- Kickstarter video and project page
- What I made
- What worked, what didn’t, and how pigs attack
- Unexpected results
In 2012, I launched a Kickstarter project called Greetings from the Back of My Van. While traveling across the country in my Vanagon, I sent original postcards and letters to project backers. I originally created this website as a place to display all of the artwork and writing that I sent to project backers: I registered the domain name and got set up with a hosting provider on a 3G connection near Bryce Canyon, created the Kickstarter pitch video near the banks of the Mississippi River, and posted project updates from across the Upper Midwest and American West.
Since the conclusion of the project, the website has grown as I’ve added content from other projects. I continue to make the occasional custom postcard and post those online as well. This project page is an archive of the creative work I did for Greetings from the Back of My Van.
Kickstarter video and project page
Here’s the project page on Kickstarter.
What I made
The links below will take you to backer rewards and other stuff that I created as part of this project. The archives are broken down by product type. The net result was hundreds of postcards and letters, as well as some side projects and travel dispatches that happened along the way.
- Postcard collages (regular-sized)
- Postcard collages (giant-sized)
- Letters (including drawing, writing, comics, and collages)
- Subscription postcards (multiple postcards sent to the same backers over a multi-month period)
- Interviews at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center
- Travel updates and photography
Postcard collages (regular-sized)
These mostly chronicled my travels in the Upper Midwest.
- Collage correspondence, part 1: Iowa and Wisconsin
- Collage correspondence, part 2: Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
- Collage correspondence, part 3: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
- Collage correspondence, part 4: Minnesota
- Collage correspondence, part 5: First points west
- A few more postcard collages
- One more postcard: 99-cent mammoth
- A few bonus postcards I sent out
Postcard collages (giant sized)
I sent out jumbo-size collage postcards in a couple different batches. The first postcards were created and written in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. The first batch also incorporated some found materials from earlier in the trip (for example, the Wisconsin-themed giant postcard). The second batch was created and written in Eastern Oregon.
First batch: South Dakota → Nevada
- Devils Tower National Monument
- America’s dazzling, continuing revolution
- A dazzling wasteland
- A South Dakota collage
- Badlands porthole
- Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Extreme Wisconsin geology
- Empty jacket
- Barney Frank, King of the Pacific Salmon
- Great Salt Lake
- The importance of being prepared
Second batch: Eastern Oregon
- The story of the finicky bolt in La Pine
- Big Bird, cartographer extraordinaire
- The story of the soaking cowboys
- The great American road trip
- Outdoor adventures
- The story of my badass knife
- Overboard protocol
- The thing in the desert
The letters I sent were more than just text. They included comics and drawings, pasted-in ephemera, and a few random collages here and there.
- A Midwest retrospective
- En route to California
- Nevada and California
- TV party with scientists
- Convalescing in Berkeley
- An interview with my friend Flink
- Revelations on the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
- Encounter with Professor Stoolsworth
- Salt Point dispatch
- Hippies versus loggers
- Ruminating in Fortuna
- The people you’ll meet
- Stitches out in Red Bluff
- Frugal alternatives to a Syncro Vanagon
- Putting a bird on it
- Tom’s wedding
- San Francisco and Portland
- The Government Camp dispatch
- An encounter with Bigfoot
- The scene in Hood River
- The Indian Heaven Wilderness report
- Extraordinary giraffes, spherical ice, and the South Dakotan Buddha
- Rock formations, primary functions, and life questions
- Geologically based soda names, lenticular clouds, and alpine fronting
- Scrimshaw, chakras, and hyenas
- Heavy-handedness, Pacific Northwest camping, and things that smell like eggs
- Mammals, spiders, and the Internet explained
- Washington State, where specialists can help
- Bigfoot, science, and a mess of eggs
- The Tacoma aroma, a giant cube, and alpine megafish
- Floating, whaling, and ruminating
- A cold glass of holiday delight
- Big trees, big bears, angry moose
- Big strides, greywater reservoirs, and badgers
- Big money, big pills, Bigfoot
- Governor Bigfoot, motivating achievement, and radical banana slugs
- Horses, pigs, chicken heads
- End of the line for Lewis and Clark. Also, kale.
- The continuing search for knowledge, no bull
- Geopolitics and waterfalls
- Hot Pot, Pluto, cultural advancement
- Dirt and oil, bus of intrigue, babies of the nothing
- Impact theory, bird-emblazoned mountain scenery, and corrugated cephaloboxes
- Bats, birds, and gravity
- Genius dog and a pizza paradigm shift
- Exploding craters, an important message from Hubert Humphrey, and a bunch of chimps
- Chocolate outrage, confusion in Hebo, and Gangnam’s high-water mark
- Toponyms, thimbleberries, and canine trail stewardship
- Sinkholes and snow
- Space beings, tacos, nano challah
- Double rainbow, tree blossoms, chevrotain
And here is some postcard stuff that didn’t fit under the other categories:
Interview on Iowa Public Radio
Interviews at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center
When my travels were interrupted by a wild pig attack, I was stuck in Northern California while I recovered. During this time, I had the opportunity to conduct a couple interviews at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.
- Project page containing a playlist of all interviews at the Schulz Museum
- Original post for my interview with Jeannie Schulz, widow of Peanuts artist Charles Schulz
- Original post for my interview with Lisa Monhoff, archivist at the Charles M. Schulz museum
Travel updates and photography
Finally, I posted sporadic travel updates on this website. I’ve listed them here in chronological order, grouped by place:
South Dakota and Wyoming
Colorado and Nevada
California: Pig attack and recovery
California: Coast and mountains
Travels near Portland
Cascades and Eastern Oregon
Sunset near Newberry Crater
The view from Paulina Peak
Crater Lake Dispatch
High desert country: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
Frenchglen: 80 kilometers of bad roads pay off
Steens Mountain: Yow
The Alvord Desert
What worked, what didn’t, and how pigs attack
The pitch video was well-received. I launched the project expecting it to receive minimal interest. Instead, I sold out of all my rewards a little over a week after launching. The actual postcards and letters also worked out well: My cut-and-paste collage skills improved over the course of the project, and writing to strangers forced me to frame my experiences in a different way.
It also kept me writing at a pace that I hadn’t ever sustained before. Last winter I transcribed everything I wrote during my travels, and it worked out to over 200,000 words — that’s 200 single-spaced pages. A lot of that was from my journals, which wound up serving almost as a rough draft for much of what I sent to project backers. In the process of writing, I would recognize what made for a good story, what didn’t, and what could actually fit on the back of a postcard.
Postcards are little travel haikus. Space constraints meant that I couldn’t give a full account of any place or event. I described my experiences by conveying a few select details of that experience. It also encouraged me to focus on “smaller” experiences that could be more succinctly recounted.
Conversely, the longer letters afforded more space and more flexibility. I could actually draw things on the bristol board I was using for letters. If I had to redo the project from scratch, I would place more emphasis on the letters: Drawing little mini-comics allows me to tell stories that I just can’t tell in postcard form. In retrospect, more letters and fewer postcards also would have struck a better balance in content.
The project hit a couple of major snags along the way: My transmission failed, and I got attacked by a wild boar.
The first snag was rectified with the purchase and installation of a new transmission. I borrowed shop space from my former neighbors in Iowa and swapped in the new unit on my own. I had never done anything like that before, and it was super gratifying.
The second snag was worse. Wild pigs have tusks, and above their tusks they have a pair of specialized teeth called whetters. “Whetters” is shorthand for “whetstones.” Every time the pig closes its mouth, it sharpens the tusk on its lower jaw against the whetter on its upper jaw. Pigs attack by lowering their heads, charging, and slashing upward. These attacks are characterized by injuries to the victim’s lower extremities.
The medical literature describes what happens next: “This repeated nature of attack continues till the victim is completely incapacitated due to multiple penetrating injuries, which can have a fatal consequence.” Most fatal pig attacks are a result of head trauma or evisceration that occurs after the victim is felled. I am happy to have escaped with “extensive bilateral lacerations to the lower extremities.”
So, after a chance encounter with a wild pig, that’s how I found myself on the ground looking at about twelve inches of exposed shinbone on each leg. I’m extremely grateful to my dog Kaida, who held the pig off long enough for me to get up and get out. I was trying to save her; she wound up saving me.
After I hobbled off, the pig charged Kaida and severed one of her jugular veins. She was lucky to survive. I was in the human hospital in Santa Rosa, California for three days. Kaida was in the animal hospital a little longer than that.
In one of my project updates, I wrote that I was looking forward to writing about the pig attack in my letters. This was a blatant lie. At one point in the hospital, I spent several hours staring at a blank sheet of paper, not knowing what to write and not wanting to write it. My journal contains no more than a few brief sentences about the pig attack. I have spent far more time reading medical literature and case studies about other people’s pig attacks than I have writing about my own.
I spent several weeks in the Bay Area while I recovered from the attack. I was walking ten miles at a time within a couple of weeks, albeit with pretty significant swelling. Other than the scars, things were mostly back to normal within six months of the attack. Dreams and nightmares about wild pigs have become less frequent over time.
At any rate, this had the effect of pushing my schedule back somewhat. My advice for anyone starting a Kickstarter project is to avoid wild animals.
My favorite thing about this project is that it took me to Portland, Oregon, where I met my wife. And she took me to the Grand Canyon, where I live today.