Found: The Well Dressed Bear (Publishing Genius stories Vol. 5 of 7)
For my 5th out of 7 posts about where Publishing Genius books came from (which I’m writing to promote this half off sale that I’ve got going atpublishinggenius.com — use coupon code “backagain”) (I’m running the sale because for a couple months I was checked out, but now I’m back in business), I’ve had a hard time choosing which backstory to tell. There are so many great books that came from so many cool places, that maybe I’ll just keep going after I post these 7.
So far I’ve talked about Cheryl Quimba’s poetry collection, Craig Griffin’s cookbook, Chris Toll’s poetry collection, and Stephanie Barber’s book/DVD.
How about a comic book next? How about Jarod Roselló’s amazing and profound graphic novel, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found?
Jarod’s book came through the open submission period in, I think, 2014. It could have been 2013. At any rate, it came at a time when my eyes were bleeding from reading all the manuscripts people had submitted.
Which, a word about that. It’s not uncommon to hear publishers, especially in the small press world, complain about how many submissions they receive, and how many are out of touch with the kinds of books they publish. That certainly happens, because writers are understandably desperate to get some attention for their hard work. But at PG, I’ve almost always been impressed by how good the submissions are, and how deserving.
Sidebar to the sidebar: one year I got so many submissions that seemed to be coming from left field that I imposed a $5 submission fee, or a receipt from a book from a press like PG. After I did that, it was amazing how much the quality of submissions improved.
Okay! Anyway! Sorry for the digression; I’m here to talk about “The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found,” or as we call it for short, WDB.
So there I was, at my computer. Reading, reading, reading … and boom, I opened this submission from a guy I’d never heard of and it was DRAWINGS. And it was single panels in a book format. And the panels were great! They had a real flow to them that kept drawing me in.
Now, PG isn’t a comics press, but the first book I put out was a chapbook of hilarious comics by David NeSmith, and the only book I’ve published that has French flaps is a collection of comics by John Dermot Woods. So it wasn’t crazy for Jarod (pronounced the same as Jared, FYI) to send his book. He’s not a wingnut. He knew what I like.
I never accept a submission quickly. I definitely think about it for a long time first. I have to let a book sort of infect me. It took me 3 years to accept Matthew Savoca’s beautiful novel, I Don’t Know I Said, because after all that time, I was still thinking about it.
With WDB, it was similar in how I obsessed about it, though this time I didn’t wait so long to accept it. Basically, I read the submission when I was exhausted, and the next night I went back to it. I couldn’t believe my luck, that I would get to publish something so perfectly executed, and I brought it over to Amy McDaniel to have a look.
When I share a submission like that, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to want to do it. And I kept going back to it as I went through the other 800 submissions I received. Finally, I sorta timidly asked Jarod if it was still available.
He was pumped, which made me pumped. We moved through the editing process pretty easily. I gave him just some very minor feedback, always apologetically because I felt bad making him redraw stuff. Like with text, you just go “I think you should say it like this,” and then the writer deletes a few words and adds a few other words and Bob’s your uncle. With comics it’s like “maybe say ‘they’ here instead of ‘he’,” and then the artist crumples up his page, goes over to his drawing table, takes out some specific $13 pen and starts drawing for the next eight hours.
But he knows how to do comics, and it was never painful like that at all.
Making the Book
For the production stage, Jarod just shared a Dropbox folder with me with all the jpegs listed by number, and I placed them in InDesign in that order. It didn’t require a lot of thought to make this beautiful book; we just chose a trim size that made sense — 5×7″, which is one of my favorite trim sizes — and then I had to wiggle some of the images around a bit to make sure they didn’t get lost in the book’s gutter. Since there’s just one panel per page, it wasn’t any harder than that.
The Book in the World
I do have a hard time talking about the story, like I do with everything I publish (which happens because I like to publish things I don’t immediately understand), because for one thing it’s pretty open to interpretation. Wait, the story is actually very straightforward: a guy’s a bear and he gets hassled a lot. But more than that it’s about being displaced and chased and haunted.
As a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami and then spent some time in State College, Pennsylvania, Jarod speaks really well about the book, and the self-identity issues behind it. We had a release party at the Atlanta Contemporary and it was amazing to hear him talk about his experiences and motivations to an enrapt room. It was one of those moments where art simply becomes the best, most immediate way to talk about important and difficult things.
I love to hear Jarod talk about the book, and comics in general.
How’s It Do?
The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found was recently a finalist for Best Book by a Local Author in the Tampa Creative Loafing Best of the Bay Awards. Jarod runs his own comics press for Latinx writers, Bien Vestido (which means Well Dressed), and he published a lot of related comics at Hobart, which are definitely worth checking out. Jarod being so active has made WDB successful all around, even in terms of sales. I’ve had to reprint a few times (although one of those times was partially due to a lost shipment to PG’s distributor). It remains one of my favorite books to reread.
Another thing I love to hear Jarod talk about is Stephen Dixon’s work, which he knows back and forth. After WDB came out, I put out Dixon’s latest novella, Beatrice. Maybe next I’ll talk about that one.
Till then, go to Publishing Genius and buy a copy of WDB for $7.50, shipping included.