Yesterday, after a glorious week out of the office, we took on the task of tearing into the stack of random, flat, rectangular packages–foreign mags, unsolicited submissions, preposterous product samples, etc.–piling up in the office. You’d be amazed how much miscellany is delivered to our door.
After tearing into much junk, SURFER Editor Todd Prodanovich commenced a brief but violent affair with a particularly stubborn Bubble Cushioned Envelope. And inside was perhaps the most adorably perfect children’s book ever, Jonas Claeson’s illustrated “The Surfing Animals Alphabet.” A flamingo and badger split a peak on the book’s cover. The flamingo cheats five, while the badger, donning a pink long john, perches a cool ten in full trim.
Paging through the handsome teal book, it got better and better, with each illustration accompanied by these perfectly clever, surfy poems. A gorilla punts a frontside air over a giraffe holding out his water camera: “Gravity doesn’t seem to apply / When this big Gorilla / takes to the sky. / He tells his mates, but they / always just laugh. / That’s why he hired / The photog’ Giraffe!”
While the only two parents on staff here at SURFER entered into tense negotiations over who would bring the book home to their kids first, I picked up the phone and called Jonas–an illustrator and artist based out of Sydney, Australia–who was kind enough to take my call while on vacation in Florida, swimming with manatees.
Jonas, we got “The Surfing Animals Alphabet” today. It’s genius.
Super stoked you like it!
It’s brilliant. This is your first book, right? Where’d the idea come from?
Well, I’d been drawing animals surfing and skateboarding and whatnot for a really long time. My mom and my girlfriend always thought I should make a children’s book. I was never super keen on it, but they thought it was a good idea. But I had this idea surfing one day, to draw different animals, from A-Z, starting with Anteater. I went home that night and drew the Anteater. I posted it on Instagram and wrote, “Listen, I’m going to draw A-Z, what should it be for B?” And B was for Badger.
So your followers came up with most of the animals?
Yeah. People suggested so many different animals, some that I’d never heard of. And so I’d have to Google them to see what they looked like. And I just kept going, trying to do one drawing a week.
So when did the poems come in?
About halfway through, I mentioned [on Instagram] that I was going to do a book. This young guy James [Redmayne] emailed me randomly and said, “I’ve been bored in class. I wrote these poems for your first ten animals.”
Wait. He just wrote poems and sent them to you?
Yeah. Out of the blue. And they were these beautiful little stories that made the illustrations come to life in a really clever way. And you could tell he was a surfer. It had the right feel to it.
Absolutely. The language is perfect. The illustrations are bitchin’, don’t get me wrong, but the poems are what really set the hooks for us.
Yeah, he’s amazing. And he’s not a professional writer. He goes to University for, like, engineering or something. So we kept working for a few more months until we got to Zebra.
So how’d you go about publishing it?
It’s self-published. We did a Kickstarter video to raise the money for the first printing at a local place here in Sydney. We could have done it way cheaper in China, but I wanted to do [the book] right and keep everything local. They came out really nice.
What’s the response been from parents?
A lot of parents have reached out, saying, “I’m reading this book to my kids every day!” A lot of them talk about how their kid has a favorite animal.
What was your favorite animal?
[Laughs] I really like the vulture. The bird is female, which surprises people for some reason. And I think James did a great job on that poem [The Vulture studied her / weather charts well / And swoops right on in / To catch the new swell]. And then the sloth longboarder. I was always going to make the sloth a longboarder.
You can order your copy of “The Surfing Animals Alphabet” and more of Jonas’s work here.