The Missing The Boat illustrator shares childhood tales of missing the point
People are always asking us to help plug something of theirs—an upcoming show, a new record, some book they wrote. Because we’re not in the pandering business, we think there should be a trade-off. Debaser allows these folks to plug whatever they want, with one caveat: They also have to tell us something embarrassing about themselves. This week, Milwaukee artist Dwellephant talks about the new book he illustrated, Missing The Boat, and the special scavenger hunt he has planned on Saturday at Boswell Books. In exchange, he told us not one but two embarrassing stories from his childhood about some very public misunderstandings.
Decider: All right, here’s your chance to plug Missing The Boat. What do you want people to know?
Dwellephant: The things that seem to impress people the most is that it is for kids, that there are no swear words in it, and that I hand-painted every page. People seem more interested in the book once I tell them all or one of those things.
D: Is that the order of importance?
D: Yeah. That seems to be it. It’s hard not to give away too much, but the premise is that two now-non-existent species of animals are running late to Noah’s Ark. Instead of being slapsticky, it ends up being an intelligent read for kids. It doesn’t talk down to kids.
D: Neither you nor writer Justin Shady normally work in this medium. Did you consciously tailor your work for a younger audience?
D: We both grew up on the Muppets and Sesame Street, and they didn’t really pander to any age group. They just tried to do the best thing they could do and ended up entertaining kids and adults. Whenever I put something out in the world, I just hope that I’m staying as true to myself as possible. Does that sound pretentious?
D: Not at all. Let’s talk about the event at Boswell. You’ve described it as a scavenger hunt. What do you mean exactly?
D: Ideally, the way it will work is we’ll have all these businesses and artists stationed around the bookstore, and—this sounds totally insane but I swear it will run smoothly—each person will have a clue of sorts, and they’ll know which book where, if you buy it, you’ll get a raffle ticket for one of the big prize packages. The general idea is to get people around and exploring the bookstore and these businesses that are helping me. It could succeed or it could fail, but I feel like prizes motivate people to do things.
D: Speaking of which, it’s now time for our prize. What’s your embarrassing story?
D: All right, I’ll tell you this one, and if it’s not embarrassing enough, I swear this other one will be. When I was probably around 9 or 10 years old, there was a fish fry at my church. My brother and sister and I were helping our parents cook all this fish and pack the orders. Somehow, I was foolishly put on phone duties. Taking orders at 10 years old, there’s some law against that, I’m sure.
So, we get this call, and it’s someone whispering—almost like a fake voice. Being 10 years old and ignorant to the trials and tribulations of the world, I started laughing. I thought someone was pranking, so I turn around to everybody in the kitchen and say, really loud, “Someone take this. There’s a croaker on the phone!” Turns out to be one of the oldest people in the church, and she had an operation because she had cancer in her throat. As soon as I saw the phone get slammed down and one of parents’ friends turn red in the face, I was like, “Oh shit.”
D: Not bad. What’s your other story?
D: I was in high school and in my first relationship, and we were in the band and traveling to a football game on a Friday night. She and I had been having trouble—God knows what it was about—and we were talking and things weren’t going well. She turned away to take a nap and I saw this note sitting away from her backpack. So, I take it out and open it, and it’s from another guy, and it talks about them hanging out and stuff.
I just became livid. Rather than discuss it on the bus, I wait until we’re all set up in the bleachers. At one point, I just snapped, and she’s at the very top of the section and I’m at the bottom, and in front of the entire band I just start screaming at her about the note. At the time, I thought, “Oh, she’s not responding because I’m in the right.” Turns out she just understood that it was wrong to embarrass someone in public. Afterward, she came up to me and said, “That note was from three years ago, before we even met.” I made a handful of female enemies that year.