Looking for a repeat of its surprise picture book bestseller, Go the F**k to Sleep, Akashic publisher Johnny Temple is touting two new books with strong graphic components. Just out from the house is a book by Simon Tofield, Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos, a collection of cat cartoons that tie in with his wildly popular animated cartoons on YouTube; plus a 15th anniversary edition of By The Balls: The Complete Edition, the acclaimed hardboiled crime novel written and published by Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender, with illustrations by comics artist Paul Pope.
After selling hundreds of thousands of copies of Go the F**k to Sleep, a parody of a children’s picture book by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, Temple said he was “looking for books with a graphic element.” Originally published by Cannongate in the U.K. (which is also the U.K. publisher of Go the F**k to Sleep), Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos is the third book in a series of print cartoon books tied to Tofield’s Simon’s Cat YouTube channel, which has more than 30 of his charmingly illustrated cat cartoons. The Simon’s Cat YouTube channel is a phenomenon, with every one of Tofield’s short films attracting well over a million views; the most popular boasts 40 million views.
Much like his books, Tofield’s YouTube cartoons follow the antics of his fat white cat, which generally result in wrecking some part of Tofield’s home. “His animated films are as popular with adults as they are with kids,” Temple said. “He works on them with a team of animators and it’s really a business. He’s got a sponsored channel on YouTube,” he said. Booksellers have praised the series and Temple showed PW a list of stores that are anxious to get copies, including City Lights Books in San Francisco; Brookline Booksmith in Massachussetts; Word in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and BookPeople in Austin, Tex.
While Cannongate publishes Tofield in the U.K., his first two Simon’s Cat books were published in the U.S. by Grand Central Publishing—books Temple said sold well, almost reaching the 30,000-copy mark. Nevertheless, thanks to Akashic’s success with Go the F**k to Sleep, Cannongate offered books three and four of the Simon’s Cat series to the publisher. The first printing was 15,000 copies and Akashic has gone back to press for another 10,000. Tofield has been in the U.S. promoting the book with events on both coasts, including a stop at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Originally published in 1998, By The Balls was penned by Pascoe and Fassbender in an effort to get Uglytown, their indie publishing house, off the ground. Written in the manner of classic hardboiled fiction under the pseudonym Dashiell Loveless, By The Balls is a wry but gritty tale of a series of murders in the bowling alleys of the grim fictional town of Testacy City. It relates the efforts of private eye Ben Drake to solve these crimes. The book features illustrations by überhip graphic novel artist Paul Pope and not only launched a series of Ben Drake stories and novels but also put Uglytown on the map as a quirky but serious indie house focused on handsomely designed trade paperback editions and hardboiled crime fiction with a strong sense of place.
When Uglytown folded in 2005, it had published about 14 books and helped launch the careers of writers like Sean Doolittle and Curt Colbert. The two actually started By the Balls by serializing it online, a practice that was virtually unheard of at the time. “We’re very good friends with Jim and Tom,” Temple said; “They were publishing buddies and the shutting of Uglytown left a chasm.” So when Pascoe and Fassbender approached Temple about doing a 15-year anniversary edition of By the Balls, he jumped at it. The two teamed up to write three new Ben Drake stories (the first in 10 years) and the book includes an introduction that traces the origins of Uglytown. Akashic is also hosting a series of videos on its Web site in which Pascoe and Fassbender discuss how the whole thing got started.
Pascoe said By the Balls began Uglytown’s transition from a place “for our voices into a platform for other voices.” He added that “college students now were just kids when the book first came out, so we thought there’s a whole new audience for the book.” Pascoe noted, “There’s an overwhelming nostalgia for Uglytown. People tell us we were an inspiration. Hearing that made us want to do it again in the same bombastic, over-the-top fashion we did the book in originally.