My Interview With the Inventor of the Coloring Book

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As is well known, I both (a) have an interest in things that are old, and (b) am currently promoting a Kickstarter, active right now, for my Roll-a-Sketch coloring book.

Thus, I thought it would be enlightening to speak with Col. (Ret.) Mirithus F. Coloring (b.1851), inventor of the coloring book.

Our interview took place at the Colonel’s residence.

MALKI: Colonel, you have been called both “the father of crayon-art” and also, by some, “an abomination; a scourge on the house-hold and a fiend from the Pit.” Why such a dramatic response?

COL. COLORING: Well, first I should make quite clear that any moniker regarding “crayon-art” has been fiercely opposed by Professor Crayola and his band of toughs. I have never, and certainly do not now, proscribe any implement in particular for use in my books, or recommend one over any other.

It’s just that children most often turn to crayons to fill your books.

Such has been alleged, but I have never marketed a single pamphlet as a “crayon-book.” Adults tend to use tinted pencils, I should add, and there are many more adults in the world than children.

What about the more vitriolic opinions of your work?

You must realize that when my books first began to circulate, it was a different time. Most books in the home were farming ledgers or family Bibles. The prospect of a book with no useful information in it — much less one most often perused by children, already the most useless members of the family? Mothers claimed it encouraged idleness and fancy, and fathers charged it was merely a scheme to sell penny chromo-chalks and watercolours.

Which did sell quite well, I should add.

You shouldn’t add any such thing. I never saw a nickel from the sale of any chromo-chalk; that was all my brother’s doing, capitalising on our distinctive family name. Besides, all courts have cleared me of any liability for any lung ailments they may have caused, and my brother, as you know, was lost at sea.

Last seen on a wax-freighter bound for Crete, I recall?

Yes. Ask Professor Crayola where that boat wound up.

I’d be afraid for my safety if I did. But back to the books: eventually the vitriol faded. What changed?

The old generation died off! Children who’d grown up with my books recalled them fondly when they had children of their own, and of course those who had suffered any ill effects from the chalk or anything else never survived to the age of reproduction! It was a win-win scenario.

Did you ever fear that your books were, indeed, a bad influence on children?

Pish-tosh and bubble-gum! Everything is a bad influence on children: dogs fouling in the road, or the banker’s heavy hand on the door, or the Congressional Record. My books contained nothing worse than anything a child would see in ten minutes at a rodeo.

Some would say that the generations that have grown up since the introduction of the Coloring-Book have forgotten how to respect their elders.

Any child in history that ever respected an elder is a child that ought to be reported to the authorities as a fraud.

You know, I presume, that I have a (duly licensed) coloring book project of my own, currently available. Any advice for a new entrant in the field?

Get out while you still can.


Wondermark thanks Col. Coloring for his candid answers.

Also available in the Kickstarter: Paintings from the Roll-a-Sketch Yearbook! There are six days left in the campaign!!

ROLL IT UP (don't actually do this)