Tucson residents jokeharmonica and hey pedro! created and published an illustrated storybook titled there once was a man, which tells a tale of self-discovery with a unique twist. Besides some digitized artwork, the little, 69-page paperback was almost completely handmade—from lettering, layout to design. The book can be bought at Antigone Books, Revolutionary Grounds and Mostly Books.
Why did you create pen names and what's the meaning behind each of them?
jokeharmonica: Let me explain, have you ever heard of a group called the Residents? They're basically anonymous and have eyeballs for heads and the singer's called the speaker and everyone else in the band does that too, we just had an affinity to that. Joke is to remind myself not to be so serious, because I am a serious person. It's really to tell myself to lighten up. I also have a big love for the harmonica and how limited the articulation is of a harmonica and what we can hear as compared to like a guitar.
pedro!: One of my best friends other than Joke was a neighbor of mine who I have known for years. He always used to say hey pedro when he saw me or called me on the phone and it just fit. My real name is a mouthful and so hedpedro! Is nice and it's even how I'm greeted when I walk into Mostly Books or Antigone Books.
jokeharmonica: When people call me Joke now because they're in the know they just give me a frequency of love and understanding.
Tell me about your process of creating there once was a man ?
pedro!: This all started a long time ago, I wrote this back in 2006. I went through a lot of trials and bumping into Joke was probably the best piece of fortune I've had because the illustration match the text and without them this book wouldn't be what it is.
jokeharmonica: I was working at a health food store and I had been going to art school and pedro was like 'oh, I really appreciate what you're doing, I can't give you a MacArthur Foundation grant but I'll give you a ticket to the Residents.' I'm from New Jersey and was like who's the Residents? We went there and it was pretty cool and then next thing I know he asked me vaguely if I wanted to do a project. Then he just gave me a whole bunch of pages kind of like split into fours, his handwriting on each of the pages and it was basically a blueprint. I was really inspired from it and I handled the gift that he gave me carefully. I saw a light in it and I just wanted to shine some more light to it. It was an opportunity and big challenge all at the same time. I took the theme of the book and made a kind of sibling out of it in sound. I didn't use any of his dialogue so I could then envision a three-dimensional character. That's where the idea of the copyright guy came from, the idea of an everyman. After that, I took pictures of the pages of his hand-lettering and used GIMP and took all 70 JPEGs and just drew. I didn't sketch or do any formal thumbnails. I never changed a word because it is what it is, I appreciate the writings. What I've been told is what makes the book is the fusion between his words and my pictures. After that it was published and then printed by The Gloo Factory, then we went on a little tour around Tucson. We had four different guest readers who read it while I played music and my harmonica, and he would just do hijinks with balloons. It was a beautiful journey; we did readings at Food Conspiracy, Revolutionary Grounds, Gary's Place, a DIY space and an elementary school. What really touched me is this book, myself and him were broken people and getting people together as a unity in such a fragmented world is just beyond overwhelming.
How have people reacted to the book?
pedro!: We've sold almost 100 copies, there's even a copy down in Chile that someone bought. Everybody's been incredibly supportive, from where we did readings to everyone who helped make the book.
jokeharmonica: What I love is that not one person has said the same thing about it; it is what you make out of it. With a lot of people it's just sending them love in how they process it.
pedro!: One thing to note is the protagonist can be anybody, it's not me, it's not you, it's not joke, it can be anybody. Everyone's been phenomenal and I appreciate the goodness that people have given us with this book. I really appreciate the generosity, the patience, love, kindness, and good words that everyone has given us. To everyone that pulled strokes for us or did readings, they're a part of the family.
jokeharmonica: When I think of all the people I want to thank I can see the whole journey of making the book.