I interviewed children’s book author and illustrator Dallas Clayton about his inspirational debut, An Awesome Book, for NO Magazine, a quarterly arts magazine based in Auckland, New Zealand.
Dallas Clayton interview
Rocket-powered unicorns, watermelon boats and cars that run on jellybeans are just some imaginings that Los Angelino Dallas Clayton shares in An Awesome Book. Schooled in Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss and John Steinbeck, Clayton put pen to paper two years ago to write and draw An Awesome Book
in the hopes of helping his now six-year-old son Audio follow his own dreams. Now he’s inspiring countless others around the world to do the same.
"I wanted to write a book for my son while he was still young enough to appreciate it, so I decided to write a kids book a day. An Awesome Book was
my first one. It took me about 30 minutes to write and about nine months to complete. Longest ‘day’ ever.“
It sold out in a week, and has now sold close to 40,000 copies, but roughly the same amount has been given away for free on his promotional reading tours. "When I first decided to go on tour I looked at all the ways authors read at schools and bookstores, and all of the models involved making kids buy the books. I knew that I didn’t ever want to be somewhere – a school or shop
or kids’ hospital – and have to see kids that got to buy the book and kids that didn’t. That’s the last thing I want, some kid in the back of the room who
can’t afford the book.
So I decided just to give it away. I’m my own boss, there’s no one to stop me, right? Well after going on tour and doing that I pretty much realised I wanted
to do it all the time forever, so I started the Awesome World Foundation, which matches book for book with every book we sell and those are then given away to kids in schools, hospitals, libraries, camps, etc.”
So the candy cane machines and “dancing wild animals with diamond-coated wings” are not intended to make money. “My goal isn’t to make money, it’s to reach as many people as possible and try to inspire them to do great things,” says Clayton. “In a perfect world, I would way rather give away a million books than sell a million books, any day.”
It’s been a great bonding experience for him and his son. “He loves it. It’s been really great to make something for him and have it grow along with him. When I first wrote it he could barely read, and he was still getting a handle on a lot of the ideas in the book but now he’s reading by himself, knows all the words and loves to sit and draw with me. He’s always writing his own books now. It’s the greatest reward.”
Clayton’s love of adventure and storytelling started at an early age, perhaps
a reason why he’s encouraging his son’s artistic development. “I started
writing zines when I was 12 or 13. I would write with friends and put together homemade books of bad young ideas and go sell them to strangers at shows and out in front of galleries. Really it was as much a way to meet strangers
as to write and make things. It wasn’t 'til I moved to LA that I started doing
it every day and then people started offering me writing jobs.”
The modern day Dr. Seuss says he dreams in idle times: “On the beach, in
a park, in my bedroom, in your bedroom… wherever I end up and there are supplies.” He then knocks the ideas around in his head, and hand draws them with pens and ink while listening to books on tape. Clayton never drew before, but was always a writer. He took the chance, saying “I guess I’ll just draw it, kids won’t know the difference if it’s messed up.” He now does all sorts of illustration work.
Clayton also regularly posts short poems on his website. “If I go too long without posting, people send me emails. One time someone even made a blog post asking if I was dead. I felt like, 'Oh man, I guess I have an obligation here.
I have to update it now.’ I use the same system for cutting my hair.”
So he’s achieved one of his dreams – what’s left? “I’d like to ride on Michael Jordan’s shoulders in some sort of victory celebration, like if we won a game
of kickball against Andre Agassi. That would be fun. I’d like to be able to fly.
I’d like to do a back flip, or many back flips on the beach near a large fire. Things like that, mostly.”
There are three more finished books in the pipeline for release this year
and of course many more drawings of rocket-powered unicorns.