Children’s-book authors Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown, the team behind The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, tell The Daily Beast about the zine they started and how they inspire each other.
Where did you grow up?
Lisa Brown: In a suburb of Hartford, Conn. My family were refugees from Long Island, N.Y.
Daniel Handler: San Francisco.
What did you study?
LB: I studied history, literature, and philosophy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I studied graphic design at Pratt Institute in New York. I am a self-taught illustrator, and I think it shows.
DH: Wesleyan University. I double-majored in English and American Studies—the new big moneymakers.
Where do you live?
DH: San Francisco, for reasons obvious to anyone who has been there.
LB: San Francisco and Cape Cod. I need the ocean within spitting distance. And if there’s an earthquake on the West Coast, I can go east. If there’s a hurricane on the East Coast, I can go west. I’m hoping there won’t be both.
What do you look for in a great first line/first page/first chapter of a young-adult novel?
DH: A consistent rate of surprise.
Describe your morning routine.
DH: Wake, shower, shave, dress, put music on, double espresso, fresh-fruit smoothie, oatmeal, read the comics in The San Francisco Chronicle to the child, read The New York Times to oneself, agree to show the child one YouTube video in exchange for the vigorous brushing of teeth (current favorite: Of Monsters And Men, “Little Talks”), vigorous brushing of teeth, kiss just-waking wife, walk child to school, small talk with other parents in schoolyard, put on headphones (current favorite: Fire!, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago), take bus, walk to Jewish Community Center, swim 50 laps, take bus, arrive home to begin working day.
LB: My husband nudges me at what I feel is the crack of dawn—after he has already gotten up, showered, prepared breakfast for himself and our kid, and made me coffee. Then I say “five more minutes,” and he comes back in five minutes and I say “five more minutes,” and he comes back in five minutes and I say “five more minutes,” and he says no, and I say “pleasepleasepleaseplease” and he says “you are pathetic,” and I go upstairs and drink my coffee and kiss the kid, and my husband takes the kid to school, while I slurk around the house, pretending that I will go to the gym. I eventually get to my studio, post some stuff on Tumblr, tweet a bit, and then it’s really not anything close to morning anymore.
What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?
DH: Cocktails—researching old recipes, inventing new ones, mixing them, serving them, drinking them, the whole fetishy bit.
Remind me to invite myself to your home sometime. What is your favorite item of clothing?
DH: My new three-piece suit.
LB: I have this amazingly ugly sweater that I bought at a thrift store in the early 1990s, that I like to wear when I work and when I want to irritate the people with whom I live. It’s disgusting.
Tell us about the American Chickens Institute. Few realize that American Chickens are, in fact, foldable.
LB: American Chickens was a zine that my husband and I started in the early 1990s, because we were bored at our just-outta-college jobs. It was made from a single piece of paper, Xeroxed, one-sided, and in black-and-white because that was cheapest, and folded in such a way that there were four “pages” and a “centerfold.” It was themed. For example: “Super-Toother” (dentistry), “Very Small Things,” “Lunch,” “Sorry-Party” (the game of Sorry!), “Julian Sands-tastic.” There was usually a poem. There was usually a contest. Our distribution techniques involved cafés, car windshields, and street corners. You can see all 11 of 12 issues (we forgot to make issue #9) here. The American Chickens Institute is our sister company where we produce brochures.
Do you have a writer friend who helps and inspires you?
LB: I have a writer husband who helps and inspires me. He’s also my friend.
DH: My wife is my first and best reader, and my pal Andrew Sean Greer is a fine novelist and an excellent person with whom to talk shop.
Lisa, you have a distinctive look to your cartoons. How long did it take you to “find” that look that we come to associate with your work? I always wonder when the signature style of an artist clicks into place.
LB: I have a distinctive look? I always feel that my style jumps all over the place. Shows how much I know.