Enter Matt Yerington and his 11-year-old son Elijah, who together have developed “Stinky Robots,” a children’s book of sorts. GraphicDesign caught up with Yerington and his deceptively young son to talk about the publication. Then, to give you an even more well-rounded design experience, we sat down with one of the project’s designers, Nikola, to talk about the development of the next generation of Stinky Robots called FutuRobots.
GraphicDesign:Thank you for joining us. Give us a quick recap of the origins of the book.
Elijah Yerington: My dad first thought of the idea and together we made the storyline. We used a job site called Odesk and each person who responded to our ad made a robot. We hired our favorite designers from that group.
Matt Yerington: I have two sons and a daughter. Elijah is my youngest at 11 years old. I had this idea with Isaac, who is now 15, back when he was 8. That was before the internet, though, so this would have been a little tough to execute. My wife is an artist and I do abstract oils, so my son Isaac drew some of the early robots, but they weren’t at the level of being able to put them in a book. Right around Christmastime last year, I was retelling the story and Elijah and I sat down at a computer and wrote down a storyline.
I had this idea of having stinky robots and modern robots. The stinky robots are called that because they are run on diesel and so they’re different. Then, Elijah and I wrote it all down and wanted to figure out how to make this book into something, so we went online.
We posted a job on Odesk to get a lot of the graphic designers. We posted there saying we were trying to create the next Muppets or the next Disney characters and we needed people to draw robots. We got some super excited people to respond too. We gave everyone a choice: draw a stinky robot or draw a modern robot. Elijah and I looked at everyone’s design portfolio to see who we liked the best. We also asked them questions like “Why do you like robots” and other fun interview questions. I think a few of them thought we were nuts.
GraphicDesign: How easy or difficult was the process of raising money for “Stinky Robots” on Kickstarter?
Matt Yerington: We spent a lot of money getting to where we are right now. The Kickstarter campaign was so we could do the final push for the book. We got most of the pages done and we were working on the final layout. It was fun to see how many girls bought the book and so we had to go back and put girl robots in the book and all of that required time. Yes, we have customers of the book asking for more girl robots. That’s what we’re doing right now.
I could write a book on what not to do on Kickstarter. We had no Twitter account when we started Kickstarter. We had 50 friends on Facebook. We’re not even covering our costs. When you hire 12 people to create robots, it costs money. At this point, we’re trying to recover our costs. If I had to do it all over again, I would have asked for less money too since Kickstarter is all or nothing.
GraphicDesign: At the end of your Stinky Robots pitch on Kickstarter, you called out Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter.
Matt Yerington: The thing that moved me about Pixar is that they’re all about the story. But, I’m about writing and we’re a family that loves art and writing. These aren’t just drawings; they can turn into something that people can love. Part of our decision to bring Nikola, a designer, on to bring the characters to life was that you can feel his emotion.
For example, I love the robot we have named Steve. You know everything about him. He’s dopey, but he has a great heart and our designer Martin created all of that. That’s the power of these artists we found – they can take to a computer or a pen and pencil and bring these characters to life. We really are trying to create something that’s lasting. Pixar is across the bridge from us here in California too, so we’re always thinking about them.
GraphicDesign: What age group(s) is Stinky Robots most suited for?
Matt Yerington:They’re not children’s books. I think anyone can enjoy it. If you’re seven or eight, you might be able to actually read it too. If you’re into comic books or graphic design, you’ll love this book. I think of it as a comic book, but it’s not that big and it’s not in a traditional comic book style.
GraphicDesign: Do you think you’ll go the comic book route with your robots? We know FutuRobots is in the works.
Matt Yerington: I have always envisioned going the comic book route with each character. We definitely want to write a book or comic book about each character. The concept of why they’re called stinky robots is that everyone is different and you have to see the difference and embrace the difference. So, the idea of loving people for who they are was the theme of it. Before we break out and go to each character in comic book format, we wanted to get the basic characters and concepts out there.
GraphicDesign: What were some of the design issues that our readers should keep in mind for books like Stinky Robots?
Matt Yerington: We wrote it not really thinking about formatting. If you go to StinkyRobots.com, we give a write-up on what we thought of each robot like who they are and what they did. If you look at a robot like Steve and you look at a robot like Daniel and a robot like Nikola, those are three different artists. One lives in Canada, one lives in Macedonia, and one lives in Argentina. We have a couple of robots that were created by guys in the Philippines. It was a big group effort.
GraphicDesign: Talk about your plans for “FutuRobots.” When will we see that published and what can we expect?
Matt Yerington: We are trying to make the terms “Stinky Robot” and “FutuRobots” into adjectives, sort of like how today, when some says, “Get me a Band-Aid,” they really mean, “Get me an adhesive strip,” which may or may not be a Band-Aid brand adhesive strip. So, we want to get the idea of old, mechanical, stinky robots to be synonymous with the term “Stinky Robot.”
Similarly, we want people to refer to new, high-tech robots as “FutuRobots”. We plan on doing a FutuRobot book immediately after the launch of current book. It will also be a children’s book and will tell a very similar story to the current “Stinky Robot” book. These books are acting as the official launch of these two unique robot camps.
GraphicDesign: How difficult will it be coming up with new, creative plotlines for your comic book series? And how can you ensure the same designer works on each robot? We know the designers played a pivotal role in the development of each robot and bringing them to life.
Matt Yerington: We are a family of writers and readers. My daughter (18) has already had a book of poetry published called “Flower Songs.” I’ve been writing for a long time and Elijah is anxious to hone his craft. Writing the stories won’t be difficult and we have outlines of many of them already in the works. We have great relationships with our artists, who are all anxious to continue their next project with us. There will be challenges, but we are all looking forward to meeting them. There is nothing more fun than making robot stories!
GraphicDesign: Talk about the design challenges of developing a comic book series versus a book.
Matt Yerington: I don’t think our design approach, in terms of how we draw the robots or the look we are trying to achieve, will change during this process. We are just going to have a much longer story, and a longer story will mean it is much easier to fit that story into a comic book format. I grew up reading comic books. I still own, and have passed down to my kids, over 2,000 comic books that I read when I was eight years old and that my three kids all read, and continue to read, today.
GraphicDesign: Before we get into our interview with Nikola, what makes Nikola a unique designer? What about his work captured your attention initially?
Matt Yerington: Nikola created three robots: Nikola, Benny Fixit, and Gemima. These were among our favorite Stinky Robots. We’ve always had a heart for the Stinky Robots, so he was a logical choice to bring all of the robots together into the first book. He also has a classically trained eye and is an amazing painter. I think the fact that he is in Macedonia, which has an eclectic mix of so many different historical influences, adds gravity to his work. His robots have feeling. I’ve received many compliments from our other artists about how much they appreciate Nikola’s interpretation of their work.
GraphicDesign: Tell us about your own background.
Matt Yerington: I was big into Grid and big into Typeface. One of the most common problems that people had was using 27 fonts on a page. It would look like someone threw up on a page. I thought it was about being simple and being consistent.
I have a self-taught, informal background. I was a fan of a Mac. I was in high school when the PC was invented. My favorite game was Donkey Kong. I learned DOS because I had copies of games on my computer and no way to get to them. I lived through the current world of design as it happened. I got into the Mac and then Adobe came around. I read books on typeface and design for fun.
GraphicDesign: Thank you for joining us, Nikola. Why did you decide to respond to the Odesk ad about Stinky Robots?
Nikola Radulovik: When I read about the general robotic theme, I was immediately drawn to it, especially because it involves “vintage” or “retro” robots opposed to high-tech “mainstream” robots. It was a theme that was very contemporary and a great analogy of the world we have today. But above all, it’s super fun to draw and design robots!
GraphicDesign: Had you done any similar type of graphic design before? Where did your inspiration come from?
Nikola Radulovik: I have been working on character design and children’s book illustrations for some time and done numerous robots, but never worked on something this big. There is a lot of work done in that theme, so it was a real challenge, but with the creative thinking of our two authors and the team of great artists, I think we created truly dynamic and original characters.
GraphicDesign: Have you already started the “FutuRobots” project? Can you tell us more about that from your end?
Nikola Radulovik: FutuRobots are part of the first book too, although they will have a separate book revolving more on the FutuRobots characters. We have most of the characters designed, but I think it’s still too soon to reveal anything about the story.
GraphicDesign: How difficult will it be to translate the success of “Stinky Robots” into comic books? What are some of the challenges involved in comic book-oriented design?
Nikola Radulovik: Comic books have a more standardized design than picture books, which also applies to the typography. Generally, picture books tend to be more “free” or “artistic” in expression, while comic books have well developed system to tell the story. This means an even greater challenge in design, as it requires more specialties because comic book design requires a touch on a more subtle level.