Need a hug? After the past two years, I wouldn’t be surprised. Here then is the warmest and most wholesome squeeze publishing can currently offer; Ur Special: Advice for Humans from Coolman Coffeedan is animator and artist Danny Casale’s book-form expansion of his technicolour cartoon multiverse. The self-described ‘bad animator’ shares surreal, wise, and hilariously daft content for his social media audiences (subscribers now well over four million) which, very simply, brightens up their day; pixelated super-shots of sunshine. We talk about life-lessons, the importance of positivity, and, obviously, zombie rock bands.
I’d love to begin by talking about your new book, set to be published this November – the wholesomely titled, Ur Special: Advice For Humans from Coolman Coffeedan. Could you tell us a bit about the premise for this work, for people who will know your videos and art from platforms like YouTube and Instagram?
It’s a colorful adventure, filled with loveable characters from my cartoon universe, who give you advice for being human! This includes lessons around self-confidence, dealing with bad days, making new friends, the right way to make a bowl of cereal… and everything in between. After all, being human is super tough. Some simple advice goes a long way.
Ur Special is like receiving a hug from an old friend; it’s full of hearty wisdom, warm humour, and it truly made my day having read it. I wonder how you view the book – is it self-help content, fiction, cartoon, or a hybrid form as a result of its varied and multitudinous internet origins? To me, it reads like a wonderful extended meditation on the power of empathy.
Yeah, I like to think of this book as being that person you can talk to or that shoulder to cry on - which is something many people don’t have these days. Especially young people who may feel uncomfortable bringing these types of things up. Although some of my fans refer to my content as “free therapy”, I like to think of it as more of a warm reminder that everything will be okay. Bad things do happen, but overall if we’re there for each other, everything will be okay.
The characters in this book, like the ones in your videos, made me grin from ear to ear with their wild creativity; we meet a crown wearing turtle, a mystical potato, and a little time-travelling devil man who lives under a rock, to name but a few. I would love to know, do you have a particular rationale or process for coming up with characters and video ideas, or do they spring fully formed from your (quite incredible) imagination?
Wow, thank you so much. To be honest, these characters have always been dancing around up there in my head. So I guess, in a way, they come naturally. Sometimes, I'll experience an emotion or situation that I'll try to characterise. For example, my character named Blue Dude was sketched up after some particularly difficult times. He’s a blue blob who speaks in a calm crisp voice, reminding the viewer it's okay to feel sad and that better times will come. People around the world really resonated with that character, and often come back to those videos in times of need.
As is now unavoidable in contemporary art, you created this piece during the pandemic. The book opens with the line “Life can be weird,” and you mention in the acknowledgements that this project was your “shining star” through this period. Would you be comfortable elaborating on this for us? Do you feel this book, the pandemic and your own experience of it are all braided together in some way?
I started writing this book in the beginning of the first lockdown, March of 2020. With the world seemingly falling apart around me, these stories and characters, in many ways, kept me calm. Here I was stuck in an Airbnb in LA, thousands of miles from my family during a literal pandemic, writing a chapter about how snails have been on the earth for so long that they were probably friends with dinosaurs at some point. Ideas like this kept me sane during insane times. The absurdity of it all provided me with a moment to laugh and take a breath during all the chaos. I’m thankful for that.
The book reads like a kind of fable or quasi-internet fairy tale; it reminded me a bit of Adventure Time or Over the Garden Wall. You’ve mentioned before about being inspired by the cartoons of your childhood and adolescence; did they inform this project in any way?
Totally, Adventure Time is a personal favorite. I discovered it when I was a 14 year old freshman in high school. I honestly thought I had outgrown the cartoon phase of my life. Yet, here I was laughing my butt off with my two brothers. We are all very different ages, but we were all laughing. I was amazed that a 14 year old and a 4 year old could appreciate the same cartoon. I think it all started then
I wonder what made you decide to take the jump from online animation and arts to the publishing world? Was it an easy transition from platforms like Youtube?
Well, I always thought my aesthetic would perform well on printed pages. It’s colourful, simple to look at, and has the familiar nostalgia of your favorite cartoons from your childhood. If anything, I was able to break free from the constraints of the 60 second limit my animations usually have, and dive deeper into bigger narratives and storylines. It was wildly fun to see my characters in this new medium.
To take a slight detour, how has it been collaborating on more of your videos? You’ve recently had Diplo featured on one video as a mustard-coloured cowboy with a rather fetching moustache, which is completely iconic. How do these collabs come about?
Ha! One day I sketched up that yellow cowboy and all my fans started tagging Diplo as a joke, saying it looked like him. I thought it’d be the perfect excuse to hit him up and ask him to actually voice the character, which he was 100% into. The next morning he sent me the audio of him reading my super weird script. In a way, that collaboration was fueled by the audience, which is so cool to me.
Your very first viral video, 2017’s Snakes Have Legs, was an irreverent but sly criticism of the artificiality and inauthenticity of the internet you grew up with. Your videos display the antithesis of this; the authentic, crafted and honest remain hallmarks of your animations. Do you see your work as an antidote to the increasingly confusing and dishonest environment of the internet, and perhaps beyond?
Snakes Have Legs had a couple of messages. The first and main one being how nobody should believe everything they read on the internet. This was created in perhaps the most politically charged summer of my life, and I felt like this reminder needed to be put out there. But the other message, as the snake said, was how “the internet is an amazing tool, that can be used for amazing things, and you should stop being an idiot on it.” I feel this holds true, as many people out there choose to use the power of the Internet for good, for art, for helping, and for spreading helpful information during questionable times. There’s also a lot of people who use it to do the complete opposite. It’s up to the user to choose, and hopefully make the right choice. Wow, that sounded like something out of a comic book.
In addition to this then, what do you think is the one best thing about the internet? It can be a welcoming place, your own content being the prime example!
By far the best thing is being able to bring people together, which was proven unbelievably valuable during the covid lockdowns. I don’t know if any of us would have stayed as sane as we did without those Zoom calls with friends and family. Being able to order food whenever and wherever too. Absolute game changer. I wonder if the person who created the Internet knew that instant cheeseburgers would be a by-product of it.
What are your plans for the future? Could we maybe expect to see a sequel to Ur Special, if we were lucky?
Some really exciting things are happening with my characters, both in traditional media and fine art. This special journey, in some way, will definitely continue. Stay tuned!
Considering the book is a collection of life-advice at heart, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve personally been given before by someone?
The idea that, despite all the bad things that happen, the world is mostly good. I remember my dad telling me this when I was young, after a tragedy that shook the world. It always stuck with me and has worked its way into a lot of my core messaging in my videos, as well as my outlook on life. I’m glad I could help spread that one.
One of the characters in Ur Special enquires this of the reader in a cosily interactive part of the book, so I’d like to end by putting the same question to its author: what would you do in a zombie apocalypse?
I would, without a doubt, start the first zombie rock band. Touring would be complicated, but I’m sure we’d figure it out.