Katie reading this book in space, presumably with Chris Hadfield.
Sup? Sorry it’s been a while, but the thing about Gettin’ Bookz is sometimes I receive so many at once, that when it actually comes to readin’ bookz the process takes a bit longer than expected.
Anyhooch, today I’m here to tell you about an effervescent book called All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman from Coach House Books. The pace is fast, and it moves precisely in a direction you come to realize quickly. By that I don’t mean it’s predictable, I mean that you get buckled into a little two-seater whip and taken all around Toronto on a course that’s already been set. The premise being there are approximately 249 superheroes in Toronto and we happen to become privy to that world because a normal guy, like us, marries one of these superhuman exceptions to humanity.
Look, I know what you’re thinking, my roommate loves comics too and I am perpetually in the “zzz” zone about them—but that’s why the especially surprising, and affecting, parts of the book came out in full force for me. Those parts really shine through in the intermittent, “extra” character descriptions of the superheroes Kaufman throws in between chapters. Names like Mr. Opportunity (“He knocks on doors and stands there. You’d be surprised how few doors get answered”), You’reright!, Small Difference, and dozens more basically just end up being pretty concise descriptions of people you already know.
What makes the characters so ordinary is the same thing that makes them funny, endearing, and relatable—they are just normal people and they are worried about the same things you are. They are tired of fucking up and being defined by their most intense traits, but they accept, some faster than others, that these things are not going away. And it takes almost the whole book for you to realize Kaufman had all along been planning to kind of put his arm around you, smile and be like, “It could be you!” and that’s what makes this book so dang getable.
Maybe you are scared of cute, light things you know you’ll end up liking, but get over it! Because it’s like 21 degrees outside right now and you can probably finish this thing sprawled rudely on a bench like someone who is new to seasons. I liked it so much that when I finished the book, I called Andrew up and had a chat.
VICE: How did the anniversary edition of the book come about?
Kaufman: It was all Coach House, they told me it was ten years, the fact that it’s been in print ten years is totally worth celebrating. It’s such a strange book to have reached the amount of popularity that it has. She asked me if I wanted to do another pass, edit it, and add stuff. And I did start doing that and I quickly realized I was just taking out everything that was good about the book. So much has happened to me since I wrote that book that I felt like I was a completely different person and I was unable to go back to that mindset. It’s very romantic, very optimistic, very forthright in those convictions and like ten years later... I was literally ruining the book by editing it.
One of the most popular features of the book is these in-between chapters where you just get a bunch of descriptions of different superheroes, so we came up with 30 new pages of those. So it’s not so much the director’s cut, as “now with added bonus material.”
That’s interesting that you didn’t have those just kicking around. You didn’t think you could get that voice back, from when you originally wrote the book, but I found that the new sections matched up so well—there wasn’t any divide for me.
[Laughing] I didn’t say I couldn’t get the voice back, I could get the voice back, I couldn’t get the optimism. The joy!
It is a little bit, eh? It made me think that I’ve just gotten lazy with my optimism. I wrote that book before I had kids, before I had a mortgage, any of these commitments and obligations. Back then optimism was just…easy. Now I’m middle aged and optimism is something that I’ve let slide. As you get older you have to work harder to keep fit and to stay optimistic. So it was kind of like a wake-up call. [Still laughing]
I got the sense, with the superheroes, that by the end you were pulling a trick on the reader. I already knew versions of these characters through friends and even myself—I wondered if that was your intention or not?
Kind of both. I used to do a zine called Scruffy, I don’t know if you even know what I mean by zine?
Yes of course I do! I wasn’t born in 1997.
I don’t know! This was way back in ’92 or ’93, the last issue I did was called “If My Friends Were Superheroes” where I took all my close friends and exaggerated their personalities into superhero powers. When I got done with that it was like, “Oh that was so much fun!” It seemed like such a rich metaphor to run with. So that’s where the book came form, a conscious attempt to exaggerate people’s quirks, what makes them interesting and special.
You take these quirks that a lot of people would look at as negative and turn them into positive things, or insomuch as they’ve finally accepted these shitty things they do.
I love that idea. That’s one of the ideas I’m most fascinated with. That everything comes with it’s opposite packed inside of it. If there’s something you do that makes you powerful, then I guarantee that ability also has a dark side that makes you seem arrogant or freakish or makes you vulnerable or in some way. I think everything comes with both sides.
That’s all anyone is trying to do anyway, accept themselves.
And there’s nothing you can do about it!
Nope, you’re totally fucked. Speaking of dark sides, you’re from Wingham, Ontario but you have Winnipeg listed as one of your favorite things. Why, dude?
I have a love/hate relationship with Winnipeg. Are you from Winnipeg?
No, but everything I’ve heard about it does not make me want to go there.
[Laughing] It’s like, this amazing town! But it’s -30, and it’s the only place in Canada that you really see the evidence of the genocide of First Nation’s people. It has the same arc as Chicago. At one time Winnipeg was the financial capital of Canada—then they built the Panama Canal—and overnight, because everything didn’t have to be shipped across the country, the financial acumen of the town just disappeared. So you have these amazing, beautiful twelve-story Art Deco skyscrapers standing alone and then four blocks of two-story run down strip malls and then another one of these [skyscrapers]—it’s just this beautiful paradoxical city that has no reason to exist, but does.
It makes a lot of sense to me you were living there when you wrote this book. The book seems so packed, it hits the ground running, did you have a fully formed idea in your head or did you just start writing?
All My Friends Are Superheroes was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. And the metaphor when I talk about it is this: I was working full time and I hadn’t published anything. So this book was the first work I had ever published. I really felt like I had a Trans Am in my garage, and every night I would go out to it and play around with it and try to get it on the road. Then I finished it, and Coach House published it. It did really well, so all of a sudden I was a mechanic. And that’s still a transformation that is bewildering to me.
I bet. Maybe you can fix my car that doesn’t exist one day. Can you tell me about Perpetual Motion Roadshow?
Wow, I haven’t thought about that in ages. Jim Munroe put it together. He found a network of individuals through the States and then put a bunch of writers in a car and you just did a tour of American cities going from weird venue to weird venue and crashing on people’s floors. It kind of marked the end of an era for me. It was draining. It was being on tour with no budget.
It would be a bit different than touring in a band cause you’re just doing it one on one every night with no amps.
We did a reading in a bookstore in Cleveland and the owner warned us it was going to be a small crowd, they’d done their 30th anniversary party the night before and all the regulars were at that. So, we go down in the basement and we’re all sitting in the seats and there’s maybe 25 or 30 chairs and there’s ONE GUY. So the four of us get up and he looks around and realizes he’s the ONLY. GUY. And he can’t leave! And you can see it in his eyes, “You can’t leave, you’re the only guy!” So I read first that night and it was totally humiliating and hard to get going, so I didn’t want to just throw it off so I totally did a half decent reading and put myself in the performance and that broke it for me. It was like, if I can get it going for this situation, then the rest of them are going to seem simple.
He sounds like a trooper. Hey, you should send me some zines.
Follow Katie on Twitter: @wtevs