JS - Well, I have to admit that I get a real kick out of
reading this book to kids.
US3 - Well, thank you! That's what I'm hoping for!
JS - So how did this all come about? Where did you get
the idea for the Tickle Bugs?
US3 - It's a game I always loved playing
with little kids. I would wiggle my fingers and say
"Here Come the Tickle Bugs!" and kids would go crazy.
They loved it. It seemed to hit the "pure joy" (air
quotes) nerve. My wife, Mrs. Sillyhead, was working
with lots of kids and she tried it out. She got the
exact same results. Her kids would beg for her to "bring
out the Tickle Bugs."
JS - So you knew that it was something that kids could
US3 - Absolutely!
JS - And you actually made
the Tickle Bugs real.
US3 - I guess I gave them more of a concrete identity.
JS - And now they are bonified
characters! Congratulations! Are there a lot of Tickle
Bug fans out there?
US3 - Yeah, the Tickle Bugs
have lots of fans now.
JS - So what made you think about taking it from just a
fun game to an actual book?
US3 - That's actually a very interesting story. I had an
idea for a website that could change the way that fundraising
is done for nonprofits. I really believed it could make
a huge difference in the world. The problem was that
I was having a hard time finding the right people to
give the idea to. After a long, difficult struggle,
I decided to create my own startup. The estimates to
develop the technology were between $500,000 and $2
JS - Interesting. This is not the answer I was expecting.
US3 - Yeah, believe it or not, this is the origin of the
Tickle Bugs. I knew that I had to come up with a bunch
of money. I started brainstorming ideas. At the time,
Pokémon was just thriving out of control - like
a 10 billion dollar enterprise. I thought to myself...'Hmmm,
Unc. Wouldn't it be cool to come up with your own children's
characters?' Only about 10 seconds after that thought
came the revelation: 'Ah-ha! Tickle Bugs!'
JS - Interesting, so once again, necessity was the mother
of invention, as they say.
US3 - Yeah, Mama Necessity! So, yeah, that's the spark that
gave birth to the "real life" Tickle Bugs.
JS - So was writing the book hard? Did you have any kind
of background in this?
US3 - Not really. I mean I wrote a lot and did a lot of
art, but you know, children's books aren't necessarily
JS - That's true, but HERE COME THE TICKLE BUGS! is all
US3 - Good point. No I didn't have any real computer or
graphics training at all before this. Writing the book
was pretty easy. I gave myself two weeks to come up
with the entire book - to develop the characters, to
write the story, to illustrate the book - everything!
JS - Two weeks? Really? Did you do it?
US3 - Absolutely! Until the question of how to color it
came up... which led me down a path that I hadn't anticipated.
I got some advice that, for what I envisioned, it would
be best to color it on the computer. So I forced myself
to learn, and it took me like 6 grueling months of hard
work - long days, every day. But eventually I got there.
JS -You used Adobe Illustrator, right?
US3 - Exactly. You've done your homework! Yeah, I don't
think there are many people who realize how each and
every line of every character had to be carefully sculpted
to make it all work. It was a major undertaking. It's
funny. I also got better as the book progressed, so
you see more advanced techniques toward the end of the
JS - The artwork really is phenomenal - a lot of the backgrounds
in particular are quite beautiful.
USIII - Thank you! Those backgrounds are really what I'm talking
about. Another interesting thing was that even though
I created this book in order to make money for another
project, the amount of love put into the book was enormous.
It was truly transformational. For instance, I didn't
even use the color black in the book at all. The printers
thought I was crazy, but symbolically, I wanted to create
the most positive book I possibly could for kids.
JS - Wow, that's something. So you
finished it and then went to publish it. And you went
about it in a somewhat non-conventional way, correct?
US3 - That's true. This is
my first children's book. I'd heard many stories about
how difficult the process is for finding an agent or
a publisher, especially for a first-time writer. Then,
if you're one of the lucky ones to find a publisher,
it can take like three years for them to actually print
it out. I wasn't patient enough for that. I figured
I'd rather put my energy into publishing it myself and
distributing it over the net than being at the mercy
of the big boys.
JS - So is that what brought about TickleBugs.com?
US3 - Exactly. It started
as just a site where people could find out about the
book, though it seems to be evolving into something
much bigger. It's really funny some of the things we
did to try to sell the book.
JS - Really? Like what?
USIII - Well like the back of my pickup truck. We wrote TickleBugs.com
in electrical tape and caught attention everywhere we
JS - That's funny. What other unconventional tricks did
USIII - Well, this is really kind of stupid actually, but
we had this whole gameplan to get the book out in time
for Christmas season. It was like impossible. The entire
strategy hinged on the fact that we were going to get
Rosie O'Donnell to publicize it on her TV show. You
know she really promotes the heck out of kids' stuff.
JS - And how were you going to get her to publicize your
USIII - Well, she had a nonprofit for children called the
For All Kids Foundation. For every 4 books we sold,
we would give one to her organization, to give to kids.
JS - Brilliant, did it work?
USIII - It failed miserably! For that to work, everything
would have had to click together flawlessly, and it
didn't. The printer took too long. The website took
too long. By the time we were ready to call them, there
was almost no time left. I think if things weren't so
rushed, we may have been able to pull it off.
Really the biggest downside is
that we had the books printed in softcover instead of
hardcover because there wasn't enough time. Also, compared
to all the other children's books that are printed overseas,
the price might seem just a little steep, but our production
costs were very high. We had it printed at the most
reputable printer in Northern California, in the heart
of Silicon Valley. And most books we sell through Amazon.com,
which gives us only 45% minus shipping, which means
that it's hard to sell them for any less.
JS - I was told that HERE
COME THE TICKLE BUGS! was the first children's book
online. Any truth to that?
US3 - To the best of my knowledge,
yeah, that's true. Before HERE COME THE TICKLE BUGS!,
I don't know if there was ever a children's book you
could read from start to finish online. At the time
we looked around and couldn't find any. We made that
claim for about a year and no one has yet to challenge
it. So, for whatever it's worth, we probably were.
JS - Why did you decide
to remove it?
US3 - There's nothing like
sitting down and reading a real book to a kid. To read
the book online, waiting around for each page to load,
just doesn't compare. You lose the natural flow of a
book. I really want parents to own the book. That's
what it's really all about. That's when it becomes magical.
You still can see a lot of it online
JS - Is HERE COME THE TICKLE
BUGS! available in many bookstores as well or just on
US3 - We have it in many
bookstores, but that's never been our focus. We're really
trying to see how well a book can sell almost exclusively
online. Eventually we're going to print a hardcover
edition for the bookstores and libraries. I also want
to come out with a condensed board book version. I think
that would be really cute.
JS - Any plans for more
US3 - Yeah, totally. I've
got lots of really fun ideas. I'm working on two right
now. Probably more will come after that, but we'll see.
JS - Tickle Bug books?
US3 - Actually, no. Neither of these two are, but there's
a good chance another will come soon enough.
JS - I just can't stop thinking about the potential
for Tickle Bug toys or a TV show or movie or you name
it. Do you have plans for anything along these lines?
US3 - Absolutely. I think
that's where it becomes really fun. Actually, that's
really the reason for writing the book. I have tons
of fun ideas for a great TV show as well as movie. We
get requests for Tickle Bug toys all the time. In order
to do that, we'd probably need some sort of partnership.
Again, lots of fun ideas for toys too.
JS - And what about Uncle
Sillyhead? Is that your real name?
US3 - Absolutely. The third.
Uncle Sillyhead III.
JS - Excuse me. Oh yes,
US3 - I figured using a funny
name was just another place to bring joy to kids. Why
JS - I've heard you mention
joy a lot. Was that your purpose in writing this book?
To bring kids joy?
US3 - Exactly. That was the
absolute purpose. We need more joy in the world. More
bliss. Kids need to be happy. There's a definite value
in meaningful books as well. I just looked back on my
childhood and for whatever reason, one book stood out
far ahead of the rest. I absolutely loved "Go Dog, Go!"
by P.D. Eastman. I guess I liked it because it was very
matter-of-fact. But I also loved the silliness and the
joy contained in it. I'd never seen anything like that
crazy tree party at the end. It was awesome. In fact,
I based my book completely on that one page alone. I
wanted this book to give kids that same feeling of bliss.
JS - Do you think you pulled it off?
US3 - I do. When I was making it, I never really doubted
that kids would connect, but now that it's out, and
I get to put it to an objective test, it's really great
to see how loved it actually becomes. Seeing that connection
is really what makes it all worthwhile.
JS - And if you don't mind me asking, what's the status
of your philanthropic web projects that motivated all
USIII - Well, in the course of moving the idea forward, I
bumped into an group called CharityFocus.
The idea is being developed there. It's actually pretty
revolutionary. There is no money involved at all. It's
all being done by us volunteers. Actually, as soon as
I got involved with CharityFocus, I officially put down
all work on TickleBugs.com for a long period of time.
I couldn't give my all to both. Now that I don't need
a financial windfall from the Tickle Bugs, it's really
all for fun. Actually, we donate quite a few books to
kids around the world.
JS - Fascinating story. Well,
Mr. Sillyhead, I mean Uncle Sillyhead...
US3 - The third.
JS - (laughs) Yes, of course, the third! I
truly wish you the best of luck and we'll all be looking
forward to seeing what comes next from the silly mind
of Uncle Sillyhead...THE THIRD.
US3 - Thank you very much.