Belly Drummer Chris Gorman on Authoring His Second Children's Book 'One of a Kind'
In May, alt-rock band Belly -- the group started by Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses -- released Dove, its first album in 23 years. The band first reunited in 2016 for a series of shows with the classic lineup of vocalist-guitarist Donelly, bassist Gail Greenwood and siblings Tom Gorman (guitar) and Chris Gorman (drums). But prior to the act’s re-formation, Chris was involved in a different creative endeavor: authoring a children’s book.
Gorman published his first effort, Indi Surfs (Penguin Random House), in 2015, joining other musicians who have penned books for kids, including Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists and Courtney Love. He followed up with his second children’s book, One of a Kind (Penguin Young Readers/Nancy Paulsen Books), in May.
Gorman, who is an artist and photographer, wrote and illustrated both books. Over a July lunch with his wife, Camille, in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, he says One of a Kind is about finding your tribe. Its inspiration came from his second child, Toll.
“We have a really unique son who is into a whole bunch of different things, and as a parent, every so often, you see something in your kid that you question. You wonder, ‘Do all kids do this? If it’s not baseball or Thomas the train, what’s normal for a kid?’ ” he explains. “So recognizing that we had a really unique kid — we actually have two unique kids — when our son focuses on something — comic books, Godzilla, whatever — we indulge it because it benefits him and it benefits us. And that was a really compelling concept: being unique, being different from everyone else.
“I have a kid with a mohawk,” continues Gorman. “I’m writing a story about being an outsider, being ‘the other,’ essentially about him, and was trying to figure out how to relate to this kid that I’m making the hero of my story. But when I was writing, I found that I could connect to it because I thought about when I was that kid.”
During his childhood, Gorman moved constantly; by the time he reached high school, he had attended eight schools. “The first time I felt grounded, like I fit in and belonged, was when I found punk rock,” he remembers. “So that was my hook: I had a personal connection and a story to tell. And my agent who heard that story said, ‘That’s it! Do it!’ ”
One of a Kind encourages kids who feel different, says Gorman, because “those people are out there. Wherever your kid might be, there’s someone’s basement where there’s five more kids like that, all feeling weird too, but accepting each other and playing together and having a great time.”
Gorman’s journey as a children’s author began after the birth of his first child, Indi. “I did the first book out of frustration,” he recalls. “I love surfing, and I wanted to interest my daughter in surfing — you know, when you become a parent, you try to get your kid into things that you’re into so you can keep doing them — but there just weren’t any children’s books about surfing, and my wife finally said, ‘Well, just make your own book already.’ ”
So he got to it. “I had thought, mistakenly, ‘How hard could this be?’ Then I soon found out it’s no joke. I spent so much time reading and researching children’s books. Then I was writing and writing and rewriting, and I thought I’d never be finished,” he said. The process taught Gorman that he had picked a topic that he was truly passionate about. “The message — tenacity — was something that I believed in, even if it [took] me two years to finish. If you believe in it, then it’s worth chasing after.”
Gorman employed both his muses to create the books’ artwork. For Indi Surfs, he shot his daughter at a studio in numerous poses to make it appear that she was surfing. Then he took photos of the coast in Long Island, N.Y. Drawing inspiration from poster artists like Frank Kozik, Shepard Fairey and Rick Griffin, he explains his process as: “I put the photos on the computer into a digital collage. I filter it, then I hand-draw on top of it, then filter it again and run it through Photoshop, collage it. I used the same technique for the second book.” The imagery was important, says Gorman, because “if you’re looking at it as a piece of art, a children’s book is no different from any other creative endeavor. You want it to have truth, and kids can see that.”
With One of a Kind, Gorman shot pictures of Toll in multiple poses in different places. His love of punk rock fueled its visuals, and some of his artwork is an homage to imagery from punk album covers and flyers. Visual references to the Ramones, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, The Exploited and Rancid are apparent, and parents of a certain age might fondly discover a Maxell cassette print ad from their youth.
Before Gorman started on the art, he sought feedback about his ideas from friends and allies from his pre-Belly days in the hardcore band Verbal Assault. “I reached out to a lot of people I still have contact with: Roger Miret from Agnostic Front, the late John Stabb [before his death in 2016] from Government Issue, the Cro-Mags and Chris Jones from our old band. I talked to everybody that would return an email to see if they were comfortable with me referencing imagery, and they were all totally cool with it. And all the kingpins and godfathers gave their blessing,” he says, laughing. “But in the end, I changed a lot of things just to make sure the legal department at Penguin wouldn’t come down on me.”
One of a Kind and Indi Surfs are available at various outlets, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In the near future — Aug. 8, to be exact — the multihyphenate father will be back on tour with Belly to support Dove, kicking off a new leg at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom. As to his future as a children’s book author, he says with a laugh, “I’m going to have to start thinking about a book for tweens and then teens, but I’m in no rush!”
Belly tour dates:
Aug. 8: Los Angeles @ The Teragram Ballroom
Aug. 9: Los Angeles @ The Teragram Ballroom
Aug. 10: San Francisco @ Great American Music Hall
Aug. 11: Portland, Ore. @ Revolution Hall
Aug. 12: Seattle @ The Neptune Theatre
Aug. 22: Portland, Maine @ Port City Music Hall
Aug. 25: Brooklyn @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Aug. 26: Brooklyn @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sept. 28: Philadelphia @ Union Transfer
Sept. 29: Washington, D.C. @ 9:30 Club
Oct. 4: Madison, Wis. @ Majestic Theatre
Oct. 5: Minneapolis @ Fine Line Music Cafe
Oct. 6: Chicago @ Vic Theatre