Brooke Barker and Boaz Frankel want readers to know couches and love are nothing alike. Whether covered in leather, linen, microfiber or cotton, a sofa has a limited number of styles and uses. Love, on the other hand, is experienced in myriad ways.
“A relationship can be so many things, said Frankel. “We all call it the same thing but every relationship looks drastically different.”
“Which is nice, that it’s a possibility,” said Barker. “You can just fall in love and create this world with someone. It’s unlike anything that anyone else has to make for themselves.”
In celebrating the singularity of romantic partnerships, Barker and Frankel recently released “Let’s Be Weird Together: A Book About Love.” The 112-page illustrated work includes everything from a gallery of quirky historical couples to lesser-known love languages, and even a sheet of temporary tattoos.
Barker and Frankel, who met in Portland, Oregon, and moved to Amsterdam before arriving in Pittsburgh last February, have long collaborated on creative ventures. After they began dating in 2014, their first project involved a daily desk calendar.
As Barker explained, Frankel realized the problem with so many calendars was the tiresome nature of unifying themes.
“Maybe you love Sudoku, but after a week you don’t ever want to see another Sudoku in your life,” she said.
The couple created a year’s worth of material called “It’s Different Every Day,” and followed it with annual installments for Workman Publishing Company.
Calendars have a limited shelf life and are intended to be discarded, so when their Workman editors suggested a book, Barker and Frankel, now married thirtysomethings and members of Congregation Beth Shalom, happily agreed.
“We were already sort of in this rhythm of doing something absurd together, and then we were like, ‘We can make a book,’” said Barker, 32.
In many ways, the process of gathering information and disseminating obscure truths in an enjoyable fashion was quite familiar. Barker, a popular illustrator, is the force behind Sad Animal Facts, a regularly updated Instagram account with 400,000 followers, and author of The New York Times bestselling book of the same name as well as its sequel, “Sad Animal Babies.”
Curating the necessary details for those projects requires Barker to regularly communicate with scientists, journalists and other researchers, as well as those who frequently cull zoological studies for new insights. Scouring sources for details on wombats, snow monkeys and squirrels actually began in childhood, she explained.
With four other siblings and no pets, Barker turned to books. Because of her feverish reading habits and “obsessive” memorization tendencies, she developed a belief that “animal facts were always good conversation starters,” she joked, “and I think I’ve always been wrong.”
Case in point, she continued: Barker once asked a taxi driver how his day was going. When the cabbie replied it wasn’t too good because he only slept six hours the evening before, Barker replied, “Giraffes only sleep two hours a night actually, so if you were a giraffe six hours would have been a ton.”
Such a point of view illuminates life’s moments, Barker said; when projects move slower than expected, she reminds herself, “That took me a long time, but it would have taken a slug a lot longer.”
While Barker’s search for information manifests itself in illustrations, Frankel’s inquisitiveness leads to alternative endeavors. For six years he hosted the Pedal Powered Talk Show, an internet program where Frankel and a co-host got onto a cargo bike and traveled to interview people among herds of buffaloes, across urban areas and even through white water rapids.
“I just love meeting new people,” he said. “I think curiosity guides most of the things that I do in my life and I like not just sitting and looking online and learning things on Wikipedia but going out and just asking questions about why things are the way they are.”
That’s what inspired Frankel, 37, to create “PGH Stories,” a 90-part documentary series exploring the Steel City’s neighborhoods in alphabetical order. With Bedford Dwellings now complete and Beechview coming soon, Frankel is excited to hammer away at a multiyear task.
“I just love telling stories,” he said. “I have a small kazoo museum (in Beaufort, South Carolina) and I love telling stories about the history of the kazoo. I love telling stories about neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. I love telling stories about weird couples in ancient Egypt. And whether that takes me behind the camera or in front of the camera, I’m just passionate telling stories and being curious and asking questions,” he said.
Neither Frankel nor Barker are certain where their fascinations will lead, but both have dream projects. Frankel, a frequent guest on Portland TV shows, would love to produce a weekly program in Pittsburgh highlighting the city’s arts and culture. Barker would love to create a sad animal theme park combining science and entertainment.
Imagine “Garfield’s Nightmare Science Edition,” where rides and simulations, like a housefly roller coaster, would enable participants to better understand an animal’s journey, she said.
Interested station managers or amusement park developers might have to wait a few weeks to finalize any deals, as Barker and Frankel are currently on tour promoting their new book. The Jewish duo, who recently hosted a Chanukah party for 30 new friends, hope interested readers in Austin, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Pittsburgh or any of the tour cities along the way will stop by upcoming events.
“They’re free. They’re fun. I think they’ll be entertaining,” said Frankel. “It will be sort of a variety show-esque thing with a lot of little bits and pieces, presentations, stories and drawing demonstrations.”
Added Barker, “Getting to meet a new person is always exciting for us.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.