Some might call it a sequel, some might call it an encore, but Jonathan Coulton and Greg Pak of Team Code Monkey are fine just calling it’s what’s next.
After their record-breaking success with the crowd-funded Code Monkey Save World graphic novel, the duo are back with a new release. The Princess Who Saved Herself is a children’s book illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa that Pak adapted from Coulton’s song of the same name. Originally done digitally as a stretch goal for the Code Monkey Save World graphic novel, Pak and Coulton are now looking to bring The Princess Who Saved Herself to print as a hardcover book.
Newsarama: Greg, this week you began sending out The Princess Who Saved Herself children's book digitally to the backers of the original Code Monkey Save World supporters. But now there's news its coming to print – and will be available for everyone even if not part of the original Kickstarter. What’s it about?
Greg Pak: The book tells the story of Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion, a princess who lives in a pink and purple castle, eats cake, has a pet snake, and plays rock ’n’ roll guitar all day long. This kid paradise falls apart when the classical-guitar-playing witch who lives next door decides she hates Glory’s music. So Glory has to step up and deal with the problem as only she can.
Nrama: It’s based on Jonathan’s song of the same name, which I want people to hear before we go further:
Jonathan's song is imaginative, but this book really takes it a couple steps further. You're not just adapting, but elaborating on it immensely. How'd that go for you?
Pak: It was a huge blast. I love Jonathan's song and thought it would make for a great children's book precisely because of its great storytelling and character building. The main character of the princess is just so vibrant and perfectly formed in the song. She's this great, fearless kid who tackles every problem head on and isn't afraid to kick ass -- but she also deals with everything in the end with great compassion. Just a fantastic, fun character.
But for the story to become an actual book, it needed a few more beats. We added a giant bee and the queen blotting out the sun. And most importantly, we built up the queen as the princess's main antagonist and fleshed out this conflict over musical taste.
Nrama: Jonathan, your work has been turned into comics and now children's books. How does that feel?
Jonathan Coulton: It's always exciting when one of my songs gets turned into another thing, because it makes me feel like I did something right. If a song's ideas and characters can live outside the song, it tells me that they connect with people pretty well, which is the whole point. So it feels pretty good!
Nrama: Comic book, children's book -- what other formats are on your wishlist to do next as an extension of your songwriting?
Coulton: The songwriting itself is hard enough, heaven knows. But I've always had in the back of my mind the idea that I could make a pretty fun musical. Perhaps in the later stages of my career, Elton-John-Style, when I've got all the time in the world to sit around looking back on a string of mega-hits.
Nrama: Before we go too far down that rabbit hole, there’s more to talk about with this children’s book. Takeshi Miyazawa is back with you on art -- what made him the right one for this, and what'd he add to the elaboration of Coulton's song?
Pak: Tak's just the best. We've worked together on a ton of projects and he always immediately gets what I'm going for in terms of tone and character. He's also fantastic with drawing young people and everyday people in a way that makes every image feel real, accessible, and fun. The hipster look of the queen is all Tak, and I love it.
Nrama: What’s your goal for this new Kickstarter for The Princess Who Saves Herself?
Pak: We've set a goal that would let us order enough books from the printer to keep the per-unit cost reasonable. But we're not going crazy with a million different rewards on this campaign. We really just want to get physical copies of the book into the hands of people who want them. So we hope you dig and jump on board!
Nrama: Do you plan on selling this book traditionally at some point, digitally and/or print?
Pak: The book only exists because of the amazing support of the Code Monkey Kickstarter community, so getting it into physical form using crowdfunding feels absolutely right. That being said, if there are any traditional publishers out there who might be interested in distributing this thing to the wider world, please don't hesitate to speak up! We think there's a tremendous audience out there for this kind of story and these kind of characters. We're happy to run with whatever system of distribution seems most likely to reach people the best way.
Nrama: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is your first children's book. How's that experience like?
Pak: Amazing. I've been working on a few children's book manuscripts in secret for a while now, but this is the first one that's actually seeing the light of day, and it's a total thrill for me.
It's been a blast writing picture books. There's a real economy of language and theme here that feels challenging and fun. The longer I tell stories, the more I see the value of simplicity. When you have a relatively simple story, you can get so much deeper thematically and emotionally. Picture books really boil that down to its essence, so it's a great place to play.
Nrama: And this is the latest instance of a long partnership with you and Jonathan Coulton. How would you describe your relationship, and how did the uber-successful Kickstarter change things as friends and business partners?
Pak: Jonathan and I met in college and then re-met each other years later on the streets of New York. We're friends with a quarter century or so of history and I trust the guy implicitly on every level. So that helps when it comes to both art and business.
Coulton: Working together on these projects has caused us see each other a lot more often, ostensibly to "do work," but it's also an excuse to eat meals together and talk about life and stuff. It's a nice bonus when you get to work on a project with someone who's also your friend.
Pak: I'll also say it's incredibly fun working with Jonathan. We get together to talk through our projects and just laugh and laugh. And a day with lots of laughing and co-creating is generally better than a day without.
Nrama: Code Monkey has gone from a project to being a team -- do you see the team doing more in the future?
Coulton: Who knows! This was certainly a lot of fun. And I think it's entirely possible that this world Greg knit together has more stories to tell. I'm particularly interested in what's next for the (slightly prickly) friendship between a monkey and a mad scientist. Do they get an apartment together?
Pak: I sure hope so. It's been a heck of a ride so far and I don't really wanna get off the carousel just yet.