A cartoon dinosaur gazes dolefully from the cover of Avery Monsen and Jory Johns' new book, whose title is the cartoon's caption: All My Friends Are Dead. It's a reality check reconfirmed throughout the book by a houseplant, an old man, a dodo bird, and others. Drawn by Monsen and written by both men, it looks like a children's book, but it's not — unless you want your kids to cry.
While working as counselors at Wavy Gravy's Camp Winnarainbow, the pair devised the grieving dinosaur concept, printing it first on buttons, then on T-shirts that they sold online at BigStoneHead.net, then in a twelve-page 'zine. Spotting the 'zine at a San Francisco boutique, a Chronicle Books editor invited the pair to create a book.
"It's actually almost exactly how Louisa May Alcott got Little Women published. Strange but true," joked Monsen, who was born in Berkeley, raised in Castro Valley, now lives in Richmond, and is also an actor.
"While I was illustrating All My Friends Are Dead last summer, I was playing Lysander in CalShakes' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream," said Monsen. "Sometimes I'd bring my computer into the dressing room to work on the book when I wasn't onstage. So if you saw that play, there's every chance that I was thinking about this book while you were watching me. Sorry," he said.
Johns lives near Santa Cruz, where he's a reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Formerly, he headed the tutoring and field-trip programs for Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia writing center in San Francisco, during which time he edited Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids' Letters to President Obama, which McSweeney's published last year. Johns also launched the Peanut Butter Plan (PeanutButterPlan.org), an initiative by which ordinary citizens make and distribute sandwiches to the homeless.
The pals, who will be at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, September 26, also produce the "Open Letters" comic that appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and Pacific Sun. Sample: "Dear Restaurant Fork, I can't help but think about the thousands of other mouths that have encompassed you — tongues swirling, cold sores flaring. ... You don't care. You're a harlot, Fork. But I'm nothing without you. I'm just a lonely guy eating macaroni with his hands."
"We basically write letters to concepts or places or inanimate objects — like twenty-sided dice. Or man bags. Or snow. Or the grinding noise in airplanes, just before takeoff. Just because something isn't sentient doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a strongly worded letter every once in a while," said Monsen, who also silk-screens famous people's faces on head-shaped pillows, which he also sells.
"It absolutely sounds like something that they tell parents to look out for as a warning sign that their child might become a serial killer. Like ... lighting fires, hurting animals, and making head-shaped celebrity pillows. ... The Ira Glass pillow is selling the best, right now. That guy has a pretty devoted little army of followers." 3 p.m., free. DieselBookstore.com