Entertain: The GumThief steals YouTube video glory

The scene is unmistakably a big-box office supply store. Employee Roger's life story is illustrated by a series of ironic aisle signs for 'Wife's cancer diagnosis' (Aisle 7) and 'Canned from job at insurance firm' (Aisle 4). Eerie animations composed entirely of staples and scrawled Post It notes introduce his teenage coworker, Bethany. Roger's novel about a Burton/Taylor couple, Glove Pond, is told through vintage cigarette and booze magazine ads à la Virginia Slims. And then you think, 'Hmm, that narrator's voice sounds familiar.'

The scene is unmistakably a big-box office supply store. Employee Roger’s life story is illustrated by a series of ironic aisle signs for ‘Wife’s cancer diagnosis’ (Aisle 7) and ‘Canned from job at insurance firm’ (Aisle 4). Eerie animations composed entirely of staples and scrawled Post It notes introduce his teenage coworker, Bethany. Roger’s novel about a Burton/Taylor couple, Glove Pond, is told through vintage cigarette and booze magazine ads à la Virginia Slims. And then you think, ‘Hmm, that narrator’s voice sounds familiar.’

Last year, when Douglas Coupland – author of Microserfs and originator of the term ‘Generation X’ – decided against a full book tour for his latest novel, The Gum Thief, Random House of Canada sought out other options that would be as entertaining as a reading from Coupland himself.

Toronto production company Crush produced nine clips inspired by the two protagonists, Roger and Bethany, as well as Glove Pond, with Coupland himself as narrator. While the clips are certainly promotional, Random House deputy director, publicity Sharon Klein doesn’t see them as ads. ‘Each clip is a work of art in itself,’ she says. ‘You can take them together as nine clips or you can look at them individually.’

The clips have been hugely popular – one was selected as a YouTube featured video and received more than 250,000 hits – and hardcover sales of The Gum Thief have outperformed any of Coupland’s other novels published by Random House. The project scored coverage on the New York Times book blog, the National Post and CBC radio, among others, and the series won a Bronze Pencil at the One Show, Best of Show at the Bessies in Canada and has been submitted to Annecy (the world’s premier animation awards show) and Cannes.

Despite the success, Klein says the YouTube approach isn’t something that would work for every author. ‘The thing about Doug is that he really lends himself to something different, and a lot of his readers are people who [are on YouTube]. That’s kind of his medium.’
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