Quite a Chronicle
Hello. We’re Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr. We’re a writer/illustrator, husband/wife duo.
As much as we enjoy watching television…
…and surfing the internet…
…mostly we’re interested in the wonderful things that can happen when words and pictures collide.
We live and work together in the hayloft of an old barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
By “live,” we mean “eat ramen.”
And “change diapers.”
And “get plenty of sleep.”
And by “work,” we mean “dupe gullible old ladies.”
And “gamble away our meager savings.”
And “make books together.”
Actually, those first two things are only hobbies. For the most part, making books together is what we do.
Over the past eight years, we have self-published more than 50 books written by Matthew and illustrated by Robbi. We’re a mom and pop operation in the true sense of the word, not just writing and illustrating our stuff, but also designing and printing and trimming and binding and marketing and promoting it ourselves.
We tend to wear a lot of hats.
And make a lot of books.
Whether the “odd, commercially non-viable picture books for adults” we publish through our small press Idiots’Books or the picture books and music for kids we publish through Bobbledy Books, we distribute by sending our stuff out to subscribers all over the country and world.
Running a small press is very exciting. It has its pros and its cons.
On one hand, we get to spend our time making books and driving around to share them with people.
On the other hand, it isn’t very good for the kids’ college fund.
From our earliest days as admirers of books, we have marveled at the work of mighty Chronicle (perhaps you have heard of them?), that independent, San Francisco-based publisher of exquisitely beautiful printed matter. In rare moments of reckless fantasy, we dreamed of capturing Chronicle’s attention, but of course this was impossible. They were far too wonderful, and we were far too small.
So we kept on making books together, not really sure why, other than because we enjoyed it so much. Our parents wondered what would become of us.
But one day, a nice lady named Kathy took pity on us and agreed to be our agent. Another day, she met with a Chronicle editor named Bridget in a dingy back alley and showed her some of our books (apparently, this is how all book deals happen; we had no idea!).
An offer was made.
A toast was raised.
And a paradigm shifted. Our names would appear on the cover of a Chronicle f!@#ing Book! We spent a lot of time pinching ourselves (and one another). For a while, we had a lot of tiny welts.
In gratitude to the gods that govern such improbable circumstance, Matthew was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
But, apparently, Robbi was not eligible. And so the gods went uncompensated, and we started working with Bridget to make the best Chronicle book we possibly could. The work in question was Ten Thousand Stories, a title we’d self-published through our small press Idiots’Books back in 2006.
A title we’d constructed by hand in our studio.
Ten Thousand Stories was a mix-and-match book for adults. Meaning, the book contains ten illustrated stories, each of which is written and illustrated so as to be interchangeable with each of the others.
Here’s how it works: Each page is cut into four panels.
By flipping the top panel, the judge’s becomes the disembodied head of a really pretty lady.
Flipping the second panel swaps the horse’s head for a fetching dominatrix in sensible stockings.
Flipping the fourth panel turns a humble steed into a special kind of equine weapon.
And so on, and so on. Here comes a nun to impose a bit of order. Spoiler alert, she does not succeed.
For each new image created, there is a corresponding, mixed-up narrative that’s just as surprising (yet strangely coherent).
And so far, you’ve seen only five of the 10,000 permutations.
Bridget and the other folks at Chronicle did a great job of preserving the spirit of our original while making it more interesting and beautiful in every way, including a cover design by a real live Chronicle designer (thanks, Kristen!).
And this truly badass frame around our photo in the back (we can’t imagine how expensive it must have been to produce). Thanks, guys!
And a title page, which somehow, improbably, has both of our names and the Chronicle logo—in the very same place.
Are we pleased?
We are pleased.
Are we going to quit self-publishing and spend all day eating ice cream instead?
As tempting as that is, we know there is work yet to do.
As long as the sum of the ideas in our heads is greater than the number of hours in the day, we will continue making books.
But from this moment forward, we will do so as a Chronicle author and illustrator.
Which means that occasionally (not more than once or twice a day, please understand) we might still suffer a rash of tiny welts.
But no matter. Some sacrifices must be made in the interest of following dreams.
And some paths must be walked, even when there’s no indication where they lead.
Especially then, we think.
Check out Matthew’s and Robbi’s other books for adults.
Check out Matthew’s and Robbi’s books for kids.
And see our high-tech, cutting-edge trailer:
Lisa Congdon on Getting Older and ThrivingOctober 9th, 2017
Being Human: The Surreal + Playful Work of William WegmanSeptember 28th, 2017
How to Have Gouda IdeasSeptember 26th, 2017
Artists Take Action: An Instagram-Only Auction for CharitySeptember 21st, 2017