visual or grammatical continuity. The pleasure (hopefully) comes from the resulting loss of visual and narrative sense. According to at least three mathematicians we know, there are ten thousand possible combinations.

Ten Thousand Stories consisted of ten unrelated episodes. After Everafter consists of ten stories that pick up where the major fairy tales leave off. What happens after Cinderella finds her prince? What is the fate of the Seven Dwarves after Snow White finds true love?

Here are a few sample spreads, but this is one book that really can't be appreciated online. Lucky for you, we made a few extras that we might be willing to part with.




Here is Alden demonstrating how the pages divide into four equal strips while also providing an object lesson into what happens when you drop a huge stack of said strips on the floor before successfully binding them together.


If you happen to be in or near Chestertown this weekend, swing by Book Plate on Friday evening around 6:00pm. Robbi and I will be doing a reading of After Everafter and other books from the vault.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:28 PM

December 08, 2008

Letterpress Obama

As we speak, Robbi is over at the Washington College Literary House printing a limited-edition version of one of our books on the College's antique Vandercook press. Robbi will post actual pictures of the actual press and the actual printing soon, but for the time being, here is what a Vandercook looks like.


The book in question is a joint project between Idiots'Books and the Lit House Press. It is being produced in an edition of 75, and will be bound at Campbell-Logan bindery in Minnesota. If all goes according to plan, it will be a beautiful, dare I say exquisite piece. My only hope is that the presentation doesn't wholly overshadow the contents. The book is titled Jericho, and will be produced in much less grand fashion for general distribution to subscribers as Volume 20. I'll post when the limited-edition version is available to let you know, in case any of you out there want to shell out the big bucks for some serious craft.

On the subject of letterpress, when we were down in Savannah for Robbi's grad school years, we went to a presentation by the good folks at Yee Haw Industries, a letterpress outfit out of Knoxville, TN, who do incredible, funny, spirited work that you should definitely have a look at.


Here are a few recent works.


You can buy this poster on this Etsy page.

This one shows their range of skill as humorists as well as printers.


You can buy it here.

Although I haven't spent much time here talking about the technique of letterpress, it is a fascinating process that produces a result not possible on any other printing technology. Robbi will do some explaining when she posts on her progress with our book.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:06 AM

Home Again

This weekend Robbi, Alden, and I took New York City by storm. We caught up with old friends, walked many blocks in Alden's first snowstorm, met an octegenarian rapper, and spent many hours manning our booth at the 21st Annual Indie and Small Press Expo. More on all of this to come when the hour is not so late.

For now, here's a sad photo of Alden at the restaurant where we went with friends to eat piles of Texas barbeque on Saturday night. Alden's fare: a Japanese soy cracker.


It's so hard to be a baby.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:08 AM

December 04, 2008

Alden's Ice Cream

Given Robbi's love of ice cream, I'm a bit hesitant to show her the following photo, which might blur the important line between her child and her vice with unfortunate consequences.


I'm sharing this photo in part because it is in the paternal fiber to be excited by products that bear the name of one's child, especially when said child has a relatively uncommon name not often found printed on commercial food products.

But I'm sharing this photo also because of the unusual nature of its delivery to me. That is, it was posted on my Facebook page. As many of you already know, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and joined Facebook. My life since then has been a whirlwind of reconnection with people from my past. I have always been somewhat skeptical of Facebook, embracing the Luddite's sense that I was already too old for such newfangled things. But it has been genuinely fun to glimpse into lives that have been going on without me for ten or fifteen years.

Anyway, the Alden's ice cream package was posted on my Facebook page by my friend Jessica Ralston, who, long before her name was changed from White, was my eight grade earth sciences lab partner back at Indian Woods Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas.

Although I have been having fun catching up with friends long-forgotten and far-flung, the reason I joined facebook in the first place was to create a fan page for Idiots'Books. If you are a Facebook user, and if you want to be kept in the know about what we are up to, just do a search for Idiots'Books and become a fan.

Join the 58 people who have already made the plunge.

And here's a photo to compensate you for that uninterrupted flood of words.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:10 PM

November 25, 2008

Industrial Revolution

When Robbi and I made our first book A Bully Named Chuck in the spring of '93, we trimmed all four sides of every single page with an x-acto knife. The book is nearly 200 pages long. Making each copy was extremely time consuming.

For the past years, we have been using a Carl rotary trimmer, a nice desktop device capable of trimming 20 or so sheets of paper at once.


A clear improvement, but still a rather slow proposition when thinking about producing a long book, or a whole pile of long books. I estimate that we have produced approximately 10,000 copies of our various books over the past two years, all of which have been trimmed by the Carl. I do not have the strength to estimate how many hours of paper trimming that number represents.

Let's just say I was extremely happy to open my early Christmas present from Robbi the other day, my very own professional quality heavy duty guillotine cutter, capable of slicing through 250 sheets at once.


As shown:


For a test run, we put four old copies of National Geographic in the slicer.


It was like a hot knife through butter.


I was struck dumb at the ease and wonder. I was thrilled. I was bitterly resentful of the wasted hours of my life. But only for a second. Mostly I was pleased as punch thinking about the hours to be saved in the years ahead.


The new cutter is an epiphany. Thank you, Robbi. Anyone who wants to see a demo, just bring your old magazines by and we will cut them into tiny, tiny slices.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:47 PM

November 23, 2008


One of the main reasons Robbi and I go to shows like MoCCA and SPX is to meet the other people who do what we do, or at least the people who do things in the same universe of what we do. There are a lot of people out there who feel compelled to create and produce books, and it turns out, we like some of them a lot. Case in point: Shawn Cheng, who draws things like this.


And Matt Weigle, who draws things like this:


They are two of the guys behind Partyka, a group of artists who create and promote narrative graphic art, though those are my words, not theirs.

They are talented, imaginative guys who make a lot of wonderful books.

I would particularly recommend Matt's Is It Bacon?, (which, at $1 might be the best money you have ever spent) and Shawn's The Would-Be Bridegrooms.

You should go check out because these guys are doing great work and are worth a close look. But if you need additional incentive, This month Idiots'Books is Partyka's featured artist. Click here to have a look at the home page.

And here to check out our guest page, with thumbnails, bios, featured books, etc.

Thank you, Shawn and Matt, for allowing us into your midst, if only for a month.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:54 PM

November 19, 2008

What I Do for Art

I was minding my own business this evening when Robbi came over to me and asked me for a favor.

"Sure," I said, unaware how soon I'd come to regret it.

"Great," she said, "So...lie down on the floor, kind of on your side, and...cross your legs in a ladylike way, and..."

At that point, I knew all hope was lost. I tried to be a good sport. It was not easy.

Robbi continued, "...put your right arm out in protest and drape your left hand across your brow in an overt show of dismay." Or something like that. It took a lot of subtle direction, but eventually I made it into this winning pose.


Why did I consent to such abuse, you ask?

I did it for the sake of art. Robbi is working feverishly on Volume 18, which will mail out some time in the next week or so. For reasons that will soon enough be revealed to you subscribers, she had to draw Goldilocks (of The Three Bears fame) in various poses of supplication. She was having a heck of a time trying to capture one of these poses and so required a model. For one shining moment on Wednesday, November 19, I got to be Goldilocks.

Isn't it every man's dream?

I'll post the finished image when the book is done so you can see how very inspirational I was.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:58 PM

November 03, 2008

Animal House

Though Robbi and I do intend to vote tomorrow, as the voice of Idiots'Books, it is not our intention to make an overt endorsement in tomorrow's presidential contest. Instead, I will present a rough approximation of our latest book, Animal House, and leave it to you to interpret as you see fit.

Here's the cover image:


The dedication reads: Because this country is going to the dogs

And here's the rest. There aren't any words.










To clear up a few points of potential confusion: George is a dodo, Hillary is a badger, and Sarah is a praying mantis. If, on the other hand, you are having trouble figuring out why a given person is represented by the animal Robbi has chosen, feel free to write us an email and we'll do our best to explain ourselves.

We hope this careful examination of the candidates and their supporting casts has cleared up any remaining questions you hordes of undecided voters may have been weighing over the past weeks and months. Feel free to email this link to anyone else you think might need our cryptic counsel on this very important day. If you know anyone who needs a copy of Animal House, it can be found here.

But whatever you do, please go vote. (Especially if you happen to be a dog lover.)

Posted by bogenamp at 11:00 PM

November 01, 2008

The Costume

More to come on tonight's reading and the other Halloween-themed activities, but it seems only fitting to post a picture of Alden in her costume before the night is done.


Last year we got two pumpkins and Robbi and I each carved one. This year, we settled on one big one and let Robbi do the honors.


Posted by bogenamp at 12:22 AM

October 31, 2008

Radio Free Chestertown

For those of you with absolutely nothing else to do at 12:30pm today, Robbi and I will be interviewed on Chestertown's own WCTR, 1530 AM on the subject of Animal House, Idiots'Books in general, and our reading at Bookplate this evening.

Here's the opening image of Volume 17.


Four more days and we'll know what the next chapter looks like.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:48 AM

October 27, 2008

Going to the Dogs

Volume 17 was sent out to the subscribership today, and at the risk of dampening the surprise of its arrival, I am happy to let you know that we will be doing a reading of the book (and several others) this coming Friday evening, Halloween, at Chestertown's Bookplate.


As you can see, there will also be a "discussion" and "snacks". Between now and Friday we will hopefully come up with something to discuss. As for the snacks, Tom always puts out a good spread.

We hope that you can join us. And for those of you who don't live in Chestertown, keep an eye on your mailbox.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:50 PM

August 03, 2008

Trying Again

About one week before Alden was born, Robbi and I began a new creative endeavor. Alternating days, one of us would send a prompt to the other (Robbi would send me an illustration or I would send her a piece of writing) to which the other would respond.

You can click here to go back to that innocent time.

Or if you hate to follow links, you can instead read the following. On March 19, I sent Robbi the following text:

Boneman Travis cut a stark profile among the pretty girls of Evars Street. He was thick as a tree and mean like two snakes. He ate daydreams and laughed. He coughed and favorite teacups flew from narrow shelves and shattered. He was a big man in a small space and that was how he liked it.

Sally "Frito" Jones saw his game from across the river. She bribed a man to get a boat, put on a red mask to make herself seem dangerous, and set out to sell the Boneman some swampland. The years away from the old neighborhood had changed her such that he could not now recognize the crumpled features of the girl he had once ruined.

It was a crooked tango that they danced.

To which Robbi responded:


It was the first in five or so days of back-and-forth collaboration. It was fun and spontaneous, a welcome change of pace from the kind of careful thinking we do when we work on our books. We planned on doing it each and every day, if only a quick and dirty piece of writing or sketch on the back of a coaster, just to keep the creative cogs turning.

But then the baby came and we found ourselves obsessed with other kinds of creation. For a long time I wondered if we would ever get back to our game.

And so I was pleased this morning to discover the following image in my inbox:


To which I responded:

When the city got too deep and wide, he sometimes thought of the island. Just a few miles off the coast, almost hidden by the swells, its slopes were steep and its trees were full of fruit.

But he had never been there. No one had. The ferry waited empty at the docs, idling and anxious like the rest of us.

Four months after the fact, Robbi's drawing serves as an indicator that perhaps things are starting to get a bit closer to normal.

However we're describing it these days.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:17 PM

July 10, 2008

The Baby is Disappointing

We have been fishing hard of late, every tide, in fact, when the pattern so far has been to fish every other.
So life has been reduced to a cycle of fishing, sleeping, eating, fishing, eating, sleeping, fishing, eating. I love two out of three of these things, so I suppose it could be worse. But there has not been time for merry chronicling of our lives among the bears and rottweilers.

So I'll take a moment to do a bit of Idiots'Books promotion. For those of you who have not already received your copy in the mail, Volume 15 was sent out just before we left for Alaska. The book is titled The Baby is Disappointing. It focuses on how awful babies are. How they produce noise and consume money. How they impinge upon freedoms while offering no useful services in return. How utterly foolish it is to have a child when one could simply go to the movies instead.

See how awful and spiteful they are?


Here's a page from the book.


It's the perfect gift for someone who has recently had a baby. Or better yet, for someone who is thinking of having one and who might still be persuaded not to.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:58 PM

May 14, 2008

USA Today, Canada tomorrow?

Well, something has finally happened in our lives that has nothing do with our child. And just in time. She is on the brink of becoming remarkably conceited.

Still beaming from our recent mention in Pop Candy, the USA Today blog of hipster Whitney Matheson, our feelings of fulfillment were even more pronounced upon receiving a copy of Canadian hipster/literary magazine Broken Pencil in the mail yesterday.

Here is the cover.


Note that the ultra-hip semi-Asian chick on the cover is not Robbi.

And here is the article on page 9 (click on the thumbnail to get a larger, almost readable version).


"Product of the Month?!" Who knew? Idiots'Books has been noticed in the great land of our northern neighbors.

For those of you who only read this blog to see pictures of babies, here is Alden aloft.


What might seem like good old fashioned fun and games is actually a very useful way to rid her tiny abdomen of gas, thus improving her mood and creating delightful baby-sized burping sounds.

As for you fine people at Broken Pencil (especially Norah), thanks for the notice.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:24 PM

April 02, 2008

Hip and Hidden

I'm going to disappoint most of you right now by talking about something other than Alden. Yesterday we received a new subscription order from a woman in San Francisco, someone whose name was not familiar to us. I wrote her an email asking how she found out about us. She replied that she had read about us on Whitney Matheson's blog Pop Candy, a USA Today publication dedicated to "unwrapping pop culture's hip and hidden treasures." Whitney had been running a monthly series on comics in weekly installments. The fourth installment was a list of her top 25 "personal favorites" and friends, we appear as number nine. This fact leads us to a number of conclusions:

1) we are hip (did you suspect this?)
2) we are hidden (no surprise here)
3) Idiots'Books is part of pop culture
4) if Whitney Matheson has her way, we are in the process of being unwrapped

We were delighted to be included along with the likes of Lilli Carre and Renee French, real live figures in the indie comics world.

If this external affirmation compels you to subscribe to Idiots'Books or just buy a book or two for your loved ones, who are we to stop you?

And here's a baby picture, just for the hell of it.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:00 PM

February 25, 2008

Better than Nothing

Perhaps you are thinking that it is odd that I, who can ramble on and on about nothing much at all has been so silent in the wake of perhaps the most thrilling festival to hit Chestertown in decades. Believe me when I say that I want to write about the weekend and the fun we all had, but that I simply haven't had the time.

We are heavy into production of Volume 13, a book about nuns. We thought it would be nice to make the book in a rather complicated way and now are paying the price for our ambition. In 52 hours or so we will pull out of town in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, en route to Philadelphia for the flower show.

For tonight, I will leave you with two things. This link to Robbi's blog sheds some light onto the first night of Idiots'Fest.

And this image of the ribs in mid-smoke give you a true glimpse into the steaming heart of what you missed if you made the grave error of choosing not to join us for the Fest.

I will post the rest of the story in days ahead, as well as pictures of a strange new baby-related device we were given the other day. Robbi grows ever more profound. 37 days to go...

Posted by bogenamp at 01:25 AM

February 14, 2008

Hot Off the Presses

The Chestertown paparazzi has discovered our little fest. I will let the following speak for itself.

Click on the images to get a closer view.

Note: contrary to appearances, there will be no boy scouts at Idiots'Fest.

Ming Weigel, you fool. Some things are worth getting fired over.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:48 AM

February 13, 2008

Ready to Rock

There has been far too much talk of babies on this blog of late. I'm sorry about that. The thing has yet to arrive and already it's dictating the conversation. Fortunately for all of us, a monumental event looms on the near horizon, an event of such intrigue and significance that even if the baby were here, we would leave it unattended in its baby contraption while we headed off to Idiots'Fest in all its glory.

What's that, you say? Idiots'Fest?

Yes, my friends, the festival is upon us. If you still need convincing, you just haven't taken a close enough look at who is performing and what they are going to be doing:

In case you are the sort that is swayed by pictures of grown men playing rock band in someone's basement, here's a little behind the scenes look into a festival rehearsal that went down in Williamstown in January.

Here is Rich Flynn, in his glory.

And Brian Wecht, master of the improbable.

Yes, he can play both instruments at once. He can and he will.

Here is Brian Slattery, uncertain what to do with my harmonica mic.

Rest assured, his uncertainty was short-lived.

Here is Aidan who, at 16, has at least 40 years of hard-driving drummer's angst stored up in his hard-driving drummer's heart.

Aidan is the core of the rock. Just you wait and see.

Of course, the other festival performers, Jim, Victor, Drew, Robbi, and me, aren't even pictured here. Your heart is racing with just this tiny taste of what marvels await. I'm pointing this out to save you the soul-numbing disappointment that you will surely feel if, come Sunday morning, you wake to find the Rock has passed you by.

I'm talking to you, Ming Weigel. If you are a no-show at Idiots'Fest, I will have to go on believing that you do not actually exist.

I'm talking to all of you who are not Ming Weigel, too.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:57 AM

January 26, 2008


When Robbi and I first proposed to teach our Winter Study class at Williams, we were mostly curious to know if others would be interested in trying their hands at producing the kind of books that we have been working on. We were pleased that enough students were interested to meet the minimum enrollment numbers. But we arrived on campus in early January with decidedly low expectations. A number of factors were working against us.

First off, Winter Study is really only three weeks long. Not enough time, we worried, to generate collaborative creative content with a partner one had never worked with before. Surely not enough time to piece together an attractive, interesting, coherent narrative.

Also, the general idea of winter study is to provide a low-key, low-stress outlet for students between two intense academic semesters. Many of the courses are neither rigorous nor time-consuming. To work according to plan, ours would have to be both.

Finally, collaboration between writers and artists is a pretty novel concept. Typically, especially in college, writers workshop with other writers and artists critique with other artists. We had no idea how quickly our students would be able to adjust to the mixed media aspect of the course.

We had 12 students, evenly divided between guys and gals. We had a fairly even mix of class years. We had six writers and six artists.

Given the short time frame, we had sent our students homework to complete over the break. We emailed them three paragraphs and three images. The writers were instructed to "respond" to the images and the artists to the paragraphs. On the first day of class we looked at the responses together as a group. It was interesting to see how stunningly various were the responses to the same prompts. Our hope was that it would give our students, and us, a good sense of aesthetics and interest to the end of helping us come up with compelling collaborative pairs. We gave our students the opportunity to write us an email that night letting us know who they might like to partner with, not along the lines of who they liked personally, but along the lines of creative compatibility. We took this info, added our own judgment, and assigned pairs. The next day we spent most of the class period looking through an anthology that was the course text, looking at and discussing the work of established indie comics makers. At the end of the class, we announced the partner pairings and sent them off to spend the weekend starting the conversation about a collaborative project.

The rest of the course was essentially a workshop to discuss and develop their works. We met three times a week for two hours as a group, and each pair met independently with Robbi and me for an hour long tutorial session.

Our biggest worry was that the groups would have difficulty getting off the ground with the initial idea from which to depart. Not a single group struggled in this respect. Their ideas were interesting and surprising. The creative direction seemed drawn from a place of genuine collaboration, not from one person's aesthetic or agenda overriding the other.

I'll cut to the quick:

Our students were amazing. They worked their butts off. They took risks. They articulated their ideas with passion and eloquence.

We were so pleased that we took them bowling. Writers versus artists. In a match to the death.

Here is Robbi's crew.

And here are some of mine.

It was a well-contested match, but I am happy to report that the writers prevailed by a slim margin. Our victory can be attributed to a general lack of will among the artists. I cite this example: at one point one of our more audacious writers, name of K-Town, stole the 8-pound pink ball that many of the artists had been using. The act was overt and witnessed by various members of the artist camp, but beyond minor protest, the theft went uncontested, the result of crumpled spirits. From that point, my people cruised to easy victory. We aren't above a little necessary sabotage.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the purchase and consumption of the "cod roll", a curious item from the snack bar that fascinated one member of my team.

The month continued and the work continued to exceed our wildest dreams. We had hoped for not much more than good thinking on the topic of cross-media collaboration. But complete narratives were emerging, complete with strong, thoughtful syntheses of writing and images.

The six projects were, in a nutshell:

1) a mock-academic piece on Emily Dickinson that gradually but unflinchingly pilloried the life and work of the misunderstood Belle
2) the tragicomic tale of the dawning of consciousness of Moshe the "just add water" Tyrannosaurus Rex, complete with questions of ontology and the premature onset of epistemological gloom
3) a process piece on the inner narrative of a superhero/assassin, who, in the end, is revealed to be just like you and me, an honest average Joe who goes to bed in his suburban house each night
4) the quiet, yet powerful story of a disabled woman trapped in her upstairs apartment, taking the voyeur's long look at the world passing by outside her window
5) the story of two college lovers poignantly reunited on the occasion of a wedding told in an alternating narrative of photograph and prose
6) a quirky, knowing voicing of male insecurity that unfolds across a 96-inch accordion-fold dreamscape of self-aggrandizement and surreal fantasy

Further, our students seemed motivated to actually produce finished books, formatted in InDesign, the professional page layout program we use for our books. Robbi did a two-hour seminar on the software and expected that the students would be overmatched by the new technology. Instead, each group created sophisticated layouts, which would enable them to print and assemble multiple finished copies of their book.

We set up a bookmaking lab in our classroom and spent a full day printing, trimming, folding, scoring, gluing, and stapling.

They were tireless and amazing.

In spite of the usual fare of errors and delays on the part of the printer.

It was incredibly gratifying to see the care they took in assembling their finished books.

And the pride they obviously felt in beholding them.

On the last day of class, this past Wednesday, we had an open house for the public. I would have been happy with a dozen or so visitors. Instead, over the course of two hours, 50-60 people came through to see the finished books, students and professors alike.

Perhaps it was the spread of delicious cheeses that drew the crowds, but our students' work spoke for itself. They were absolute stars.

Inspired by the spirit of collaboration, one of our artists penned the following illustration, which I may have made into a poster for the benefit of generations of collaborators to come. It speaks volumes, I think.

I am reluctant to ever teach another course for fear that no other group of students could match up to the ones we had this month. For those of you who care about the place, it seems that Williams is in very good hands.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:05 AM

January 06, 2008

Idiots'Fest Web site

Friends, it is time to make your travel plans. Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers that Rock is a mere six weeks away.

Robbi has built a rather nice festival Web site. Check it out by clicking here.

It can also be seen here.

Or here.

If you must, you can see it by clicking here, but if you click here, consider yourself unwelcome at the festival. We try to be reasonable, accommodating people but we do have our limits.

Know this: Idiots'Fest is going to be a pretty wonderful thing, if only because of the extraordinary cast of characters who will be strutting their stuff for your enjoyment.

It may not seem convenient to travel to Chestertown in the middle of February, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager that you would not regret it.

Unless you dislike things that rock. If this is the case, you might be better served by clicking here.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:47 PM

November 28, 2007

Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers that Rock

On our recent drive to Georgia to see my brother graduate from boot camp, Robbi and I started planning a small dinner party for a group of friends in Chestertown. Three hours later we had laid the groundwork for a full-blown gathering of writers, musicians, and friends. The idea was that the performers would all be drawn from the Idiots'Books subscribership and that the entire subscribership would be invited to spectate. We have been planning and scheming for a few weeks now, and the general outline of the weekend is set. It is our great pleasure to announce that the first annual Idiots'Books literature and music festival, Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers that Rock, is in the offing.


Although the majority of the festival will take place on Saturday, February 16, we're going to kick things off the night before at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College here in Chestertown.

Robbi and I are going to do a reading/slideshow from a couple of our books while two musician friends, Brian Slattery and Drew Bunting, provide underscoring in the vein of old school filmstrips. We intend not to practice but to try it and just see what happens.

Afterward, Brian and Drew will perform an acoustic set, the two playing some combination of guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin, and both of them singing. It is possible that I might join them on harmonica for a song or two. There will likely be folk, blues, bluegrass, old-time, and possibly some speed-metal to be heard.

For those that do not know, here are Brian and Drew.

Brian Francis Slattery

Brian is an incredibly versatile (and badass) musician who specializes in clawhammer banjo and old-time fiddle and who can credibly navigate the guitar, mandolin, and a few other instruments, from what I understand. Here is an awesome depressing song that Brian recorded with a group of friends. Brian is the one singing and playing the banjo. If you aren't tempted to do yourself in after hearing the song, you probably weren't listening closely enough.

Michael Andrew Bunting

Perhaps no one more seamlessly integrates punk rock and the life of the cloth than our friend Drew Bunting, musician and Episcopal priest. I wish I had a link to some of Drew's songs so that I wouldn't just have to tell you what a gifted songwriter, musician, and singer he is. From being the most beloved musician in our college class, to fronting bands that range from old-time to punk to gospel, Drew has rocked the music scene in every town in which he has lived. He has released two albums (Treat Your Buggy Well and I Want to Believe) and is currently working on a third. It is Drew's general preference only to be pictured standing behind rowdy children.

Drew, Brian, another friend Ilya Garger, and I formed the core of an old time band called The Motherpluckers during our Williams years. We used to perform in party dresses, big hats, and shit-kicking boots. Do I need to say more?

Hearing Drew and Brian play together is a rare opportunity. I know you won't miss it.

On Saturday, things will move to Bookplate, a used bookstore on Cross Street in Chestertown run by our friends Tom Martin and Sarah Myers. We have done several readings there over the past year and all of the Idiots'Books are for sale there. And they have a huge empty back room that we are going to fill up with you all on Saturday, February 16.

My friend and stand-up comedian Victor Wishna will kick things off mid-afternoon. I have it on good authority that Victor is "the third-funniest Jewish comedian in New York."

Victor gave the main toast at Robbi's and my wedding, and he used the opportunity to expose my many weaknesses, character flaws, and embarrassing moments. Those attending Subscribers that Rock can reasonably assume that I will be publicly depantsed again. If you think you might enjoy this sort of thing, by all means add it to the list of reasons to attend the festival.

(It is worth noting that I have never in my entire life seen Victor look as serious as he does in the photo above. He is, in fact, a friendly, gentle guy.)

ADDENDUM: This just in from Victor, anxious to shed his "stern guy" image. Here he is in the midst of telling a hilarious joke. If you could see the audience, you would note how rapt and delighted they were at this moment.

After Victor does his thing, Robbi and I will do another Idiots'Books slide show/reading, premiering at least one new book in the process. Provided the experiment from the evening before has not gone horribly wrong, Brian and Drew will add music.

Next up will be Brian Slattery once again, this time in the guise of writer. This past August, Brian released his first novel, Spaceman Blues: A Love Song. Click here to read a bit about the book and peruse some of the incredibly positive reviews.

Here's the catch: Rather than merely "read" from his book, Brian will be singing from it while being accompanied by a slate of musician friends (all subscribers, I assure you).

They are:

Brian Wecht on sax and keyboards. Brian is a college classmate. We have recently decided to become best friends.

Rich Flynn on bass. Rich is awesome. He is so awesome.

Aidan Shepard on drums. I knew Aidan when I lived in Williamstown and he was not yet the accomplished percussionist he has become. He is a mysterious fellow, powerful, terrifying.

This photo really says it all.

Drew Bunting will join the fun on guitar and/or mandolin. Here's another look at Drew, sans child. See how unhappy he looks?

And, potentially, I could play harmonica. We'll see.

In case you're worried, Brian has done this sort of thing before, and that time, at least, it worked pretty well. Click here to listen to some cuts from his reading at Barbes up in Brooklyn a few months ago. It's really something to behold.

After a short break, the aforementioned Brian Wecht, a fellow who has been studying mathematics and physics basically nonstop since the day he was born, will give a short, riveting lecture on an esoteric topic that will probably make your brain ache. From what I hear, he will be accompanied by musicians. I can provide no further details at this time.

After Brian W's lecture, our featured guest, novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and film critic Jim Shepard, will be doing a reading.

Jim has been my literary mentor since college, and is one of the greatest teachers I've ever had. He is a finalist for this year's National Book Award for fiction for his story collection Like You'd Understand, Anyway, and we are deeply honored that he has agreed to join us.

You may read the New York Times review of Like You'd Understand, Anyway -- by none other than Lemony Snicket -- here.

You may peruse and purchase Jim's six novels and three story collections here.

You can read a nice interview on the topic of Jim's latest novel, Project X, here.

After Jim's reading, Brian Slattery, Jim, and Victor Wishna (who has released a book of interviews with the greatest American playwrights) will be on hand to sign their books and make pleasant small talk while we set up dinner. Although the plan is still a bit hazy, we plan to serve barbeque and appropriate side dishes in vast quantities. The food will be available for a small donation.

Around 7:00, or whenever we get done eating, Drew will gather the musicians for a full-blown concert. In addition to playing a hearty stable of original tunes, Drew is likely to dabble in far-flung and unexpected corners of the musical universe.

There are likely to be contests and prizes. It is even possible that Drew and the others will perform Free Bird. I cannot say.

Eventually, we will all go home, but there's no predicting when this will be. All that can be said for certain at this point is that this is going to rock. And that you are all invited.

We're hoping that you are taking out your pen right now and circling February 15 and 16th on your calendar.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 PM

November 05, 2007

Chesapeake Life, take two

Loyal readers will remember that we were mentioned in the February 2007 of Chesapeake Life magazine. An exciting proposition, to be sure, the only downside of which was the editor's fundamental misunderstanding of our core. Indeed, we were described as "children's books", which caused us to worry about the delicate young minds that might inadvertently read our books and be forever scarred.

We were much happier with our mention in the November issue of Chesapeake Life, the focus this time being on the release of St. Michaels, the Town that Somehow Fooled the British.

Here's a closer view, for anyone who might want to read it.

And here's a link for anyone who might want to buy it.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:28 PM

November 02, 2007

One Night Only

Tonight (and only tonight) at 6:00pm at Chestertown's Bookplate, Robbi and I will be reading from Idiots'Books Volume 11, George Washington Slept Here. The occasion is the first friday of the month of November. There will be cheese and wine and crackers. There will be pre-holiday cheer. We will be, as is our custom, projecting the images while reading the text. If the crowd demands it, we will also read St. Michaels, the Town that Somehow Fooled the British as it shares Volume 11's Eastern Shore theme. If the crowd demands it, we will do a second reading at 7:00. And another and another until the crowd grows weary and stumbles home.

Here is the ad from this week's copy of the Kent County News.

Note that George Washington and his pals do have boots. Alas, the boots are black and, on the newsprint, blended into the black background, the gentle white lines that defined them "plugged" by ink spreading freely in the loose fibers of the newsprint.

Which is all the more reason to come to the reading where the boots will be seen against a white background.

We hope to see you there but acknowledge that it would have been prudent to give you a bit more notice.

I blame Robbi.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:35 PM

October 23, 2007

Calling Suburban Maryland

With the recent mailing of Volume 10, The Clearing, to the Idiots'Books subscribership, year one of Idiots'Books officially came to an end. This meant that the 100 or so people that signed up in October 2006 for full-year subscriptions had reached the end of their allotted bookage. As all subscription services do, we sent out a series of reminders, gentle at first, then slightly more urgent, then downright manipulative. Our final ploy was to design a postcard featuring a variety of lame excuses for not having done something accompanied by a phrase meant to cast he who had failed to resubscribe in an unflattering light.

The postcard was accompanied by a pre-addressed, stamped envelope, thus compelling the reluctant resubscriber to spend $80 so as not to waste $.41. However counterintuitive, the strategy has been moderately successful. Until yesterday, when an envelope arrived with the postmark "Suburban Maryland."

Let's reflect on that for a minute. Suburban Maryland? Not a very helpful geographical distinction. There are, for example, several cities in Maryland, all of which have outlying suburban areas.

The contents of the envelope were even more cryptic: our resubscription card had been filled out with the following phrase, an obvious allusion to Idiots'Books Volume VI.

The mystery was completed by what was missing from the envelope: namely, a check. The question now is whether this unidentified denizen of "Suburban Maryland" intended to confound us or merely forgot to include the check (and the accompanying identifying information) in the envelope.

Only time will tell, I suppose. But if you are he who intended to resubscribe, know this: you will receive no further books until you identify yourself and submit payment in full.

And you're not getting another free stamp.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:44 PM

October 16, 2007

George Washington's Bare Butt

The following ad appeared in this week's copy of the Kent County News.

Yes, friends, we have now stooped to making light of the father of our nation. For those of you willing to join us in this irreverant pastiche, Idiots'Books is offering a 2008 calendar which features no fewer (and no more) than 13 full-color paintings of our first president in a variety of compromising positions.

Subscribers will be sent a copy in due course, but those non-subscribers who want to purchase one for their kitchens, bathrooms, or local houses of history, will be given a chance to do so online soon. The calendars will also be available at Chestertown's own Bookplate later this week.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:06 PM

October 14, 2007

SPX 2007

As was the plan, we set off for DC Friday morning, taking a wild swing through the heart of the city to deliver some art and finding ourselves eventually in Bethesda, where the Small Press Expo has been happening for many years now. We arrived and checked in. We found our table. We started to set up.

SPX was being held, as these things often are, in a hotel ballroom.

Our table covering had grown rather linty. And hairy. Damn cats.

It didn't take too long to set up.

The thing started at 2:00. While waiting for the crowds, we had some lunch.

Eventually, people came to look at our books.

Even Pete came. Pete Everett. Perhaps the nicest guy I know.

The first day of the show was satisfying, but not extraordinary. We sold some books, met some folks, saw some other work we admire. In fact, as soon as I have the time to do some sorting and scanning, I'll do an entry featuring some of our favorite stuff from the show.

After the show ended, we drove back into the city to the house of a friend, Stella, who had prepared some truly excellent crispy toast/tomato/mozzarella/prosciutto/balsamic/olive oil thing.

Living without a kitchen as we do, we sometimes forget that such things can be prepared, and often are, by people not that much different than ourselves. So struck were we with the aesthetics of the treat that for a while we sat, content just to look, unable to actually eat. And then we got over it and ate with enthusiasm. It had been a long day.

After dinner we played with Stella's very small dogs.


And Frank

Combined, the two of them probably weigh the same as one of Iggy's legs, and yet they terrorized her relentlessly. Iggy is a huge wuss. Takes after me.

In the morning, we stopped by a neighborhood farmer's market.

The tomatoes were nice and red. The apples were nice and firm.

Back at SPX, we decided to try a new strategy for day 2. A lot of comics have really colorful, graphical, vivid, exciting-looking covers and are entirely black and white inside. Our covers, on the other hand, are rather spare, employ lots of white space, and are generally less visually arresting than the insides of our books. At a place like SPX, getting people to stop and open the books is the biggest challenge. And so we displayed a number of our books open on the table, that Robbi's illustrations might have a chance to catch some eyes.

The strategy worked. We got a lot more traffic the second day, and a lot more sales. Like this one (actual sale, not simulated).

And look at this happy couple, dreaming of the ways in which their lives will improve as a result of having been introduced to Idiots'Books. It warms the heart.

I had to take a picture of this gentleman, who apparently wears only purple suits.

He wore a different purple suit on Friday. I wish that I had thought to take a picture.

Sales were so lively that we actually sold out of a few titles. Facial Features of French Explorers was the first to go, followed by Understanding Traffic. Ten Thousand Stories was the top seller, however. By the end of the show, people were coming by the table telling us that they had been directed from earlier browsers to check our stuff out. It made us feel good.

Back at Stella's, we took the dogs for a walk.

I decided to do some experiments with the wide-angled lens.

The results were satisfying.

We went to downtown Bethesda for some dinner. On the way back, we came upon this upsetting sticker on the back of a sign.

For those of you who cannot read, the sign says, "I hate Duke." This statement is directed not toward European royalty, but toward my beloved Duke University Blue Devils, and if I may conjecture, most pointedly toward their very fine men's basketball program. As a Duke fan, I found the sticker hurtful. I looked to my companions for support. What I found was Stella, leaping with delight.

Stella is a fan of the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland fans tend not to think much of Duke or Duke fans for that matter. It is amazing that Stella and I are on speaking terms. Or should I say, were on speaking terms. After her latest display, I might have to reconsider.

We headed back over the bridge this morning and stopped on the way back at the outlet malls not far from the 50/301 split. Robbi has begun to feel somewhat confined by her clothing, and the time had come to consider some wardrobe enhancements.

After being turned away by Old Navy, we found our way to Gap, where there was a small, yet serviceable maternity section. At this point we were too caught up in a whirlwind of choosing, trying on, and evaluating to take any photos, a thing that I very much regret. For those of you who have not seen maternity pants, they are demoralizing garments. Though remarkably useful.

As was the case when we returned from the Museum of Comic and Cartoon festival last June, we have an enormous box of books and comics that we acquired at the show to go through. There are a lot of people doing really wonderful things out there. I'll share some of my favorites in days ahead.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:46 PM

October 11, 2007

Idiots at SPX

I suppose I could have given you all more notice, but in case it is of interest to any of you, Robbi and I will be in Bethesda, MD, at the Small Press Expo tomorrow and Saturday. SPX describes itself as "America's premiere independent cartooning and comic arts festival." We will be standing behind a six-foot table peddling our wares along with hundreds of other people who make books and self-publish or have their work produced by small presses.

The majority of the other folks will be selling books that fall more neatly under the "comics" umbrella. As has been discussed here before, we are outliers to this genre. In fact, the organizer of SPX wrote me a cautionary email indicating that, even though our books were "rather nifty looking", we weren't exactly comics, and so might be disappointed by the lack of interest displayed by comic purists.

We are prepared for potential ostracization.

But it would be swell to see some of our ardent fans (and friends) there, strolling the aisles, lunging toward our table with lusty consumer desire, yelling loudly and with enthusiasm about how much they like our books and how, had they ten thousand dollars hard cash, they would spend every penny on Idiots'Books, again and again until we ran out of ink.

Any takers?

Anyway, the SPX is at:

Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road.
North Bethesda, MD 20852

The hours are:

2pm-8pm on Friday, October 12 and
10am07pm on Saturday, October 13

The price is $8 for the day or $15 for the weekend.

We hope to see you there.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:53 PM

September 25, 2007

Words Without Pictures

I've wanted to post these last few days but have felt disadvantaged by the lack of photographic ballast. As much as I value words, I know that people really don't much care to read them. At least not without some goofy pictures of my dog to look at when the prose gets tiresome. The new camera has been ordered but has not yet arrived, and I have been hesitant to venture forth alone. I have grown accustomed to collaborating with Robbi. Naked words seem much less appropriate now than they did were before.

I have just consulted the FedEx tracking information and am gratified and relieved to find that our new camera will arrive tomorrow. I am a bit wary of the camera because it represents a departure from the run-of-the-mill point-and-click that has served us so well for years. This camera has two lenses: one a regular sort of lens and the other a wide-angle lens. Robbi has coveted this camera for some time now, ever since she saw one owned by our former colleague. The crushing weight of her envy nearly ruined the friendship.

Here is the camera in question.

I am unnerved by its odd shape and extra lens. I am not predisposed to embrace change and am fundamentally skeptical. If the camera is not to our liking, I'll grumble a lot and give Robbi a really hard time. If it turns out to be a great camera, I'll probably take all the credit and hog the camera so that she never gets a chance to use it.

In other news, Volume 10 is finished and printing. For better or for worse, I spun a story around the series of odd, disjointed illustrations Robbi sent my way. I'm far too close to the story right now to cast a reliable vote as to whether it's any good, but I do think that it's lovely to look at. And sometimes that's enough for a book.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:24 PM

September 21, 2007

Some Good Ink

The last few days have had their share of ups and downs. On the last day in Chicago, our camera (which has admittedly endured such insults as being placed on top of a car that we then proceeded to drive away) made a horrible noise and died dramatically. Though I suspected that the camera was not well when I heard the noise, I hoped for the best and slipped it back into my pocket. It was not until hours later, when my traveling companion Matt noticed the warm late afternoon sunlight on the red paint of the turbine under our engine's wing, that I dared to test the camera's will. I pushed the power button. There was a defeated grinding of tiny, tired gears, and although the camera agreed to turn itself on, the thing refused to focus. It was with some nostalgia that I took this final picture, already too late to catch the fleeting light.

The camera has served us well. I am tempted to recite a poem on this, the occasion of its last hurrah, but I know none fitting to commemorate the loyal workhorse it has been. Rather, I shall let it slip into graceful obsolescence in the back of some drawer of neglected miscellany. I cannot bring myself to actually dispose of it. But neither do I have an urn appropriate to hold its compromised remains.

All of this is to apologize in advance for my failure to document the dramas of the past few days. I spent most of the week in Baltimore, but found, attempting to drive home to Chestertown late Wednesday night, that when the battery light comes to life on one's dashboard panel, engine death is soon to follow. But the battery light was just the beginning of the excitement. Between that moment and the utter failure of all vehicular systems that followed a few minutes later, the brake light, the "check engine" light, and the airbag light also lit up. And so I took out my cell phone to call AAA. Since we seem genetically predisposed to car failure, we have the really special level of AAA coverage and may be towed up to 100 miles without being charged. I called AAA and was informed that I would be picked up within 63 minutes, and I cannot help but wonder what byzantine algorithm was responsible for the estimate.

While I waited, my good friend Christian came to keep me company. And to bring the two suitcases and five pillows I had left on the third floor of his home. Did I mention that neither of the suitcases had yet been packed. He is a good friend.

Eventually the tow truck came. If not for the death of the camera, I would include dramatic photos of the Sentra being loaded on to the back of the truck, which was, I later learned from the driver, less than one week old. The man was proud of his truck. And with good reason. It was a beautiful rig, and in it we traveled across the Bay Bridge as midnight passed.

If I had my camera, I would also have taken photographs of tonight's excitement, the official book launch reading for St. Michaels, the Town that Somehow Fooled the British at Artiste Locale of St. Michaels. There was fanfare and excitement. Many copies of the book were purchased. Robbi and I engaged in banter. You would have loved it.

Here is the postcard we sent out to advertise the arrival of the book.

Some of you may already have received it. Others may not have on account of our having run out of mailing labels. Sorry about that. We have ordered more.

The day's most exciting news was the very flattering review we received from the Star Democrat, the main paper for the Eastern Shore. The woman who wrote the review really understood what we're up to, and did a great job, so we think, of pointing out what is funny and interesting about the book.

You can read the review here if you are interested.

And now I must go play Scrabble with Robbi. For a long time we played "make interesting words" Scrabble, because trying to be strategic by placing one's words on the various bonus squares seemed too onerous and time-consuming. But we just got a computer Scrabble game that makes the whole thing go faster, so for now at least, we are back to cutthroat score-based Scrabble.

There will be no photos of the Scrabble.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:52 PM

September 05, 2007

In a Funk

My trip to New York City came and went without incident. I was unharmed by the city, and really not even very seriously harassed. For whatever reason, the traffic flowed, the train was on time, my meeting ended on time (early even). Shocking, yes, but I don't want to be the naysayer that won't then admit it when something goes better than expected. So I grumble today not about New York but about the daunting task of writing Volume 10.

As I mentioned a few days ago, Robbi and I have decided to invert the normal course of things this time around. Usually I write and then she illustrates. As was the plan for Volume 10, she has produced a body of illustrations that it is now my task to transform into a viable story. The drawings are vintage Robbi: visceral, messy, caustic, intriguing. They are wonderful and interesting, and yet I cannot say what I will do with them. I had thought a story would leap into my mind the moment I saw the illustrations the way that words flood the page when I sit down to write with an empty screen. But I must admit to being a little beside myself. I want to do her illustrations justice, but my ideas so far are dull, predictable, and at best, merely "cute."

And so I will stew, as Robbi often does upon receipt of one of my manuscripts. I will let the characters churn a bit, see what significance rises from her cryptic configurations. I will see what story I can tell that refers to what she's drawn without quoting it exactly. Our best work lies in the place where words and pictures conspire to create something implied in the space between. At least that's what we tell ourselves. All of this is to say that I'm suddenly empathetic with Robbi and the terrible moods she carries about sometimes between our meeting to discuss a new book and the Eureka moment when she sits down with the pen to realize the hard-won idea.

I am trying hard to resist the funk. But it really isn't working.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 PM

August 31, 2007

New Ways to Waste Your Money!

It's been a while since I posted anything Idiots'Books related.

To catch you up: we finished and sent out Volume 9, The Contented between returning home from Alaska and leaving for England. We have been pleased by the volume of positive responses to The Contented, Robbi especially. As those of you who have read The Contented know well, it contains only six words. And while they are very powerful words, thoughtfully conceived, and eloquently crafted, Robbi feels quite smug about the success of a book of mostly pictures. We have received several really excellent essays in response to the Volume 9 essay competition. These will, of course, be published when we send out Volume 10 sometime in September.

Volume 10 is an experiment of sorts. Our usual approach is to start with a text of mine, discuss it in depth, figure out what we want to do with it, and then return to opposite sides of the barn: Robbi to illustrate and I to revise. For Volume 10, we thought it might be interesting to let Robbi take the first stab. She is in the process of creating a series of illustrations from which I will construct a story. Though she has not yet finished her drawings, there are a number of very interesting characters emerging, and a world is being defined. I have no idea if I'll be able to wrap a satisfying narrative around her visual skeleton, but I am looking forward to giving it a try.

But onward to money wasting, the subject of this entry. Robbi has spent the entire day updating the Idiots'Books Web site. Perhaps it will not look much different when you click here and have a look, but that's because you have no idea just how taxing and horrible it is to try to do anything with a Web site. I'd post a picture of Robbi's current state of rage and high dander, but it would haunt your dreams for weeks to come. Needless to say, she was successful, but at quite a price. I now must speak to her in calming tones and give her sedatives if she is to have any hope of getting to sleep tonight.

Come to think of it, those things are not going to work. Not this time. It might be time for the stake, garlic, and silver bullet,

In spite of the trauma suffered by Robbi, I do suggest that you have a look at the site, if only to see how the eyeballs of the terrified British captain dance back and forth when you touch him with your mouse.

The real point of all this is, of course, that our very first hardcover, professionally printed book is now available for purchase by you. Yes you. St. Michaels: the Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British is here.

If you happen to be on our mailing list, you will receive a glossy oversized postcard drawing your attention to the availability of St. Michaels, but bleeding-edge blog reader that you are, you have the power to order it right now. Without even stopping to consider whether your money might be better spent on bread or antibiotics.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:03 PM

July 31, 2007

Kind of Like Robo Cop

I have this nagging injury in my left ankle, a sharp kind of pain that flares up from time to time and eventually goes away. In the course of our fishing this summer the pain returned, and likely due to the hours upon hours I spent uncomfortably kneeling in the small rubber raft while sitting on my feet, the pain became pronounced and has yet to recede. According to my mother's husband Dean, who is an ER doc, this particular brand of tendonitis can be difficult to shake on account of its being used in every step we take. More drastic measures might be needed, he suggested. What kind of drastic measures, I asked?

Behold the medial boot.

Please, please resist the urge to envy me. I know how incredibly cool and fun the medical boot looks, but in fact, it makes getting around a bit difficult. Especially up and down the stairs. The medical boot encases one's foot in a comfortable bed of foam rubber with lots of velcro helping to keep things snug. Around the foam is a hard plastic shell that prevents the ankle from moving and protects it from people who, in sheer envy, kick peevishly at your foot. But perhaps the most ingenious feature of the medical boot is not evident with a casual glance.

The medical boot, like those expensive sneakers I was never cool enough to wear, has air pockets that fill, with the help of a small pump, and hold one's ankle snugly, as if the medical boot was giving your sore ankle a hug and saying, "Get better, man. Get better soon."

It's a compassionate little thing, the medical boot.

Perhaps the most envious was Iggy, who can scarcely leave the medical boot alone, so compelling does she find it.

And so today, as we printed many copies of Volume 9, I was encumbered by the medical boot. It is my cross to bear.

How long will I need to wear the medical boot? None can say. I'm supposed to be icing the ankle as well, but one of the things we lack in the barn is ice cubes on account of there being no ice cube trays. Something we could remedy, to be sure.

I will keep the medical boot at least through this weekend when we board the plane to England. Is having a medical boot the kind of thing that qualifies one to get on the plane early with the first class people and the children flying alone? We shall see. No pain, no unfair advantage.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:08 AM

July 29, 2007

Connecticut is Burning

I have returned from my whirlwind trip to Massachusetts. Intact.

Robbi did not join me on the trip, mostly due to the fact that she had a lot of painting to do for Volume 9. She looked like this when I left her at noon on Thursday.

And the house looked like this.

The state of the household could not be described as "thriving" at present.

The drive up was an ordeal, though it started out with such promise. I had no problem with the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the New Jersey Turnpike or the Cross Bronx Expressway through New York City.

The problem, my friends, was Connecticut, perhaps, after Texas and Florida, the most loathsome state in the union. I drove the first 15 miles of i-95 into Connecticut in exactly 93 minutes. I was completely demoralized, shuttling back and forth between despair and rage.

Iggy did her best to look cheerful, trying anything to pull me from my brooding funk.

To no avail. There is nothing that enervates me quite like traffic. All seemed to be lost. I was almost certain to be very late in picking up my sister at the Hartford airport. I had just resigned myself to long misery when...lo!...Connecticut redeemed itself by catching on fire.

"Serves you right, Connecticut," I said, driving past the impressive plume. Moments later the roadway cleared as Connecticut, defeated, allowed us to drive freely once more.

As I may have mentioned, I was driving north to visit my sisters and mother. Alas, I only saw one sister, Lindsay, who surprised me greatly by being married, and recently so.

Lindsay, who lives in Portland, was back in Massachusetts to be a bridesmaid in one of her friends' weddings. Hence the little coral number she is wearing in the pics.

The dress was a bit long. Fortunately, my mother is like a samurai with a sewing machine and removed three inches in no time.

Which created an opportunity for Iggy.

As people do when weddings have just happened, we took many combinations of photos.

Mom, Lindsay, and Me

Dean and Mom

On the way back home on Saturday, I had no problem with Connecticut, still reeling from its recent defeat.

I did pause to feel sorry for this church. I don't go to church much, but I feel bad for this one having to be situated right next to I-95. And to have to be in Connecticut, to boot.

And while we're railing against the way of things, does it seem appropriate that we drivers of cars should have to occupy the same road as trucks? At one point I was so literally surrounded that it was like I was trapped in a small room. A room that happened to be moving at 70 mph.

Home again, and we're putting the finishing touches on volume 9, which will be sent out later this week. Volume 9 has a lot of pages, and so we had to spread them all out and have a look this afternoon, trying to figure out what should go where.

Eventually, I think, we got it right.

It's the kind of book in which the order of pages is not a given. You will see. Unless you aren't a subscriber, and then you won't.

In which case, perhaps Connecticut is the best place for you.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:35 PM

June 23, 2007

MoCCA, Day 1

This entry will be short because I am weary, but I promised updates from the show, and so I shall report.

We rose and drove to the Puck building (named so for the gilded statue of Shakespeare's energetic fairy on the premises). Robbi dropped me off with a big pile of books and a white wooden shelving unit and went to park the car. Immediately after she drove away, the long line of eager vendors started to move, and I was left to tug the precariously-laden handtruck with one hand while doing my best to lug the shelving with the other. In other words, it was great fun.

Here are the way too many books we brought. We are dreamers. And fools.

Eventually Robbi showed up and we rode the freight elevator up to the seventh floor.

"Was the ride up to the seventh floor in the freight elevator an important part of the day?" you might be wondering. "Not especially," I say in reply. "And why, then, did you think it important to show us a photo of this unimportant moment?" you might rejoinder. And to you, I say that the Barnstorming is all about dull moments and the quiet dignity they portend, that this is the motto of the Barnstorming. "I did not know the Barnstorming had a motto," you say, surprised and disappointed by the lameness of the motto. Alas, this motto is born, like so many mottos must be, I fear, of postrationalization. An unimportant photo is posted on a blog and suddenly a team of bureaucrats is hired to justify its existence.

Eventually we got to the seventh floor.

We found the seventh floor largely deserted and wondered if we were, perhaps, in the wrong place. But we found table S44 and proceeded to set up the booth.

Until realizing that we had left the black sheets that cover the table and the rather shabby looking white shelving unit back at David's apartment. And so I descended from the seventh floor to the ground level (note that I have spared you from having to view a photo of this important moment from my day) and walked the mile back to David's apartment to pick up the sheets. And the mile back to the Puck building. And up the elevator again to the seventh floor. When I got there, I found Robbi, uncannily, in the same position in which I had left her.

We set up the booth.

Robbi felt empowered.

We mugged with the booth.

And then the show opened. The main exhibit area for MoCCA is on the ground floor of the Puck Building. The seventh floor, known lyrically as the Skylight Ballroom, is for the unlucky rabble who did not sign up on time, and so we are situated far, far from the main hubub of commerce that is the first floor. In some ways this was pleasant in that it was quiet and relaxing compared to the riot of the ground level, but in other ways it was disappointing in that the crowds were fairly thin throughout the day and were, even at their heights, not what one would call a din or a riot. But still it was satisfying to stand behind the table while people looked at our books.

We did not sell a great number of books for much of the day. People read and smiled, chatted and admired, but only a few shelled out actual bucks. We kept our chins high. I shilled from time to time, trying to create the appearance of an enthusiastic mob.

The strategy was not what you might call a roaring success.

We did make some new friends, trade our books for the books of others, sign up one new subscriber, hand out many other subscription forms and free postcards, collect a healthy handful of names on our mailing list and catch up with old college friend Jason Liang, who happened to be strolling by.

But we did not sell a lot of books. We dug deep into our marketing background and came up with a brilliant strategy that we will try tomorrow: dramatically slashing our prices! I mean, it's pure genius.

Comparing our prices to those of many of the other folks selling books on the seventh floor (bastard stepchild floor, to be sure), we were a bit higher across the board. A big reason for this being the fact that we print in full color (most comics are black and white or else consist of an extremely limited color palate), but when folks are wandering around MoCCA with limited funds in their pocket, it suddenly becomes a matter of competing for limited resources. And so we will gamble profits for exposure tomorrow and see if we can lure a few more fans into the fold.

At 6:00 the thing ended and we went back to David's apartment to collapse and watch TV.

The miracle of the day came later. Robbi found this, a mutant cherry, that she claims "looks like a butt."

Her words, not mine.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:52 PM

June 22, 2007

Before the Storm

We are lying in bed, still and silent for the first time in what seems like weeks. We are gazing out the window of the bedroom of our friend David's apartment in New York City. He is in South Africa filming a documentary and we are here resting on the eve of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts festival which begins tomorrow morning.

Here is the view as of a few hours ago:

This is the view from the bed itself. If you walk toward the window and look down, you can see a pleasant park below and the coming and going of life in a big city in several directions. A moment ago we were drawn to the window when a large group of people in strange costumes started singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the tops of their lungs. This sort of thing seldom happens in Chestertown.

The last few days have been busy ones. Late Wednesday night, Robbi framed her monoprints.

Here is a shot of the finished version of the print she was working on the other night:

And here it is framed.

The prints really come to life when framed out by the clean white lines of the mat. Robbi does her own framing, but orders the frames themselves online from a place called Metroframe. They do a great job and have fantastic customer service, so if you want nice frames but can't afford to go to a nice frame shop, Metroframe is a great resource.

Here are the three finished pieces. For this show, she did one medium-sized and two small prints.

And here is one of the smaller ones up close:

Thursday we drove to Baltimore to dispense with our various pets. The cats hate travel. And somehow they can tell when we are planning to force them to get in the car and go somewhere else. In the 10 years of life with me, these cats have moved 13 times. And so they are well familiar with the subtle happenings that precede a major life change. Doing his best to mount a resistance, Oscar crawled up inside the box spring of our bed. We spent a long time looking for him around the barn and outside before I practically tore the bedroom apart, knocking our shelving unit from the wall in so doing.

Eventually the cats were crated and put in the car along with two months worth of litter and food:

Oh, how they hate it in the crate:

Back when I had no money to speak of, I used to take the cats to the vet in an orange crate with a cookie sheet on top. I stopped doing this when the vet started looking at me like I was a foul abuser. Now that I am a lowly bookmaker, I was tempted to return to the orange crate method, but I doubt that Oscar's girthy midsection would fit. He is a large, large cat.

We crossed the Bay.

And took the cats to the home of Supi Loco. I've mentioned it before, but Supi has a cat with whom she shares her home. His name is Scooter. He is very polite. He is soft and small. He and Susan have a special relationship built on trust and mutual regard. Enter Jabba the Catt and his sister. Things got a little testy.

Lily behaved like a total pill and was immediately banned to the basement. Oscar, (bulging, rotund) gentleman that he is, spent some time getting to know Scooter. Scooter didn't know what to make of Oscar's terrifyiing luminescent eyes.

Scooter made some horrible, mournful sounds.

But they worked it out. Or else Scooter got completely demoralized and gave up. I can't really tell which.

We ate dinner with Supi and our good friend Beth Duncan.

And then hit the road.

We had successfully rid ourselves of two animals, but one remained. Iggy was to be left with Christian and Emily...and Ruby, who always enjoys company.

I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but Christian and Emily have recently joined a cult that espouses, among many other strange beliefs, the benefits to health and mind of sitting directly on the floor. I kid you not. Furniture of any kind is strictly forbidden.

I was mocking them considerably (as I am prone to do to anyone whose beliefs differ in any way from my own) when Robbi decided to join the cult as well.

Which put me in a funk.

We said our farewells to Iggy and headed home. It was about 11:00 by the time we got back to Chestertown, but there was much to be done.

Books to pack into boxes:

More books to make:

There was also clever booth signage to construct, dishes to wash, recycling to go out, and a barn to clean.

Eventually we were done. And calm returned to the hayloft.

We saw the floor for the first time in weeks.

After catching a few hours of sleep, we loaded up...

...and headed north, but not before stopping at the farm stand to not touch the ducklings...

...and stopping in Middletown for gasoline and awesome action photography.

Over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

And up to the big city.

Perhaps this is a reflection on us, but this is how Robbi and I prefer to spend our time in New York, gazing pensively through a window at large buildings while reclining on a bed in an air conditioned room. We have neither big buildings or air conditioning in Chestertown. But we have lots of time for being pensive.

We did venture out to pick up our MoCCA name badges and get some wood-fired pizza for dinner. We even splurged on an exquisite-looking cheesecake from a fancy bakery, another thing that we do not have in Chestertown. After putting the spine cloth on 26 more copies of My Henderson Robot, enjoying some cheesecake, and staring pensively through the window at the lights of the nighttime city, we will go to sleep a full six hours earlier than we did last night and hopefully be more sprightly tomorrow for it.

Check back for photos from MoCCA tomorrow. I cannot promise that there will be ladies with battle axes and tight leather pants, but people, we can always dream.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:57 PM

June 16, 2007

A Whole New Look

I've alluded to it here, but it bears repeating that Robbi and I are headed to the Big Apple next weekend to peddle our wares at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Fest. Here is the festival advertisement, provided to us by the organizers with the purpose of luring enthuisastic mobs. Are you easily persuaded by such marketing? We shall see how it works on you.

If you are in New York next weekend and would enjoy swinging by to see what the MoCCA Fest is all about, the essential information about where to go and at what time can be found by clicking on this link, but the basics are that the Festival runs from 11am-6pm Saturday June 23 and Sunday June 24 at the Puck Building (293 Lafayette at Houston in Manhattan). We will be on the seventh floor standing behind a six-foot table, trying our best to explan what we are and why our books represent a solid reason to part with one's cash.

We leave for New York next Friday morning, spend Saturday and Sunday in the big scary, loud, expensive, terrifying city, and then leave for the airport at 4:00 Monday morning. From the airport we will travel to Seattle and then on to Anchorage. We spend the night on the floor of the Anchorage airport and then take a short flight across the tundra to King Salmon. From King Salmon we hop into a 5-seat bush plane for the final leg to Coffee Point, where we will spend four weeks fishing for sockeye salmon with Robbi's family (as every member of Robbi's family has done for 30 summers running).

There will be much more talk about the salmon fishing in days to come, but for now it is enough to know that we are coming down to the wire, not just in terms of getting ready for the MoCCA Fest, but also for getting our lives in some sort of order before leaving the lower-48 for four weeks. There is a long list of tasks to complete and seemingly not enough days in which to check them off.

As for the title of this entry, I am referring to the Idiots'Books site, which got a minor face-lift today. In the case that we are able to convince a bunch of new people at the MoCCA Fest that Idiots'Books is something worth learning more about, we have added a new illustration to the homepage, an image that will hopefully both explain the frying pan metaphor (which seems to be a source of no small puzzlement to people at our readings) and nicely capture the spirit of Robbi's and my collaboration. Perhaps I'm giving the image too much credit, but I think Robbi did a fine job. Check it out here. And then check out Robbi's rather thoughtful explanation of our process in coming up with the idea.

In parting, I will tell you that Robbi and I went on a hot date tonight. We walked the 300 yards to the Prince Theater, where we attended the "Pasta Fellini" event. This involved eating delicious Italian fare prepared by the folks at the Imperial Hotel (adjacent to the Prince) and then watching Fellini's La Dolce Vita. It is an excellent movie. I'd like to understand it better by reading a good critical essay if any Fellini fans out there care to recommend one.

It also involved being the only two people under 50 years old in the entire place. I'm not exaggerating. I love Chestertown.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:05 AM

June 14, 2007

Good Riddance, Dawn of the Fats

I really hate to be that guy whose blog is overpopulated with cloyingly cute pictures of his various animals, and yes, I remember that just yesterday you were subjected to photos of my fat cat lying on his back and my exceedlingly shy dog cowering in the depths of her new travel crate. And yet I have little choice but to include photos of an episode that took place not two hours ago. Both of them in a surprisingly frisky mood for 11:00pm, Robbi and Iggy were playing with the dog frisbee. Robbi would throw it. Iggy would fetch it. That sort of thing. This simple equation was suddenly disrupted when Iggy got attacked by the dog frisbee, as shown.

At first, she was highly agitated and tried to extricate herself.

Eventually, she adopted a more sanguine position.

And for those of you who think I put the dog frisbee on Iggy's head for my own amusement, I tell you no, the dog did this of her own accord.

While not taking pictures of Iggy with her head stuck in the dog frisbee, I spent most of the day stuffing copies of Dawn of the Fats into envelopes with the corresponding letter, placing postage on the envelopes, and sealing the envelopes by licking each one. I am glad to be done and a bit queasy from the glue.

Be not fooled by Iggy's theatrical lounging by the mail bins.

She would have you believe that she was instrumental the envelope-stuffing, but I have it on good authority that she and Oscar spent the majority of the day not moving, both striving through inactivity to win the ongoing competition to see which of them can get the fattest.

Oscar is winning.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:21 AM

June 03, 2007

Dada, Here We Come

Yesterday Robbi and I dug deep into the closet and pulled out our closest approximation of "hip" clothing in honor of our reading at H&F Fine Arts. Understand that when I say "hip," I use the word in the relative sense. I'm not really capable of true "hip," but by donning a vintage shirt and a pair of polyester pants, I am able to pull off a weak imitation of someone with legitimate claim to the word. To her credit, Robbi is capable of looking hip. Until she opens her mouth. At that point she, like I, are exposed as the unfortunate clods that we are.

With our newly purchased projector in tow, we headed for DC, stopping along the at the New Carrollton rail station to pick up friend David Turner, who had taken the train down from NYC to attend the event. We arrived at H&F Fine arts a full 90 minutes before the start of the reception that was to precede the reading. A full two-and-a-half hours before the reading itself. My obsession with being places early is something Robbi graciously endures, though her preference would be to arrive breathless in the waning moments before something is scheduled to begin.

Our early arrival allowed for such activities as:

Admiring the mural.

Posing in front of the mural in "hip" art gallery garb.

Posing stylishly by the new projector (perhaps we'll send this shot to Justin P.)

Posing stylishly in front of the projected Idiots'Books logo.

It took us about 5 minutes to set up for the reading. Which left us an hour and 25 minutes to busy ourselves. While we busied ourselves Cheryl and Karen sliced cheese and salami. Yes, salami. There seems to be an Idiots'Books reading theme.

Eventually a wonderful thing happened. People started to arrive. Lots of old friends, some of whom we hadn't seen in years. Even the kind, wise, and humble Peter Everett showed up, accompanied by his lovely wife Veronica (who, it turns out, has the good sense to be a Red Sox fan). Scanning the crowd, Robbi and I were pleased. There were more than six people present. We would break the previous weekend's attendance record handily.

At 4:15 we ushered the crowd into the workshop room (yes, the same room in which Robbi and I spent one short, restless night in the midst of painting the H&F mural a few months ago) and got started.

We gave some opening remarks.

Were we cogent? I cannot say. Did we say interesting things? I dare not speculate. I can only say that we spoke for a few minutes before taking our position behind the projector. Our friend J.T. was kind enough to snap a few shots as we read.

We started with Facial Features of French Explorers before moving on to Unattractive and Inadequate. Then, to lighten the tone, Robbi read My Henderson Robot. There was some intermittent laughter that gratified us. In honor of the gallery mural, we read selections from For the Love of God and then ended with Richard Nixon.

Here is a shot of the crowd.

Do they seem to be enjoying themselves? People seemed attentive in spite of having to stand and in spite of the heat that grew each moment that the air conditioning was not turned on (out of respect for our gentle voices that might not otherwise have carried over the din of the compressors).

After the reading, we took some questions. To our delight, people had questions, even some really thoughtful ones. We did our best to answer them. Hearing interesting questions and being forced to articulate answers to them helps us understand ourselves better. Our friend and subscriber Dawn asked the most interesting question: what would the appraiser on the late 21st century's version of the Antiques Roadshow have to say about a collection of Idiots'Books, both in terms of their monetary value and their relationship to the Dadaist/Surrealist movement. I was delighted and a little stunned. What do you say in response to something like that? Later, at dinner, Dawn explained that the Dadaists/Surrealists used to get together and hang out and talk about "weird stuff", thus influencing and informing one another's ideas and work. Since we live in a barn in the middle of nowhere, Dawn pointed out, we are conducting our version of this conversation through letters and contests and the responses of our subscribers. She added that this type of thing doesn't often happen outside of the internet these days and that there was something different and worthwhile about the model of conducting our business with paper in epistolary fashion. At least I think that's what she said. Dawn, you may feel free to contradict or elaborate. [It is worth nothing that, in spite of this incisive observation, Dawn has yet to participate in any of our contests, citing her doctoral disseration as an excuse.]

After doing our best to answer various questions, we signed books, shook hands, talked to people, and had a fine time.

We drove up the road to Franklin's and had dinner with friends.

Today we have been like slugs. The rains have come to Chestertown, and with them the air has cooled.

Next weekend we head to Williamstown for our ten year reunion. Next Saturday we'll have our third reading in as many weekends at the town bookstore, Water Street Books. If you happen to be in the area, we'd love to see you there.

Thanks to our friends for coming out to support us yesterday. It was a real pleasure to share our work with all of you.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:18 PM

May 30, 2007

The End

Only two days over schedule, we have completed the mural. The last hurrah was painting in the words.

Painting the words was entirely Robbi's purview.

The far left and right ends of the mural are dark and the middle is light blue. So Robbi had to paint the words in white against the dark background and switch to black in order to stand out against the blue.

After the words were all in place, the time came to remove the masking. This is an incredibly gratifying part of the process.

Suddenly all of the edges become crisp and the image really assserts itself on the wall.

After we removed the masking, we thought it would be a great idea to get Iggy to pose with a ball of tape on her head. She really didn't like this plan. It took a lot of failed attempts to get even this lame blurry shot.

I don't know how Wegman does it.

In our attempt to get the "perfect" shot of Iggy with the tape on her head, we filled up the camera's memory card, so there is no "definitive" shot of the finished mural. Though I'm not sure that we would have been able to capture the thing with all the film in the world. The mural is a mixture of big (20 feet wide) and small (12 inches high for much of it), and so it's impossible to photograph the entire thing at a scale that captures the detail needed to understand what's going on.

And so you will have to visit Bookplate at some point and examine the mural the way it was designed to be appreciated: up close while winding one's way through stacks of books.

That being said, we've presented the whole thing piecemeal over the past few entries. All of the narrative elements are in place. For those of you who want to try and puzzle through the meaning, here is the text.

The people are dancing on the tables. "Now that the revolution has ended," they say, "we are free to speak our minds. Let's have a holiday!" Jubilant motorists drive the roads at speeds well exceeding the legal limit. "Where are the policemen when we need them?" the people complain. "Where is the structure in our lives?" A vigilante mob digs a hole in the road. All the cars fall in and pile up. Alone and enlightened, the mob becomes orderly and invents a new set of rules based on liberty and justice for all. "I think that we can make this work," they say.

I don't like to "explain" what we do, and so I won't. But Robbi and I agree that this is probably the most political of our pieces (murals and books included) to date. And we're not sure how we feel about that.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:08 PM

May 29, 2007

Time for the Words

First off, as promised, here is the scene of revolutionary glory. Who among you can name the famous painting being quoted here?

Next Robbi outlined the scene of colonial rampage. There is no specific reference here. Pick your favorite conquest! We've strived to be inclusive.

And the ships of the marauding white man. Finally outlined for your viewing pleasure!

The far left and right sides of the mural complete, Robbi turned her attention to the middle and the army of tiny bald digging men.

Since there is an entire army of these cute little fellas, Robbi will be at it for a while.

The end in sight, we took a short break to hang up the words, that I might transfer them to the wall for Robbi to paint in as the final step in completing the mural.

Those of you who read about our last mural at H&F Fine Arts will remember that I am a champion letter-tracer. You might also remember that last time we chalked the backside of the piece of paper on which the words were printed, that a chalk outline might be transferred to the wall. This time we decided to use carbon paper, which has the advantage of creating a crisper, darker line than does the chalk.

And so I began to trace.

The words are on the paper. And then, like magic...

...the words are on the wall.

I was transferring with the ease and confidence that one might expect from a veteran when, out of nowhere, and with little regard for my feelings, Robbi declared that I was doing a "terrible job". Apparently I was creating black smudges on the wall. I looked and admit that there were tiny, barely perceptible smudges of excess carbon.

I have photographed one of these so called "unacceptable" smudges.

Can you even see the aforementioned smudge? Do you consider the smudge worthy of calling a man out in front of his dog? Iggy was embarrassed for me and went behind a bookshelf to hang out with Dennis.

Abruptly demoted, I sat, ashamed, while Robbi took over atop the ladder, transferring the letters that were rightly mine to transfer.

It is a harsh business, this transferring trade. I advise any of you who are, like me, sensitive types with powerful hands that cannot help but smudge the carbon paper, to avoid it at all costs.

We aim to finish this sucker tonight.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:27 PM

Back to the Line

Robbi spent most of the afternoon yesterday cleaning up the edges of the areas I had painted in preparation for the final phase, adding the thin black line that transforms the mural from a bunch of paint on the wall to an image worth looking at.

She started with the column of colorful cars.

And eventually...

...the details emerged.

At present she is outlining the revolutionary montage. Photos will be posted later tonight.

Here is the entire mural, as of last night.

No time for witty commentary at present. I have been charged with tracing the words onto the wall. You know how much I love tracing.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:11 PM

May 28, 2007

More than Blue and Brown

First off, apologies for not posting yesterday. When we did the last mural at H&F Fine Arts, my participation was limited to large, uncomplicated areas that could not be harmed by my lack of skill and finesse. This left me hours with nothing better to do than photograph Robbi at work and then post those photos on the blog. This time, perhaps due to Robbi's incredibly nasty case of poison ivy and the resulting pain, fatigue, and discomfort, she has been more willing to tolerate my participation. In fact, I spent the entire day yesterday with a paintbrush in my hands

This means two things: 1) there has been less time to post on our progress and 2) I have now painted in purple, grey, dark grey, purple grey, dark purple grey, darker blue, and green.

With both of us going full bore, we were able to make a lot of progress yesterday.

As follows:

Fiery revolution.

A little painting...

...leads to fleshed-out fiery revolution.

A trip across the sea yields...

...colonial carnage.

Army of little digging automatons.

As the sun set, Robbi finished the column of colorful cars.

As shown:

Just after lunch, Iggy, seeking revenge on Dennis, decided to colonize his bed.

My dog is ridiculous. She spends her life in pursuit of the smallest bed possible.

Today is Memorial Day and Bookplate is closed, but we are heading there now, convinced that we can finish the mural today. We are reminded of the H&F mural. Waking Monday morning at 8:00 after four hours asleep on the storage room floor, I was convinced that we would be done by 11:00 that morning. Robbi guessed that we'd be finished by 1:00 that afternoon. We finished 18 hours later.

It's difficult to estimate sometimes.

I'll try to be better about updates today. As soon as Robbi starts doing her line work, things get a lot more gratifying.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:05 AM

May 26, 2007

Blue Sky

We worked until 10:00 or so last night and then went over to Bob and Seiko's house for cold tofu, sauteed green beans and somen. It was very delicious. We ate a lot. And then went home. At home we practiced for today's reading, spending most of our time struggling to master the technology. We are certain that the reading will end in calamity, but are nevertheless prepared to forge on.

We are currently on a short lunch break, so there is no time for the usual detail. "And thank god for it," you may be saying to yourself.

Having proven myself roughly capable with brown, I passed the morning with a tub of blue paint, creating the sky that fills the middle of the mural. The far left and right extremes depict scenes of revolution and colonialism, respectively, and therefore have dark, ominous skies in keeping with the themes.

Now it is clear that there are ships.

And a mob of vigilante diggers.

The colorful cars, painted by Robbi.


Here is the scene just before we left for lunch.

We're getting there. But there is a long way to go. More to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:38 PM

May 25, 2007

The Revolution Continues

All sorts of things have happened this afternoon. Not long after declaring that I was not fit to trace, Robbi had a sudden realization of the sheer volume of tracing that lay ahead and declared that I was, in fact, fit to trace. And so I traced.

Tracing up high was less exasperating than tracing down low. I found myself grumbling less, though I still did not enjoy myself.

Iggy and Dennis reached a state of detente.

In the wake of my successful tracing on high, I was once again asked to trace down low.

I grumbled.

I earned a stern look.

As penance, I was forced to pose like this while Robbi drew a picture of a man digging a hole.

The significance of the pose will become clear as the mural progresses. In this mural an enormous hole is dug and then filled in again. As an object lesson in the futility of our actions. This mural has a depressing message. And so we use cheerful colors to mitigate the gloom.

After finishing the tracing, I masked.

After finishing the masking, we ate lunch.

By "we" I mean everyone but Iggy, who does not get lunch. Much to her consternation.

Energized by pizza, we decided to paint. In addition to cheerful colors, the mural has a preponderance of brown. To make brown, Robbi had to mix yellow, red, and black. One of the things I love best about Robbi iis that she takes notice of the small wonderful things that sometimes happen accidentally. Like this.

We began to paint. Perhaps inspired by Understanding Traffic, we populated the mural with many cars.

I started painting the brown cars.

And Robbi started painting the colorful cars. Apparently brown is for painting amateurs.

I kind of enjoyed painting those brown cars.

Here is the second "progress" shot.

The angle we chose is not favorable for showing the progress we've made so far. Our goal is to have the two columns of cars completed tonight. Tomorrow is the Saturday of Tea Party. Tomorrow the flood of humanity will be streaming in and out of those doors. Perhaps you will be among that flood.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:13 PM

The Revolution Has Ended

Hello Friends. Today we are posting live from Chestertown's Bookplate, where we will, for the next three days, be posting regular updates on our progress as we paint the latest Idiots'Books mural, titled, The Revolution Has Ended.

The finished advertisement.

Our books in the window.

We arrived at Bookplate at the luxurious hour of 10:07am, set ourselves up, and began to work. As has quickly become our habit when approaching these murals, "beginning to work" means that Robbi takes up the tools of creation while I sit by trying my hardest not to interfere.

While I sat by loafing, Robbi taped her sketches to the wall.

Then she took out some carbon paper, which she placed between the sketch and the wall.

After some careful tracing, the initial linework was transferred to the wall.

I sat and watched, relaxing. Occasionally I would compliment Robbi on her fine work. At one point she suggested that, as affirming as my praise might be, help with the tracing might be an even more appreciated contribution to the efforts. I got out some carbon paper and tried my hardest. Tracing requires two things 1) patience and 2) precision. I lack items one and two. I grew frustrated and grumbled. Robbi decided that she preferred sitting, complimenting Matthew to tracing, grumbling Matthew.

I did snap this photo that made it look as if I had done the tracing.

But be assured. I did not.

While Robbi was tracing and not grumbling and I was sitting and complimenting, a entirely other drama was playing out.

Since Tom Martin, Bookplate proprietor, is a very nice guy, Iggy was invited to attend the mural painting event. As she is known to do, Iggy curled up in her bed to sleep out the duration.

This arrangement worked out well for a short while, but Iggy's bliss was shattered in a moment when resident Bookplate cat, Dennis, discovered the visiting bed and its attending dog.

Iggy was rousted and Dennis took what was rightly his.

Dennis found the bed much to his liking.

And Iggy, dejected, found another place to lie.

Take a close look at the following picture, the classic "before" shot. Before the weekend is through, the entire front wall of Bookplate will be covered with paint.

Check back later today. Progress will be posted when there is progress to report.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:02 PM

May 23, 2007

Out of Control

A persistent theme around the barn is my longing for a factory. When we imagined living in this space it seemed just the right size: a small bedroom for sleeping, room for both of us to have an office/creative space, a place to eat, a place to sit and watch movies, and an approximate kitchen adequate for the preparation of sandwiches. What more could one ask for?

Although the Idiots'Books project was vaguely a part of our vision, it was but an amusing side project, something we would do on Saturday afternoons to entertain ourselves between other ventures. We were so young and naive. And happy as we are that the books have been so well received, we are now sorely in need of a factory. A group of vigorous, satisfied factory workers would also be nice.

Evidence of our need for space.

Witness the living room:

Robbi refuses to make books of a size that conforms nicely to the 8.5 x 11 inch standard page size. She also likes to design with "full bleeds" (when the image goes all the way to the edge of the page), which means that I have to trim all four sides of most of the books. Books like Facial Features, Richard Nixon, and Understanding Traffic are relatively easy to make because they do not bleed. Books that bleed make messes like the one you see above.

Witness the recycling bin:

The recycling guy comes but once a week. When in the throes of serious bookmaking (as we are at present), we fill this large-ish can four times over in a week's span. The can is currently full. Which is why the strips of trimmed paper remain on the living room floor instead of in a more appropriate place.

Behold the dining room table:

Needless to say, we don't have many "sit-down" meals these days. The family dynamic is starting to suffer as a result.

Have a look at the pile of paper.

As I've said before, we are the reason that Staples shareholders are so jolly these days. We have risen rapidly through the ranks of their Frequent Buyer Program. From bronze to silver to gold and now to platinum. They are currently searching for an even more precious metal with which we may be honored.

I must leave you now. The time has come to take out my hammer and bang staples (real staples in the binding of books, not our paper junkie Staples). It is a necessary evil (banging, not Staples).

Posted by bogenamp at 12:52 PM

May 21, 2007

Tea, Anyone?

Every year over Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown celebrates Tea Party, an all-out extravaganza of commerce, gathering, consumption, and hankering that culminates in a grand reenactment of a quite possibly apocryphal moment in Chestertown's history. Yes, much like St. Michaels, the town that may or may not have fooled the British, historians suggest that the good citizens of Chestertown very well might not have forcibly boarded a boat full of nasty British regulars before proceeding to dump them inelegantly into the Chester. The fact that the yearly reenactment may lack historical precendent does not deter the good citizens of Chestertown from dressing in thoroughly colonial garb and going through the motions. It's really quite grand. And quite overwhelming, especially when it's hot outside. I, being one who dislikes both sunshine and large crowds of people, have a difficult time sucking the marrow out of Tea Party. Now that I am an official Chestertonian, the moral obligation to participate in the reenactment grows ever stronger. Novice as I am, I would likely be recruited to play the role of "duped, defeated British soldier," which would mean being doused in the Chester. Eager to avoid this fate, I schemed to come up with a plan that would keep me far away from 1) big crowds of people, 2) sunshine, and 3) the Chester River.

Here's what we came up with:

That's right, as you see on this poster by the inestimably gifted, wry, and parodic Ken Castelli, Robbi will be painting the next Idiots'Books mural this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Chestertown's own Bookplate. Our first and greatest fan, Tom Martin has seen fit to let us place a permanent installation across the entire front wall of his store. It is worth mentioning that the front wall of Tom's place is mostly glass, so while the space available to us is a full twenty feet wide, it is only 12 inches tall. With the exception of two eight foot horizontal strips of wall on either side of the front door. Meaning, this will not be your average mural.

The text recently completed (this will be an ALL NEW story NEVER BEFORE SEEN), Robbi is busy at work on the illustration. On Friday, with the help of her downtrodden assistant, Robbi will transfer the outline to the Bookplate wall. On Saturday, with the help of her demoralized assistant, she will paint in the color. On Sunday, while her worthless, unskilled assistant stands by worthlessly, Robbi will paint in the linework. This is kind of like the last mural except for the fact that we will not be sleeping on the floor of a storage room. And that every minute of our work will be on full display for the swarming reenacting hordes. That's right, this weekend we are to be a FEATURED ATTRACTION.

Which is why Robbi was asked to paint an Idiots'Books advertisement on the Bookplate window.

Usually one is discouraged from painting on other people's windows. See the opportunistic gleam in Robbi's eye?

Unfortunately I had to head home shortly after this picture was taken, which means I have no picture of the finished advertisement. But heck, what's tomorrow for? Check back then.

But in case you did not read the above poster carefully, know that in addition to the three days of what can only be referred to as "mural madness," Robbi and I will be doing our first slide-assisted reading at 4:00 Saturday afternoon. We are so certain that it will end in disaster that friends and enemies alike are encouraged to be on hand. The latter to mock, the former to support. Because what is Tea Party all about if not the convergence of friend and foe, pro and con, Colonial reenacter and British solider reenacter?

Well, for one thing, it's also about fried clams and funnel cakes. Not things to be taken lightly.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:40 PM

May 20, 2007

By All Means, Bend

Given the difficulty we've had with the USPS, we've been relatively kind to them on these pages. In the face of persistent bad treatment by the employees of the Chestertown Post Office whenever we walk through the doors with a bin of Idiots'Books mailings, we have been resolute, turning the other cheek, quietly suffering the indignity of their ill treatment by tapping the wellspring of magnanimity deep within us both. But now that Best Buy has been upgraded as a result of the excellent Justin P., we need to focus our wrath on something, and so the USPS will be the subject of today's tirade.

(As a side note, the day after the last entry was posted, Justin P. called our house and asked for Robbi. He had read the blog, apparently, and learning about our longing for the Wii, decided to call us when the new shipment came in. He was willing to save us a Wii throughout the afternoon, provided we could come get it that day. Alas, Dover is an hour away and we had company. But still, Justin P., one must ask, are you a man or are you a god?)

Back to the USPS. As you all must know, the postal rates have recently increased. Or so we thought. On the first day of the rate increase, we went to the USPS to mail a copy of Understanding Traffic to a new subscriber. The postage for the copies of the same book sent the week before had been 87 cents. We were curious to see how steep the increase would be. We approached the counter and endured the withering look from the USPS employee, who, noticing that we were "those Idiots' people", put on his best withering look.

He took the envelope as if it were covered with pestilence.

He placed it on the scale.

What would the new postage be? we asked, polite and deferential.

$1.34 he said.

We expressed our surprise that the increase had been so steep.

He looked at the envelope again and informed us that, in fact, the postage would be $1.54, on account of its having been stamped with the "Do Not Bend" stamp. Conscientious booksenders that we are, we often use the "Do Not Bend" stamp. However, the new USPS rate change declares that any envelope marked with the "Do Not Bend" stamp shall hereforth be considered a "parcel", and thus subject to higher rates.

Shocked and appalled, we stood silently gaping. Then we regrouped and asked if by crossing out the mark of the "Do Not Bend" stamp we could effectively eliminate the "parcel" classification.

His look of surprise was quickly replaced by one of resignation as he realized that we had defeated him.

I guess so, he said.

He weighed the package once again. Once you cross out the, "Do Not Bend" stamp, he said, the postage will be 75 cents.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Under the new USPS regulations, the cost of mailing one copy of Understanding Traffic has DROPPED from 87 to 75 cents. As long as one does not designate that said package should not be bent.

The world is upside down.

We did the only thing we could. We got out a black pen. And crossed out "Do Not Bend" stamp.

Sad though it made us. Likely our new subscriber will feel threatened by the gesture, wondering what they did to deserve the mockery of a package being first marked "Do Not Bend" and then overtly unmarked.

"Do these people want to send me a bent book?" they will ask themselves.

It's not a good business model, I fear.

Returning home we checked the mailbox, only to be horrified by what we found inside, another sure insult at the hands of the USPS, chronicled by Robbi on Idiots'Box.

We are skeptical that the cost of sending Understanding Traffic actually went down. We are convinced that this "now it only costs 75 cents" thing is a ploy to defeat Idiots'Books and thus end our reign of terror at the Chestertown USPS. I am convinced that our new subscriber will never receive her copy of Understanding Traffic. And that if she does, it will arrive bent.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:08 PM

May 18, 2007

A Much Better Buy

You who have been faithful readers of these pages might know that Robbi has for months now been cultivating a bad attitude about America's electronics superchain, Best Buy. (You may read here one chapter of her growing ire.) Robbi's frustration with said electronics juggernaut is based less upon its consistent failure to stock the Nintendo Wii and more on the army of listless, unhelpful young people who actively don't work there. I mean, they are paid, apparently, to wear the Best Buy frock but then avert their eyes when customers come near, or when cornered and forced to actually speak to the dollar-wielding consumer, act either angry, confused, or superior.

Wii, where do we find you?

So consistent was our displeasure with Best Buy that Robbi started looking like this when we would leave the store.

And really, who wants to hang out with someone who looks like this? And so we banned ourselves from Best Buy and Best Buy from ourselves, the way we once imposed a two-year moratorium on going into New York City after once spending a hour moving 50 yards just shy of the Holland Tunnel.

Recently, however, our electronic needs became acute. Looking forward to the string of upcoming Idiots'Books readings, we realized that, were we to project Robbi's images as we have promised in the promotional postcards (see below), we would have to get ourselves a digital projector. And, in the interest of being good consumers, felt that we should carefully investigate and weigh our various options before making the purchase.

A bit of self-promotion.

It was with dread that we approached the Dover Best Buy. We were bracing for insult, neglect, and outright bile. We held hands and told ourselves that we were good people, no matter what unkind epithets those Best Buy employees hurled our way.

We asked the young man by the front door where to find the projectors. He looked puzzled by the request, but regrouped and waved in two different directions. "They are over there," he said, pointing toward the television section, "Or over there," he continued, waving toward the back of the store.

Intuition led us to the back of the store. On the way through the gaming section, we stoppd to see if they had any Wii consoles in stock. They had no Wii consoles in stock.

We got to the back of the store and found the projectors. We were broken, helpless, resigned to not understanding the many nuances of the projectors and feeling unequipped, emotionally and otherwise, to assess the important financial decision that loomed before us. The skies were black and ominous, but then a ray of light broke through and shone down upon us. Angels sang and Justin P. appeared, the answer to our long dark night of Best Buy gloom.

Justin P. was knowledgeable, helpful, thorough, and kind. He answered every question with a convincing expertise. He anticipated other questions we did not know enough to ask. He made us feel comfortable, safe, valued, and happy. Justin P. helped us find just the right projector for our needs, even though it was slightly less expensive than another that we might well have been steered to buy. He helped us find the correct cable to attach the new projector to my Mac, and thoughtfully explained the benefits of the Best Buy extended 3-year warrantee.

We were stunned and knew not what to do. So we left, anxious to see if we would wake from this dream.

Thorough, thoughtful consumers that we are, we drove to Office Depot and Staples (good old Staples), but found their selection and pricing not to our liking. Plus, neither Office Depot nor Staples had Justin P., our new hero, the man after whom we will name our daughter and our son.

So back to Best Buy we went. Justin P. was still there. He carried our projector to the front of the store. He posed with Robbi for this picture while his colleague at the register relieved us of our money.

As we left the store, I looked at Robbi. This was not the same woman I had known. She was a woman transformed.

All this is to say, we forgive you Best Buy, a little bit at least. You're moving in the right direction. Here's what you do to become a really good store: ask Justin P. if he has any friends. Great guys usually hang out with others of their kind. Hire his friends and use them to replace the Army of the Diffident. I promise it will pay dividends. And call me when you have the Wii in stock. If I am not yet an old man, I may buy one. But only if Justin P. is there, answering my questions, making me feel good about my purchase.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:03 AM

May 15, 2007

It's OK to Hate

I am happy to say that Volume 7, Understanding Traffic, has officially hit the streets. It took a lot of banging. Understanding Traffic has three staples, each of which require 15 blows on one side and 15 on the other. We made 300 copies. Which translates to roughly 9,000 blows. Which turns my right arm to rubber, gives me a wrist cramp, and makes our new neighbor think that this isn't such a nice neighborhood after all.

After the banging was done, we bound the 300 copies of Understanding Traffic in one furious session during which we watched a string of forgettable movies, the least gratifying of which must have been The Secret Lives of Dentists. While I'm usually a huge Hope Davis fan, this movie does nothing but cement that impression we all have that dentists are kind of creepy. And not in an interesting, deeply demented way, but in a kind of dull, constipated kind of way. I'm sure that there are some dentists whose secret lives are thrilling, but whoever made this movie did not know about those dentists.

Understanding Traffic entirely avoids the topic of dentists' lives, but does attempt to make some claims in the realm of understanding traffic. Shortly after binding the 300 copies, we put 170 in envelopes, bundled with our longest letter to date (complete with many outstanding essays in response to the Richard Nixon Essay Competition), and sent them off into the ether, our last mailing ever at the former USPS rates.

By various accounts, the eagle has landed across this great nation, which has triggered a furious vote in homes both large and small.

The vote to which I refer? Robbi and I are having a bit of a disagreement about Understanding Traffic. While I consider it an important (seminal?) work in man's collective struggle to come to terms with the pervasive scourge of traffic in our lives, Robbi feels that people will find it inaccessible, infuriating, dull, and unlovable. She speculates that people will lose interest or hope before reaching the end. She thinks it might be the final straw that shatters subscriber confidence and sends us tumbling hopelessly back to the workaday world.

And so there is a vote. We are inviting those who have read Understanding Traffic to weigh in on how it makes them feel. Do you love the book or hate it? Please understand, we ask this question with genuine curiosity. We will view the tally with no prejudice.

I will report, however (in case it is my last opportunity to make this claim), that "love" is prevailing over "hate" by a score of 5 to 1 in the early going, a fact that rankles Robbi to no small degree. I'm writing to see if one of you who actually does loathe Volume 7 could please get on line and cast a vote of aspersion. It would do wonders for Robbi, who has started to doubt her abilities to judge bad literature, rendering her impossible to live with.

In her desperate attempt to make sense of a universe spinning quickly out of control, she contends that plenty of people hate the book, but that our subscribers, being kind, generous sorts, are simply unwilling to click a box next to an option containing the word "hate." If this is the case, I hereby grant you permission to do so. I insist that you articulate your ire. We don't hear it enough in today's cheerful world, but it's ok to hate.

(Those of you who are dying to vote on this matter but lack a copy of Understanding Traffic, may secure one for only $12 US by clicking here. Though you could, technically, vote without having read the book, you wouldn't feel good about yourself if you did. Here's a taste of what you have to look forward to on the love/hate front. Click on the images below to make them bigger/readable. If you really hate these sample pages, then go ahead and vote your mind!)

Posted by bogenamp at 07:45 AM

May 07, 2007

All Work and No Naps

Yesterday was about production. Having received a clean bill of health from editor Matt Westbrook, it was time to print, cut, staple, score, and bind Volume 7. We decided to make 300 copies this time around, 170 for this month's subscriber mailing, 30 or so for the various stores that are selling our stuff, and another hundred for the hordes of fledgling Idiots'Books enthusiasts we will meet at the MoCCA fest in June.

As you can imagine, making 300 copies takes some doing. So both of us had to work really hard all day.

No one perhaps worked harder than the printer.

Unless it was Robbi.

Or Iggy.

In truth, Robbi did most of the bookmaking yesterday while I worked on other projects, such as the press release for our upcoming reading in DC. You various DC people on our mailing list will soon get a postcard invitation, but let it be known that we will be reading from our work on Saturday, June 2, at 5:00pm at H&F Fine Arts, a new gallery in the Gateway Arts District (3311 Rhode Island Avenue). Get it on your calendars.

Here's the full release. Read it only if you're actually interested:

H&F Fine Arts
Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots'Books
June 2, 2007
Book signing: 4:00-6:00pm
Reading: 5:00pm

At 5:00pm on Saturday, June, 2, writer Matthew Swanson and illustrator Robbi Behr will be reading from their collaborative books (including their most recent title, Dawn of the Fats) while presenting a projected slide show of Behr's illustrations. The two will be on hand from 4:00-6:00pm to sign and answer questions about their various titles, all eleven of which will be for sale. Also on permanent display at H&F is a 7' x 13' mural by Behr featuring a panel from her and Swanson's book, For the Love of God.

Swanson and Behr are the creative force behind Idiots'Books, a small press in Chestertown, MD that produces satirical illustrated commentaries on the human condition. The playful romp of Swanson's strange, yet captivating writing is complimented by Behr's visceral (sometimes grotesque) and concept-driven illustration. Usually funny, often irreverent, the books challenge conventional understanding of the relationship between word and image. Rather than merely "illustrating" Swanson's text, Behr's images present an alternate narrative, one that often ironizes or expands--or sometimes directly challenges--the stated intention of the words. The result is an unreliable text and a reading experience in which the traditional authority of words is called into question.

Swanson and Behr's books range across subjects from god to adolescence, French colonialism to self-image, and funnel cakes to traffic theory. Their works are not comics or graphic novels, but are best described as illustrated books for adults, (though the two have also made few books for children). Their work has been called "a carnival of the imagination," and has been described as "benevolent satire, fueled by equal parts anger and disgust--but tempered by a pity and humor that embraces the foibles, the weakness, and the sheer idiocy of the human drama." Their work may be seen at

Both Swanson and Behr are 1997 graduates of Williams College; Behr earned her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004. Swanson is a freelance writer and Behr an illustrator, fine art printmaker, and adjunct professor of art at Washington College. They live in a barn in Chestertown, Maryland.

H&F Fine Arts is at 3311 Rhode Island Avenue in Mt. Rainier, MD. Call 301-887-0080 or email for more information, or check out the H&F Fine Arts Web site:

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 AM

May 05, 2007

Making Books

We recently discovered that Idiots'Books has been granted a table at the 2007 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Festival this June in NYC. This means we will have our very own six-foot table in a huge room full of other people who make books, some of whom are pretty famous in the "comic and cartoon" world, others of whom are, like us, trying to figure out exactly what they are up to. We have no idea what to expect at the MoCCA festival. We will stand behind our table, smiling eagerly, begging silently for approval, acceptance, affirmation. But will we be satisfied?

As I have said before on these pages, our books are not comics or graphic novels, the categories into which most of the stuff at MoCCA is likely to fall. So we could be shunned and avoided, people walking by our table, averting their eyes and whispering conspiratorially and laughing sarcastically.

Or, there might be some interest. We just don't know. And so we are preparing for the best case scenario.

Our goal is to sell a lot of books at the MoCCA festival, with the hope of "getting the word out", creating a bit of name recognition and, hopefully, signing up a few new subscribers. (I prepared the mailing labels for the volume 7 mailing today, by the way, and the number of subscribers is up to 170.) In anticipation of the potential flood of eager, cash-waving customers, we are creating a massive inventory of past volumes, hundreds and hundreds of books. The real bottleneck in book production is the printing. And so Robbi has been doing so in earnest.

Here are 100 copies of Facial Features of French Explorers, boxed and ready for the trip to NYC.

Last week we gave Staples a lot of business. We ordered:

-12,000 sheets of fancy text stock
-6,000 sheets of 8.5x11 card/cover stock
-5,000 1/4 inch heavy duty staples
-100 rolls of "glue dots" (used to adhere covers to the book 'guts')
-12 new paper cutter mats (supports the rolling blade in the paper cutter
-6 new rotary blades for the paper cutter
-1 new scoring wheel (just so that we have a backup, given the critical importance of the scoring wheel, of which we have but one at present)

Here is some of the haul.

Here are 100 trimmed-but-yet-unstapled copies of Death of Henry.

Over the last few days, 150 copies of Ten Thousand Stories rolled off the printer before, out of sheer exhaustion, perhaps, the printer decided to jam in a chronic sort of way. We're giving it a break.

Here is what the table looks like in the midst of book production.

I have been having intense longings lately for a factory to call my own. A huge room with sturdy formica counters, well-lit and stocked with endless reams of paper and many scoring blades. I call it paradise.

While I have been making old books, Robbi has been finishing a new one. Volume 7 is called Understanding Traffic. It is a book more than 6 years in the making. At least in my mind. Whenever I sit stuck in traffic I fume and curse and dream of someday writing a book explaining the many nuances of traffic's sprawling complexity. My dream found fruition with Volume 7. For the past few days, Robbi has been doing the illustrations.

Here she is at her light table.

After drawing through the night, around 5:00 this morning, Robbi finished the illustrations. I'm starting to think that she prefers to work this way.

As is our habit upon completing a book, we called upon our editorial guru, the spectacular and wise Matthew Westbrook. We decided to drive across the bridge to take him the finished book in person. The fact that we would be able to make a pit stop in the Annapolis Chipotle played some role in the decision to deliver the book instead of emailing it, as we otherwise might have.

Last night we parked the car beneath a tree full of pink flowers.

When we got to Elkridge (south of Baltimore, where Matt lives), we enjoyed a Chipotle lunch and then looked at the many fossils Matt found on a recent trip to a sulfate mine in North Carolina. Among his finds was the inner ear bone of a prehistoric whale. It was pretty cool.

While Matt read Understanding Traffic, grinning madly, cackling wickedly, and wielding his red pen, we frisked in the yard with Iggy, who was in true form.

She and I had a bit of a standoff.

The Westbrooks, it turned out, have recently added to the household.

I know that picturing kittens on one's blog is kind of a cheap ploy.

But pictures of violently eating them is less expected.

It was good to get my hands on some kittens again. I know just how they like to be held. I am very intuitive this way.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:28 PM

April 25, 2007

Sweet Release

Last week was a marathon of creativity for Robbi. She painted nonstop for five days and nights. A week ago tonight things looked very bleak indeed for The Town that Somehow Fooled the British. But Robbi gave up sleep and sanity, and eventually the book was done. We printed out 25 copies, drove to St. Michaels, had our reading and felt content for about two days. The wonderful thing about The Town that Somehow Fooled the British is that the other 2,500 copies are going to be printed by someone else, very far away from here. The book we printed out for last Friday's reading was not yet perfect. Some images were poorly scanned, the cover design was not yet finalized, a few copy issues had yet to be resolved. Step by step this week we addressed these final details as we prepared the files to send to the folks in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday a set of color proofs arrived, sample images printed from Robbi's files on the actual paper stock on the actual printing press. The point was for us to see how the color translated from Robbi's screen to the Chinese printing press. We were pleased to see that the color reproduced beautifully. Though it was somewhat more subdued than the color that printed out for the limited edition books we produced last week (according to Robbi, that color was too garish).

Today we received the "dummy" book from the printers. That is, a completely blank, white sample book made of the exact materials that our book will be made from. So we basically had a chance to hold and feel a near facsimile of the finished product. It was awfully gratifying.

Today Robbi prepared the various things we had to send to the printer.

1) a black and white version of all of the "text" pages (that is all of the interior pages) of the book.

2) color print-outs of the endpapers (the page between the cover and the first "text" page) and of the covers.

3) a CD with the Adobe InDesign (the page layout program we use) file and high-resolution files for each of the illustrations and logos.

These things in tow, we drove to good old East Coast Storage (where all of our worldly posessions lived for those months between living in Baltimore and moving into the barn) to send the FedEx. East Coast Storage doubles as our local FedEx depot.

We were gleeful on the final leg of this long process.

Here is Robbi with the cover printout (note the glee).

And with the other stuff (Note the overly-enthusiastic documentation of mundane detail on my part).

Note my enthusiasm for FedEx--that even picks things up in Chestertown.

Now that the files are off, the waiting begins. In a few weeks we will get a set of "wet" proofs from China, that is a complete version of the book's contents for the purpose of final review of content, color, and placement of images. If all is well, we will give the green light and the printing will begin. In my albeit limited experience in the design and production world, it never, ever happens that all is well.

There will always be something amiss, in spite of the expert editorial services of Mr. Matthew Westbrook, the talisman we wield to ward off the dark forces of typographical mishap. His powers are vast and legendary.

If you find yourself in a dark alley with Matt and he's holding a red pen and he challenges you to a proofreading duel, please, in the name of all that is holy, refuse. The man will cut you down like the hollow sapling that you are. And then will laugh, standing over your bent and broken frame.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:59 PM

April 24, 2007

Keeping Up with the Chinese

It is with some shame that we make the following confession: Robbi and I have purchased a washing machine. And a dryer. I know that the reading public looks to us to uphold the forthright technological ideals of the mid-1850s, and so we are ashamed to be letting you down. If we had a nearby running brook in which to wash our things, we would use it. Believe us. But we do not and therefore had to seek alternative avenues. Like a washing machine. And dryer. Rest assured that we still have no running water in our primary living space. We still need to use a long stick to turn on the lights by the utility sink. Weaving through the maze of buckets, toolboxes, and pottery on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night is still a harrowing ordeal. But we are now able to do laundry without leaving the barn. And this fact makes us happier than you would probably like.

When we first started contemplating this bold move, Robbi did a lot of online research. We needed a unit that would work within our limitations: 1) not much space and 2) no good place to vent the dryer. Apparently, while we Americans fill our homes with space-consuming washers AND driers, the rest of the world has been innovating new machines that combine both functions much more efficiently. That's right, you put your dirty clothes in the front-loading hole and come back later and remove completely dried clothes from the very same hole. Even more ideal, these units are self-condensing, which means that the dryer does not need to vent. The steam is turned back to water, which drains with the rest of the runoff. And the units are much more water, electricity, and detergent-efficient than traditional models.

There are many such units and many companies that produce them, especially in Europe. The one we chose, Haier, is produced in China, where space is clearly at a premium.

I'm sure you all are outraged, wondering what foul conspiracy has kept you from these lofty heights of clothes-washing happiness. The part I left out of the above equation was the time it takes to effect this wash-to-dry cycle. That would be about five hours. The online reviews we read were either wildly enthusiastic or downright angry. The difference seemed to have a lot to do with how one felt about a 5-hour laundry cycle.

Here is Bob with the machine.

Just obtaining the unit was an ordeal. The first one we ordered was completely demolished when we opened the box, as if it had been dropped from a great height. So we ordered another, which arrived some weeks later, apparently intact. We wheeled the thing into the bathroom and were gratified to find that it fit nicely betwen the wall and the bidet.

That's right, we have a bidet. The disenchantment continues on your part. "Who are these sanctimonioius jerks who gloat on and on about living in a barn when said barn has a fricking bidet!@$" you might be saying to yourself. If it is any consolation, I have not used the bidet, Robbi has not used the bidet, and we can't really explain why the bidet is there in the first place.

The important and relevant fact about the bidet is that its existence significantly eased the process of installing our new washer/dryer thing. We diverted the bidet intake pipe to the washer, and placed the drain hose in the bidet. The poor bidet, which probably began life with fantasies of being installed in a high-class French flat, heretofore will suffer the searing indignity of being our laundry drain. But such is the unpredictable life of the bathroom appliance.

Hooking up the plumbing was an ordeal.

I tried to stay out of the way while Bob and Robbi figured things out. We lacked the needed fittings and so Bob went to the hardware store. He went to the hardware store four times over the course of four hours. Retrofitting a bidet into a washing machine enabler is not as easy as you might think.

The process was occasionally demoralizing.

The first few times we tried to use the thing, there was significant leakage. But Robbi was persistant with the wrench, pipe dope, and electrical tape and eventually emerged triumphant.

In the past 48 hours we have done 5 loads of laundry. We pleased are like kids on Christmas, like trees on Arbor Day. We are willing to suffer whatever ratcheting down of esteem you may feel toward us. Because we no longer have to tote our laundry across High Street in the dead of night. Because we are keeping up with the Chinese.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:37 AM

April 21, 2007

The Book that (Almost) Killed the Robbi

It has been a bleak stretch of days in the barn. As of 7:00 last night when we arrived at Artiste Locale in St. Michaels with 30 copies of the newly-finished The Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British, Robbi had slept for about 4 of the previous 72 hours. The good news is that the book did not destroy Robbi. Robbi prevailed, and the reading went well, and now we will send the files for the book off to Hong Kong where someone ELSE will have to make the next 2,500 copies. But it was a bit touch-and-go around here for a while.

We've known about this reading (and associated "book-must-be-done-by-then" deadline) for a while, but a bunch of other projects kept happening, and we found ourselves a week away with a lot of work to do. So Robbi started painting:

And painting:

And painting:

At a certain point we realized that the usual cycle of sleep and wakefulness would have to be put on hold for the time being, in favor of a disproportionate amount of the latter and mere sprinklings of the former.

Robbi slogged on and on while I brought her occasional food, drink, and encouragement. But one can only paint so fast.

The illustrations for this book are considerably more complex than, say, Volume 6, Richard Nixon. Those are a series of line drawings (albiet, nicely rendered). The Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British is full of really complex, detailed, handpainted paintings like this, a send-up of the sort of village-merriment tableau that opens Beauty and the Beast, among other tales:

And thickly-painted mood-setting shots like this (in which the British, full of misanthropic impulses, sneak toward the innocent town of St. Michaels):

The book also contains several illustrations of recognizable, yet unnamed, celebrities, which put the onus squarely on Robbi to make sure that the caricatures worked. You may remember the contest Robbi sponsored on Idiotsbox a few weeks back, in which you readers were supposed to identify the subjects of the caricatures she was working on. Here, then, is one of the finished illustrations.

Here is another, in which Douglass, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are enjoying a lazy afternoon in the pool (while everyone else in town frets about how to thwart the impending British invasion (not the Beatles).

I'm going out on a limb to be sure, but I'm guessing that there are no other renderings of Frederick Douglass doing a cannonball into Dick Cheney's pool.

I think Robbi she does a nice job of capturing his hair in the course of the downward plunge.

We arrived in St. Michaels with 30 freshly-printed books in tow around 6:45 last night. At 8:00 we did a reading, showing the illustrations on my computer monitor while I read the text. We met a lot of very nice people and sold some books.

The books:

The nice people:

After the reading we had some dessert with our friends Jill Jasuta and Jim Duffy from Cambridge, MD, not far down the road from St. Michaels.

You may remember them as the folks who don't both like to have their eyes open at the same time.

I'm giving Robbi one day off to sleep and recover. Tomorrow we must begin work on Volume 7.

As for The Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British, limited edition handmade versions (edition of 50) are available for $25 at Artiste Locale. Hardbound copies will be available at Artiste Locale or through the Idiots'Books site mid-summer.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:48 AM

April 18, 2007

The Town That (somehow) Fooled the British

Hello folks. This is a commercial. And probably a late commercial, come to think of it.

This Friday, April 20, Robbi and I will be debuting our first major custom book, The Town that (somehow) Fooled the British, at St. Michaels' own Artiste Locale. The event will be from 7:00-9:00pm, and the first official reading of The Town that (somehow) Fooled the British will be around 8:00.

Artiste Locale is smack dab in the center of St. Michaels. The address is 112 N. Talbot St. The building looks like this.

When you show up, you will hardly be able to see the building, so swarming will it be with busloads of fans and admirers.

If you are fortunate enough to get inside, you will recognize Robbi and me by the unsightly black rings beneath our eyes. We have been getting not much sleep this week as we struggle to complete The Town that (somehow) Fooled the British before Friday at 7:00pm.

And yet we will complete The Town that (somehow) Fooled the British before Friday at 7:00pm.

Here is a recently-painted image from The Town that (somehow) Fooled the British. In this image, we see the fearsome British exercising some of that famous British bravado in the form of cannon fire.

And here we have a cup of tea.

Because the British love tea. Notice, however that this is very EXPENSIVE tea. That the tea is expensive is a pivotal part of the argument of the page on which the tea picture appears. This is a book of dizzying complexity. Those wishing to glean full meaning from the reading should exhaustively re-read the works of Chaucer, Milton, and Proust.

We hope to see you there.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:44 AM

April 15, 2007

A Very Good Day

When Robbi told me a few weeks back that George Saunders would be visiting Washington College as part of the Humor and Satire Festival, it didn't immediately sink in that I might actually have the opportunity to talk to the person who has become one of my literary heroes. Saunders' blend of humor, critique, and humanity delights and inspires me. When I thought about going to graduate school, Syracuse rose to the top of my list because of the prospect of studying with him.

Alas, grad school was not meant to be (at least last year) and, in retrospect, there is probably no person more glad about NOT having gotten into graduate school than I, given the fun we've been having with Idiots'Books.

Anyway. Today was George's reading. We went. Matt Westbrook came over from Baltimore to join us. We sat in the third row and listened and admired as George read from In Persuasion Nation.

After he was done reading, there was a Q&A. I asked a few questions because, if I was not going to spend three years working on my MFA with George Saunders, I could, at least, take the opportunity to poll him on a few things I'd been wondering about. He answered my questions most satisfactorily. Then the thing ended.

A brass band showed up along with a woman in a strange costume. She was the performance artist Pat Oleszko, who asked us to form a procession and march behind her to the Washington College literary house where she had installed about 10 huge inflatable sculptures. The ensuing exodus allowed Robbi and me to corner George Saunders and gush enthusiatically about our intense admiration of his work. He was extraordinarily gracious, kind, and generous. A truly nice guy. The kind of guy you hope your literary hero will be, while knowing the statistical unliklihood of someone being both 1) hero-quality and 2) really nice.

But LO! George Saunders appears to be both.

And so I was glowing as he, Robbi, Matt, and I walked together over to the Literary House, making pleasant chit-chat along the way.

When we arrived, we encountered the enormous inflatables. Some of which were delightful in shape.

Though I am ashamed to admit it, I could not resist the temptation to pose provocatively in front of the inflatable called, "A Womb With a View." Matt posed for this photograph only after making me promise that I would not post it on the blog.

Seeing how much fun Matt and I had, Robbi and our friend Adam could not resist doing their best to outdo us.

Seeing that I had been bested, I was compelled to pose even more inappropriately with this inflatable, the name of which I cannot now recall, but which was basically a multi-nippled construct.

I do not understand this sculpture. Sometimes art is supposed to be beyond our grasp.

And sometimes squarely within it.

Here is Pat Oleszko, the woman behind the inflatables.

We had dinner with Pat later on in the day, and heard the story of the 60-foot rocketship inflatable she had to make one time. Her studio was not big enough to accommodate the thing, so she had to set it up in the park near her studio to see if it looked ok before installing it in its final destination. As she inflated the rocket in the park, the neighborhood kids gathered around and cheered like it was Christmas.

After molesting the inflatables, we went back to our place so that I could collect all five of the George Saunders books we own. We brought them back to the Literary House, where George was hanging out being nice to all sorts of people, and asked him to sign them. Not only did he sign them, but he talked to us some more while he signed them. We told him a bit about our venture and he offered kind, encouraging words. We gave him a couple of our books and he kindly and graciously accepted them and asked us to autograph them. At several times throughout this encounter I felt the way a young, impressionable girl might feel if Justin Timberlake were suddenly appear and ask for her to sign his washboard abs. You get what I'm saying, I think.

Over the next few hours, there were four more readings. Dan Kennedy, Sarah Payne Stuart, Jason Schneiderman, and Jonathan Ames each read from their work. All were masterful, but mostly I was just floating on the cloud of George Saunders and his kindness.

At the end of the evening, we found him, bid our farewells, thanked him, and cagily requested that he pose for this photo.

Anyone who hasn't yet should go out and buy a George Saunders book, taking satisfaction as they read in knowing that the brillant words within were written by an outstanding person, my literary hero, George Saunders.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:24 AM

April 13, 2007

Volume Seven, In progress

Hello all. I have been silent for a few days. I have been thinking very hard and deeply about Volume Seven, which is, you will be dismayed to hear, a scholarly paper on the subject of traffic theory. Those of you who are not subscribers can cheerfully rest easy knowing you will never have to be exposed to this misbegotten concept. To those of you who are subscribers, who have given us your trust and money, all I can do is apologize, shake my head, and say that you really should have known better.

As Understanding Traffic, as I call it, develops, I have been thinking about illustrations. Robbi is working night and day to finish up the illustrations for The Town that Fooled the British, and so she has not been available for the usual consultation. And so I have been doodling.

Occasionally people who see our books suggest that it would be "fun" and "neat" if Robbi and I were to switch roles, she taking on the writing for a book and I trying my hand at illustrations. Well, friends, I am about to show you how quickly a "neat" idea could spell doom for the future of our enterprise. If you are the type of person that enjoys watching carnage on highways, you will take some pleasure in beholding the horror of my illustration.

New Jersey is a problem.

A model we can all understand.

Ineluctable mystery: not for lack of effort.

So much to look at in the world.

Traffic even in Africa.

We do not deserve this.

All roads lead to Tucson.

See what I mean? I am not an illustrator. When next we cross paths, you may pretend not to know me.

Robbi, on the other hand, is an excellent writer, and could probably run Idiots'Books just fine without me if she doees happen to run off with her new crush.

By the time Robbi gets done with her versions of the illustrations I mangled above, they will likely bear no resemblance to their ungainly progenitors. In fact, her illustrations will be the only thing that people will like about Volume Seven. It's going to be an awful, unreadable book. If you want to throw it away without removing it from the envelope, we will not be angry.

In parting, I leave you with this enormous leg of ham. Why? Because my readers count on me for occasional glimpses of food horrors. I think this qualifies.

I did not get to eat the pictured ham. Though I very much wish I had.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:45 PM

April 10, 2007

Welcome, Ephs - Free Book for You

Welcome, any Ephs that may have found their way here via the EphBlog posting. Be forewarned, this blog contains all sorts of foolishness. Only keep reading if you're interested in that sort of thing. If our lives are of no interest to you, but you find yourself strangely curious about our books, have a look at the Idiots'Books site. If you find yourself tempted but not sure whether you're willing to fork over your hard-earned dollars sight unseen, we are prepared to woo your business with a bit of loss leader marketing. That's right, for a limited time, provided you have not wronged us in the past, we will send out a 100% free copy of Idiots'Books volume 6, Richard Nixon. All we ask is that you feel very, very guilty if, after reading this outstanding text, you give us no further business. The kind of guilt that keeps you up at night.

So send us your address or the address of your more intelligent, sophisticated friends. We aim to make a subscriber out of you (or them).

Even you, Pete Everett, can qualify for this one-time offer.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:51 PM

April 09, 2007

Almost Famous

Lookie here. Just now I saw that Idiots'Books has made it to the big time.


Well, maybe not the big time, but at least the medium time.

Thanks are due to David Nickerson '97, college classmate of Robbi's and mine, who wrote kind words on behalf of Idiots'Books to David Kane '88, creator and keeper of EphBlog. But I would be remiss in not also thanking Brian Slattery '97 for showing our books to David Nickerson. And it was Drew Bunting '97, who gave me Brian Slattery's new email address a few months back. And it was Alastair Moock '95 who created Williams Grassroots Music, the now-defunct entity that brought Drew and me together way back when. I suppose I should thank Colonel Ephriam Williams for donating the money to found Williams College shortly before being killed in battle at Lake George, NY.

It takes a village.

If anyone else is interested in contributing to this grand legacy, EphBlog is welcoming reviews of our books. Of course, this grand legacy is only open to those with positive things to say on the review front. Those with negative things to say on the review front should channel their frustrations into their Richard Nixon Essay Contest submisisons.

For which we have, to date, received two entries. Both are outstanding pieces of critical analysis. One is only 9 words long.

Don't know about the contest? Then you should subscribe. Really, everyone is doing it.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 AM

March 28, 2007

Busy and Then Some

While I was eating my way through Kentucky, Robbi stayed behind, laboring away on Volume 6. Such was the vigor of her industry that late last night we called the work completed. Today we printed out our first official copy and, as is our habit, signed and dated it. We sometimes remember to take a picture as well. Today we remembered. And so you may see it.

Yes, this is a true sneak peek, folks. Meant to titilate and delight those of you who are subscribers. And meant to send those of you who have not yet taken the plunge into a kind of anticipatory angst. What will this book be about, you wonder? How can I live, knowing that I will not know? Any of you subscribers who are enabling non-subscribers to not subscribe by quenching their anticipatory angst should be ashamed of yourself. Ultimately, you're encouraging behaviour that will lead said subscription-leecher down a slippery road of mendacity and self-loathing. Which will lead you down a similar road. In time, not only will our non-subscribers be riddled with angst, but so will the enabling masses that call themselves subscribers. You see what I'm saying. It's a lose-lose.

But moving on to the "Then Some" part of this entry, fresh on the heels of printing, binding, and stuffing Volume 6, which will go out next Tuesday with hopes of reaching our noble subscribers [not you shifty, dissembling non-subscribing hordes] by the end of next week), we are headed to DC this weekend to do another gallery installation. J.T. (of Hot Brown fame) is the Assistant Director of a new gallery, H&F Fine Arts, in the Gateway Arts District of Mt. Rainier, MD, just outside of DC. He has asked us to do a semi-permanent wall painting in the gallery's boutique, which will be carrying our books.

Here is the space in question:

It's 13 feet tall and about 7 feet wide, including the little jog in the wall. Our charge was to create a wall painting/mural that would 1) serve as an exemplar of what Idiots'Books "does" 2) create a visual anchor that will draw people's attention to the shelf of Idiots'Books that they might buy them, and 3) create an image so stunning and eye-catching that passersby on the sidewalk and street might be compelled to abandon their previous engagement and visit H&F Artworks instead.

Our wall can be seen through the front window.

Another challenge is working around this fire alarm, which sits at about eye level, right in the middle of our wall.

Robbi has come up with a clever solution for incorporating the fire alarm into the heart of the action. You will see.

Here are Karen and Cheryl, the two women who own and run H&F. We'll post a better picture of them at some point. When I took this picture, I had only known them for a few minutes. Not long enough to insist on a head-on picture for a Web site. Just well enough to feel like I could get away with a shifty, sideways picture.

We are heading in to DC on Sunday afternoon. We're going to start work when the gallery closes, just after 3:00pm and work until we're done. Robbi estimates that it will take us all afternoon and night Sunday and straight through Monday and Monday night. So any of you subscribers (and blameworthy, iniquitous non-subscribers who still call themselves friends of ours) should feel free to stop by the gallery any time between 3:00pm Sunday afternoon and 3:00am Tuesday morning. Come peer through the window at our bleary-eyed progress. Come bring us plates of warm food.

The last piece of "Busy" is really quite exciting. A few months ago now, the folks at Artiste Locale, a shop in St. Michaels, MD, a town about an hour south of here on the Eastern Shore, asked us to consider writing a book about St. Michaels that they might sell in their shop. We chewed on the idea and found it to our liking. I wrote a draft, which I shared with our friends at Artiste Locale, and which they found to their liking. While I was off breakfasting on the Mega Ho Triple, Robbi did some initial illustration studies. We came up with concepts for illustrations throughout the book. Last Wednesday we made our pitch, complete with various printing scenarios. The folks at Artiste Locale seemed pleased, but we decided not to count our chickens in spite of the rising excitement we both felt.

Later on that very night we learned that they had decided to partner with us on having the book printed professionallly, in Hong Kong of all places. We'll be ordering 2,500 hardcover books. Meaning: they will look and feel like real books AND we won't have to print, trim, paste, score, staple or in any way bind them. They will be delivered nicely wrapped in crates. It's really quite a stunning thing to contemplate.

Our book will be titled, St. Michaels, The Town that Fooled the British. Lest this title puzzle you, have a look at the sign that one sees when one drives into town:

Apparently, when St. Michaels was about to come under attack as part of the British offensive in the War of 1812, the townspersons of St. Michaels contrived an ingenious scheme to hang their lanterns from their rooftops and from the tops of the masts of their ships. This clever maneuver caused the British, who anticpated that the lanterns would be hung in typical relation to the ground, to fire their cannons too high, thus overshooting St. Michaels, and failing to do much damage in the warring scheme of things. By all accounts (other than the sign above), the whole story is a bunch of hoo-hah. But since we care little for historical fact, we decided to tell an apocryphal story in our apocryphal way. Perhaps things didn't happen as we suggest, but we contend that 1) they could have and 2) it doesn't matter if they didn't.

Apparently, Artiste Locale has been able to sell a few of our books in spite of its being the off-season. Here's the nice display they put up near the front of the store.

According to Marnie, one of the folks at Artiste Locale, they stratigically position a few "man-friendly" items at the front of the store so that the husbands have something to do while their wives venture to the back of the store to browse yarn and other unmanly items. In addition to our books, which have been getting some major air-time from the husbands, man-friendly items include hollow wooden drums and rock candles. We are simple, predictable creatures, we men.

I must admit, when I went into Artiste Locale for the first time, I went right to the hollow wooden drum. And then to the rock candle.

The last part of "Busy" is Volume 7, which is already under way. It would be premature to tell you much about it, but I will tell you (subscribers and base, contemptible non-subscribers alike) that my research for Volume 7 involves eating fried foods and watching zombie movies.

Got to go get started now, actually.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:42 PM

February 27, 2007

Some Good Ink

We were delighted to receive an email the other day from a Williams student wanting to do an interview on Robbi and me and our books. We had a pleasant conversation, answered her questions, and lo! a few days later, the story appeared in the Williams Record, the fine weekly newspaper put out by Williams students.

Here's a link to the article.


And here's the photo that was included in the paper version.

After learning that we were going to be interviewed, it occured to me that we should try to interest Water Street Books (bookstore in Williamstown where students by books for their classes) in selling our stuff. I sent a package of books to the manager, who was kind enough to add our books to the store's offerings. For those of you in the Williamstown environs, please stop by and spend a lot of time looking at the books, a lot of money buying the books, and please tell Richard, the manager, how glad you are that the books are now available at Water Street.

Idiots'Books was also mentioned this month in Chesapeake Life magazine, a monthly that focuses on all things in the Chesapeake Bay surround. I have not yet seen the magazine, but apparently there is an image from Ten Thousand Stories and a little blurb about what Robbi and I are up to. Here it is, transcribed for me by a friend who saw the magazine:

Like a kid again

If your little one has become too precocious for The Berenstain Bears, they'll love the Idiots'Book children's stories, a monthly book series written by Matthew Swanson and illustrated by his wife, Robbi Behr. In the Chestertown duo's newest release, Ten Thousand Stories, every page is divided into four strips, each with its own random prose that allows young readers to create "10,000 tales of triumph and woe," with each flip of the page. For a $100 yearly subscription, fans receive a new Idiots'Book each
month (there are currently six in the series), covering topics from God to French colonialism. $12 to $25,

Notice the problem? Would you let YOUR kids read our books? Admittedly, some of you must, and we try to shy away from the overtly offensive or inappropriate, but the books are full of adult themes, adult situations. We are reminded again of the genre challenge we face as we try to define ourselves. But this much is clear: other than My Henderson Robot, we are NOT producing "children's books." We are NOT trying to appeal to "young readers." Perhaps we will receive new subscriptions as a result of the article, but if we do, I'll have to make sure the person doing the ordering is aware of our PG-13 rating.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 PM

February 26, 2007

New York, New York

We are back from the Big City. As usual, the highs were high and the lows were low. The drive up was easier than usual. The Holland Tunnel was not backed up, as I always fear it will be. We had a fine meal at Dani, an oustanding Italian restaurant at 333 Hudson Street, for all of you New York People. Dani is managed by Dave, son of Carla Massoni and former cast member of Robbi Behr in Kent County High's 1992 performance of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. Dave played Snoopy to Robbi's Peppermint Patty. It is lucky for us all that the two discovered new interests later in life. Carla has a tape of the show that she promises to let me watch some day when neither Robbi nor Dave is around.

We ate with my old high school friends, Victor and Holden. It would have been nice to feature a photo of them here. Alas, the only picture we took was of me mugging in front of the awning.

Feel free to use the awning to locate Dani should you be so inclined to seek it out. Note that I am not always to be found standing in front of the restaurant and should not be used as a point of reference when trying to locate it.

After the show we went to see our friend David Turner in Gutenberg! The Musical! It is an absurdist romp. In short, the show's premise is that two friends stage a "reading" of their new musical about Johan Gutenberg. The two actors play 40 roles between them. As usual, David gave an amazing performance. It is well worth seeing if you happen to find yourself in New York.

That night we considered playing Celebrities or Aural Charades. We were too tired and dull to pull it off. Instead we slept.

The next day we went to visit Robbi's friend Peter Arkle, an accomplished illustrator whose work we very much admire. Check out his site.

Here is Peter.

Peter had a great sign on his wall. Follow this advice if you want to improve your silent reading skills.

After leaving Peter's (he indulged our many questions about his life and trade for a full two hours) we walked to Little Italy to meet old friend Brian Slattery for some very fine cappucinos. Brian (fiddle) and I (rhythm guitar) were 2/5 of old time jug band, the Motherpluckers in our college days. I haven't seen Brian since then. Since then he has become an accomplished writer who will be releasing his first novel this summer. Brian's book is so good and so interesting that his publisher, Tor (largest publisher of sci-fi books) is doing a lot of publicity on his behalf. Here is Brian in the Tor booth.

The red-covered book in front of him is the volume in question, titled Spaceman Blues: A Love Story. I have not read the entire thing yet, but I love it so far. It is perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to say that the work reminds me of my favorite parts of Thomas Pynchon. The voice is frenentic yet confident, a font of vivid imagery, wild happenings, and unapologetic narrative freedom. The book will be available in August 2007. I will remind you all then to get yourselves a copy.

The booth above was one of many at the 2007 ComicCon, an enormous gathering of those who care about all things that fall beneath the "comic and cartoon" umbrella. We went to do research. We went in hopes of finding others who are making the sort of books we are. We wandered the aisles for a long time, concluding that 1) there are a lot of people who like to collect old comic books and 2) no one else seems to be doing anything quite like what we are doing. Which is both encouraging from the standpoint of being original and discouraging from the standpoint of being difficult to market.

The ComicCon was rife with grown men and women in outlandish costume. We saw many Star Wars characters as well as many characters we could not identify. Did we take pictures of this human parade? Alas, we did not.

But we did take a picture of a bunch of people sitting at tables playing Magic, the Gathering or some other such fantasy game played with cards.

We attended a panel on which Brian was a speaker. The subject was "breaking into science fiction writing." Something we are decidedly not interested in doing. But it was great to see Brian up there fielding questions with his editor from Tor. Brian is one of the rare writers whose novel was chosen from the "slush pile", the great heap of unsolicited manuscripts that arrives at publishing houses daily. For the most part, publishers publish the work of those represented by literary agents who recommend strong projects to the publishers. But Brian's editor pulled his work out of the heap and decided to promote it. He is the statistical anomaly. Which makes sense. Because he's just that good.

After the panel, Brian was whisked away to be wined and dined by the literary importentia. We met up with college friend Rich Flynn and got some burritos at Chipotle. It would have been nice to include a photo of Rich Flynn, our excellent friend. But I did not take a photo. Alas.

The next day we were to spend hours more combing the aisles of the Comic Con, but when we arrived at the site were horrified to learn that the line to get in was more than two hours long.

We bristled and gnashed

and immediately lost all will and drove home.

Today it snowed beautifully.

I took Iggy for a run in the storm.

And Robbi got a new hairdo.

Tonight we finished the Volume 5 mailing preparation. The books and letters lie neatly in boxes, awaiting a trip to the USPS tomorrow morning. Keep an eye on your mailboxes.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:35 AM

February 21, 2007

Today and Tomorrow

Today I drove to Brick, NJ for my monthly harmonica lesson with contemporary great Dennis Gruenling. He is so good at blues harp that I fall into a deep shame of inadequacy in his presence. But he teaches me a lot and is pretty good at making me feel not terrible for being such a bad harmonica player.

Tomorrow we are headed to NYC for research. This weekend is the 2007 New York Comic Con, an enormous gathering of those who create and care about all things falling under the "comic and cartoon" umbrella. Given my druthers, I'd choose neither word to desribe what we do with Idiots'Books, but this seems to be the closest thing, genre-wise. We aim to wander aimlessly looking for a hint of something that looks like or seems akin to what we're up to.

If I don't check in for a few days it's because we've gotten swept up into the madness of the Comic Con. We expect to encounter many people with reckless enthusiasm for comic books. We have certain unkind associations in our head when we think about the average comic book fan. Perhaps we will be mistaken. We wonder if there will be people dressed up like Spock or Jar Jar Binks. Apparently some actor who played a minor role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be in attendance.

We will also be attending a panel featuring friend Brian Slattery with whom I was once in a jug band called The Motherpluckers, and who will soon be releasing a new novel, his first. Apparently the genre into which Brian's novel falls is called New Weird.

While in NYC, we will be seeing Gutenberg, the Musical, in which our good friend David Turner is one of only two actors who, as it happens, play 40 roles between them. Mentioning the show seems germane since Johan Gutenberg plays such an important role in the shape and form of the books we know and love today. Movable type was a pretty big innovation. Thanks Johan.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:54 PM

February 15, 2007

So Long, Joe

I've known from the start that the gallery show would end, and that with it, so would the wall version of Man Joe. I had harbored a fleeting hope that Carla (owner of the gallery) would be so moved by Man Joe that she would allow it to remain untouched, living in eternal harmony (or perhaps discord) with the other works of art hung in future shows.

Alas, Carla handed us a spray bottle of windex and some sponges and told us to get to work. And so we did.

Robbi had painted with washable gouache, which washed off pretty easily once wet.

We used a lot of Windex.

It was not much fun to wipe away something that Robbi had created.

Little by little, the painting disappeared.

Until only Joe himself remained.

We shared a private moment.

And said goodbye.

After which I sprayed Joe in the face with Windex.

And euthanized him.

Until he was no more.

All along Robbi had pretended not to care about the wall painting, insisting that she would feel no pain when the time came to wipe it away.

But as she stood gazing at the newly empty space

Her true feelings became apparent.

Just after suffering the soul-crushing realization that one's first ever wall painting and Idiots'Books gallery show was gone forever, we learned that there will be an encore. Carla has invited us to participate in the follow-up show to the Next Generation. The yet-unnamed show, which will feature many of the same artists as this one, will be in January of 2009. If all goes according to plan, we will be working on volume 24 by then. Perhaps there will be another wall painting. Perhaps there will not. But the mere possibility is a beacon in these dark times.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:25 AM

February 09, 2007

Fine Art Books

The Next Generation show is coming to a close. Tomorrow is the last day that our works and words will hang. Monday morning Robbi's wall painting will be painted over. It grieves me.

The end of the show means that the time has come to fulfil the various orders. Which means that we have a lot of fine art books to make. 10 to be exact. We sold one full set of all seven books to one generous collector, two copies of Facial Features of French Explorers (to two different people), and one copy of My Henderson Robot to our good friend Sarah Myers.

See Sarah smiling, just after being told that her book was in the works.

We had originally told Sarah that we would make her copy of My Henderson Robot weeks ago, but in typical fashion, got lazy and did nothing instead.

Eventually, though, the time came to start making the fine art books. The books we send out to subscribers on a monthly basis are printed on high-end copy paper and are printed on a Xerox solid ink printer. This method is fast and produces a relatively durable product. In printing the fine art books, we used the Epson printer, which produces a much more nuanced image that looks uncannily like the original. We print the fine art books on an expensive, textured stock that helps suggest the texture of the original and which holds color beautifully.

The Xerox is very fast. The Epson is very slow. It takes about 4 hours to print out one copy of our longest book, A Bully Named Chuck, on the Epson.

After printing out each book. I cut book board (really thick cardboard) to serve as the front and back cover and spine.

Then I use the table-mounted drill press to drill holes along the spine end.

Once the holes are in place, I use dental floss to sew the whole thing together.

After the book guts are bound and the boards cut, I cut pieces of binding cloth to wrap around the covers and spine.

Piles of book cloth cut to size.

The boards and cloth for Sarah's copy of My Henderson Robot.

A shot that shows my enormous right hand. Dramatic.

Next I went over to the unfinished side of the barn, used primarily as the Florabana warehouse. Here is where I use the ultra-adhesive spray mount to get the book cloth good and sticky.

Then I place the front cover on the book cloth and wrap the extra cloth over the edge, using the bone folder to smooth the cloth.

See the preposterous working environment? Space is at a premium, and I must be content with what I can get, I'm afraid. The glue vapors are toxic, so it helps to use a room with high ceilings (or go outside).

Next I placed the three pieces that make up the spine on a small piece of book cloth that will form the spine and will serve to attach the covers to the spine.

One cover is then attached.

And then the other.

And eventually the whole thing comes together.

I returned to our side of the barn and smoothed out the book cloth on the cover.

Next comes the Elmer's. Good old Elmer's.

At which point it was time to insert the guts. Behold the guts.

In go the guts.

Then we clamped the book to apply pressure while the glue set.


The book had to sit overnight to allow the Elmer's time to do it's magic.

In our house, this is where books sit while waiting to grow up.

In other news, Mom and Dean are visiting from Boston. They came to see us and to see the show.

We used the visit as an excuse to go out to dinner. We chose Ford's, the restaurant attached to the place where we go to get bushels of steamed crabs from time to time.

The place is steeped in local color. Our waitress, Heather, was the high-voltage sort. She was exceedingly attentive and incredibly familiar in her choice of nicknames for the clientele. During the 90 some odd minutes we spent dining at Ford's, she referred to me and the others at our table as: darling, sweetie, honey, sugar, hon, sweetie pie, and sweeties. There may have been others. It was an extraordinary thing.

Here is Heather. I was so moved by the force of her that I requested a photo be taken.

Ford's was out of everything we tried to order. If I had had my way, I would have eaten ribs, a caesar salad, and rice pudding. Instead I ate king crab legs, calamari, and bread pudding. In retrospect, I'm glad that they were out of the things I thought I wanted. Because the food I got was fantastic. The king crab legs, in particular, were delicious.

If somewhat dangerous.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 PM


You might know it, but Washington College (where Robbi teaches here in Chestertown) has a strong literary tradition. Thanks to an enormous endowed fund, the college has its own literary house, an impressive speaker series, and the nation's largest undergraduate literary prize, given out to the best writer in each graduating class. They also have a number of letter presses and a massive collection of type. Robbi and I went to visit the studio tonight for an informational meeting with the thought that we might participate in a workshop so that we can learn how to use the presses to further (and diversify) our dreams of self-publishing glory.

Here is one of the four presses. This one is a sort of crossover press, a hybrid between a traditional letterpress and an off-set press (the kind of press used in most contemporary printing). This is the press Robbi and I would most likely use were we to do a letterpress Idiots'Book.

Here is a bunch of type, tiny letters that one uses to make the words that will be printed.

A place that prints with a letterpress must have crates and crates of type in order to accommodate the variety of sizes, fonts, and styles that might be called for. Unlike a computer word processing system where changing from 8 point to 10 point is a matter of clicking a button, a 10 point letter on a letterpress is an entirely different piece of lead. In order to print a page of text with a letterpress, each and every letter must be carefully placed into a grid with thin strips of lead to create spaces between the lines or to center the words on the page. It's like an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I think it would drive me mad to be a letterpress typesetter, but Robbi is intrigued by the idea of using the facility to make a future book. If we took this route, she would carve the images in linoleum, which would then be added to the letterpress page setup.

Above is Robbi mugging for a shot in front of the press we were told that we would never, never get to use. It is simply too complex, fast, and dangerous. Hallmark uses a press like this to make foil stamps on their greeting cards.

More type. Actually, what we have here is a collection of symbols and designs that can be used to add visual interest or accents to the page.

It boggles the mind.

Here is Michael, the guy who is going to teach us how to do use the letterpress machines. He is a "master printer", which means he has been doing this for a long time and knows what he is doing. In other words, he can use the fast, dangerous press.

Michael clearly loves the letterpress technique. He said something really wonderful, which I will do my best to reproduce. Though it is possible these days to set type and images much more quickly and efficiently using a computer instead of a letterpress, the former can never duplicate one of the most essential elements of the latter. Because the paper is literally "pressed" against the plate in letterpress printing, there is a slight emboss. This means that the printed areas, be they letters or images, are slightly indented, so that there is a depression. According to Michael, the beauty and uniqueness of letterpress comes from the way light catches on these slight contours, an effect that cannot be duplicated by off-set printing.

Michael is an avid student of hand-bound books. Here are a few of his works, near-exact replicas of ancient books. These are bound in leather and wood. Really beautiful stuff.

And yet another press.

Is my lack of great knowledge on the letterpress front shining clear? Wish I could illuminate things further, but this was only the first night.

More detailed information to come, provided it is interesting enough to post.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:13 AM | Comments (1)

February 05, 2007

Over the Bridge

I love Chestertown. It's small and quiet. I know people. Generally they are very nice. The water is near. The buildings have a charm, a sense of history. On weekends when it's warm there are pies for sale in the village green. That sort of thing. But Chestertown lacks a Staples. And we are in constant need of the Staples these days.

And so we drive. Often we drive to Dover, where there is no sales tax and an enormous NASCAR track. The former is an inducement to seek out Dover, the latter a reason to shudder at the thought of it.

The other day, however, we needed to do some banking. We have been Bank of America customers for some time, but since Chestertown has no Bank of America, we decided it was time to close our accounts and move our modest funds into the local bank. The People's Bank.

When I asked the woman behind the counter if there was a fee for going into the bank and talking to a teller she looked at me as if I was an insane person and reminded me that I was in a small town in a bank that prized customer service.

The closest Bank of America branch was south of us about 30 miles. So we got in the car and drove south. We did our banking thing. And then realized that we were not far from Annapolis, Maryland's proud capital (and site of the recent jeans-ripping incident ) where they have a Staples. We have been in need of card stock. Vast quantities of card stock to print more copies of Ten Thousand Stories. So we set off, the journey taking us over the Bay Bridge, a four mile span of magnificence that crosses the Chesapeake Bay.

(I took this photo from my helicopter.)

The Bay Bridge is so often busy and clogged that there is a phone number you can call to inquire about the backup. If you're ever planning to visit us, especially on a Friday afternoon in summer, be sure to call 1-877-BAY-SPAN first. A friendly robotic voice will tell you for how many miles the bridge is backed up.

In winter, the bridge is usually not a problem. So we arrived in Annapolis without incident. Immediately upon pulling off the highway we spotted a Chipotle, another thing we don't have in Chestertown, and one of my many great food weaknesses. We stopped and I ate a burrito the size of my head.

Robbi ate half a burrito the size of her head.

Groaning, we went to Staples.

Staples is like heaven to us. All the paper, envelopes, labels, adhesives. We rush from aisle to aisle like starving people at a Chinese buffet. We gorge with no regard for the consequences. We bought a lot of card stock, some envelopes to mail Volume 5, and some desk organizer things.

And then we left. Triumphant. Laden with card stock.

In the Staples parking lot was a Best Buy. There was nothing we needed at Best Buy. But the potential for something I want. I have been craving the Nintendo Wii in the worst way, but no one has them in stock NO ONE. Now, I tell myself that I am too old for a Wii. That I will not buy a Wii when actually presented with the opportunity. But I want to be presented with the opportunity. So that I can exercise strength and maturity and choose not to buy the Wii. But I cannot choose not to buy a Wii that is not in stock.

So we went to Best Buy.

And immediately wished that we hadn't. There was no Wii in stock. Which is not an offense. But, once again, we were shoddily treated by the Best Buy employee workforce. Perhaps your experience in Best Buy has been different from ours, but every time we go into a Best Buy, no matter which Best Buy or in what part of this vast and varied country, there are many, many employees standing around talking to one another, making noisy inside jokes, refusing to be proactive or helpful, and which, when approached, respond with a mixture of diffidence and irritation. Blaming you for joining their jolly fun. For impinging on their right to stand and not be bothered. And to hide all of the Wii consoles in the ladies room until I leave.

It's galling. And pervasive. And so we left in a huff, vowing never to return.

Robbi was riled.

And so I may not have the opportunity to choose not to buy the Wii. I may live in a state of tortured limbo for a long, long time. Or at least until Best Buy gets its act together.

We drove home over the bridge. It was overcast and foggy.


It took the sting of Best Buy clear out of our minds. Full of belly and equipped with card stock we returned to our humble barn, pleased to be back again in our small corner of things.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:21 AM

February 01, 2007


Our bedroom is cold. Cold. We have a small, egg-shaped alarm clock (called "Bob," for some reason beyond my comprehension). According to Bob, who is equipped with a themometer, it is currently 43 degrees in our bedroom. It's kind of like camping, which is fun. But camping is something you do occasionaly, as a break from the norm. On the rare nights that you camp in frigid weather, you think of it as a "special", character-building experience. You don't really enjoy it, but you pretend to, since, well, you're "camping," after all. But we sleep in that cold room every night. The thrill is gone. The chill is no longer cute. Consequently, the Genius Hat has become an item of some controversy.

Robbi thinks the hat is hers. (She's also strangely possessive of this stool.)

And, by the letter of the law, she is correct. The hat was a Christmas gift from friend Christian, a replacement for another hat given by Christian on another Christmas that has since been eaten by Iggy.

She often wears it to sleep, on account of the very cold air.

(Oscar often watches, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and eat her face off, as I've heard all cats, even those that seem most sweet, are always waiting for the perfect opportunity to do.)

I have been jealous at the seeming warmth provided by the Genius Hat. Last night I had a dark, selfish impulse.

I took the Genius Hat for my own.

Replacing it with another, virtually indistinguishable hat. Roughly the same color even.

I slept the sweet sleep of warm children but woke with a start to the sound of outrage. Robbi had discovered the swap and was none too pleased.

So far, neither of us has contracted bronchitis. But I'm sure our days are numbered.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:04 AM | Comments (1)

January 28, 2007

Volume Five

Subscribers hear this, Volume 5 is under way. The text is complete and the illustration approach finally decided upon. We still don't know the size or shape or exact page count, but these details will bear themselves out in time. We have been meeting every few days, each time adding some new element to the basic concept. The book is a little confusing, but hopefully funny. There will be another explanatory essay contest, so start polishing your rhetorical chops.

I stumbled upon some pictures a few days ago that reminded me of another book in the Idiots'Books universe, a precursor from Robbi's graduate school days. In college I wrote a story called Cops, which in many ways launched my particular prose style. The story is a picaresque of one young man's journey through childhood. I'm not sure what it's really about. But Robbi decided to use it as the text for a project for her typography class.

Here is Robbi's treatment of Cops

For deep, intellectual reasons far beyond my power to grasp, let alone explain, the book was printed on clear plastic, so that the words from one page were visible on the pages around it. This is basically the opposite of what you want to do if your aim is having the book be readable. But this was not Robbi's aim. Robbi was exploring interesting use of type.

See: very interesting. Very cool. Not legible. Not something that the writer can really get behind.

Another view:

Ultimately I am won over by the coolness of Robbi's version of Cops. Did I mention that it is bound with tiny nuts and bolts?

Perhaps we will offer this version of Cops for sale at some point, but it would have to be very expensive, because sheets of plastic that can be run through an inkjet printer are not cheap. (Not to mention the nuts and bolts). But we may also rethink Cops and create a new version. The story is pleasing, though I am still hoping to come up with a better ending.

For now, however, we are focusing on Volume 5, while Volume 6 starts to clamor for attention.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:26 PM | Comments (2)

January 23, 2007

The Next Generation

A week has passed since the Next Generation opening. Much to our surprise, fabulous limousines have not yet appeared to take us away to offices with long mahogany desks for the sake of signing book, movie, and video game deals. But we suspect that the limousine drivers are merely being coy and biding their time, the limousine driver's equivalent to arriving fashionably late to a party. In the mean time, we are sitting on the couch with our bags packed, our traveling clothes neatly pressed, waiting to be taken away to the land of distant opportunity. We realize that soon we will have to attend to the household chores. The dust is beginning to pile up. The long-unwatered plants are begnning to wither.

In the mean time, here are some images from the show, for those of you who were not able to make the trek to Chestertown.

Over the next few days, Volume 4, Man Joe Rises, will be hitting mail boxes across America, Germany, Canada, and Spain (one each in aforementioned foreign lands). As I've said before, but will repeat at the risk of numbing redundancy, the book version of Man Joe was heavily influenced by the wall version, which was commissioned by Carla Massoni for The Next Generation show (mentioned at the beginning of this entry.) When Carla saw our first few Idiots'Books, she was interested in adding them to the show. When she mentioned that she had always wanted someone to draw on the walls of her gallery, the idea of illustrating a book on the wall seemed inevitable. The space we were allotted is a kind of alcove: a shelf on which we displayed fine art versions of our books, the walls that form the back and sides of the alcove, and the ceiling above it. We decided to use as many of the surfaces as possible. Because why not?

In the installation version, Man Joe (protagonist) rises quite literally from a book sitting on the shelf.

We'll let you do the close reading, drawing from whatever school of critical perspective pleases you most.

Joe's story then continues to the right and then up the wall.

Across the ceiling.

And down the other side.

And concludes roughly where it began.

Not far from where our names were printed on the wall.

I tried to be a big enough person to resist the name on the wall shot but ultimately decided that I don't have it in me. I may never again be named on the wall of an art gallery.

Unlike Robbi, who is so important that her name was on the wall TWICE in this very show.

The second printing of her name was meant to differentiate Robbi the illustrator from Robbi the "fine artist." For those of you who do not know, Robbi is, in fact both an artist and fine (if you know what I mean). Which means that she creates real live art in addition to the bizarre little drawings she produces to humor me.

Her medium of choice for this show was the clay monoprint, which is a singular print drawn from a slab of wet clay on which she has layed down a multi-layer, multi-color artform/design/inner projection, etc.

For example, Yves (pronounced "eve"), the largest piece (which has already sold, you sorry suckers).

Unfortunately, amateurish digital photography doesn't do much to faithfully represent the beauty of Robbi's monoprints, which are all about subtlety, texture, and detail. You will have to take my word for it that they are gorgeous.

She had four prints on display.

The other three:

Looking back at Yves.

The wall version of Joe was hung directly adjacent to the ten panels of Ten Thousand Stories.

Seen here head on.

The French Explorers, on the other hand, were hung on either side of the stairway one must climb to enter the gallery.

Approaching the Carla Massoni Gallery from outside, one is greeted by the handsome mug of Sieur de La Salle, who, as you might remember, after claiming the Mississippi Valley for France, was killed by his own men.



And looking down the stairs at La Salle's compatriots:

Joliet and Marquette, rising above the fray:

Enough about us, already.

As exciting as it was to be included in Carla's show, by far the most gratifying thing was being included in the context of so much other outstanding work. Robbi and I were but 2 of the 13 people featured in the show.

For example, these subtle, yet powerful pieces in wood by J.T. Kirkland, an artist out of DC.

In his gallery talk J.T. described the project of the work in the show as one of coaxing beauty from an unexpected place. Namely, wood from Home Depot. As you'll see in the details below, J.T. engages his wood by carefull drilling, all done by hand, holes of varying sizes. I hope that the power of his work can translate to the screen.

The patterning is elegant and moving. The wood, which he sands but does not finish, is made all the more beautiful by the removal created by the addition of the holes. He draws our attention to that which we might otherwise overlook in wood--the supple smoothness of its texture, the warmth and richness of its coloring, the desultory, endless waves of the grain.

I'll stop my art babble. Have a look and then check out his Web site and blog.

Zaria Forman showed large-scale works in charcoal that may be the most evocative, lovely cloudscapes I've ever seen. They are stunning, on account of their scale and skilled rendering. I wish that I had $7,000 so that I could buy this one.

I like this one, too.

We were also fortunate to meet and share wall space with:

Raphael Sassi, whose Subway Series captures an onlooker's gaze at the faces of fellow travelers.

Ken Castelli, whose landscapes capture the character and detail of his native Eastern Shore, in part to preserve a history being steadily effaced by development.

Catherine Collier, whose self-portrait is presented unframed on cardboard. One of many elements of her honest approach. I admire the brush strokes and color, the unapologetic use of paint.

Makiko Sasanuma, whose photos (below) were taken without the use of a color filter. This yellow is the actual color of light through leaves held up to the lens.

Nathaniel Ward, whose photos from a New Jersey mall present a naked critique of consumer culture, particularly the darker side of toys and toy marketing.

Jonathan Mort, whose beautiful oils (and charcoals, unpictured) capture the quiet beauty of place.

Sara Horne, whose installation presents a variety of sharply contrasting textures, each inspired by organic forms.

Jesse Dunn, whose lovely prints of hands evoke the religiosity of art.

Kaitlyn Ruitenberg, whose photos of doorways and openings from the local countryside are haunting and evocative.

Check out this link to read more about the rest of the artists and to see samples of their work.

And that's it, folks. We were given a tremendous opportunity and had a fantastic time putting it all together. Props again to our amazing intern Kate, without whom we would never have been able to get the wall painting done or books bound.

Tribute to Kate, at her most stooped and uncomfortable:

We would love to see any and all of you that might be able to squeeze in the time for a visit to Chestertown between now and February 10, when the show comes down.

With that, we must return to the couch to wait, as before, for the fabulously long limos.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:15 AM

January 22, 2007

Man Joe Hits the Streets

Susbcribers, keep an eye on your mailboxes. Idiots'Books Volume 4, Man Joe Rises, was sent out this morning. Lucky for me, I got the friendly, cheerful, patient mail clerk instead of the surly one who, last month, informed me that mailings of this size were frowned upon and that I should look into getting my own mail meter. We're marooned in the land between tidy, small mailings that the post office clerks can tolerate and the 200 minimum needed for bulk mailing (and the accompanying reduced rates). If you can help us round up another 70 suckers willing to part with perfectly good money in exchange for our books, it would be much appreciated.

To recap the past few days.

I did a few days of whirlwind consulting in Williamstown. Nothing was photo-worthy. But here is one of my favorite Williams pics of all time, stolen from the Web site.

The message implicit in this photo, which is featured prominently in the Williams Prospectus, is that, in exchange for the $35,000 tuition and fees, students are given really comfortable sleeping bags and a small patch of grass in a field populated by cows. It's counterintuitive, but applications are at an all-time high. Someone's been drinking the US News Cool-Aid...

Back from Williamstown, I turned my attention to making sufficient quantities of Volume 4 for the subscriber mailing. It took a long time. I really, really missed intern Kate. But eventually I was done.

When I was finished, I put on Robbi's genuis hat and, taking a cue from her playbook, noted my elation by dancing. No more jumping. Jumping is dangerous to one's pants.

Dancing, on the other hand,

Just makes you look silly,

But drives the women crazy...

Or does it just irritate them? I can't tell. I have been banned from further use of the genius hat.

We recently discovered a place a few miles outside of Chestertown where there is an old road along some fields. At the end of the road is a small beach on a river that leads to the Chesapeake. Iggy had a fabulous time running around like a nut.

I, on the other hand, was merely cold.

I had my first taste of real winter in Williamstown (11 degrees and an inch of snow), and it seems to have followed me south. We have had to turn on the baseboards the past few days. January is upon us now. Visitors to the barn will be greeted with an offer of tea, cocoa or hot cider. We have a variety of options.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:24 PM

January 15, 2007

Oh What a Night

So the Next Generation opening has come and gone. By all accounts, it was a roaring success. You will have to take my word for it because we neglected to take a single picture of the event, so overwhelmed were we by the roar of the crowd. In fact, there were a tremendous number of people present at 2:00 when the various artists were assembled to be photographed and made to speak wise words about their work. So many people, in fact, that both rooms were full and the stairwell was clogged. I kept looking about for the fire marshall to come put the kibosh on the whole affair, but he couldn't have made it up the stairs if he had wanted to, so we all suffered through our speeches while people listened and smiled appreciatively.

Robbi and I had practiced our speech several times, anxious not to repeat the debacle from the First Friday at the book plate. We were careful to switch back and forth, to make occasional jokes, and to cagily deflect the question of what we are trying to say with our books by turning the tables on the question and reverting to a clever discussion of process. Apparently, we decided, what we are up to is subverting the traditional relationship between word and image, creating a tension within which the reader is not certain whether to lend primacy to the words or the illustrations. Or something like that. It seemed to go over ok. We ended with metaphor in which the act of creating a book was akin to a pregnancy. I'm not sure if it worked. People tittered, but perhaps uncomfortably.

After the introductions we retreated to our section of the gallery. We were mobbed by people curious about the books. We answered questions, signed copies, explained subscriptions, shook hands. It was awfully gratifying. I'd love to feature pictures of the fun, but there are none. Perhaps another picture of a small, cute dog?

This dog is not Jake. This is Edgar, surrogate child of friends Holden and Michelle.

Speaking of which, thanks to Holden and Michelle for making the long trek down from New York City. Thanks also to the many other friends who took the time to come: Christian, Emily, Matt, Supi Loco, Beth, Armand, Bernice, Jill, Courtney, Michael, Uncle Bill, Uncle Ken and Miss Betty, Mr. K, Stella, Casey and Anne (and Hughes and Meg), Tom, Elizabeth, and Sarah. It was wonderful to see you all. I wish that I had taken pictures with all of you, smiling amid the throngs.

There was some success on the "selling art" front. Robbi's largest (and most expensive) clay monoprint was sold by two very nice people we are glad to know. Someone else whom I have yet to meet purchased an entire set of the limited edition books. Four of the French explorers sold (three to an extremely sophisticated couple from Baltimore with astonishingly good taste). And we sold a bunch of softcover books. I can't now quantify "a bunch" because I have yet to talk to Carla about the reckoning. And I think we might have added a few subscribers to the list.

What was most exciting was the opportunity to talk with people about our books, hear their thoughts, see their faces. But not take their pictures. As I mentioned before, I completely forgot about that.

The three hours went by in a flash. Suddenly it was 5:00 and we had to leave. We walked the 54 steps to our barn, which was already inhabited by partygoers.

Although we had made two pans of my patented 7-layer dip and had accumulated various vegetables for dipping, etc, we lacked intoxicating libation and so sent Holden, Michelle, and Stella to take care of the problem. They returned with enough hooch to intoxicate a medium sized whale. The party suddenly got a lot more peppy.

We finally let intern Kate stop making books and come to the party. She cleans up real nice, no?

People mingled and talked. I'm sure that there was all sorts of intelligent conversation. An intense wave of exhaustion hit me suddenly and I lost all ability to comprehend or articulate. I entered a trancelike state, ostensibly engaged in pleasant conversations with old friends, but really asleep, my brain resting in a tropical place.

When I came to, even the babies were hitting the sauce.

It was a great party.

This morning, we went up to the college playing fields with various dogs, including Edgar, the French Bulldog.

I'd include a picture of Holden and Michelle, dear friends of ours and keepers of Edgar, but apaprently I don't think highly enough of them to have taken their picture. On the other hand, there are about 15 pictures of Edgar and me.

I don't have pictures of any of the other dogs, including my own. Here is another of Edgar, from the night before. Apparently his is a burrowing breed.

After dog fun, we bid Holden, Michelle, and Edgar farewell and left ourselves to take intern Kate to the airport. We thought that we'd take her by Annapolis on the way to BWI, as it is roughly on the way and her entire east coast trip had heretofore consisted of lovely views of the inside of a barn. We lured her to Chestertown with glorious promises of a day strolling museums in DC. Said sidetrip never materialized and we felt guilty of bait and switch. So we ate some lunch, strolled the lovely crooked streets, and ended up by the water for pictures.

Me and cousin Kate, honorary idiot

And Robbi.

And here's the question of the day, what IS this contrivance?

We found it in a crooked alley next to a crooked building on one of Annapolis's crooked streets. We know this: it is historic. The crooked building was historic. There were plaques. We lacked the time to read them. So help us if you know. It seems like a well on one hand, but what, pray tell, is the pile of stones about?

As we walked back to our car by way of the Maryland State House, I recalled the thrill of jumping several days before, and decided to do so again.

So I jumped.

But wanted to jump higher. And so jumped again.

It was a good jump, I think in retrospect. In retrospect, I think I might have been satisfied with the jump. You may think it a vain thing indeed to jump again, to attempt to best this jump with another even grander.

But again I jumped.

And instantly regretted it.

For you who lack the keen eye, here is the jump's aftermath.

Alas, the simultaneous distruction of my pride and favorite jeans, both flimsy things, in retrospect. Neither worth gambling on the unlikely success of a subsequent jump.

There will be no more jumping, in spite of the joy of the show, of the friends, of Edgar the French Bulldog, of intern Kate and her outstanding work this week. in spite of the promise of tomorrow as an opportunity to sleep in. We're taking one day off. A day of repose and recuperation.

Before starting Volume 5 on Tuesday.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:02 AM

January 13, 2007

The Calm Before the Opening

It's 2:00am, early by recent standards. We have gone to bed around 4:00 most of this week. Robbi worked on the wall painting until 8:00am Wednesday night/Thursday morning. It has been nutty. I had no idea that this much work went into putting together a gallery show.

We must rise early tomorrow to put on nice clothes and go be artists, so I'll have to keep this brief, but I wanted to recap a few of the more memorable moments of the past few days.

Robbi continued painting.

Man Joe appeared. He is the star of the wall painting and of volume four. His appearance from the primordial bogs is the focus of the work. It was gratifying to see him, finally. His hapless, bewildered expression was at once pleasing and dismaying.

Bob and Seiko stopped by to check in on the progress. They seemed both pleased and dismayed.

Trusty, rugged, reliable intern Kate painted in the various fleshy parts of the mural. There are quite a few. Robbi was extremely grateful. While Kate painted the fleshy parts Robbi slept and ate ice cream.

I showed up in an outfit that caused consternation.

Robbi and Kate asked me to go home and change.

I refused out of principle but eventually got bored and went home.

Robbi kept painting.

And painting.

And painting.

Until she was done.

At which point she danced.

And danced.

And danced.

I was so pleased that I jumped for joy.

And jumped for joy.

And jumped for joy.

And jumped for joy.

And double-kicked for joy.

Just after this picture was taken I had a moment of profound reflection, wondering if I had missed my calling as a professional ninja.

In other news, we ran out of cat food and got more.

Which was agreeable to the cats.

Kate and I toiled on the limited edition fancy books with mulberry bark endpapers.

Kate did lots of work that we didn't want to do like cutting, trimming, stapling, binding, scoring, stacking, sewing...

...and pounding.

We finished the book version of volume 4.

Robbi taught Iggy some karate.

And then put the finishing touches on the installation.

All that dancing and jumping before was, in retrospect, a bit premature.

Tonight we bound our final stack of books, practiced the gallery talk we are to deliver tomorrow, and washed our nice clothes (tomorrow we get out the iron).

Iggy is curled in her tiny donut bed. Kate, abused and disrespected, is asleep in the other room, and Robbi, true to her promise, is cleaning the toilet for our guests.

Stay tuned for a full report on our entree into the art world. Too tired for a culminating joke. How about a picture of my brother's dog Jake instead?

Posted by bogenamp at 02:05 AM

January 09, 2007

As We Speak

It's 2:07 AM on Tuesday. As I lie here in bed so as not to bother my cousin Kate who is asleep in the couch in the other room, Robbi sits perched on an awkward red stool atop a counter in an art gallery approximately 200 yards from this tiny bedroom. The scene I'm describing looks something like this:

Robbi is painting the wall version of Volume 4. Why at 2:00 AM? She is a creature of nocturnal productivity, and would rather work when the gallery is otherwise unoccupied.

Let's go back a bit. I mentioned cousin Kate, visiting from Niwot, Colorado. She is our very first Idiots'Books intern and will be with us all week, helping us get ready for the show. In exchange for the many onerous tasks we will surely demand that she perform, she will earn an unimportant item on her resume and (perhaps) our good word in the case of a job interview. To sweeten the deal, we bought her two bags of granola yesterday, that she might have something other than cheese and lil smokies (our staples) to eat.

Here I am bossing Kate around.

See how she doesn't seem to be trembling in fear of my awful repercussions? I've got to do something about that.

Last night's task was to frame Robbi's clay monoprints, her FINE ART contribution to the Next Generation show.

Robbi with unframed monoprint:

Kate proved most helpful. She is masterful with a box cutter.

And in sewing the print to the foam core.

And in placing the artwork in the frame.

Are you catching my drift? Kate did EVERYTHING. We sat back and watched. Interns are the greatest.

In fact, at one point I fell asleep on the floor of the gallery. I think the woman at Subway drugged my cold cut combo.

After Kate finished doing all of the work, Robbi decided that she should take all of the credit and acted really enthusiastic, lest someone suspect the truth.

The task for tonight was getting started with the wall painting. Basically, Carla has given us an alcove to use as a place to display our books and on which to do a painted installation combining image and word. We decided to use the opportunity to debut Volume 4 in style.

Here are Robbi and Kate with a printout of a long panorama that Robbi is painting on the ceiling.

We're using a transfer technique to apply an outline of the original drawing that Robbi can use as a guide as she paints. Here Kate is chalking the opposite side of the drawing.

She then uses a pen to trace the outline of the original drawing, which transfers the chalk to the wall.

This is Kate struggling akwardly in the not-quite-big-enough-to-stand-up-straight space before we discovered the red stool.

When Kate was done tracing, we took down the drawing.

And voia!

An outline of the original (intentionally upside-down, you doubting Thomases).

We hung printouts of the various illustrations that make up the wall painting/story thing to see how it worked.


And then Robbi and Kate set to work on the painting.

Several folks who have heard about the wall painting have made Sistine Chapel allusions. I caution anyone who is planning on attending the Next Generation show to expect no naked cherub things flitting about the periphery. This is a classy wall painting. None of that Renaissance folderal.

This is how Robbi looked when I left her, about an hour ago.

She seemed to be having a great deal of fun painting on the ceiling. Most of us are told from a very young age that we are not supposed to do such a thing. And most of us can't reach the ceiling anyway. But Robbi has her red stool and a sugar rush from some chocolates she downed before heading over. I think I'll go check on her now, just to make sure she's not asleep on the gallery floor. It's happened before. Recently.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:09 AM | Comments (2)

January 07, 2007

In Need of Genius

We are now six days away from the culmination of our recent industry. At this time next Saturday we will be at a pre-opening luncheon for "artists" and their families. At 2:00 the doors will open and the eager public will swarm through the doors of the Carla Massoni Gallery, fists full of cash, scuffling and biting, screaming our names in peals of tortured ecstasy. Before then, Volume 4 must be completed, printed, and bound. The wall painting must be painted. The fine art prints must be framed and hung. The French Explorers must be hung on the walls.

All of this preparing has been giving us fits. Robbi recently ran out of genius and was at loggerheads as to how to get it back. It occured to her that wearing a Genius Hat might do the trick, and so she started to look for one.

This hat, while certainly outstanding, did nothing to replenish Robbi's depleted genius stockpile.

And so she tried another, this fuzzy affair recently gifted by friend Christian.

The hat was snug, warm, comforting. But no great flashes of insight coursed through her mind, no grand revelations disclosed themselves. Convinced nonetheless that she had identified the correct genius headgear, Robbi decided that perhaps the hat needed time to work its magic and decided to wear it to bed.

"This hat needs plenty of time to work its way through my particularly thick skull," I think I heard her say.

Like a good little guardian, Oscar kept watch over Robbi through the night, all the while coveting the hat and the associated genius.

The next morning Robbi woke with uncommon vigor, did 57 pushups, and worked her way through several complex calculus problems before slurping down a few egg whites and sitting down to work on painting the images for Volume 4.

A few minutes later she was done. And so we went over to the gallery to see how the images might work on the wall where Robbi is going to paint the wall version of the book.

This is a rare sneak preview of the Next Generation show, available to all four of you who read this blog!

Robbi is going to have to stand like this (below) for long hours while she paints an elaborate landscape of human desolation on the ceiling.

All in all, we were pleased with how Robbi's sketches looked when taped to the walls.

Tonight or tomorrow she's going to start the actual painting on the actual walls. The genius hat is standing by.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:52 AM

December 16, 2006

Who We Are and What We Do

Know this: Robbi and I balk at the idea of being "artists." We don't like the word, how it sounds, the associated adjectives, what it seems to mean in certain quarters.

And yet, we are to be included in a show in an "art" gallery. And by association we are forced to adopt the loathesome moniker. To compound the insult, we have been asked to draft an "artists' statement" to explain just what we're up to (from the artistic standpoint) in putting together these odd little books. Apparently, "because we want to" isn't enough in this context.

Robbi and I are on the road, in South Carolina, en route to visit my grandparents in Atlanta for a pre-holiday celebration. We sat in our motel room in Spartanburg this morning drafting the following. Please tell us if we're on the mark, full of hooey, etc. If, now that you know that we are moonlighting as "artists," you want to cancel your subscription, we completely understand.

Without further ado, our statement. (Hold your nose.)


Idiots'Books artists' statement

Writer Matthew Swanson and illustrator Robbi Behr collaborate on books that attempt to expand upon (and invert) traditional notions of the illustrated word. The scope of their work can be pointed or sweeping, but the world beneath their gaze is compressed to the point of distortion. Theirs is a quiet critique in the guise of titillating oddness. Matthew's words combine in disorienting syntax; Robbi's drawings exaggerate and bully their subjects. Rather than serve as a literal representation of the words' intentions, the illustrations present a parallel visual narrative that works independently to explicate, enlarge, and often ironize the written one. The work balances cynicism and earnest critique, retaining a breath of optimism while acknowledging the absurdity of the world it beholds.

Both artists are prone to leaving holes in their work, stranding their vividly rendered subjects in the midst of a white space that both insulates and magnifies the underlying concepts. The written and visual threads, both incomplete in isolation, collide in unlikely sympathy; the meaning and humor of the work rise from this surprising juxtaposition. The reader is compelled to participate in closing the resulting gap, following threads left purposefully ambiguous.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:52 PM

One Hundred and Counting

A milestone has been passed. Just before noon the morning of Tuesday, December 12, I received an email from PayPal indicating that my good friend Christian Michael Vainieri had just ordered a gift subscription for his cousin Anthony Musmanno.

Mr. 100:

Chris does not always wield a tremendous knife, but this is the only photo of him I can find right now. I'm in South Carolina and away from the photo archive. Sorry Christian. You're still a handsome fellow even with the deranged look.

Although I am gratified by the arrival of each and every subscription, this one was particularly special because of it's being the hundredth. That's right, Idiots'Books has come of age, passing into triple digits. Christian will win a fabulous prize, to remain undisclosed until such time as we can think of something fabulous enough.

As previously mentioned, our upper-end estimates of subscriber pool numbered approximately 40. While delighted and flattered by the votes of confidence, we are terrified at the prospects of continuing growth. Our kneejerk reaction to Christian's subscription was to purchase a new printer, the Xerox Phaser 8550, that offers a host of improvements over our current Xerox Phaser 8500.

The 8550:

Let me enumerate the 8550's many benefits for you (it helps to salve the buyer's remorse):

1) the 8550 is a duplexing model, which means it can print both sides of the page by itself instead of requiring either Robbi or me to remove pages, turn them around, reset the printer to print a "second sheet" and so on. The non-duplexing approach results in frequent human mishap, paper and ink waste, time delays, angst, etc.

2) the 8550 prints at a resolution TWICE that of the 8500. Which means that those grainy images we had to tolerate in Death of Henry would be twice as sharp, twice as lovely. If you did not notice the unsatisfactory print quality of the Death of Henry images, we are gratified. If you did notice, thank you for not complaining.

3) our 8500 makes horrible noises and threatens to quit at any moment. Given the frequent need for printing these days, we cannot accommodate systems failure. We must have redundancy!

4) this is a geeky, yet important point with significant economic impact. The 8850 can accommodate the "extended-life" maintenance kit whereas the 8500 only accommodates the "puny, regular" maintenance kit. We currently spend $100 per 10,000 sheets printed (the puny maintenance kit). With the new printer we will be able to spend $150 on 30,000 sheets (the extended kit).

Are you asleep? Hello...? Apologies.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:21 PM

December 11, 2006

The Week that Was

The days leading up to Friday, December 1 were a frenzied affair. We were working like crazy to complete Volume 3 in time for the book signing at Book Plate, hoping that it would offer the kind of immediate appeal that might lure an otherwise uninterested browser to pause a bit longer at the Idiots'Books table. As of the morning of Friday, November 24, when Robbi left the Thanksgiving celebration with my Dad's family in Denver to head back to Baltimore, the book was yet unillustrated. One week later, we were trimming and binding our freshly finished volume in an attempt to make 50 copies in time for the signing. It was a heroic effort on her part. I wonder if something of that frenetic pace contributes to the resulting weirdness of the illustrations.

For example:

The book's governing concept is that each of the 10 illustrations and each of the accompanying "stories" are sliced horizontally to divide each page into four sections. Each of these sections can then be independently flipped horizontally along a wire-o binding to create new combinations. As show below:

According to the mathematicians we consulted (the finding was corraborated by, exactly 10,000 combinations are possible, though my sister Andy, who is a badass math teacher, suggests that there is some possibility that not quite 10,000 combinations exist. She'll have to mull on it a bit. And will get back to us soon. But for now, here's one example.

As you can imagine, a great deal of care had to go into the drawing and writing to make sure that everything lined up correctly in each of the various combinations. To be sure, there are many combinations that yield truly bizarre results (see above), but this angst-provoking rupture of the unexpected lies at the heart of the wickedly ontological criqitue that is Ten Thousand Stories.

At least that's what Seiko said when she read it.

Though not in so many words.

In addition to Ten Thousand Stories, we wanted to have on hand a healthy inventory of the other five books we had completed to date. This is where the frenzy I mentioned in the opening comes in. In five short days (that turned out to be long days), we produced:

50 copies of Facial Features of French Explorers
50 copies of Death of Henry
50 copies of Ten Thousand Stories
50 copies of My Henderson Robot
15 copies of For the Love of God
13 copies of A Bully Named Chuck (we ran out of time for the last two)

In case you didn't know, making books takes a very long time, and in case you also didn't know, it sometimes requires a rubber mallet, which is really the only thing about making books that Robbi enjoys.

Do the books really NEED to be beaten with a rubber mallet? It's debatable. But Robbi loves it so. I undulge her because she's my wife. And because, let's face it, I'm no looker.

Anyway, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were a blur of bookmaking. We were up until 4:00am Wednesday and Thursday. Friday we were making books up until the last moment. At 6:05 we arrived at the Book Plate, freshly showered and overeager, only to find a horde of eager fans impatiently awaiting for our arrival.

Ok, two fans. But they posessed the combined eagerness of at least four. Tom, the proprietor of Book Plate is a masterful advocate, and he has made us his project. In the day or two leading up to our event, he had already shared the many combinations of Ten Thousand Stories with the two eager browsers, sending them into paroxysms of delight and eagerness.

After signing their respective copies of Ten Thousand Stories, we took our seats at the book signing table.

Where we sat signing books for a surprisingly long time. I'm not sure if Tom paid actors to come in and pretend to be interested customers, but a sizable body of people who were not our relatives or friends showed up and claimed to be interested in our books.

After a bit of signing and some pleasant chit-chat, it was time for a little speech on our part. Before we spoke, however, we were first introduced by the excellent Aileen Tsui, Washington College art history professor and all-around very admirable person. She had stopped by the barn the day before to talk with us a bit about what we were up to. We told her all we knew. It only took a few minutes. We gave her copies of our books, which she read, apparently, because she had some very interesting/smart/thoughtful things to say about them--including their indebtedness to Lewis Carroll, their contribution to the long line of subscription-based literary utterances, the pleasing uniqueness of our slightly asymmetrical picture/word combinations. All in all, we felt quite understood.

And then it was our turn to speak. I'm supposed to be the words guy, so I started. I'm usually pretty good at this sort of spontaneous speaking thing, and so I hadn't really put much thought into what I might actually say. Robbi and I had discussed proceeding with an off-the-cuff sort of back-and-forth banter approach which would remain informal, would mirror our collaboration, and would be kind of funny and endearing.

Which would have been so great.


...I was deathly boring and everyone got uncomfortable. I'm glad that no one took pictures during the speech, because the picture would have been me with my mouth open, a look of dazed desperation in my eyes, and Robbi sitting beside me with her head in her hands, trying to shrink through the floor boards. At one point she interrupted and told me to get to the point. Of course, I wanted to, but I couldn't remember what the point was supposed to be. Other than that we were making books. So I reminded everyone that we were making books.

And then I did a brilliant tap routine on the tabletop and everyone burst into spontaneous applause.

After that, Tom brought out a cake. A marvelous cake, a nod to Idiots'Books.

For those of you that have not seen Volumes 1 and 2, the cake is decorated to look like the covers of these two books. We wept open tears of gratitude. Robbi admired the cake fiercely.

And then plunged her entire face into the cake, making a terrible mess. I tried to take a picture, but the camera jammed.

After Robbi cleaned herself up, we signed a few more books.

And ate that cake until all that was left was our names.

At which point we halted the eating, that we might save that bit for posterity. Our freezer is now full of posterity.

As the evening wound down, there was general milling:

The gentleman on the right side of the frame is our benefactor, Tom. Excellent Aileen is dead center in black. Just to the right of her is Carla Massoni, who I have mentioned several times already in other entries. It is in Carla's Gallery that we will be showing our various Idiots'Books ephemera next month (more on that to come). To the right of Carla is Marcy Dunn Ramsey, Robbi's very first art teacher! Next to Marcy is a guy we don't know, but who will be heretofore known as "He of Extraordinary Taste and Judgment." (On account of his having purchased a book, see?) On the far left is Dick Lange, local potter, writer, patron of the arts. A collection of his very fine Mingei pottery was on display at Book Plate that night as well. Our friend and subscriber Ken Warwick is next to Dick, though apparently, he was more interested in talking with the woman to be heretofore known as "Too Obscured to be Identified" than in mugging for this photo. Next to Ken is Seiko, still so dazed by the brilliance of Ten Thousand Stories that she forgot how to use her camera.

She has since recovered.

Below is Ken Castelli, the excellent (and very talented) fellow who penned the poster that advertised the evening. His work will also be hanging in the Next Generation show at Carla's gallery next month.

And here is the table where the Idiots'Books merchandise was displayed (and will remain so through the end of the month).

We go by Tom's shop once a day to feel good about ourselves. Just yesterday, in fact, like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral, we stood behind a bookshelf and watched a customer approach the table, thumb through Ten Thousand Stories, take palpable delight, and then purchase the volume! We were suddenly filled with great piles of hubris.

The bottom line is, the First Friday was fun and very successful. We sold about 30 books that night, apparently, and more continued to sell throughout the week, with Ten Thousand Stories the runaway favorite.

We stopped by Book Plate yesterday to review the receipts for week one and were shocked and delighted to discover that the sales had totalled $1,100! We! A couple of nobodies having fun making books.

See for yourselves! (Apparently Tom keeps track of every book sold with this highly technical state-of-the-art system.)

Other than the crushing failure of Death of Henry to capture the popular imagination...

...we are starting to believe in ourselves.

It is a dangerous thing.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:21 AM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2006

Approaching the Century Mark

While licking envelopes in late October, Robbi and I had a conversation in which we each placed a guess on how many people might take us up on the offer to subscribe to Idiots'Books. We both thought about it, both made a private conjecture, and spoke the number aloud at the count of three. Robbi's guess: 25, tops. Mine: 37, with an outside chance of 44. At the time, the possibility that 44 people might send us their money in exchange for our books seemed roughly as likely as either of us learning how to levitate. Now, roughly six weeks later, the tally stands at 95 suckers, er, subscribers, and both of us are floating roughly three feet off the ground.

First off, thank you all for your vote of confidence. One of you, to remain unnamed, included a note with your check indicating that you were sending the money mostly to see if we would be able to make good on our one-book-a-month plan, as if smugly confident that we would stumble. In light of this challenge we are doubly inspired. Some others of you have sent clever notes deftly parodying the clever letters that go out with each volume. Bless you for this. It makes us so happy. A few of you may have been confused, thinking you were paying your electric bill. The great thing about small town banks is that they are willing to believe me when I say that the check for $67.92 made out to Baltimore Gas and Electric is really meant to go into the Idiots'Books account.

The countdown to 100 subscribers is on. We're scrambling to think of a proper reward for he whose subscription bid takes us to the third digit.

Last night Robbi, Bob, and Seiko engaged in a marathon binding session and prepared many copies of volume 3. It will be going out today, and so most of you should have it soon.

I did not participate as I am in Massachusetts enjoying the sight of several inches of freshly fallen snow.

As this entry is not about snow, but instead about our many fine subscribers, I leave you fine people with a parting admonition: go forth and multiply.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:45 AM

December 05, 2006

Ten Thousand Stories

The good news is, we're busy doing what we want to do. The bad news is, we're BUSY doing what we want to do. Since I last checked in, we flirted with smalltown celebrity status at the Book Plate last Friday night. Robbi has written a nice entry on the proceedings at IdiotsBox. I may chronicle my own take on the evening's events here, or may not. The sad truth is, my life has become like a belt saw out of control. I have become a full-time production maven, cutting, trimming, stacking, scoring, punching, binding. I will not complain, because I'm producing books that are actually SELLING, but my time for blogging has been otherwised consumed of late.

Our books have continued to sell since the First Friday event. Nine sold on Saturday, evidently, an even mix of all of the titles. We were in Book Plate yesterday to revel in the self-aggrandizing glory of the Idiots'Books display and witnessed, in the course of 7 minutes, TWO of our books being perused and sold. Oh, but it does a body good.

Back to my burden of late. She is called Ten Thousand Stories. For Volume 3, our December edition of Idiots'Books, we decided to get ambitious on the production front. Subscribers know this: we will not continue to escalate the complexity of these books indefinitely. Think of Volume 3 as a holiday crescendo. We will all have to make our resolutions in the New Year. Ours will be: thou shalt once more make simple, saddle-stitched books.

We made 50 copies of Volume 3 for the book signing and only have a handful left. The current charge is making 100 more copies for the subscribers so that we can mail them out at the end of this week or early next. Much of yesterday was spent punching the row of tiny holes for the wire-o binding.

Here is my tower of woe, my tower of delight. Behold.

And here we are with the first finished copy (this is a few days out of sequence, mind you). But for all you subscribers out there (you in your rapidly growing ranks) this is what we call foreshadowing.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:05 AM

November 29, 2006

First Friday

This Friday, December 1, Idiots'Books hits the big time. Thanks to the kind souls who have taken an interest in our project, we are being given a platform (a dangerous thing) to show and talk about our books. Tom Martin, proprietor of Chestertown's own Book Plate, is giving us the floor for December's First Friday, when the good citizens of our humble burg come out in force for various acts of perusing, shopping, gathering, wine-sipping, etc.

As pleased as we were with the Facial Features poster, our delight was compounded upon witnessing the Idiots'Books First Friday poster hanging in the window of Book Plate and in other windows about town. Penned by our new friend Ken Castelli, the poster makes us look far more interesting and established than we really are. But we are not complaining.


Be sure to click on the image to see all of the wonderful details. Ken did an amazing job. You can see more of his work at the Next Generation show, which opens Jan 13 at the Carla Massoni Gallery.

As for this Friday, we invite you all to attend. Apparently, we will be introduced by renowned Washington College art history Professor Aileen Tsui. She is so smart, she went to Harvard twice! In light of this introduction, I feel compelled to prepare comments of some substance. Which means I will be compelled to manufacture a backstory. In fact, we are making books because we have nothing better to do. I will have to come up with something weightier, deeper, I fear, to sate the hunger of the Chestertown elite. Or so I imagine. Likely we will blather on about nothing and sell no books. But in case we are able to inspire some interest, we will have six books for sale. Idiots'Books Volume III will debut, weeks before it is sent to the subscribership. If this is due inducement, please join us. If not, we will post photos of the triumph/debacle this weekend.

Apologies for being silent so long. I have recently driven to Denver and back and am still recovering. I even took a nap today. A rare event. More to come soon.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:40 PM

November 14, 2006

Our New Best Friends

Much to our surprise, if not disbelief, the Idiots'Book venture has already started to transcend the mere making and sending of books to our friends. A few days ago we were visited by famous painter Marc Castelli, who asked us to sign his book and signed up for two subscriptions. Apparently he liked it. We had not sent a copy of Facial Features to Marc, but he had been shown a copy by Carla Massoni, who owns a very fine gallery in Chestertown, just around the corner from the Barn. Apparently Marc shared his copy with local bookseller Tom Martin, who also liked it, and who wanted to sell it in his very fine independent book shop, Book Plate.

We offered no firm resistance to the plan. We rushed home, made a handful of copies of Facial Features, and dropped them off at Book Plate. The next day we walked past the shop and had this pleasant surprise.

Our book! In the window!

A poster for our book!

In the window!

We might have died right then and died happy.

But there was more good news.

We stopped by Carla's gallery to thank her for sharing Facial Features with Marc. She said all sorts of nice things about the book then asked if we would consider showing the book as well as our past works and a few future volumes in an upcoming gallery show.

Again, we did not demure. Carla went on to say that she had always wanted to experiment with someone painting words on the gallery wall. Our style seemed to suggest a kinship with the scheme. We discussed an installation consisting of an illustrated story painted by Robbi on the gallery wall. We imagine a "story" beginning on the pages of an actual book and then trailing off the page and onto the wall, up the wall, perhaps even onto the ceiling, and back again, eventually, to the book from which it originated.

Here is the space we'd have to work with.

The inset ledge is where the books would be displayed. The space around the alcove is where the story would be painted. We're thrilled with the opportunity. I've already begun working on the story, which I imagine as a chain narrative with no real end point or beginning. If we can pull it off, the reader would be able to enter at any point without loss of coherence or meaning. Likely, for this to work, neither coherence nor meaning will be integral to the enjoyment of the piece.

The gallery opening is scheduled for January 19 or thereabouts. You are all invited. The show will feature the work of other young artists, all children (or husbands of children, in my case) of people who have showed work in Carla's gallery in the past. Robbi, who will also be showing some of her clay monoprint fine art pieces, qualifies because Seiko's Ikebana containers and arrangements are often featured in the gallery. I'm a lucky hanger on.

Yesterday we learned that Book Plate will be hosting us as Idiots'Books for the upcoming December First Friday, when all of the shops in Chestertown stay open late for general milling, shopping, and merriment. We are hoping that the December First Friday will be a frenzy of pre-holiday gift purchasing. In hopeful anticipation, we have begun massive production of multiple copies of our Idiots'Books and past volumes for sale. If we're lucky, we'll be able to attract some new subscribers from beyond our circle of friends and family. If unlucky, we'll have a huge pile of unpurchased books to return to our modest shelf space.

We're awash in the thrill of promise. This may be the pinnacle of Idiots'Books success in the public recognition sense, but we plan to ride the wave as far as it will take us.

Stay tuned.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:41 AM | Comments (1)

November 09, 2006

Idiots'Book Volume Two

Indeed we have been busy. Facial Features of French Explorers has hit the streets, but we had little time to rest on our laurels. The day after we sent Facial Features, we were busily at work on the follow-up volume. We chose a very short story I've been kicking around for a while as the framework. It has since undergone some revision to conform to our joint vision for how it will work as an illustrated piece. Though the writing delighted me, I never really understood what it was about. In the course of several informal sessions in which we talked through our ideas, Robbi and I have landed on an interpretation that pleases us both. The text was bent in a new direction, and I prefer the revised version to the original. It has been transformed by her images which, by design, do not merely illustrate the words, but offer an accompanying, somewhat independent narrative. Vital details central to the meaning are missing from the text. And vice versa. The two are inextricably entwined. Without its partner aspect, the meaning of both is lost.

Or so we flatter ourselves in believing.

We should finish up the illustrations and text layout in the next few days. Then the weekend and next week I'll return to the dining room table for production. I'll aim to be more cool-headed about it this time, learning from the harsh mistakes that proved so trying in the production of FFoFE.

We decided late last night on our nightly walk with Iggy in the park that the time has come to structure our days a bit more thoughtfully. Though we've gotten plenty accomplished over the past two months, the work has come in fits and starts. We have so many projects and plans and not much of a compass for keeping them straight. We've decided to try having twice weekly meetings (Robbi is loathe to call them "staff meetings, perhaps they are "creative meetings) during which we will discuss our various projects, set deadlines, allocate responsibilities, and make each other aware of what the other is up to.

We'll see how it goes. One of the ironic problems with days free of structure is the tendency to get nothing done. We've failed at previous attempts to live by a schedule, but we both think there is merit in approaching our open hours more purposefully. I haven't really buckled down in working on revisions to the handful of stories I'm hoping to finish. Robbi hasn't gotten around to setting up her printmaking space so that she can work on her fine art. We have the time but are struggling to find the will. But we're both getting frustrated, to point at which we're ready to impose a bit of discipline.

I'll report on the meeting tomorrow. For now, it's time to get some sleep.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:17 AM

November 05, 2006

Close Reading

First off, it feels really good to get money in the mail. On Wednesday, November 1, we recieved two envelopes containing full payment for a total of SEVEN subscriptions. It was a bona fide thrill not lessened by the fact that one of the envelopes was from my mother, who was buying subscriptions for herself, my three siblings, and my grandparents.

Later that same day we received cash payment for two more subscriptions (from Robbi's dad) and a check for one more (from my dad). Ok, so our parents practically HAVE to support our venture. That is a given. But did it lessen the legitimizing thrill of payment? Shall we let Robbi's face be the judge?

It has been exciting hearing from friends as they receive the book. Every day more subscriptions have come in. Robbi and I have placed bets on how many we think we'll have in hand by the time it comes to send out Volume 2 in a few weeks. I won't post our guesses now for fear of jinxing things, but I will come clean once the actual number is known.

I will tell you this, Robbi, not wanting to be disappointed, is cultivating extremely conservative expectations. I, however, as one who always wishes for the best, have settled on loftier hopes. If you want Robbi to win the bet, please don't subscribe. If you want to see me happy, please do. Now would be a great time. Isn't it a fine looking book?

As I was saying, people have been emailing us about FFoFE. In addition to expressions of kindness and support, I have recieved a few articulations of genuine puzzlement. "What exactly is going on in this book?" is the general timbre of the questions. "What are we meant to take away from this? Are we to take this seriously? Are these facial features genuine? Why are they important? How did you learn of them? Why French Explorers? Were there not many fine Spanish and Portuguese explorers? Is this some kind of trick?"

All good questions. FFoFE is a baffling work of tremendous complexity. I'll do my best to provide a readers' guide to those feeling adrift.

There are, as far as I can tell, four ways to read Facial Features of French Explorers.

1) Laugh at it. Either because you think it's funny or because you want to mock us for putting together a meaningless book with no real message.

2) Weep bitterly. Maybe you care about trees and consider FFoFE a terrible waste of paper. Maybe your second cousin is French. Maybe you just cut into an onion.

3) Mull and ponder. Indeed, FFoFE presents deep conundrums worth contemplation. Why was de La Salle's beard so full? Might a harelip have saved Brule?

4) Be shocked/appalled. Because basically there is nothing redeeming or enlightening about FFoFE. It is based on even less than sheer conjecture. It flaunts reality. It shrinks from scrutiny.

If you had struggled in approaching FFoFE, I hope this guide has helped. I'll try to provide similar avenues to exegesis in the weeks following each volume's release.

If my notes have yielded a sudden clarity of mind, an unswerving need to subscribe without delay, sobeit.


(and help Matthew win the bet)

Posted by bogenamp at 01:36 AM

November 02, 2006

Getting the Word Out

The glamour of bookmaking declines with each successive step toward the finish line. The fun part is in developing the concept: what will the book be about? How will the writing work with the illustrations? What format will we choose? How will the book be bound? The writing process is enjoyable, if bumpy. Robbi seems to enjoy the process of developing her illustrations once she lands upon the style and tone for a given project. My favorite step is when we sit together at the table, hashing out our concepts for each spread, trying to come up with ways to tell two separate, yet interdependent stories through the dual avenues of word and image. Her drawings are not literal illustrations of my words, but pieces that serve to advance additional ideas missing from the written narrative. My style is spare, leaving much unsaid. Robb's style is spare in its own light. She relies heavily on white space, establishing tone and important details but seldom filling the entire page. Together, our styles of incompletion work together to tell one complete story. At least this is our hope.

I have already devoted an entire entry to the production process and another to the pains of the production process. I have already described how much less fun the production process is than the creative process. Even less enjoyable than the production process is the mailing process, a necessary evil that must come between the production process and the arrival and being read part of things.

Now we know and like various people, but up until a week or so ago, we only knew where a few of them were. Consequently, we embarked upon a massive effort to track town our various friends and family members. The internet makes this much easier than it once was. Thank you In addition to identifying the location of many old friends, I was offered the opportunity to purchase full criminal background reports on all of them. For $45 a pop. My various old friends are lucky that I'm currently more broke than curious.

Anyway, eventually all of the books were produced, the mailing list organized, the labels designed and printed, the cover letter proofed and printed. All that was left to do was stuff the envelopes, affix the labels, and attach the stamp. $.87 a pop.

Around 2:00am, we were ready to start. There were piles of letters, piles of books, piles of envelopes, and sheets of stamps. We dove in.

I remember arguing with Robbi about envelopes at Staples a few weeks back. "Let's get the kind you lick," I said. "I don't mind licking," I said. "I'd rather save the money," I said.

Robbi said something about how she'd go along with me this time but that I'd live to regret it. That some things were worth paying a little bit for, like peel-n-stick envelopes.

Robbi was right. I need to remember. Robbi is always right.

We folded, stuffed, licked, peeled, etc. for a really long time. Eventually, it stopped being late and started being early.

Robbi noted more than once that we probably would have been to bed at a reasonable hour had I not wasted so much time complaining about the horrible gluey taste in my mouth. She got surly around 5:00am.

Eventually, I think it was around 5:30am, we were down to our final envelope.

And then we were done.

This was last Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Just after noon on Thursday, October 28, 2006, the first Idiots'Books mailing went out. Early the next morning we left for Virginia, the gardening show in Reston, and the weekend at Wild Bill's place.

It felt good to send the mailing out. Not only was it the culmination of a tremendous amount of work but it was the first time that one of our books was going to be seen by a large number of people. I think a total of about 10 people in the world have seen each of our first three books.

Time to put an end to that foolishness. Life's too short.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:35 PM

November 01, 2006

The Art Fit

We were really feeling good about ourselves. Facial Features of French Explorers was well into production. Pages were flying off the printer and I was turning them into books. When approximately 50 of them were complete, we got a worrisome message from our printer. On the electronic readout panel, in capital letters, in unambigous terms, we were informed that our "maintenance kit" would run out in 57 pages. The "maintenance kit," I soon learned, is a tightly packed roll of paper/fabric substrate mounted on a rod deep in the bowels of the printer. It's role, as far as I can determine, is to clean off the printing heads as a document prints so that ink smears do not occur. An admirable function, to be sure. But the Xerox Phaser is programmed to allow only 10,000 sheets to be printed on each "maintenance kit," before the printer gets upppity and refuses to print until said kit is replaced.

Here it is. Notice the dinginess:

Chestertown is a humble village, quiet and peaceful, virtuous and quaint. Which is another way of saying that Xerox Phaser maintenance kits are not readily available. We immediately placed an online order, but were forced to halt production entirely until it arrived. Our mailing timeline was revised, much to my consternation, and we bided our time. On the day of projected maintenance kit arrival there were shenanigans involving UPS and their refusal to accept the barn as our residence. They have known it for so long as Seiko's pottery that the notion that the upper level now houses Idiots'Books is taking some getting used to.

Anyway, I called UPS, issued some harsh words, and the kit arrived.

We joyfully resumed printing:

And I joyfully resumed production. I got on a roll, the several days of rest energizing me for the long slog ahead. I folded, trimmed, and stapled throughout the day, and soon I had a pille of 100 new books. Robbi came over to inspect my work. She frowned.

What she said was something like, "Hey Knucklehead," but I don't remember the exact words because once she pointed out the source of her consternation, my heart was flooded with despair.

Which quickly turned to anger.

And then fury.

Things got no better for the next few minutes.


When I was done with my fit, Iggy seized the opportunity to finish the job I had started.

And then all was quiet.

And now I have delved deep into the realms of self-indulgent drama without even telling you what got me so upset. And such is the nature of the "art fit," a genre of behavior marked by wild overraction and disconsolate gloom. I came in frequent contact with the "art fit" in my former life in marketing communications, so I have first-hand knowledge of how it is to be done.

Anyway, the problem was this. All 100 of the books I had just produced had evident smears on about half of the pages, a product of some printing anomaly that was creating a ghosted image of the text block from the left hand side of the page over the clean white space below the illustration on the other.

Just thinking about it still makes me mad.

Ironically, the problem started when we replaced the maintenance kit, which was supposed to prevent such things from happening. We tried to figure out how to fix the problem. We failed. We despaired. We called Xerox. They told us about a function, hitherto unknown to us, that alerts the printer when one is printing on the opposite side of an already printed sheet. The problem was occuring upon a page's second trip through the printer. We tried it. The problem was fixed. Which was great. We were joyful. Until I realized that I still had 175 books to produce.

I got back to it, lesson learned.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:30 PM

Idiots'Books Begins

One of the things I enjoy most is collaborating with Robbi on making books. I do the writing, she draws the pictures, and somewhere in the middle we come up with the conceptual framework for how the two aspects interact. To date, we've produced two major books and one small one in addition to a handful of mini-books for gifts to family and friends. But we haven't yet spent the energy we could or should to get our works published. And who knows if the interest would even be there.

For some time we have talked about taking matters into our own hands and starting our own book publishing project. Now that we have the time to do it properly, we have launched Idiots'Books, a project in which we will produce one collaborative book every month or so. Ten books a year is the plan. Rather than molder on our personal bookshelf as past books have done, the Idiots'Books will be sent to any of our family and friends who are interested in the project. We sent out a mass mailing of 207 books last Thursday. Anyone who wants to sign up may do so for $50 a year, an amount that we hope will cover the cost of printing, binding, and mailing. To date, we've heard back from about 25 people who intend to subscribe. Which delights us to no end.

Anyone reading this who was not on our mailing list may visit the Idiots'Books Web site to learn more about the project and request a free copy of our first title, Facial Features of French Explorers.

More on FFoFE: The idea has been bouncing around in the back of our brains for some time. I don't remember the exact origin of the phrase "Facial Features of French Explorers", but it emerged from a conversation Robbi and I were having at some point. We were delighted at the way it sounded, and resolved that some day it would be the title of a book.

It seemed fitting to kick off the Idiots'Book project with FFoFE. The ball was in my court to begin. I engaged in intensive, backbreaking research of French explorers and their deeds. I engaged in grueling, soul-numbing research on facial charactersitics. Once I had a list of explorers and another of facial characteristics, I made arbitrary pairings, crafted some largely unilluminating paragraphs, and sent the copy to Robbi. She drew some nice pictures, painted them, and set the whole thing in Adobe InDesign. We tweaked and adjusted. We developed a graphic identity for Idiots'Books and created accompanying letterhead and mailing labels. We drafted some hopefully amusing front and back content for the book. We designed a cover. And were ready to produce the sucker.

By now you must be desperate for photos. I don't blame you. The part where we think about and write the book is not very interesting. I could have taken some photos of Robbi drawing, but I didn't. And so you will have to be content with photos of book production. Not the sexiest part of the process, perhaps, but important nonetheless.

Once the document's content is finalized, Robbi has to set it up to print for binding. This means that the pages must be arranged with the end result in mind. Since the pages that make up the book will be stacked and stapled in the middle, the only page that prints opposite its actual partner content is the one that makes up the book's middle spread. All other pages print opposite a page that will appear elsewhere in the book. The pages that make up a spread are joined only when the book is assembled. It's complex and if I'm not being clear, I apologize.

So Robbi wrangles with this complelxity, pushes print, and we wait a long time for the printer to spit out our pages. The complexity strains the printer's brain, as does the file size of the illustrations. We wait and wait and eventually there is a pile of pages ready to be bound.

This is where the photos come in.

First, I gather the seven pages that make up one copy of FFoFE from the tall stack of pages.

Then I jog the pages into a neat stack so that they all line up nicely when bound.

Next, the stack is folded carefully to make a 8.5" x 5.5" dimension booklet from the stack of 8.5" x 11" sheets. Whenever a stack of paper is thus folded, there is the problem of "push out," in which the sheets in the middle of the resulting booklet extend further than the sheets wrapped around it. This is due to the greater "spine" created as each additional sheet is wrapped around the ones closer to the center of the booklet. The outermost front and back page in a book made of seven sheets of paper extends a good eighth of an inch less than the middle sheet. This may seem like a small difference, but it's definitely noticable. Fancy book producing operations would finish the book by making a clean trim across the edge of the pages, thus evening them all out. We are not a fancy book producing operation. But as I folded, I made sure that the unevenness was consistent from front to back, that the end product might have as good a chance as possible of seeming deliberate.

After making the initial fold, I use an ingenious device called a bone folder to make a strong crease across the folded edge that would become the book's spine. The bone folder is, as it sounds, made of bone. It is polished smooth and is of such a texture and consistency as to make a nice crease without harming the paper stock. I do not know what sort of beast has given his bone to the Idiots'Book venture. Perhaps it is best that I don't.

Once the book has been folded, I move on to the trimming. Although we are too primitive to bother with trimming the edges of the pages, the design of FFoFE calls for us to trim 2 inches from the vertical axis to yield a finished size of 5.5" x 6.5". Robbi is a real snob about page size. She hates the 8.5" x 11.5" inch dimension or any obvious derivatives thereof. And so we're always doing spates of reckless trimming to keep her happy.

We are lucky to own the machine pictured above. It is a paper trimmer. The concept is not complex, yet the amount of time this sucker saves in putting together a book requiring trimming is breathtaking. Basically, a small cutting wheel moves along a track. There is an arm that clamps down to hold the stack of pages in place. The cutting wheel moves along its track, neatly trimming the page to the desired size. Easy as pie. The alternative is using a ruler and a razor blade. If we had used this latter route, I would no longer have fingers, and your copy of FFoFE would contain a good deal of my DNA.

The final step after trimming is binding. In the case of FFoFE, which is a relatively short book, we opted for a saddle stitch binding technique. This means binding the pages together across spreads by some means of fixing pages together along their central fold. Many thicker books are perfect bound, which means that individual pages are cut and stacked together and then bound to the spine with glue. (The "pushout" problem would be insurmountable if lengthy books were saddle stitch bound.) But FFoFE, consisting of only seven sheets and a cover, was a good candidate for binding with a stapler. Two staples did the trick. We have a a stapler with a really long "throat," which means that the top and bottom of the stapler attach much further away from one another than they would on a traditional stapler. The resulting "throat" acommodates the entire page of a book that is lying flat to acommodate a staple along its spine.

The bigass stapler (we refer to it as "the longie"):

In action:

After the stapling, there is an important step known as admiring, where one holds the finished product in one's hand and reflects upon the binding process with a bittersweet sentimentaility.

After admiring, there is stacking. Likely I don't need to explain the stacking.

Post-stacking is boxing.

And so on, and so on. Making 200+ books takes some doing, I have found. As much as we hope that some people will choose to subscribe to Idiots'Books, each additional subscriber represents another book that must be produced. And the production method behind FFoFE is about as basic as it gets. We are imagining some rather grand setups for future volumes.

Hopefully this expose of the sausage making that goes into book production hasn't taken too much of the magic out of your finished copy of FFoFE. Like a cook at the end of preparing a big meal, I had zero appetite for FFoFE after hours and days of production. I had lost any faith that what we had produced had the least modicum of value, interest, humor, charm, etc. It has been nice to hear a few positive comments trickle in from the ether.

There is much more to say about FFoFE, but you're probably stiff with boredom. Apologies.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:21 AM | Comments (1)