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The Noblest of Gases

Whether you’re five or 35, farts are funny. Even if you don’t want to admit it, you know it’s true. Even the word “fart” is kinda fun to say. Fart, fart, fart. Hee.

So needless to say, we were very excited to hear that Ethan Kocak, former Labber and illustrator extraordinaire, was going to be illustrating a whole book about farts. Ah, literature! Such scholarly pursuits! Pip, pip, cheerio, indeed my good man, did you know that herring use farts to communicate? See here, this illustrated figure tells all. It’s scientific, you know!

After a successful launch in the UK (just in time for Christmas!) Does It Fart? was released to American readers just last week. It’s a fantastic, oddly illuminating book illustrated by one of our favorite people, and I personally think you should go buy it. Perhaps at your friendly local indie bookstore, since it’s been so popular that Amazon temporarily ran out of copies. (You can still get it on Kindle.) It also overtook The Selfish Gene for a while, too.

Of course, I had to know how a book about farts came together, so I asked Ethan some questions about drawing farts. Inquiring minds, you know.

Let’s Talk About Butts

Mad Art Lab: How did you get involved in this project?

Ethan Kocak: Like most things in my life, I fell pretty much ass-backwards into this. About a year and a half ago I started doing Twitter avatar drawings for lots of scientists. That sort of took off and two of the people who I met doing that were Dani and Nick, the authors of DIF.

MAL: What sold Dani and Nick (and the publishers!) on the idea of making this an illustrated book? Hell, how did you all find a publisher who wanted a fart book?

EK: Actually, I’m not sure. Like, I said, I had done some avatars for each of them and I believe they told the UK publisher up front they wanted to hire me to do the book. Then Quercus (the UK publisher) approached me. Originally, they wanted to go with a very staid, serious look (to offset the subject matter I suppose) but I’m told my illustrations won them over. The authors had already lined up the publishers before I was asked to do the illustrations.

MAL: The three of you have never actually met in person, right? How did you collaborate?

EK: That’s right, we’ve never actually met in real life, although we’ve spoken on the phone a few times. The book itself had many contributors from science twitter (they’re even acknowledged in the book), and while they were compiling the info it was kept in a publicly available spreadsheet document. When I came onto the project most of that was already done and Dani and Nick were in the process of writing it. We had a list of all the animals they wanted to have illustrations for, I think it was about 40 or so, and I sent sketches and inked versions back and forth via e-mail.

On Drawing Farts

MAL: What was the most fun fart to draw? The most difficult? Which one got the most revisions, and why?

EK: My favorite fart in the book was the sauropod killing the velociraptor with a fart. I added that in. I think originally it just called for a generic herbivorous dinosaur. I think the more difficult ones were when I was asked to illustrate animals that didn’t fart. I had to be a little more creative with that. As for revisions, we didn’t actually have that many. There was a little bit of back and forth on the final style of the inking, and I think the whale fart illustration had a few different versions. For the most part I had a lot of creative freedom.

MAL: Which fart is your favorite?

EK: The dinosaur. Also I love that the entry reads “Does it Fart?: Not anymore.”

Fun fact: all fossils have little X-es where their eyes used to be. Because they're dead. Probably of farts.
…not any more. IMAGE: Ethan Kocak

MAL: What’s the coolest fart-fact you learned?

EK: Beaded lacewing larvae actually kill prey with their farts.

Smug little beasties, bullying their dinners.

MAL: Which illustration did you have to do the most research for? How did you go about getting it right?

EK: I had to pull up photo reference for lacewing larvae and some of the other less common critters. I usually do some rough sketching first and it’s usually about finding the balance between what looks good (or funny) and making it recognizably that animal.

MAL: On that note, how do you decide which details to include and which can be left to the imagination?

EK: Since these were black and white illustrations, I had to vary the line quality enough to keep it interesting. Besides that, I just tried to make the expressions on the animals faces stand out as something that would make me laugh. That was really my litmus test most of the time. Is it a funny drawing? They’re definitely not what I would call scientifically accurate drawings.

MAL: Would you say these illustrations vary much from your usual drawing style or no?

EK: I kind of think style is just the bag of tricks you end up with over the years, so in that sense, I guess these fall pretty well within the lines of what I do normally. When you have something being published on a big scale there’s a little bit of that “Oh gosh, this is going out to a really big audience” type of thinking that can be a little scary and probably that drove me to really work hard on getting things right, maybe more than usual.

The artist’s self-portrait.
The Fart Folio

MAL: What was the first thing you did when you found out the book was really, for-real getting published?

EK: Well, it was already being published when I came onboard so I didn’t quite have that. But as of this morning [April 6] the book is outselling both Dawkins’s book and Cesar Millan’s book and that felt pretty great. TAKE THAT, Cesar Millan.

MAL: Your son might be about that age when farts are HY-LARIOUS. What does he think of the book, and/or his dad drawing farts?

EK: For the record, I still think farts are hilarious and I’m 35. My wife, and my whole family’s been very supportive and proud of me. My son likes the illustrations, he even did his own version of a farting cow.

MAL: Who do you think will love this book the most? 

EK: I’d say the age range for the book is probably 7 to 14, but I keep getting surprised by folks messaging me and saying they loved it who are definitely not in that range. I guess if you like farts this is probably, er….up your alley.

MAL: Who do you want to make sure gets a copy of the book?

EK: The Queen of England.

MAL: What other projects are you working on? What’s next for you, other than the upcoming sequel “2 Fart 2 Furious”?

EK: I’m still (intermittently) posting comics at and I have a series of kids dinosaur books coming out (3 are out, another 3 are on the way) written by Dr. Ben Garrod. There’s actual talk of a followup fart book. I’m probably forgetting something else.

MAL: Will you remember us little people here at MAL now that you’re a famous fart-drawer?

EK: Of course!

Mo’ Farts, Mo’ Science-ish

If you want even more farts (and who doesn’t?), check out this great Twitter moment that summarizes the inception of the book. And if you’re also interested in non-fart-related content, follow Ethan (and Dani and Nick) on Twitter, check out the ongoing saga of Black Mudpuppy, and marvel at the occasional heroics of Punchy, mantis shrimp private eye and professional everyone-puncher.

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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