My guest this week is Dean Blake, who has turned Instagram fame into an indie author career. What began as simple drawings that poke fun of ridiculous life situations went viral on social media and have struck a chord, especially in these times, when we can all use a good laugh.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On the Source of His Humor
A lot of my humor now comes from my family. Like, if you go to the Philippines, there's so much poverty there, but everyone's just always laughing all the time. If you go to a family party of mine, everyone just comes up with a joke, like every second, there's something always to laugh about, no matter what kind of pain everyone is going through.
On ‘Everyday A**holes'
I think being an A-hole is a universal language that we can all relate to, like mathematics. As well, everyone's got an inner douche. And especially in this growing, increasingly, severely, politically correct environment we live in, we need some kind of release and we need to release some kind of darkness somewhere. So, why not in humor, why not in something that can bring light to other people? So, that's where I'm coming from.
Listen to My Interview with Dean Blake
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts of my Interview with Dean Blake
Howard Lovy: I am Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is, Dean Blake, who has turned Instagram fame into an indie author career.
What began as simple drawings that poke fun of ridiculous life situations went viral on social media and has struck a chord, especially in these times, when we can all use a good laugh.
Dean Blake: My name is Dean Blake, and I essentially have no idea what I'm doing. I just released a book of illustrations called, Everyday A**holes. So, that's a sensitive of way of saying it. I'm from Australia, from Brisbane, Australia.
I'm traditionally a fiction writer, but I came up with this book of illustrations because one day I was meditating, I know that sounds a bit wanky, but, I was meditating and then I just decided to draw this really random drawing on my Instagram page. And before that, I had a typical author Instagram page, you know, you just have quotes from my book, snippets from my book, pictures of my book, what I'm eating, things like that. And then I just suddenly started drawing these random things and then people started engaging and liking it. So, I thought I'd draw more and more and more. And now my Instagram page has a lot of people coming to it, just purely for the illustration. So, I thought I'll just make my new book, a book of illustrations.
And I think the world needs a bit of a laugh, a bit of a chuckle now. So, I think it's perfect timing.
Howard Lovy: Before we go further into Dean Blake, the Instagram cartoonist and author, it's important to know where he began. Dean was born in the Philippines and had a very different kind of life from the one he would later adopt in Australia.
Dean Blake: I was born in the Philippines and had a very colorful life there. I mean, we used to sometimes meet to pump water out of the backyard.
One of my clearest memories is being mugged. So that was a very interesting time, but otherwise, I had a great family, we had a lot of fun. And I started writing, ever since I was a kid there. I started writing comics for my family and then I'd sell it to them for like 50 cents to try and make a buck out of them.
I was actually drawing comics about these four kids who were going around a small town pranking each other. I'm not sure if that rings a bell to you, but I was watching South Park the other day, then I saw my old comics and I thought, what the? They’re very similar.
And then we migrated to Australia a few times. The first time was just for three years, for my dad to get his PhD, and then we came back to the Philippines and we moved back to Australia when I was around nine or 10 years old. And I couldn't speak, I could barely speak English. I remember one of my first days at school, the teacher yelled my name out, then he started saying something. I had no idea what he said and then he just threw this candy in my direction. And I was like, do I eat this? What do I do with this candy? Obviously, I was still young. So, I managed to learn the language quickly and my parents made sure that they only spoke to me in English at home so I could quickly learn it. And then I had classmates who would tell me that I was too simple to read books and then I thought, okay, if I'm too simple, I might as well just write them if I can’t read them, right?
Howard Lovy: Dean did more than just prove his classmates wrong. He ended up at the top of his class in English and was writing for a major Australian newspaper by the age of 18.
Dean Blake: So, every time someone, kind of, challenges me like that, I stand up to it. So, I did do pretty well with English in high school. And then after I graduated, I thought I needed to make money.
I heard arts has a great reputation for people getting jobs right away but instead I thought I'd take the more conservative path and do something like business and advertising. But, as I was studying, I took up a short story writing elective, thought, Hey, why not?
So, I wrote this short story, about, kind of, my experiences in high school of being an Asian in Australia. Just going back, a little bit, so we moved to Townsville when we first migrated to Australia. I was like one of very few Asians there, I think there was two of us in the grade, so we were a huge minority there. And, obviously, there was some bullying, there was some racism, there were a lot of good people though, mind you, just a little bit, enough to remember it.
But when I moved to Brisbane, which is a much larger city here in Australia, my whole grade was pretty much Asian and I believe there was some kind of gang stuff going on, stuff I wasn't aware of, and all of a sudden I was common; I didn't stand out because of the color of my skin.
So, I wrote a story about that. And then, and it got picked up by this big publication called the Melbourne Age. I entered into a competition there because my lecturer loved the story. She gave my story a high distinction and it gave me the confidence to, kind of, submit it around.
So, I submitted it to the Melbourne Age and then I came third in a national competition. I was just 18 years old and I thought, wow, I'm top of the world, I'm going to be famous. I'm going to be rich, because every writer is rich, right? And then that's kind of where my confidence in my writing took off.
Howard Lovy: Dean not only embraced writing, but a particular kind of writing that poked fun at the human condition. He traces this back to his childhood in the Philippines.
Dean Blake: Yeah, actually thinking about it now, a lot of my humor now comes from my family. Like, if you go to the Philippines, there's so much poverty there, but everyone's just always laughing all the time.
If you go to a family party of mine, everyone just comes up with a joke, like every second, there's something always to laugh about, no matter what kind of pain everyone is going through. I think that's where it came from. But my writing, when I first started off, was very angsty, very serious, I guess that was the teenage side of me.
I was influenced by Bret Easton Ellis and other writers. And, I guess I was young I was still a sponge and I was a university student, obviously. So, they kind of gave me an angsty, anti-the man edge, kind of, view in life. So, for a while, my writing was very serious.
Only recently did I start to incorporate more humor into what I did. I just developed a strong sense of honesty, because normally, when I'm out with friends, I joke around much more, I’m much less serious than I am in my writing. And I thought, I need to be more honest with my writing. And now, my writing has gained that more humorous edge to it.
Howard Lovy: But before Dean could embrace full time writing, he first had to make a little money. So, he took work as an ad copywriter. Later he and a group of friends launched their own ad agency. Still though, the need for him to express himself as a writer was always in the back of Dean's mind.
Dean Blake: Yeah, the same time I was writing, but if you run a business, you may already know this, it can take up a lot of your time.
And for five years, we really worked at it and we smashed at the business, and we became one of the leading digital agencies in the state. It's still running today, but I thought, ah, this isn't for me anymore, there's a need for me to really express myself artistically, and the business kind of took priority.
So, I sold my shares, took some time off, traveled around a little bit. Then went back at it and, for the past year, I've been working at growing my Instagram, which is @deanblakeauthor and releasing this book. So, there you have it.
Howard Lovy: Dean filled his Instagram account with his cartoons and quickly built a following.
Dean Blake: People were laughing. People were sharing. People were sending me private messages saying they love my work. So, that definitely helped. I spend about two to three hours per drawing. As crappy as they look, as simplistic as they look, it actually takes a lot of time to do each drawing, and a lot of thought as well.
So, they reflect, as well as my book title, Everyday A***holes, they're just the inner A-hole in all of us. So, for example, there's one, there's a drawing of a woman on a slide, and then the caption is, “Chloe, sliding into another shitty relationship.” There's another one. The one I did recently, about Chef Giovanni putting cheese on his pasta, but he's actually rubbing the dandruff out of his hair.
So, it’s just things like that. I started off with just sketches on a notepad and I didn't use pencil or anything, it was just pure pen on paper, and then I'd put them on. And now they're full color, and I'm slowly growing into animation. But if you're an author and you're listening and you want to grow your Instagram, I highly recommend a book called, One Million Followers, Brendan Kane, by this guy who grew his following to 1 million within a very short period of time.
I obviously haven't, I'm still implementing some of this stuff. So, my following is nowhere near 1 million yet, but it's growing steadily. That's a good place to start.
Howard Lovy: Also, a good place to start in these tense times is humor and Dean's brand of humor is to poke fun at himself and the foolish things people can do. He calls them every day A-holes.
Dean Blake: Yeah, there's a lot of tension. As you know, the Coronavirus, I think, just kind of tightened everything up for everyone, and the recent riots was a big release, for a lot of people, I think.
It just comes from me, because deep inside I repress a lot of stuff. But it also comes from the people I encounter. I think being an A-hole is a universal language that we can all relate to, like mathematics. As well, everyone's got an inner douche. And especially in this growing, increasingly, severely, politically correct environment we live in, we need some kind of release and we need to release some kind of darkness somewhere.
So, why not in humor, why not in something that can bring light to other people? So, that's where I'm coming from.
And some people get offended by it, but you can't please everyone. Like, if Jesus couldn't please everyone, if Buddha couldn't please everyone, I certainly can't. But I think from the feedback, people do find my stuff entertaining.
Howard Lovy: Dean isn't only cartoonist, he's a short story writer whose book, Surface Children is a satirical look at teenage life.
Dean Blake: Back in my uni days, I started this blog called Always 18. It gained a bit of a following, bit of attraction. It's now called Generation End. You can go to it at generationend.com.
But it was a book of vignettes about my life. Some parts were fictionalized, some parts were real. As well as a collection of short stories, I'd written over the years. There's a bit of a love story to it, there's a bit of horror elements to it, just a mix of everything. So, the premise of Surface Children is how vain young adults were.
So, most of the characters in this book were young adults or teenagers. And it's always about image. So, there's one short story about a group of kids, young adults, who want to look perfect from every angle. So, they go to extreme lengths so that their side profile is perfect, their front profile is perfect. They look great if you take a photo with flash and then they go through extreme and scary lengths to look amazing. And another one is, the things we do for those who don't love us. Which is a story about a young woman who completely tries to please her Wolf, who never seems to be satisfied with how she looks or how she behaves or what she says, and she goes to extreme lengths to please him. In the end he dumps her because he feels that she is too forced. So, there's a bit of a satire elemental to it and it’s a bit of social commentary as well.
Howard Lovy: Next in Dean's satirical crosshairs is the world of dating, kind of like that social media, meme going around now, “wrong answers only.” He's working on a book of bad dating advice.
Dean Blake: In terms of writing, the project I'm working on at the moment, I'm not sure if it will come to fruition yet, but it's just a book of really horrible dating advice.
Very, very sarcastic dating advice I’ve received from friends and from other people. Just really bad advice that typically people follow that doesn't work. So, I thought I'd exaggerate those and just come up with a funny book on that. Though, I'm not sure if that's the book for me yet, I'm still trying it out.
I've written a few thousand words already. It is another funny one. It is a very sarcastic one. One came from a friend. So, I'm an Asian, so I'm allowed to say this, but, if you're a Caucasian dating an Asian, greet her by saying, Namaste.
Okay, what's some other advice. Be yourself, just be yourself, I think, is the most common advice given to men, which doesn't always work because, they should be saying, be your best self. So, be yourself. So, there's a chapter where the protagonist is himself by not showering for days, he doesn't shave, doesn't brush his teeth and just complains about the government and politics on the first date. So, the message is be your best self.
Howard Lovy: The important thing about humor is it takes an audience. More than that, it takes an active audience that reacts to what you have to say. So, Dean makes sure he's not working in a vacuum. His advice for all writers, in fact, is to try out your material, on real audiences.
Dean Blake: I'm an introvert, but the more people you meet, the more people you share your ideas with.
So, for example, with the book I'm experimenting with, the dating advice one, when I give people, sort of like, an elevator pitch of what it's about, I see how they react. And, when they laugh, that's when I know I'm on the right track. When they don't laugh or they look confused, then I think, okay, the premise of my story needs changing. The same with my book Everyday A***Holes, that didn't come easily.
My first draft, I thought I'd do on my own, because every author thinks they're a genius. I thought I was a genius. Its good enough as it is. But what I did was, I showed it to people, not saying that I was the author and I watched their reactions. Then I showed it to people who I trust and respect, professional people, for their honest feedback, and I said, be as honest as possible, would you buy this? How would you rate it? What's wrong with it? How would you improve the design? How would you improve the cover? And I know it can be hurtful, it can be intimidating and daunting to ask people for their honest feedback. And, obviously, you need the wisdom to know what feedback is worthwhile and what isn't, but it definitely helped me create a much better book.
Just to tell a story of Walt Disney, when he was first releasing his movies, he'd hide in the cinema and, he wouldn't watch the movie, but he'd watch the people and he’d see how they'd react. And then he'd go back to the drawing board and fix what needed to be fixed. And I think you can apply that to your writing.
If people don't look excited when you tell them about the premise of your story, and if you ask people for very honest feedback, trustworthy people, obviously, and you take it in, if you get the wisdom to take in the right feedback, then I think you can come up with much better work. And you can apply this principle to your marketing, your website, everything else.