What started as trying to cope with adjusting to life in a new big city has turned into a 505-page book for local author Brandon Mullan. Mullan, a 30-year-old Scottsdale resident from Mechanicsville, Iowa, started writing the story of Laborliss, a fictional town full of larger-than-life (and not always nice) characters when he moved to Phoenix in 2005. He used himself as inspiration for Gus, the town’s superhero who always helps out the residents, despite being underappreciated.
A story and a flyer used to promote the online tale turned into 36 issues of a companion illustrated fictional magazine, peaking with a distribution of 10,000 around Tempe for a single issue. Last fall, Mullan compiled all the magazines into a book, Laborliss Magazine: The Complete Collection. Now he’s selling figurines of the characters, as well as planning an animated series. The realtor-by-day is also working on a novel set for a fall release, Here We Go, Kent.
Mullan credits the creation of Laborlilss with helping him find a new identity here in town. Read on for what inspired the stories, as well as to hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving life in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m from Mechanicsville, Iowa, a very small town, and came here in 2005. I always knew I wanted to move out West because I thought the West would be a good place for fresh ideas. I kind of had the idea Phoenix was a happening town, too.
You had your own variety TV show in Iowa. What was that like?
When I was 18, I was really into hip-hop and started writing rap songs, which is a unique thing for a kid from Iowa to do. I found an outlet with a public access TV station in Iowa City, Iowa where I’d rap, and it became this whole show. I started creating characters for it, which have now become characters in my writing.
Where does your creative side come from?
When I was a kid, I was always attracted to creative things. I’d always draw and write creative stories, and was always drawn to anything colorful or imaginative. In school, I could be good, but my mind was always on the characters I was creating.
How did Laborliss evolve?
I had all these characters I didn’t know what to do with. I started writing stories about them, and eventually this whole plot came about. I put these stories on a website and made a flyer for the website, and the flyer evolved to Laborliss Magazine.
The first issue was just a four-page flyer, and I wrote the stories from the point-of-view of the citizens. The magazine kept growing and eventually reached distribution of 10,000 around Tempe, including at stands around ASU.
What was making the book like?
In early 2012, I decided to put all the work together in one book. I had a buddy lay everything out, I wrote a foreword, and had one printed. We passed the one copy of the book around within our creative circle, and (local Bully Mammoth sketch comedian) Ryan Gaumont called me on Mother’s Day 2012 and said it was imperative I write a foreword before each issue, explaining the process I took to write it.
People are really attracted to the forewords because it gives readers an insight as to how I and a couple people made this magazine from an apartment. In the forewords, I talked a lot about the emotional growth I had to go through to grow the magazine and keep it going. That part really appeals to people.
What inspired the characters in the story?
What’s cool about the characters is I would come up with them randomly and develop them, and then I’d meet the person in real life who was like the character. I needed a place for these characters, who all think they’re really cool, to live, so I put them in this town called Laborliss. They all have egos to them, so the play on the name of the town is that it’s a place where people all think they’re really cool, yet they don’t do anything.
It’s a fun satirical play on society, and I wanted to shine more light on how cool it is to actually do things you feel passionate about. I feel if you want to do something, you should do it, no matter what. I like celebrating that idea.
The main character, Larry Chovaka, is the local meteorologist and a town celebrity. Everyone loves him, but really, he’s the evil scientist. He’s got a girlfriend who is the news anchor, named Fifi Furfurfester. The superhero is a guy named Gus who lives in a cave outside of town. No one likes him, but he helps everybody, even though people push them away.
What inspired the city of Laborliss?
Laborliss is full of all the people who don’t do what they say they do. I wanted to have all these people live in one town and satirize it. I enjoy being around good people who pursue want they want to do. I have a theory that good people can get pushed to the bottom because they’re nice and don’t have the cutthroat motives to move up.
Will the characters live beyond the book?
Yeah, I want to do what Walt Disney did, where the characters are center stage, and you can put them in anything – on cups, in a movie, on a show, or in a book. I’m focusing on turning it more into a business this year, and the promotion behind what we release will be called Socially Acceptable. Everything we release this year will be Socially Acceptable Presents…
What are your goals?
My goals are to release figurines of the five main characters between now and the fall, then in the fall, release a novel called Here We Go, Kent. Kent was the pseudo-editor of Laborliss Magazine, and the novel will be from his point of view.
How did you meet your illustrator, Tony Deschiney, and what is working with him like?
It’s a great relationship. We have this incredible creative chemistry, where I’ll make a rough sketch that’s really bad of what I want, and he’ll turn it into exactly what I had in my mind. I had another illustrator named Matt Stone, and he could draw exactly what I had in my mind, too.
What advice would you have for aspiring writers?
Discipline yourself to do it. Set aside time, like an hour, and do it every day or every other day. If you have that discipline, you’ll get stuff written. Once you get it out, it’s really easy to edit. I set word goals, like, “I’m going to have 10,000 or 15,000 words by this day.”
Do you have any tips about getting over writer’s block?
I have a tennis ball and I bounce it on stuff. The bouncing helps me keep the ideas flowing and avoid writer’s block.
How would you describe the Socially Acceptable fan?
The Socially Acceptable fan is kind of a closet fan. The Laborliss story really resonates with people who have great ideas and ambitions, but don’t know how to get them out yet.
But, that was me when I first started. The book gave me confidence to get out there and get it in front of people and has helped me in all areas of life.