Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe are the minds behind the new children’s book “Hello My Name is Octicorn.” Octicorn is half octopus, half unicorn, half confused…which sometimes makes it hard to fit in. “Hello My Name is Octicorn” is a little book about self-acceptance. Who can’t get behind that?
Full disclosure, I used to work with these guys back when we were all in the advertising industry together. I have much love for them. And I have much love for the character of Octicorn.
Octicorn evolved from a compelling doodle turned into a sticker, which became, alongside Justin’s dog Chauncey, the unofficial mascot of our little post-production department. Now Octicorn has his own children’s book. I, personally, am very excited to see that Octicorn has grown-up and has a national presence!
First off, the book looks awesome! Congratulations you guys!
K: Thank you
J: Yeah, thank you very much. It’s pretty awesome that this is happening. It’s actually still sinking in honestly.
The official release date was May 17th?
J: Yes, the national release date was May 17th. Target will begin carrying it in July, followed by Costco carrying it in August.
Based on my daughter’s reaction to the book when I first read it to her, I think this is going to be huge! There is something very potent about this little character. He is an oddball. He is the child of a Unicorn Dad and an Octopus mom, which, by the way, raised a lot of questions from my child. She was trying to wrap her head around that one…
J: It’s confusing for Octicorn as well, but I guess we’re all a mix of at least two things. And the trick is to celebrate the strengths of those who came before you, because you have some of those strengths too, and not get too caught up in the weaknesses.
I was actually realizing that our gifts and curses are sort of the same thing, just different sides of the coin. For example, I have the gift of a lot of energy. The curse, is that I burn the candle at both ends. But I’m working on that. Naps!
My daughter was giggling away reading the book and then there was practically an audible record scratch sound effect when we reached the moment where Octicorn doesn’t get invited to any parties. My kiddo was really upset by that, and asked why would Octicorn get excluded?
J: Yeah, that is interesting. Kids get really concerned about why Octicorn is so alienated. I think that most books that (we grew up with) have that down beat in them, and I think Kevin and I both really liked Charlie Brown when we were growing up. Sometimes you see Charlie Brown with his head down, having a terrible day! That kind of honest storytelling seems to be rare these days. Sometimes you have a bad day. Kevin, do you want to comment on this?
K: Justin, I think you’re exactly right. If you look at the old books that we grew up with, there’s an acknowledgement of the full range of emotions and experiences that are part of life. What you get now (in a lot of kids books) is a more sanitized version of the world, where bad thoughts don’t exist and bad things don’t happen. It was important to us to talk about that part of life and what happens when things don’t go the way you had hoped.
I definitely picked up on that and appreciated it, and what’s funny is that my 8 year old daughter also picked up on that piece too. Things don’t always go as planned and that can be disappointing or leave a feeling of alienation and loneliness. There are a few instances in the book where you explore the duality of certain word meanings, like the word “blue.” Can you talk about why you would introduce the color blue as Octicorn’s favorite color, but then on the next page, reveal that Octi sometimes feels “blue” at school?
K: I think that’s just how I’ve come to see this character. Octi definitely has moments where things look pretty gloomy but he’s almost always optimistic in spite of it. Think about what it would be like to be an Octicorn. It has to be confusing. He’s not like everyone else. But instead of trying to pretend, I think he accepts who he is and accepts what his circumstances are in life and that acceptance is what helps him stay hopeful.
Picking up on the thread of Octi’s optimism, he is very forthright about all the pros and cons of being his friend. He is giving us a bit of a hard sell…
K: Justin, it’s your turn, you answer this…
J: Yeah, but, that’s what you wrote Kevin…
K: I think that’s probably right and it is a bit of a hard sell — but it’s almost like Octi is talking to himself, you know? Like he’s coming to terms with his circumstances in life. So he’s giving the hard sell to the reader but also to himself. Like he’s trying reach a point of acceptance and let all the good parts of being an octicorn sink in.
J: Maybe I’m talking about confidence here, but sometimes I feel like kids are just like, “Watch, I can do this!” or “I can do that that!” But adults have (an internal) list of things they wish were different about themselves, like “I like this about myself” and “I don’t like this about myself” – you know what I mean? I think we are all internally doing that at some point. Over-analyzing. The sweet spot is when you accept yourself and get on with your life. Then you can start enjoying it.
Speaking of acceptance, and the process of finding out who is Octicorn, I feel like I’ve been bearing witness to Octicorn growing up. Justin, when you and I were working together, Octicorn started out as a little drawing made into a sticker. Then you had it screen printed and your mom made it into a pillow. Now he is reaching out to the world. How did you guys develop him into a character? Did you, Justin, just hand him over to Kevin? How did that go?
J: It kind of happened naturally. It never felt like I was handing Octicorn off to Kevin. Kids learn to share, and you learn to share as an adult. Octicorn already had a following and a vibe, Kevin just brought the character to life. Someone explained it to me perfectly. They said, “The original Octicorn sticker was a question mark, and the book Kevin wrote was the answer to that question.” People would see the sticker and say, “What the hell is that?!” Kevin actually took the time to explore and find out what it was, and I think it’s really worked.
(As people), Kevin and I have some things in common, but mostly we are opposites, yin and yang. It’s really cool, because, working on this book had us both working on our own self-acceptance and respecting that people are different.
I’m extroverted, Kevin is more introverted, and Kevin somehow managed to fuse aspects of both of our personalities into Octicorn. I’m great with it, I have no complaints! I’m pretty much just grateful I get to work on it! Without Kevin, I think it would still be a sticker. To have Octicorn live beyond that and touch people’s hearts is really cool.
Kevin, Octicorn has a really distinct voice, he is funny, self-promoting, and self-deprecating at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about your process in finding Octicorn’s voice?
K: When I write, usually an image or a voice will pop up. In this case, the first few lines of the book just came to me and then the next few lines, and I realized, here was this character. He was already talking on his own and I felt almost like a bystander. Whenever that happens — which is very rarely for me — it feels like a bit of good luck and I always know I’m on to something. In this case, (the first draft) is not much different from the version that is now published.
J: I imagine being a writer is awesome because you get to still play make-believe as an adult. It might even be the secret to success, if you are able to play at work, somehow your work will be better!
Or you’ll feel better about working!
J: It seems like people expect there to be this point where you wake up one day and see that you are an adult. I don’t think your inner child goes away. I think you need your inner child. If you stop listening to it, your life can get pretty terrible. I feel lucky that my imagination is still intact in adulthood. Yours as well Kevin. Sorry, I’ll let you get back to it now…I feel like I just drove us 3 miles off the highway…
No, no, actually it feeds really well into my next comment which is; Despite “Hello My Name is Octicorn” being a children’s book, the book is really appealing to adult readers as well. The feeling of wanting to be liked by people never really goes away!
J: Totally! Everyone is looking for some external sense of validation and security. Kevin and I are really proud that the book works well for adults as well as children. I mean, we definitely set out to write a children’s book, and we stumbled into something that affects adults just as much as children. That is really exciting to us. When a movie or a book can speak to so many age groups, it’s really incredible.
K: It really caught us by surprise, actually. We had the Kickstarter version of the book in bookstores and boutiques (locally, in Portland, Oregon) and Justin even had it for sale at a bottle bar. The book sold really well across the board, even to adults who didn’t have children. They were buying it for themselves, which sort of blew our minds.
(That is) when we realized, the book speaks to one of the things that people just don’t talk about much, that almost everyone feels weird and different. That almost everybody feels like they don’t fit in and that there is something wrong with them or that they’re not quite up to par. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, “ I am Octicorn.” Justin thinks he’s Octicorn, by the way. And so do I.
That is the irony of Octicorn, isn’t it? By being an Outlier, he unites us all! Octicorn has really hit on this universal truth about being human. So, just as Octicorn prompts in the book, would you be Octicorn’s friend?
J: I have to be Octicorn’s friend. In order to accept myself I have to be Octicorn’s friend. Then I can be ok no matter what happens! Actually, we’ve noticed that 9 out of 10 kids choose to be Octicorn’s friend (by the end of the book). Though there is always that one kid that is, like, “No.”
Really? Who is that kid?!
J: I know, right? I mean, C’mon. Who doesn’t like jet skis and cupcakes?
What are your plans for Octicorn?
J: We are excited for the book to reach a wider audience and to get the book’s message out there. It’s been interesting because, I created the sticker in 2004, we created the Kickstarter book in 2013, the new national version of the book just came out, so there have been many introductions for this character. It’s an interesting journey, because just when you think you are at the finish line, you are at another starting point. I like that. It’s a good analogy for life. It’s a whole new chapter for Octicorn. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but I think he will be making a whole lot of impressions and making a whole lot of people discover a very weird looking Octopus…
K: We are waiting to see what comes. I’m thrilled that everyone gets to finally meet him.
J: Octicorn is leaving Portland and going off on his Hero’s journey!
This book seems to serve as an introduction to Octicorn… does this mean there will be follow up books bringing us more Octicorn adventures?
K: Um… we are taking ideas if you have any? No, the idea is to push the story forward. Now that we’ve introduced the character, Octicorn will definitely be going on some new adventures. We don’t want to show our cards too early, but we have been talking about some ideas that we’re really excited about. But first we have to get this guy out into the world and see where he goes next.
J: There is a lot of exciting stuff ahead. Right now, I want to give it room to breathe. Having the book published is kind of like winning the lottery. It’s a trip. And I think our goal for right now is to enjoy the summer.
And enjoy it you shall! Thank you, guys, for taking the time to talk to us! Best of luck with everything!
J & K: Thank you!
Long ago and far, far away—well, Los Angeles, actually—Kevin Diller started out as a screenwriter and playwright before turning to producing TV commercials. Fatherhood brought him back to writing, and he now happily works on children’s books from his home in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two kids.
Justin Lowe is an artist and filmmaker, who somehow entered adulthood with his child-like imagination entirely intact. Justin was raised on a steady diet of Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson and apple juice, which he’s pretty sure is what led him to make this book.