When David Milgrim wrote and illustrated “Goodnight iPad” — his parody of the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon” that became a New York Times bestseller in 2011 — he captured our seeming limitless devotion to our ever-growing list of devices.
And it’s only gotten worse since then, says the prolific Northampton children’s book author.
“We are, evolutionarily speaking, just barely out of the caves, and the explosion of technology has been so fast,” Milgrim said on the latest episode of the “Strip Search” comic strip podcast. “It’s such a massive change and it affects us so much that for me, it’s hard to not think about it.”
That’s why Milgrim has established a sort of cottage industry when it comes to cartoons poking fun at our tech obsessions, from social media oversharing to the sudden proliferation of QR codes. And, of course, those blasted end user agreements.
“I did a couple of comics on that theme,” Milgrim admits regarding those notoriously long contracts that come with every app download. “It does drive me crazy. I really have yet to meet one person who’s read one of those.”
For Milgrim’s take on our current tech troubles, the dangers of Elon Musk buying Twitter, and his own latest projects — including a foray into comic essays and a new comic strip in the offing — listen to the podcast here, and check out highlights of the Q&A below.
Boston.com: How are things out in the middle of the state?
David Milgrim: It’s good! We’re really kind of in the west third — you know, you’ve got sort of the Boston, the Worcester, and then …
And then you’re even further than that.
The Wild West! I’m in Northampton — we’re in a valley, from here you go into the Berkshires, and then from there you go to New York.
If you want to — it’s not required! [laughs] It’s going back a ways, but we wanted to talk about “Goodnight iPad,” which you wrote under under a pseudonym, Ann Droyd. Why a pseudonym?
When I was doing it, I was not sure if I was going to be stepping on toes of people that love “Goodnight Moon.” And I didn’t want it to endanger my other work … That’s such a beloved book that I was a little concerned, so I suggested it and we went with it. Before it was published, while I was still working on it, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a problem at all, but they had already put the word out so my most successful book does not have my name on it.
The thing I love just about the book is it really gets to the heart of our obsession with our devices, and that it’s also hilarious, particularly for parents who may have read “Goodnight Moon” to their kids any number of hundreds of times. Was it a surprise to you that people really seem to relate to it so much?
Yeah, sure — it’s a much bigger success than I had had prior, so yeah, that’s always a surprise. There was a precedent, there’d been a number of parodies of kids’ books, and some of “Goodnight Moon.” And at the time, “Go the F to Sleep” had become very big and it opened the doors more for these kinds of parodies. I think what really helped this one was that it wasn’t just a goof — like there was a book called “Goodnight Keith Moon.” [laughs] And it’s rough, you know — it’s just drugging and throwing up, you know, it’s like a funny title but it’s nothing you’d read to a kid.
But this one really crossed over, so it was good as a gift to adults — parents of adult children might give it to them, you know, like, in other words, “Get off your phone when I’m visiting” kind of a message, or or if they’re just a plugged-in family, and then also it could be read with kids, so people would buy to read for kids or give to kids. It’s hard to do, but it reaches a wide range of ages.
Also, it seems it fits into sort of a theme in your work general, which is technology, specifically technology run amok. Did you make a concerted decision — you know, “I’m going to do a lot of technology-based humor” — or did it just come sort of organically?
I think it’s organic, you know, it’s just on my mind … If you go back 300 years there’s still lots of technology, but nothing like there’s been in the last 250 years and really 100 years. You know, you can even say 50 years — it’s such a massive change and it affects us so much that for me it’s hard to not think about it.
As we speak, the big tech topic is Elon Musk buying Twitter — as someone who is a student of advancing technology, would you say that’s good for society?
That’s above my pay grade, but I will say that billionaires are not good for society, so I guess the answer I would presume is no. I don’t think we need billionaires — I don’t think it improves the world at all. I think it’s a distraction.
Not that they were necessarily billionaires when they got started, but it seems like we’re getting more and more of them controlling the flow of information.
It should really be board control — when you have one shareholder who has most of the stock [and] they get to make the decisions … I don’t know quite how to structure it but it needs regulation, it needs control, it’s out of control.
But it should make for some funny comics.
It’s good for comedy! [laughs] It’s a scary world — I can hardly even take the news anymore. My head’s deep into my own work, and I read the headlines to see if I need to run away from or towards Ground Zero.
So your history is in illustration and cartooning, but lately you’ve been doing these illustrated comic essays that are actually really thoughtful in addition to being funny. How did you gravitate towards those, and are you planning to collect those in any way?
I’d love to collect them — I really love that form, if it’s a form … I occasionally see stuff that seems a little like it, but I’m kind of doomed to this oddball creative drive that sort of puts me in a place where there’s not really a market. You know, when you sell things in this world you gotta [compare it to] something, so that people say, “Oh OK, this is like ‘Wimpy Kid,’ that sells!” You’ve got to make it very palatable, and I’m not even quite sure what to call them — comic essays has been kind of what I landed on.
I’ve always had this deep philosophical part of me, and I like reading things that are very direct … I like essays when people just tell me what they think very clearly, and then adding the humor. It ends up being a little bit like stand-up comedy — you talk a little bit and then joke, talk a little, joke …
Some go a little more toward that and are just more humor-oriented, and those I would say are easier to publish … But most [outlets] don’t know what to do with the comics part. So again, it sort of falls in this tricky place.
I do like, though, how you’ve worked the cartoon illustrations in so they sort of reference what you just read, but also kind of stand alone as just funny illustrations on the theme. It almost reminds me of ‘Wimpy Kid’ for adults.
I’m going to use that when I pitch this. [laughs]
Please do — I’ll take my 10% when you’re all done.
Yeah, it’ll be worth it.
For more on David Milgrim, visit milgy.com.