Fans of Mr. Men/Little Miss books are in for a treat! Author and humorist Dan Zevin has just collaborated with illustrator Dylan Klymenko to bring us Mr. Men Parodies, a series of books that (lovingly) pokes fun at our self-promoting, pumpkin-latte-sipping, oversharing ways.
These hysterical parodies will make you laugh, cry, cringe, and perhaps hang your head in shame (I’m looking at you, Mr. Humblebrag!).
We got in touch with illustrator Dylan Klymenko to ask him about the quirky book series and his collaboration with Dan Zevin.
Can you tell us how the collaboration between you and Dan Zevin came about?
There’s a good lesson to others in how this all started: always share what you’re making.
I received an email from Dan saying my name was included on a list of illustrators by a college friend I hadn’t spoken to in 7 years. No falling out of any sort – just life pulling us in different directions. Dan told me about his project and thought that the way I mixed an adorable art style with a sometimes-twisted sense of humor on upside down grin was perfect for these parody books. I agreed and we started working together, but not before I immediately followed up with my friend. I was shocked to see her name mentioned. All three years (at that point) I had been posting new illustrations from upside down grin onto Facebook and I had never seen a single ‘like’ or comment from her. I didn’t realize she even knew it existed.
Turns out she was a quiet fan. It made me wonder how many other people watch in silence and enjoy what I make. It also made me realize the importance of sharing my artwork. Had I never put it on Facebook, she never would’ve seen it and I likely never would’ve been approached to be the artist for these parody books.
So if anyone else reading this is an artist or creator of some sort – as scary as it is to put your work out on display, and even if you think no one is paying attention, still do it. You never know where it might lead.
Did you have your own Mr. Men/Little Miss books growing up?
Dan owned all of them and read them to his kids. I only knew of them peripherally, as something that was part of pop culture. They were characters I recognized, but not a major source of nostalgia for me like it is for so many others. That made it all the more fun during my research phase in the kid’s section of my local public library.
There I was, this single, 29-year-old guy, hunched over on a tiny chair in the kid’s section. I had all the books laid out, flipping through the pages, taking diligent notes. ‘Oh, your kids will LOVE those’ The librarians assumed I was an attentive father, doing his best to preview the content he’d be reading to his kids.
In reality, I was just looking for common visual themes for our characters and backgrounds. While our parody books are parodies and, therefore, something altogether distinct from those original books, I still wanted to do my homework. When poking fun at a specific thing, it’s always a good idea to have the characters and backgrounds give a nod in the proper direction. Stuff like cellphones and text message convos didn’t exist in the original books, so I had to come up with my own approach which felt like it fit into the world the way it would’ve been drawn.
What do you think these books say about millennials?
All of the traits these characters display existed well before millennials and the internet, but tech has given those traits new avenues through which to materialize that feel very current and like they belong to millennials.
Mr. Selfie is what happens when you give narcissism a self-facing cellphone camera. Mr. Humblebrag (a great term first coined by the late Harris Wittels) is what happens when a braggart becomes self-aware and calculated, stepping up their bragging game to include self-pity in the hope that it plays better over social media. Little Miss Overshare is that person who lacks a filter, and, whereas their over-sharing was once limited to water cooler and dinner conversations, the internet provided the perfect forum for their “TMI” to bring popularity to that shorthand. Little Miss Basic puts a new name and dress code on what is any entitled, upper-middle class person in history with first world problems; Marie Antoinette would’ve been a basic.
These books are as much a parody of today’s cultural landscape as they are a parody of the original children’s book series. That said, I think millennials tend to get a bad rap. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a selfie or being excited about your recent success or liking pumpkin spice lattes (I’m a big fan of Southern Tier’s Pumking beer myself). For the sake of satire and cultural commentary, we took those personalities to an extreme in these books. Even then, I’m sure there are some people out there who fall into that extreme. Does that mean they represent the majority of millenials? Nah. Does that mean millennials will still find these parody books funny and relatable? Absolutely.
What Mr. Men/Little Miss book isn’t in the collection that you’d like to illustrate?
We already have four more characters due to hit stores on March 22, 2016. Like with the first four, we never do anything especially graphic or obscene, but we definitely upped the ante on the dysfunctional adult antics.
The characters include Little Miss Hot Mess, Little Miss Passive-Aggressive, Mr. Emotionally Unavailable, and Mr. Baller (a guy who thinks himself a ladies’ man, but is actually a total dweeb). People can pre-order those spring releases now on amazon.
If we have the chance to do more beyond that, I’d love to examine the character that’s hyper-Politically Correct / Easily Offended. The kind of person who sucks the well-meaning intention and fun out of anything. Someone’s having a birthday party? That’s offensive to the dead! Someone posted a picture of their cat? Their daughter is allergic to cats! Did they ever consider how that image might trigger horrible memories of the pain of itchy eyes and sneezing? At what point are we catering too much to a vocal few’s extremely delicate and specific sensibilities? That character just feels ripe for funny situations Dan and I could bring to life.
You’re the artist behind Upside Down Grin — can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yea – so that’s my webcomic / illustration site. It’s all single-panel, illustration and caption. I describe the format to people as being like the New Yorker cartoons, but more colorful and cute. Upside Down Grin is the first thing Dan saw when getting a feel for whether he’d want to work with me as an illustrator. I used to work as a copywriter at Mullen Lowe US back when it was just called ‘Mullen’, and initially started the site as a side-project – something that would allow me total creative autonomy over the final product. Over the past four years – after selling at flea markets and major comic conventions – it just grew to become my full-time career, with me having since left my ad job behind.
I posted every Monday through Friday, five days a week for a long time, but had to scale back to Tuesdays and Thursdays with all the book work this year. Since I come from a writing background, I love using the captions to play with time-honored adages and common phrases, giving them a fresh visual spin that makes you laugh (here’s one of my favorite examples of that I did for mother’s day). I also frequently consider the life of inanimate objects and love a good pun (exhibit b). As of this interview, I have 611 completely different illustrations on the site.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
Y’know, I’ve been wondering the same thing. Maybe these books will lead to something else I hadn’t considered? A fun, new project? I’m always open to hearing new proposals for collaboration. In the meantime, I have plans to expand the products available on upside down grin from just art prints to include mugs, cell phone cases, t-shirts and the like very soon. I’m also looking for an agent right now. I have some of my own book ideas and back burner projects I’d like to pitch, and, from what I’ve heard, I need an agent before most publishing houses would consider hearing me out.