A family’s ennui—induced by “dreaded weekly food shopping”—is shattered by flatulence in Bruce Eric Kaplan’s pithily and pointedly titled picture book Someone Farted. Kaplan’s famously mordant cartooning (he is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker) elevates the premise of what is dealt and smelt into a new realm; it’s fair to say that every Krupke—well, almost—is a little wiser in the end. In an email exchange with PW, Kaplan revealed the book’s origin but was coyer about the secret embedded in the title.
Several people have told me, “I pretty much hate fart jokes but I love this book.” Why do you think that is? What attracted you to the subject matter—and was it hard to sell?
Maybe it is because the humor of the book is not focused on farts as much as it is on the characters and their foibles. The humor comes from the characters’ reactions to the fart, and the subsequent events caused by these reactions.
Believe me, writing a fart book is probably the last thing I would choose to do. But like much of my work, it feels like the subject matter chooses me, I don’t choose it. In this case, I was driving to the market one Saturday morning with my wife and kids and we were silent. Then, my daughter looked up from her book and said quietly, “Someone farted.” We proceeded to all blame the others and deny it was any of us. I said, this should be a children’s picture book. And an hour later, when we were home from the market, I emailed Justin—my children’s book editor—and asked if he would buy a book from me called “Someone Farted,” and he emailed back that he would.
Do you think about cartooning any differently when the audience is primarily kids? When the subject is flatulence?
It is definitely different than doing a New Yorker cartoon, but not because it’s for kids or it’s about flatulence. It more has to do with the fact that a single panel cartoon is a very specific thing—it’s just about doing one image with (usually) a caption that is hopefully extremely funny. A children’s book involves writing a narrative, then doing illustrations. It requires a different skill set, especially patience.
I don’t have any particular techniques for doing one or the other. For me, it is like riding a bike vs. driving a car. There are similarities, but the second you begin doing one, you slip into the different technique to get where you want to go.
Naming the family “Krupke” is inspired. How did you decide it was the best name?
My father used to tell me stories at night that he would make up about a boy my age named Brian Krupke who was similar to me. So this book is sort of an homage to him and the idea of telling fictional stories based on true-life experiences. The father in the book is unnamed, but obviously, he is the grown-up Brian Krupke.
My father loved West Side Story, and used to sing “Gee, Officer Krupke” around the house. So yes, I guess that is most likely [his] inspiration.
Finally: who did fart? Is there some kind of Easter egg hidden in the book that will explain all?
In the real-life events that the book is based on, we never learned who the culprit was. To this day, no one in the family has owned the fart. So it was important to me that in the book, the person who farted is not named. However, I had my suspicions then and now, and that has probably colored my dramatization of the incident.
Someone Farted by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Simon Schuster, $15.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4814-9063-4