If you’re looking for something to brighten what could be a long, isolating winter, check the mailbox.
Snail Mail Party is a new Kickstarter-funded project from Pittsburgh husband-and-wife-team Boaz Frankel, a filmmaker/writer, and Brooke Barker, a cartoonist. For $16, subscribers will get two illustrated zines, postcards and other surprises from the creative pair, delivered through the mail three times.
“We’re trying to prepare and pack some joy into this winter,” says Barker. “This seemed like a fun way to make things that will show up at people’s places where they are.”
The project was inspired by a desire to support the United States Postal Service, whose struggles have filled the news lately.
“We love sending and getting mail,” says Barker. “We like the USPS, and it’s been a real delight during the past few months.”
“Joe the mailman is the person we see most often, other than each other,” says Frankel.
Barker, who has published two hand-drawn books, is doing the illustrating. Her books, “Sad Animal Facts” and “Sad Animal Babies,” illustrate melancholy and humorous facts about animals; they’re also New York Times bestsellers that have been published in 10 languages. She also runs the account Sad Animal Facts on Instagram.
Last year, she and Frankel published “Let’s Be Weird Together,” a book about couples and the infinitely strange two-person worlds they create.
They’re not sure what the zines will be about, but it could be anything from sad plant facts, favorite words in other languages, celebrations of lesser-known Muppets, the wild history of common weeds in America, or instructions on how to draw anything.
Frankel says that Snail Mail Party will be appropriate for kids, too.
“We’ve had like a billion ideas,” says Frankel. “We’re excited to make zines about the history of litter, or the post office, or the definitions of all those two-letter Scrabble words, and really get into some topics in a way that’s a little longer than a comic panel would be and a little shorter than a book.
“Zines are sort of a small, mini-self-published magazine. We feel like they’re a cross between a little magazine and a comic book.”
Part of the package includes a pre-stamped postcard with a drawing, writing or fill-in-the-blank prompt that you can send back to the couple.
“A thing that seems fun is a zine that teaches you how to draw a self-portrait, or a comic, or maybe someone in your neighborhood — and the postcard can have a prompt for you to send a drawing back,” says Barker. “Maybe the next month you’ll get a button with someone else’s drawing. We can have this kind of collaborative, pen pal/zine-drawing button exchange.”
They’re going to stuff the envelopes with as many other interesting things as they can.
“We’d love to have stickers, buttons, or temporary tattoos, or fold-out posters, or more color in the zines,” says Frankel. “And that all depends on how many backers we end up getting. That’s why it’s a surprise. Even we don’t know what fits in the budget.”
Snail Mail Party has more than tripled its Kickstarter goal of $2,400 so far, with 10 days to go in the campaign.
“Usually with projects like this, the majority of the backers are people we know, and we really don’t know 90% of these people,” says Frankel. “So it’s exciting and weird and strange. We thought we’d just be sending this to friends and cousins and parents.
“I’m just excited to get started. How many envelopes do we have to buy?”
Frankel — whose myriad offbeat accomplishments include setting a Guinness World Record for high-fives in an hour, hosting a talk show on a moving bicycle and curating a kazoo museum — is also making a series of short films about Pittsburgh. He plans to make one for each of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods (only 83 to go). That’s been complicated, but not shut down, by the pandemic.
“I think that’s part of the beauty of it,” says Frankel. “Some episodes I filmed in the winter and some I filmed in the summer and they feel different because of that. So some I’m going to film during a pandemic, and those will also feel a little different.”