Levy’s “Rise of the Robot Umpires” Kickstarter campaign brings a “choose your own adventure” graphic novel to life, but he also envisions using book profits to fight hemophilia, a chronic condition which afflicts his three-year-old son, Max.
Daddylibrium: Please share your elevator pitch – how would you describe your graphic novel to a stranger in a short burst of time?
Dan Levy: It’s a book about baseball. And robots. And you get to pick what happens. “Rise of the Robot Umpires” is a graphic-style novel about a not too distant future where Big Baseball’s leader caters to public pressure and fires all the human umpires, replacing them with robots. Flash forward a decade, and the game has never been better … until things start to go wrong. With his 100th birthday approaching, readers are taken on an adventure to decide how The Commish will handle the sudden rise of the robot umpires. The reader is in control the whole time, getting to choose what happens along the way. One wrong decision … could prove deadly. The book will be told by really excellent group of sportswriters—in their unique writing styles—in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek look at how we cover big events in media. The illustrations are done by one of the guys who works on the FX show “Archer.” This project is a bit of a perfect storm of sports, nostalgia, sci-fi and pop culture. At least I hope.
Daddylibrium: Your graphic novel deals with robot umpires — did that come from a love of the sport, a subversive peek at how games are played today or something far removed from the obvious inspirations?
Dan Levy: I absolutely love baseball, so as a sportswriter the story came pretty naturally to me once I focused on the concept. The notion of Robot Umpires isn’t new, and is sort of a running joke in baseball circles whenever an umpire makes a mistake or has a questionable call. After a while I thought … what if we actually got our wish and the umpires would be robots? Would baseball really be better? In a way, this book will help answer that question, in 12 unique endings. Yes, some of the endings end in death and destruction. Some end in the game being better than ever. I have no idea which is which.
Daddylibrium: Would you have considered this type of project without crowd sourcing venues like Kickstarter?
Dan Levy: It probably wouldn’t be to this scope. I may have tried to do the illustrations myself (I have a background in graphic design but am a rudimentary Illustrator at best). I really wanted to use the Kickstarter to raise money for paying the writers and contributors. We live in a time when so many writers are working for free. I didn’t want that to be the case with this project. Also, printing an actual book is VERY expensive, which says even more about our industry, in a way.
Daddylibrium: Why were you attracted to the “choose your adventure” format? What age group is this project aimed at?
Dan Levy: I think the audience is adults who like campy/kitschy things. It’s not being written for kids, but my nephew is 11 and a huge sports fan and I don’t think it will be over his head or inappropriate for him. His little brother is 8 and doesn’t like baseball as much but loves robots and science fiction. The book may end up being more interesting to him. I’ve been reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books with my daughter a lot lately. I want this book to be accessible to as many people as they were, where the story may be silly enough for a parent and kid to both get a kick out of it.
Daddylibrium: Talk about the project’s bigger goals — both the fundraising element as well as the connection to your own son.
Dan Levy: Kickstarter won’t let you mention anything about a charitable contribution, which I understand because they don’t want to be liable for people raising money and not donating it. I get that, so I set the threshold of the Kickstarter for enough to pay for production and the writing and illustrations. Every book sold after we reach our goal will have a portion donated to charity. I’ve chosen a charity called The Valerie Fund, which raises money for kids with cancer and other blood diseases. My son, Max, just turned three and we found out when he was nine months old he has hemophilia, which is a pretty rare blood disorder that he’ll live with his entire life. I’ve done a lot of charity drives in the past, but nothing big since we found out about Max. With the format of the book coming from reading books with my daughter, I decided I’d donate some of whatever we sell to help my son. So, yeah, this is pretty important to me.
Daddylibrium: Have you found the project brought you closer to your son … your family?
Dan Levy: When you live with a kid with hemophilia, every second of the day can be the moment where the world stops and the calls to the doctor/hospital/whatever change everything. “Is there a bruise? Is he bleeding? Do we need to call the doctor?” This is the conversation 4-5 times a week for a kid this age. Last week it was blood in his crib from a cut in his mouth that wouldn’t stop. This week, it’s a bad bruise on his elbow. So to answer your question … no. It’s hard to be closer to a kid like Max when you have a sense of panic whenever the caller ID says his school is on the line or you hear a cry from the other room. That said, obviously whenever you take on a project this big–right now it’s 33 chapters leading to 12 endings, plus the illustrations plus the Kickstarter and all the promotion–it takes up a lot of time. My family has been great with how consumed I’ve been with this. The day the Kickstarter launched, my daughter (who is five) asked if she could “buy dad’s book.” She picked the level where she’ll get a T-shirt too. I hope I raise the money, just so my kid can to go school with a graphic t-shirt of a robot arm crushing a baseball. That would be a cool day.