Radio Waves daily blog by Two Dollar Radio indie book publisher

How The Incantations of Daniel Johnston Came to Be

The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan (Two Dollar Radio)

It's been a long, winding road from when Ricardo Cavolo first shared his comic, El Desorganismo de Daniel Johnston with me. It was on the heels of using his artwork on the cover of Karolina Waclawiak's debut novel, How to Get Into the Twin Palms. Like all Ricardo's work, I was immediately transfixed, my eyeballs absorbed and perhaps in shock. Like a good story, his art features several layers of images within images, which beckons for repeat viewings.

In 2012, I wasn't sure what to do with Desorganismo, and recommended Ricardo write the few graphic novel contacts I had. Fortunately for us, nothing panned out.

As we see houses like Penguin Random House develop imprints within imprints—such as Hogarth, who originally set out to publish "noisy books" (hmmm, wonder where they got that from?); and Farrar Straus & Giroux's new imprint, MCD/FSG (what the fuck does that even mean?), aiming "to publish work and experiment with publishing styles, forms, and genres"—I'm always reminded of independent filmmaking.

In the '90s, with the success of Pulp Fiction, Miramax in general, Kevin Smith, and others, there seemed to sprout up dozens of new outfits producing cutting-edge work. The problem was they were too successful, and so you had the big production companies like Sony and Warner Bros. launching their own indie film divisions, such as Sony Pictures Classic, Warner Independent, and New Line Cinema, to mimic their formula. Certain of distribution and funding though, these production companies proved too attractive for the talent pool that had been working on the smaller, spunkier projects. And so to satisfy the corporate bottom-line and ensure profits, the creativity of the work was sacrificed, the tiny production companies went out of business, and we find ourselves where we are now: with superhero movie after superhero movie, our top actors prancing around in front of green-screens being chased by zombies.

I guess that's probably the way it's always been: the corporations see someone smaller being successful, and they think, We could do that!

A conversation Eliza and I have fairly regularly is about how we can push the envelope even farther. We need to go left when people expect us to go right. We aim to keep readers on their toes. I abide by the following words from Jason Flores-Williams, as delivered at the closing to CBGB's in 2006:

"I’m talking about getting brutally weird again. I’m talking about doing art that’s beyond co-option. I’m talking about forging new myths. I’m talking about creative resistance that scares the shit out of the rich robots, Sex in the City slaves, stockbrokers, cultural gatekeepers and pigs in power. I’m talking about dangerous expression that’ll make Todd and Ashley think long and hard about moving into the ’hood and exposing their little banker to the new hip warriors of the American night."

We started thinking maybe we could do a graphic novel. That's the nice thing about being your own boss: you don't have to ask permission. But we wanted to take it another step further. To do that, we enlisted Scott McClanahan, whose writing features incredible magnetism and power, and who is able to accomplish so much with just a little, to remix Ricardo's original text.

It was a rather stressful project at times to produce The Incantations of Daniel Johnston, worrying about new paper-stock and book size, but we're thrilled with the result and hope that you are too.

Thanks to those who've checked it out already. And thanks to everyone who reads our books. Thanks for supporting independent culture.

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  • Nancy Nusser - July 08, 2016

    Hello, We are a longtime political magazine based in Austin, and we have a review of the Johnston book that we’d like to run with a photo of its beautiful cover. I have a photo of the cover, so I am seeking authorization to use it. May we? Also, the credit, if we do use it, should be to Two Dollar Radio, yes?

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Two Dollar Radio is a family-run outfit founded in 2005 with the mission to reaffirm the cultural and artistic spirit of the publishing industry. We aim to do this by presenting bold works of literary merit, each book, individually and collectively, providing a sonic progression that we believe to be too loud to ignore. Check out the ABOUT US section to read more...

Radio Waves daily blog by Two Dollar Radio indie book publisher

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