MEDALS FOR LOVE
Love. Terrible, beautiful, stupid love. So confusing. So troublesome, yet so alluring as a goal. I fell in love for the first time when I was in first grade, and then spent the next 18 years perfecting the art of pining and becoming “the friend.” When I finally mustered up enough courage to get in the game… well, I found that pining from afar really has some considerable benefits. But as Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas wisely put it, “Life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting.”
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Following the disorienting end of a particularly corked long-term relationship, I flung myself into the world of online dating with renewed vigor. I got introduced to a lot of fantastic people I’m still friends with today, ran into a few angry people that scared the crap out of me, met one of my best friends, and got to spend three great years in the company of somebody I love. So that worked out pretty damn well.
What does all this have to do with the book? Well, during the Lost Weekend period, two things happened: First, I met an ex-marine. He was a driver for a limousine service in Cincinnati, where I was judging a competition for HOW Magazine. The first thing he told me is that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine. It’s not Fi. It’s Semper Fi. Duly noted.
As much as the concept of “medals for love” was clear to me, we needed an introduction.
He then told me about being a career nurse in the Marines. “Don’t all Marines have to do some training on a boat first?” I asked him. “Yes,” he answered, but because of staffing shortages he had been placed into hospital service right away. “I get a lot of crap about that from the guys.” “Well, why do you tell them?” Because, you know me, I know how to analyze a situation. “I don’t tell them,” he said, “but they can read my ribbons like a résumé.” Interesting, right? Well, I filed that away for future use.
Note, please, that the word “gallantry” on the gallantry cross is set in Doyald Young’s formal script typeface “Young Gallant.” Which I had the honor of naming. Isn’t it all just too meta for words?
A few weeks later I found myself on a first date with a fellow online dater, and I told her how I was getting a little spooked by meeting people that I hadn’t first seen online. How could I feel comfortable talking to somebody if I didn’t know if we agreed on politics, religion, kids, and the joys of comedy and television? Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for disaster. “I love what you’ve done with the place! Say, is that a home taxidermy kit?” I’ve got to have people’s dossier at my fingertips.
This was the first medal I created for the initial pitch. Originally, it featured a pumpkin, but the honey bear is just so much more adowable. Note, please, how the honey nozzle turns into the hanger for the medal.
At this point I remembered the Marine. And it hit me! Ribbons and Medals for Dating! That way you could get somebody’s whole profile just by discreetly glancing at their rack. Which is what an array of medals and ribbons is called. (Oh, grow up!)
Making a convincing medal in Photoshop is harder than you think. Particularly if it’s a wooden medal.
“The light in your eyes just went on.” said my date. “This is going to be your next book, isn’t it?” Right she was. I was embarrassed that my enthusiasm level had shot up so noticeably. I always think I’m playing it close to the vest, but apparently not. I’m working on it.
None of these medals are based on things that happened to me. Nope.
In the past, making books had left me exhausted and near insane. This time, I thought, I’ll be smart about it. I’ll write this book, but I’ll hire a great illustrator to do the medals. Somebody like Bruce McCall. Well, I didn’t dare approach Bruce, and a good thing, too. Otherwise he’d probably hate me now as much as the excellent illustrator that I did hire. Turns out I’m demanding. Who would’ve suspected?
The “self-respect recovery star” comes equipped with a solid gold carpenter’s level clasp. In the wake of a bad relationship you have to right yourself.
With the pitch document done, I sold the book to Knock Knock. They specialize in humorous office supplies, knick-knacks, and books. You’ve seen their products in your favorite bookstore, in gift shops, and on countless morning shows. It’s wonderful, smart, funny stuff! I thought they were the perfect home for this little gem. Their editorial voice, their sense of humor, and their aesthetic were so close to mine. I’d been friendly with Knock Knock founder Jen Bilik for years. Happily, she thought it was a great fit, too. Jen swiftly urged me to write the book, and to do all the illustrations myself, too. Which was a good call, but left me exhausted and near insane.
One of the fun things about making a series of things is that you end up getting frisky with the format. Note the overlapping ribbons. Could ribbons actually be folded that way? Or would you have to cheat by sewing?
This was a hard-fought book. One of my teachers once told me that a monster truck driver and a lowrider won’t get into a fight at the stoplight. They’re too different to even consider the other person a threat. It’s the two monster truck drivers or the two lowriders that are going to mix it up. And so it was here. Somehow a 5% difference of opinion is much, much harder to overcome than a 50% difference—particularly when you put together people who’ve built their career on putting forth a personal point of view that’s deeply felt and passionately defended.
The sequence of medals is broken up by spotlight spreads. Working on the Time Travel Mart was good preparation for this one. There is a spread of future medals, too. Note that this is the one page in the book that shows coitus in progress. Also a flying saucer.
Suddenly everything was a debate. No step of the process was easy. I had been prepared to argue (and be schooled) about the finer points of humor, but even minute aspects of the design and the illustrations were forever on the agenda. By the end, every detail was checked and rechecked on both sides on the suspicion that the other had made changes on the sly. It was ridiculous. It certainly brought out all my worst control freak tendencies, and I’m sure that somewhere at Knock Knock HQ hung a dartboard with my face on it.
That’s me there, with some extra hair. I posed for this, with the camera on self-timer, at 4 a.m., wearing towels held together with binder clips. Could’ve planned ahead, could’ve started earlier. Didn’t. Don’t judge me.
I’m still baffled that the whole thing turned into such an ordeal. I’m not sure what I’d do differently now. All the battles still seem worth fighting to me. One day I’ll figure it out, I’m sure. For now, I’m glad to take delight in all the cool, funny stuff people put out into the world without having to know how the sausage got made. But I’m also glad and honored that Knock Knock took a chance on me with a book that isn’t about art or design, and is meant for a general audience. They invested as much passion into the whole thing as I did, and that’s no small thing. As with the end of many a fiery affair, we didn’t really talk for a while, but now we’re friends again and better for it.
The white ribbon of the “Relationship War Zone Medal for Courage Under Irrational Fire” was shot through with bullet holes. Turns out there is a fine tutorial on making Photoshop bullet holes online.
With all the heartache that came with the process, I’m still so proud of the result. It’s a funny book, I think, with a kind heart. I hope more people will get a chance to read it. You can still find a few copies on Amazon, and I’m happy to say that you can download it as an eBook on your platform of choice. (Here it is as an iBook, for example.) Just search for my name or for “Medals for Love.” Love hurts, but on what else are you going to spend your time? Life is on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.