When last we spoke, C.W. Moss had just released Unicorn Being a Jerk, a book of one-panel cartoons that combined sly social commentary with observational humor firmly rooted in the human comedy to great effect. Filled with examples of the most ill-considered behavior ever committed by a mythical one-horned horse, it had the unique ability to make you laugh out loud even while it made you uncomfortable with your reaction.
In other words, it was a bit of satirical brilliance, capturing the zeitgeist of the culture in but a single illustration accompanied by a handful of words.
Recently, Moss released another volume featuring his fan-favorite legendary beastie entitled Why Unicorn Drinks. And while it may not be a sequel, per se, to that first volume, it certainly is a book that is filled with a series of moments that are by turns touching, moving, outrageous and
Well, always hilarious, even if it is occasionally discomfiting.
If memory serves, your previous book was born out of a crisis of conscience. So what crisis, personal or otherwise, gave rise to Why Unicorn Drinks?
I don't feel like this book was born out of anything as serious. It was more of an odd experience with a stranger.
One day, I was out buying groceries and ended up next to a middle-aged woman. She seemed nice, roaming the bread aisle, hair everywhere. We ended up on the same part of the aisle, mulling over grain varieties—and somehow we started talking. Initially about nothing really, but the conversation quickly filled with the current weight. She told me that her mother had just passed and she was taking care of her father who was struggling. She was really sad. She cried for a moment, right after she told me that she didn't like her father.
It wasn't a conversation that you can really prepare yourself for. I just tried to be there for her, to hear her.
When I got home, I couldn't stop thinking about the woman; my mind wouldn't stop working, trying to complete her story. This sharing created a bond, if you can even call it that, strong in that moment but gone by the parking lot.
Then a week later it happened with another person at the library, and couple months after that, at a museum with another complete stranger. I realized how much we were all keeping to ourselves and I wanted to make something that could open [us all up].
Well, that feeds right into my thought that this new book takes us to some places in Unicorn’s soul that are even darker than those essayed in the earlier volume. Is that also a reflection of where it came from, of the world you were observing at the time, or might I be reading too much into things?
I wanted to make something that let people know it was okay to be sad and hopefully find a way to help people share and bond over the experience. I wanted to make something that could help people bond over sorrow.
This idea came from an odd thing I noticed when I saw people reading Unicorn Being a Jerk. The book almost became this weird screener for friendship. I could reasonably predict how well I might get along with someone based on what images made them laugh.
It made me wonder if I could do something similar but with something a bit more real. Jerk was absurdist at times, and I wondered if Drinks could be a bit more jarring and honest, but still connect people.
I know these books are intended to sit on a coffee table. It's not a tome. It's a book that is supposed to operate quickly and can be shared easily. I thought Why Unicorn Drinks might be my chance to do some good with the opportunity.
Would this new book be a sign of things to come? Will the next volume be Unicorn Cooking Meth, perhaps, or will things be headed in another direction?
I'd like to make something that is a bit easier more palatable. I've got a few ideas for what could be next, but just living again will determine what book I need to make.
In preparing for the release, I became this boring drone working every day, all day. Now, I'm finally reading and smelling and dancing and smiling again, and just generally being a human—so we'll see where that goes.
Well, for those gentle souls out there who are concerned about him, how’s Unicorn doing these days? Has he bottomed out and sought the help he so obviously needs, or is there no hope for that poor soul?
He's not dead. I haven't seen him around much. He's been busier. I think normalcy is still his dream, but he may have to cut his horn off for that.
What’s been the average reader’s reaction to this new volume so far?
Honestly, I'm not sure. Before, I saw my self-published book in a lot of people's hands before it was picked up by Harper and published in stores. With this one, my study's sample size was a lot smaller, mostly held to my circle of close friends.
In the few experiences I've had, it seems divisive. I think some people are disappointed that this book is a bit more serious, but it was the book I needed to write at the time. I felt like I didn't have a choice.
When we last talked, you and Lemonade “Unicorn” Steiny were getting along pretty well. How are things going today? Has that relationship only gotten stronger, as so many of us hoped, or are things a little strained again?
I think we're becoming a bit more honest about what our relationship has become: a relationship that benefits from sharing.
Again, when last we spoke you mentioned that there was some talk about a possible TV show. Is that still in the works, or did you decide to hold out for the feature film treatment, instead?
I'd love to do something if the right opportunity presented itself. There have been some conversations with some really great people, but it didn't work out.
I've been working with a few close friends on developing it and I love where things are going. I can't say much except that we are trying to do something unique and special.
I’ve got to ask, because it has been getting some notice in the press of late, but what does Unicorn think of the resurgence of My Little Pony and the attendant Brony movement? Is that something that he sees as a good development, as a “rising tide lifts all ships” kind of thing, or does he perhaps resent the loss of attention to horned horsekind?
I don't think he knows anything about it. I just recently found out myself and I still don't know much. If it makes people happy and connects people who feel alone—I like it.
You also mentioned that you were working on a couple other projects, including a couple of prose books. What’s the latest on that front, and what do you have in the works that you can talk about at this point?
The writing is on-going and almost constant.
In the years I've seen Unicorn grow, I've realized that it takes full and thorough attention and that growth is slow but never stops. So, I've been spending time collecting moments I love from authors I admire, and then trying to write beautiful sentences myself.
Even with Why Unicorn Drinks, my work with words has started to show itself. There were some images in the book where the caption had 30 or more options, some parts with small variations and others revised as completely different ideas.
This is almost the opposite of Jerk, where most of the ideas were said as purely as possible and rarely changed or made poetic.
Where do you see Unicorn in five years?
That's a dangerous question. Ideally, metaphorically — holding more hands and hugging more people.
How about yourself? Where would you like to be at that point, and what would you like to be doing, if all goes well?
I want to help improve more people's lives. I've really been concentrating on three big projects. The first is Unicorn.
The second thing is a performance and installation-based gallery that I co-curate called Mastodon Mesa. We're trying to do weird and special things, and I love it. It gives me a chance to work with people whose work I love and have a tremendous amount of respect for. I'd love to still be curating that in five years.
The third thing I'm working on is an elderly outreach non-profit, similar to Big Brother/Big Sister but for the over-75 crowd. It's called Graham, and is named after a man I loved named Lee Graham. Lee became involved in my life accidentally. I met him when I was still in middle school when my mother was helping redecorate his home. Somehow, over time, Lee became a friend of the family and then started coming over to eat every Sunday. After a couple years, Lee really became a makeshift grandparent and hero of mine though I'm not sure I realized at the time how important he was to me. This organization is a tribute to him.
The plan for the program is two-part. The first part would have a simple elderly outreach program connecting volunteers with elders, to spend time together and enrich each other's lives. The other part of the organization involves documenting the wonderful advice of these elders, once a strong bond has been formed with a volunteer. With their collected words, we would host everything online and also produce a quarterly publication that would help introduce people to the organization while also helping us gather funding for the work we do.Anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to work?
I'm just going to put these things out into the world in case the right person is reading. These are still things I would like to do: illustrate political and editorial cartoons, teach a class on spreading ideas, be a ghost writer, and work with Matthew Wiener on Mad Men or some other long-form narrative.