Dragons and Hot Sauce: Poems, Cuteness, and an Interview With the Creators

Dragons and Hot Sauce by Mike Moore and art by Andy Young. Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

In December, amongst the holiday wackiness, a crazy little poetry book was published. The crazy little poetry book, Dragons and Hot Sauce: And Other Imaginations, hails from Portland, Oregon, the home of the weird, the microbrews, and The Doubleclicks*.

The name of the book, and the art style, caught my attention immediately. Dragons? Yes, please! Cute, stylized pictures of monsters? Bring. It. On. It’s a book for kids, but actually, it’s a book for families. An introduction to geekiness, if you will.

If the name of the book isn’t enough, all of the poem topics have a geeky flare. Plus, the artwork reminds me of comics I grew up reading.

I had an opportunity to talk to geeky author Mike Moore and artist Andy Young, the duo who put this little collection of poems together. These guys are down-to-Earth, honest, and funny!

Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GeekMom: How did you two meet? (If I recall, you said you met in high school.) Did you have to reconnect or did you stay in contact for all of those years? 

Andy Young: Mike and I met in the 8th grade, when he used to live across the cul-de-sac from another friend of mine. The friend and I used to go over to Mike’s on the weekend. Eventually, Mike and I started to hang out with each other and realized we had the same sort of off-beat humor. The relationship really materialized in high school, when we had a couple classes together and then theater after school. We have stayed in contact all these long years. We were in each other’s wedding and I have visited him a few times out in Portland. I’m not the best at long distance relationships or even using my phone with any consistency, so this project has been a great way to reconnect and remember why we were so close back in high school. We are both artists at heart.

Mike Moore: I couldn’t say it better than Andy did. We’ve been friends over half our lives and have iterated through high school friends, then college roommates, a brief stint in Europe as sophisticated and debonair international travelers after college, and then groomsmen. Everyone has those few people they grew up with that you know you’ll be friends with for the rest of your lives, and Andy’s one of them for me.

GMWhere did the inspiration come from for the poems and art in your book?

AY: My inspiration, stylistically, has come from comic book artists like Winsor McCay (Nemo in Slumberland), Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL), and Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo). I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes back in the 90s, like everyone else, and I really liked the borderless concept of how Bill Watterson did his comics. I also really appreciate Jeff Smith’s drive to publish his work on his own. I am working on a graphic novel now with those same inspirations. As far as this book specifically, I have followed Mike’s lead and his great sense of vision. We talk back and forth about what looks good and what should fit within the scope of the words he’s written, but we are both really flexible and crave feedback.

MM: We started working on this right after I found out I was about to be a dad, and so I just wanted to write something that would make my daughter laugh someday. I think the very first poem (“Ribbons”) was written in about 5 minutes, while I was smarting off to my wife and trying to make her laugh while she was putting her makeup on! Laughter was the biggest inspiration to write stories about giants, and unicorns, and Bigfoot. Originally, all of the poems were going to be kind of silly or have a punchline, but then Andy suggested that we should also have some more serious/poignant stories where we actually tried to say something, which was a fantastic idea. After that, we just started trading ideas back and forth. Either I’d send him a poem or base idea and he’d come up with a drawing, or he’d send a drawing or other story idea and I’d come up with the poem. I think we both went into it with very little ego, so if one of us nixed an idea, no offense was taken; we just worked that much harder on the next one. In terms of writing, obviously Shel Silverstein was a big inspiration when we started thinking about this. I used to absolutely devour his books when I was younger. I also have been writing songs and playing in bands for about 20 years now, and my big inspirations are some of the really lyrical singer/songwriters like Josh Ritter or John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats. It always amazed me that with just a few cleverly chosen words, you could say so much—or tack on a sudden punchline.

Come Quick
Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GMAre there plans for a second volume of poems?

AY: We haven’t talked poems specifically, but the other day we were chatting online (my preferred method of work avoidance) and we talked a little bit about doing a songbook for children. Maybe something where the lyrics and music is included as well as a CD. Something Mike and I have in common is not liking to do the same thing more than once. Stretching our boundaries a little. I am not musically inclined, so this will be a great project.

MM: Yeah, right now we’re neck-deep in marketing work for Dragons and Hot Sauce, but as soon as that slows down a little, I can’t wait to start the songbook. Writing Dragons and Hot Sauce was so much fun, why stop there? Also, I may be able to fulfill a newly set life goal of having my daughter’s daycare say, “Why was your daughter walking around singing ‘STINKY SPOILED MILK’ over and over?”

GMAre you both parents?

AY: Yep! I have two girls with my wife Bridget; Audrey (5) and Nora (1). I find that has softened my work considerably. I look at this comic I did before the girls were born. It was called Gruesome: Out of this World and it was about robots taking over, the eventual destruction of the planet Earth, and a murder involving a sea monster. Now, I still do pretty odd stuff. but it’s directed at youth and holds a bit more whimsy. Funny how a couple of cute kids and a healthy dose of social responsibility will change your perspective.

MM: Yeah, I have a little ball of energy living at my house that disguises itself as an 18-month-old little girl. Depending on the time of day and amount of energy, it may disguise itself as multiple identical 18-month-old little girls all wrecking something different or terrorizing the cats. I love it (as long as I’m not trying to figure out where she hid the TV remote or my razor.)

GMDo you think your personality is more kid or adult in nature? How do you think that helps you with your writing and art?

AY: I am a child forced to deal with a frustrating adult world. If I had my way, I would be waking up in the morning with my girls and Bridge, heading out to hike or drift on a lake, have a few beers alone with my wife in the afternoon, put the girls to bed, and draw and drink beer all night. Do it again and again. It turns out I am really good with responsibility, but very uncomfortable with it. My day job is to run a non-profit. People think I steer pretty good. I just sit at my desk dreaming with Mike about drawing a new book. But all that helps with my art. I spend a lot of time with my favorite comics on the weekend all spread out on my drawing table, looking for inspiration. The project I am working on now is inspired by my two daughters, a wild girl age 5 adventuring alone. Artists can’t grow up too much, I think.

MM: Well, sitting on my desk right now are a bunch of Transformers that I’ve dubbed my Home Office Co-Workers, so I’ll say “responsible kid!” I have a job that I work very hard at and I make sure to take care of my family, but I still try to make sure not to take myself too seriously. I think that attitude helps with the writing because you can have a sense of where you’re going in terms of a project like the book or even an idea for a poem, and know what you need to do to get there, but then you can let your imagination roam and think about how to make it fun or exciting. For example, there are a million ways we could have written a poem about a rubber ducky, but only one where we get to use the word “hydrophobic.”

Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GM: Was it a learning experience getting the book published?

AY: I was lucky enough to be introduced to a girl back in college named Jes Wigh. She moved to Belize with her now-husband and started their own business. Through that connection, we published a couple of books and are working on a third. They are children’s books aimed specifically at the Caribbean island culture children grow up in around Belize. So I have some marginal experience there, as far as working with someone who is committed to an idea and can handle the business end of things. I think that experience was very helpful. But, Mike is also a brilliant strategist. He has the mind of an engineer and works out multiple angles and problems I wouldn’t dream of. I work by the seat of my pants and just figure it’ll all be okay. That’s trouble.

MM: Definitely. It turns out it takes a lot to make some words and drawings into a coherent book that people will want to read. Who knew? We made a few missteps and we’re still learning what they are, but it’s just a lesson in what we can do differently for the next project. The biggest lesson I learned is that, according to my daughter, we made a grievous error in judgment by not including poems and drawings about either penguins or pandas. I can only hope she forgives me some day.

GM: Where can the book be purchased?

MM: Right now, the book can be found online on Amazon or Createspace. For our Portland friends, we would encourage them to go check out Wallace Books or Bella Stella, who are great local businesses that have agreed to carry it locally, and we are still working on getting it into a few other local book stores. However, any local or national bookstore should be able to order it directly. Finally, we’re always happy to just sell them directly to friends that want to contact us at “dragons and hot sauce (all one word) at gmail dot com.”

GM: Who do you think will enjoy your book the most?

AY: My wife is a 5th grade teacher and her opinion seems to be that anyone can enjoy the book as the words and pictures span across multiple reading levels in the elementary grades. That’s the beauty of being married to a professional educator. They give you the skinny on what the kids are into these days. Turns out it’s dragons and hot sauce, bearded girls, and giants that bathe in lakes. I blame cable.

MM: A younger crowd will also enjoy it. For example, my daughter will verify that it tastes delicious.

GM: What other projects are you working on?

AY: Right now, I am working on a third Caye Boy book about his adventures to the mainland as well as a children’s resource book for animals and plants in the Caribbean. A much larger, long-term project that I am working on is a graphic novel I am writing and illustrating. There are only about 19 pages done so far and I plan to have it fully completed by this time next year. You can check out its progress and other projects on my website www.campfireyoung.com.

MM: Like I mentioned above, I’ve been playing music for ages and am about to start recording a new album of some old songs, which should be a fun project!

GM: What are your hopes for the book?

AY: I really enjoy the experience from start to finish. There really isn’t any part of the process of creating artwork for a book or otherwise that I don’t enjoy. Well, maybe erasing sketch lines. My hope is that comes through in the work.

MM: You know, I worked on the book because I wanted to make something for my daughter that would make her laugh. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but I would love for that to expand past my daughter to as many other people as possible. Nothing would be cooler to me than having something that I worked on with one of my best friends be a part of bedtime or story time for my daughter or another child, or hearing that a child I never met thought it was their favorite book, or that it was part of show and tell, or recited in school as someone’s favorite poem. I’ve had one friend already send me a video of her kids reading the book, and I’ve had another friend tell me that their kid took our book to show and tell, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. So, my hope is just that the book helps to make kids, and especially my daughter, happy and excited to read it.

Dragons and Hot Sauce: And Other Imaginations is available for $9.73 on Amazon.

*Shoutout to The Doubleclicks for helping GeekMom discover Mike and Andy!