Pressed into Service

If you have been paying a shred of attention, you’ll know that we are in the midst of a torrid fling with a 1,200lb Chandler and Price, en route to a brand new venture into letterpress. The new press is called Haywire, and its grand opening is tomorrow, October 25, from 10:00am-5:00 pm at the barn on South Queen Street.

You will notice that there are three people in the photograph below. In a stunning breach of ten years of working as a two-for-all, Robbi and I have recently added the wise and talented Jodi Bortz into the fold. She is the heart and soul of Haywire. We come up with the pictures and words, but she does the real work, the actual printing.

In the Studio
Jodi’s dad was a printer, and until walking into the barn a few months ago, Jodi had no idea that she had inherited the family gift. But the woman is a natural printer, a virtuoso. As beautiful as this old press may be, she is a temperamental creature with many creaks and idiosyncrasies. But Jodi is the press whisperer, knowing just how to ink the disk, just how to register the plate, just how much padding to stack behind the tympan.


Without Jodi, there would be no Haywire. Which means, there would be no Animals Uncensored cards.


And I will say, with some immodesty, that they make the world a better place.


If not a more colorful one.


Haywire aims to say that which needs to be said but is so often left unspoken.


But lest you worry that Haywire is nothing but a potty-mouthed affair, know that we offer sweeter stuff as well. Such as our Baby is Disappointing card set.


And our “White Christmas” holiday card, which celebrates the letterpress-only allure of blind emboss.


And our custom stationery sets. We will be launching with four concepts (the others involve golf, inkwells, and lunatic donkeys), but will be taking orders for bespoke designs.


There is also room in the Haywire oeuvre for Robbi’s brand of weirdly adorable (or is it adorably weird?) line art.

0LX937qM3m1CjRhg1x9buZvLLoCmfCG-28PK-lprs7g,oJMMGoixhGijxgD2tdQEYXVEYh4DDNZgf3qveky1-8c,uS1LLHumKUo0M2zLibi22yr8r35XnvEhASKHet3BhQwAll of which is inestimably elevated by that gorgeous emboss of the press.

DSC00311My favorite design is certainly this ass-kicking ninja. I’m pretty sure Robbi modeled him after me.


I’m talking about the donkey, of course.

How does all this make us feel? This picture speaks 10,000 words.


So, please, please, please, if you are free, come see us this weekend. We’re so excited to finally share our stuff in the flesh. As lovely as letterpress looks in a photo, there’s nothing like running your finger across it and enjoying the tactile pleasure that can only be achieved from this ultimate labor of love.

And if you live in, say, California (just out of range, we’ll admit), know that the Haywire site will launch as soon as we can enter all the products and work out the bugs. Not much longer now, we promise.

For now, Jodi continues to print, Robbi continues to stay up all night tinkering, and I continue to marvel at these two remarkable women I’m lucky enough to get to work alongside every day. Occasionally, I throw them bits of language, which inevitably finds a deserving home.

Just look how my words get to spend their days.


I ask you, has a writer ever been so lucky?

Come see us this weekend or next:

Oct 25-26; Nov 1-2

10:00am – 5:00pm all four days

100 South Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620

Moving Day

Friends, the time has come for a change. As I have been hinting in recent weeks, Robbi has been in the midst of a furious web development project, creating various new sites that will carry us forward for the foreseeable future.

One of these is an umbrella site that covers everything we do, from Idiots’Books to Bobbledy Books to the soon-to-launch Haywire Letterpress. We would love for you to check it out and let us know what you think (especially if you find any problems), but most importantly, we want you to know that the blog on that site is going to replace this blog as the place where we post about EVERYTHING we do. 

The new Idiots’Books blog will still have posts about Idiots’Books, and the new Bobbledy Blog will still have Bobbledy-related content. But the new blog on the new site is the only place that will have ALL of our posts, covering the range of topics from books to kids to letterpress to general foolishness.

If you enjoy the kind of stuff you read here, come on over to the new blog and set a new bookmark for yourself.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see this graphic in the header.

For a few more days, we’ll post redundantly in both places, but before long, the URL you entered to get here today will take you to the new Idiots’Books homepage.

Also, if you are so inclined, please check out the new Robbi and Matthew site and do let us know what you think. What do you like, what did we miss, what words are spelled wrong, etc. Pull no punches if you have opinions. We want to get it right.

Thanks, everyone, for bearing with us through the renovations.


Lately, Mid-October 2014

Last week Robbi headed back to her old elementary school, and I tagged along. The occasion was Alden’s first parent teacher conference.

As directed, we signed in.

Completely of our own volition, we admired various evidence of our child’s recent weekday activities.

With little regard for modesty or decorum, we reveled in Alden’s having been added to the principal’s “100 Board,” the result of having been “caught being good,” an initiative aimed at rewarding positive behavior (and, seemingly, toward letting kids know that principals aren’t just mean, terrifying creatures).

Our little scholar has been busy at work this week.

She is working on her Halloween costume, which is “owl with pink feathers.” The feathers in question are each individually drawn, cut out, and taped to the costume in question. The work is painstaking and time consuming and Alden seems thoroughly undaunted by any of it. She seems to have harnessed her mother’s constitution, which I see as a very good thing.

Downstairs, Jodi has been channeling Robbi’s designs into gorgeous little works of art.

I cannot tell whether this giraffe is my favorite.

Or whether it’s this ninja kicking a donkey in half.

August has taken to wearing my clothing.

Iggy has taken to wandering off with shoes, making my morning scramble that much more taxing.

I continue to seek temporary solace along the sun-drenched back roads of Chestertown.

Robbi has taken to showing up, rifling through the spice drawer, and leaving again without cleaning up her mess.

On Saturday, we climbed on our multi-person bicycle contraptions and headed out of town. Our favorite little road to bike along is Lover’s Lane, where there are a few miles of woods and we feel truly apart from the world as we know it.

August came along, too. He just couldn’t fit in the photo above.

Just as I couldn’t fit in the photo below.

Once Alden decided to join us, August seemed to intuit that his share of the spotlight had diminished somewhat, a realization which dampened his mood, if slightly.

But only for a moment.

It was a spectacular day. The woods gave way to open fields and wide blue skies.

It was a day for taking photographs.

And a night for taking photographs as well. As Robbi redesigns our entire web presence, we need images for various banners, etc.

The observant among you will one day soon find the scene below excerpted as the header for the brand new Idiots’Books blog.

The task of getting these photos is less free-wheeling than it might seem.

Here is our best attempt at a deliberately haphazard arrangement of various Idiots’Books titles for the purpose of showing variety, energy, and volume. We are not displeased at the array, but the photo itself seems dim and insufficiently inspired.

Then Sunday came, with a trip to the Tire Park at Tuckahoe.

August continues to delight in dominating inanimate objects.

Kato continues to surprise me with occasional flashes of inner disco.

And now a new week is upon us, the end of which will be marked by the Grand Opening of our Haywire Letterpress studio. Which is both an exciting and discouraging thought. Exciting to finally bring the new venture to light. Discouraging considering all we have to do between now and then. But we will get it done. Because we have to.

Thank goodness for necessity, the driving force of all action, so far as I can tell.



Matthew Draws 37 - Readers Draw

Yes, today is the day when I post my latest drawings, but in a surprising inversion of the usual protocol, this week, I am going to start by showing you the answers.

Here they are. 

Keifer Sutherland
Cameron Diaz
Don Knotts
Michelle Obama

The Idiots’Books subscribers among you already know it, but for the rest of you, the letter that accompanied the Matthew Draws Anthology Volume 1 mailing included a challenge: that readers draw these four people (using the above source photos) and send their drawings to me, with the understanding that I would post them for public scrutiny and public evaluation.

We received submissions from seven brave souls. I also did a batch of drawings. Using the surveys that follow, you can help us determine whose drawings of these people are the best (keeping in mind that “best” is an elusive classification, not necessarily meaning “most accurate” or “least horrible looking.” Feel free to define “best” however you like, keeping in mind the intrinsic value (and beauty?) of flaw.

For the sake of an even playing field, this week I am drawing under an alias. Which means any of the eight batches of drawings could be mine.
As you evaluate the drawings below, please rate each of the following on a scale of 1-4, 1 being “god awful” and 4 being “downright magnificent.” (For example, if rating Matthew’s drawings you would give all 4s.) We will tally your ratings to determine the winner, who, by the way, will receive a yearlong subscription to Idiots’Books for his/herself or a friend of his/her choosing.

Let us begin.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Thank you, kind people, for taking a few minutes to share your thoughts. We’ll tally the results and report on the winner next Friday.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Place of Honor

Our friend Chloe likes Robbi’s illustrations. A lot. It’s really flattering. On what basis do we make this claim? Chloe has won the erstwhile weekly art auction more than any other single human being. (I believe our friend Sarah is a close second.) Also: when the art auction was a regular thing, we would get frequent emails from Chloe cursing us for posting such appealing art for auction. Chloe would curse us and then bid up the price of illustrations to a level surpassing our wildest expectations. I would like to say that we stopped posting weekly art for auction out of a sense of guilt that feeding Chloe’s habit would result in her kids not getting enough to eat. But this is not true. We just got busy.

What made me think of this today was receiving a message from Chloe, to which she attached various photos of Robbi’s illustrations prominently displayed on the wall . . . of her bathroom.

Cat and Robot

Otter in Water

Hungry Birds (not to be mistaken with the angry ones)

Sloth on a Recumbent Armchair Bike

And a print of Castle with Beach Balls, which Robbi sold as a fundraiser for Chestertown’s children’s art space, KidSpot.

I can’t tell if being thus surrounded by Robbi’s work while attending to one’s most intimate business would be a relaxing or upsetting experience. Art is, after all, terrifically subjective.

We choose to interpret Chloe’s choice of home gallery space as the ultimate honor.

At the same time, we can’t help but notice that there seem to be a few square inches of the bathroom wall that are not yet covered with illustrations. Which means there are economic opportunities afoot.

Which means we’ll probably revive that auction soon.

Matthew Draws 36 - The Answers

Ok. Ok. I’m sorry. I know that these answers were supposed to be posted on Friday, but Friday was a big day. A busy day. A tiring day.

And so I dropped the ball.

There is no time like the present for picking the ball back up again.


The guesses were many. There were several themes.

Most of you sensed that this person was a child. This was a reasonable impulse.

Many of you guessed the correct child, but not all of you, I’m afraid.

  • By process of elimination, this is a female. A terrifying female.
  • Kid president?
  • Emmanuel Lewis!!
  • Emmanuel Lewis
  • Emmanuel Lewis
  • Some kinda freak baby-something?
  • Uncle Fester after a one-two punch. (Mostly a very disturbing baby)
  • Webster!
  • A 7-y-o at the ophthalmologist’s after being given 27 cups of coffee & the promise of post-appt candy
  • Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?
  • Mike Tyson
  • Emmanuel Lewis of Webster fame. I hope my advanced age helps me against my younger, smarter competitors.
  • Wow… just wow. But, you know, great work!
  • Michael Strahan’s baby
My favorite response:
  • This is kinda like what Teri Gross looks like compared to what I thought she looked like. Sorry Teri Gross.
(I ALSO thought Teri Gross looked completely different than she actually looks. I wish I had never, ever looked at her actual photo, because my dream was a beautiful dream.)
And the correct response:
  • Emmanuel Lewis (AKA Webster)

Next up…


Here, there wasn’t much mystery.

Really, it all boiled down to you guessing which generation of ruthless North Korean dictator I was trying to draw.

  • Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jon (I forgot how you spell the last part of his name)
  • Kim Jong Un!!
  • Kim Jong Il
  • Kim Jong-Il
  • Pity Kim Jong Un who has been AWOL and powerless for awhile
  • Kim Jong-Un. (well done!)
  • He be Ill’n!
  • Kim Jong-I’m-Feeling-a-Little-Il
  • This is easy peasy lemon squeezy…Kim Jong-un double chin and all.
  • Kim Jong Un!
  • Kim Jung Un
  • Dear Leader!! Kim Jong Un.
  • Kim Jong-un
  • Kim Jong Il (or Un?)
My favorite response:
As you can see, the guesses were pretty evenly split between the “Un”s and the “Il”s.
And the “Un”s have it!

Next up, we waded into less consensus.


Once again I was the target of derision as the result of my inability to draw a plausible hand.

  • Janis Joplin
  • Carrot top in drag?
  • Janis Joplin!!
  • Janice Joplin
  • Janis Joplin
  • Carol King?
  • Kim Largemouth-Bass-inger
  • Whoopi Goldberg grew a claw?
  • Captain Hook(ette).
  • Lovechild of Janis Joplin and Captain Hook
  • I was gonna say Steven Tyler, but the glasses make it Janis Joplin.
  • If not for the glasses, I would think this was Steven Tyler (lips, teeth, hair, the many bracelets and rings). However, the glasses defs make it Janis.
  • Julia Roberts?
  • Carly Simon?
My favorite response:
  • Goldie Hawn starring simultaneously as Captain Hook and her daughter’s role in “Almost Famous”

The correct response:

  • Why do you draw all those little teeth and then just blob the hand? Luckily, Janis Joplin isn’t famous for her distinctive hands.

We conclude, then, with the one that gave you fits. And for good reason. Though I can see my subject in this drawing (if faintly), it’s only because I drew him.

You tried hard. I really believe you tried.

  • Rob Riggle
  • It’s got to be a politician
  • what someone looks like when they just realized they have swallowed their tongue. wow! that makes 4 right!
  • Every copier repairman I’ve ever seen.
  • Jon Hamm
  • IRS agent
  • Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in 20 years.
  • John Travolta? Marigold says it’s got to be.
  • Tommy Lee Jones, approximately halfway thru probing by aliens
  • I can’t believe I’m saying this. Chris Christie post jelly doughnut on Letterman days? Perhaps during Bridge-gate.
  • Brad Garrett.
  • Bob Dole
  • Pete Rose. No Ciaran Hinds.
  • John Travolta, after seeing a monkey eat a zebra.
  • Um, that white dude from TV, clearly
  • Paul Ryan
But not one of you got it right. I fooled you a bit by jumping from the usual categories. This fine gentleman plays the game of American Football. Most likely, my friend Clayton will complain that this fellow is too obscure. But in that argument, Clayton will not be correct.
This fellow is none other than Payton Manning, unarguably one of the finest quarterbacks in history.

As for the bonus question:

Which of these fine, upstanding citizens would you pick to play Matthew in the Lifetime Movie of the Week about his life?

  • Matthew should play Matthew! We need some eye candy in this movie, and lord knows it won’t come from any of these people.
  • Kid President, because he’s awesome and we need more of him.
  • Write in vote: Woody Harrelson
  • There are no suitable choices here for that job.
  • You are neither a baby nor a sociopath, a diva nor a chauvinist so none of them are worthy of the roll.
  • Webster. But him now – old Webster. Obviously.
  • I think we can safely rule out #3, given her presumed ovaries; Kim Jong-Il has, I’m guessing pretty ltd range & thus wouldn’t be able to do anything but pretend that he was in charge & that everybody’s scared of him; #1 is too young (sorry, Matthew), altho Matthew DOES make that face; so I’m gonna hafta go w/ #4 of the square jaw, chiseled features, & lifeless eyes.
  • Whoopi. If she can play a nun in Sister Act, she can play anybody!
  • Janis Joplin is just edgy enough to pull it off.
  • Definitely number one. Nothing says “What possessed me to marry into the Behr family” like that face.
  • Ryan Gosling… I don’t think he’s one of the special creatures featured here… but stranger things have happened.
  • It’s not exactly a typecasting move, more like “inspired by the story” of Matthews life, but I think Michael Strahan’s baby could be awesome for this role.

The winner, of course, is whichever misguided soul referred to me as “eye candy.” But I also appreciate the suggestion that I be played by Michael Strahan’s baby. Or Woody Harrelson, for that matter.

You people are too kind.

Stay tuned this coming friday for a Matthew Draws of an entirely different sort. In addition to my drawings of four celebrities, you will be reviewing the drawings of seven intrepid Idiots’Books subscribers who have sent in drawings of the same four subjects for a fight-to-the-death round of head-to-head Matthew Draws competition.

It will be thrilling! And ground breaking!

And almost certainly, I will lose.

Good times. Good times.

Day in New York; Night at the Society

As many good days do, last Friday (October 10) began with a very good breakfast. Surveying the menu at the hole-in-the wall West Village restaurant, the choice was instantly clear. The proprietors had even done me the favor of putting a box around it.

When presented with the option, one does not turn down the opportunity to enjoy a proper English breakfast.

I took this shot approximately 45 seconds after I took the one above.

From there, we walked north admiring various shop window displays, including several that included puppies.

I love the hodgepodge of New York, especially all the treasures nestled in the space between the newer growth.

And the treasures left behind on the sidewalk, for no other reason than to create moments of discovery for the next passerby.

I am grateful to Robbi’s red pants. If they had been grey, the photo would have had less punch.

I recall the feeling of awe and profound smallness I felt the day my dad and I hiked down into the Grand Canyon.

Certain moments in New York are not dissimilar.

We passed the New School. Their latest building has depressions that look to me as if they were formed by the fingers of curious giants.

We walked west and then north, stopping a while at Union Square…

…so that Robbi could attend to the beautification process in advance of our talk that evening at the Society of Illustrators.

The beautification process is a daylong affair.

As we made our way through the city, we pulled a large American Tourister suitcase full of our handouts for the Society talk.

It did not stop Robbi from stopping to admire every necklace in every store front. The girl does love her bling.

And every large bronze hippopotamus.

And I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that certain features of the city had been put in place to remind me of my overall significance or lack thereof.

Along the way, we had a number of meetings. We won’t get into the details. The point of the day was our visit to the Society of Illustrators, where we were to give the keynote address for the biannual Educator’s Symposium.

The Symposium is a gathering of illustration professors from across the country and around the world, coming together for a weekend of professional development, idea sharing, and good company.

The Society of Illustrators is also home to a very nice shop that just happens to carry a number of books whose titles you might recognize.

And a couple of shirts that bear the mark of Robbi.

We were presenting in the main gallery. At 5:00, the crowd assembled.

At 5:30, we went on.

The first part of our talk was the story of our creative beginnings, with an emphasis on the various modes of collaboration we’ve experienced over the years.

Passive collaboration: In in which you respond to someone else’s work but don’t actually work with them on a joint product. There’s a prompt and a response, but no dialogue. This is how Robbi and I collaborated in the very beginning when, basically, she would take my manuscripts to her studio and draw pictures without discussing them with me.

Directed collaboration: In which you work under the guidance of someone whose job it is to curate a final result that involves your work. Two people work together, but one is in charge. It’s not an equal exchange. This is the type of collaboration we do with art directors when we get hired for freelance projects or are working with a publishing company. There are downsides (loss of creative freedom) to this type of collaboration but also definite benefits, such as getting to work with people who have expertise or experience in an area you’re not as familiar with.


Active collaboration:  When two people join in equal partnership to bring about a desired result in which both have shared ownership and authority. This is the type of collaboration Robbi and I engage in most often and like best and the style we use to make all of our Idiots’Books and Bobbledy Books titles.

In addition to these professional-looking diagrams, we showed several slides (such as the one below) with a more editorial feel, but which nevertheless provide real insight into our collaborative process.


Once we were done with the first part of our project, we paused to play the Micro-Flash Picture Book game (which is not unlike a game of visual telephone).

We’ve played this game with graduate students, professional bloggers, and social media mavens, but this was our first time playing it with professional illustrators.

They took the task seriously.

And were incredibly gratifying in their reactions.

After people were finished writing and illustrating their books, we took a few minutes to read some of them aloud.

It is amazing to behold the hilarious, surprising, imaginative stuff that comes from the brains of nine people coming together to create a book in less than 8 minutes.

We concluded with another short talk, basically a distillation of our TEDx talk from last spring, the main ideas of which can be summed up with the following.

If you want more detail, feel free to watch the entire talk.

The talk went well. The audience clapped in a gratifying way. In the immediate aftermath, we were invited to come speak at five campuses in various states. Which is to say, our speaking engagement dance ticket is full for the foreseeable future.

I came to find out that the best thing about presenting to illustrators who are sitting at tables with buckets of writing implements and signs encouraging them to draw on the tables is that they actually DO draw on the tables.

And the things they drew were flattering and wonderful.

I may take issue with certain editorial decisions, it is just plain exciting to be drawn by someone.

Here is a solo effort of Robbi (I think).

And several more attempts to capture just my likeness.

I ask you this: if you were playing Matthew Draws, would you look at this illustration and guess Matthew?

I sincerely hope that this is not supposed to be a drawing of Robbi or me.

And I sincerely hope that this comment referred to something other than our talk (which came in below the allotted 90 minutes, I swear!).

After our presentation, the assembled crowd moved upstairs for a delicious meal and general merriment.

The atmosphere was heightened by the presence of a jazz band made up entirely of award-winning illustrators, including frequent New Yorker cover illustrator Barry Blitt on keyboards.

We are so grateful to the wonderful, talented Melanie Reim for always being our champion and for recommending us for this gig.

We also want to thank Melanie’s fellow organizers Anelle Miller, Dennis Dittrich, and Chuck Pyle.

Here is Chuck. In addition to being rather esteemed, he is rather tall.

We were feeling so good on the walk back to the Village that I briefly considered boosting this chromed Rolls Royce.

But Robbi convinced me that there were greater thrills to be had in gelato consumption.

It is frustrating how often she is right. Just then, she collaborated in keeping me out of jail. For that I am grateful.

This grand adventure of ours continues. Another fun chapter is in the book. Like most of the things we do, it has already revealed new forks in the road.

We look forward to seeing where they lead.

Good Day

It was a very good day. An excellent day. A day that began with an outstanding breakfast and ended with rousing applause. Although the day was exciting in many ways, the heart of the matter was presenting at the Society of Illustrators, which is like a dream come true. We will cover all the excitement when we get back home on Sunday, but we wanted to check in briefly and let you know (had you been worried) that the day was not an awful one.

More soon. We must now go lose consciousness.





Heading North

This afternoon, we head to NYC. Tomorrow is a very big day. At 11:00am we have a rather exciting meeting with a prominent member of the publishing community. We are not at liberty to say more at this time but will hopefully be able to fill you in later. At 2:00pm, we are meeting with a producer from the MSNBC show Your Business who is considering doing a piece on Robbi and me and our various creative” business” ventures (apparently, he is willing to take the word “business” with a grain of salt as it applies to us). At 4:00pm we arrive at the Society of Illustrators to set up our projector and make sure all the technology is in place. And at 5:30pm. we take the stage, delivering the keynote for the biannual Educator’s Symposium.

Like I said, a very big day. And so we are driving up this evening in hopes of getting a decent night of sleep without children or dog (who insists on having breakfast earlier and earlier these days).

For now, I will share two old photos I dragged off the server while hunting images Robbi needed for a project she is working on.

Here is two-year-old Kato, loaded for bear on Halloween night.

And here is four-year-old Alden, curly as can be in the pumpkin patch.

Yes, I am excited looking forward to the good things ahead. But I also take such pleasure at looking at the recent past. So much has happened in the last two years. So much will happen in the two to come. For now, stuck squarely in the elusive present, I think I’ll pack the car. I often take comfort in the mundane when stuck in that space between nostalgia and imagining what will be.

News From the Front

Alright. You haven’t heard much from me lately. I’m on sabbatical, after all. And what does this mean?

Well, a whole lotta this:


And yes, a fair amount of this:

junk food

While Iggy does this:


That’s pretty much what my days have looked like, all day, every day, for the past month.

There are occasional times when I have to go pick up my eldest child from school. I usually bring Iggy along, which means that sometimes when I am trying to take a photo of my child joyfully skipping along the sidewalk, I instead take a bunch of pictures that look like this:


The moments with my kids are so rare these days that sometimes I indulge in a longer stop than usual at the climbing tree on the way home:

tree climbing

And then when I get home, I force them to help me with my work, just so I can steal a few more extra minutes:

Photo shoot

And then I rush back down the street to my computer and my many waiting projects with a little bit lighter heart, and a renewed sense of purpose to do a whole lotta this:

kick ass

Wish me some ass-kicking luck. This sabbatical thing is not all it’s cracked up to be.