One of the most inspiring things to me is when people transform their dreams into reality. This past summer I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a couple of young men who did just that; they started their own publishing company! From the moment I first met these guys, it was obvious that they were proud advocates of the unorthodox. I have since been mesmerized by their hysterics, and I truly identify with what they’re all about. I hopped online to ask the guys if they would mind answering some questions about it, and the response came immediately. It was Rick Boven who gladly accepted: “I’ve got a fresh Sam Adams and nothing but time. Fire away darlin’!”
Rick is one of two main characters behind the publishing company known as Nan Bu Nan; the other is his good friend Nick Vandermolen. Rick described Vandermolen as a spastic dude who knows how to throw a great party, and himself as simply a mainstream guy who likes to draw cartoons. They met over a decade ago when Rick offered to protect Vandermolen from other students’ harassment at their parochial school in Michigan. Although they were quite different from each other, they soon became good friends.
After high school, the two had to separate paths for a while. Rick made his way to New Jersey, where he attended a career college that churns out cartoonists for Marvel and DC comics. Eventually realizing that his ideas about art were much different than everyone else’s, he decided to drop out. Rick is “fundamentally opposed to intellectualizing a spiritual exchange like art, and then structuring it into a curriculum.”
His return to Michigan led right back to Vandermolen, who had continued to maintain a party-dude reputation. It was during these infamous festivities that the two began having discussions about their aspirations in life. It turned out that being a little off-beat wasn’t all they had in common: they both wanted to be involved in books, films, and eccentric projects. These enthusiastic conversations drove the two to join forces, and they haven’t looked back since.
Their first attempt at collaboration was a magazine entitled, Don’t Even Mess. Rick’s stint on the East Coast left him with a cluster of autobiographical cartoons, which became the basis of their publication. The cartoons were paired with various articles written by Vandermolen and some of their other friends. The duo was extremely jazzed about their project, and they even got a few people to preorder copies of the magazine.
The night of production took place in Vandermolen’s father’s home office. After making about forty copies of the first few pages, the printing process came to a halt: the copy machine’s toner had run out! Unfortunately for Vandermolen’s old man, who was trying to run a legitimate business, these cartridges cost hundreds of dollars to replace. The guys agreed to lock their not-so-finished copies in a briefcase and pretend none of it had happened. Don’t Even Mess was never talked about again… until this interview.
A short time later, Vandermolen moved to Chicago in pursuit of writing opportunities. Rick, on the other hand, remained in Michigan to pursue his ambitions of directing. Some of his work ended up broadcasting on television stations like MTV and Fuse, but his mind was stuck on those zealous conversations he’d had with Vandermolen. The two attempted collaborating on small projects, but the geographical distance between them conflicted with making any true progress. Eventually they were both ready to “take a good crack at sticking it out with their art,” and they concurred it was time to get serious. Rick uprooted and joined his comrade in Chicago, even though it meant he had to sleep on the floor for a while.
Every day was scattered with brainstorms. The guys took stock of their successes and failures, and they contemplated new ideas. There was a great deal of figuring out to do; why certain projects affected people, how their projects could be financially viable, and the overall value in their ventures. Rick told me that they made all the right mistakes, which is what truly resulted in forming their own publishing company. Nan Bu Nan was built from the ground up by “just a couple of weirdos trying to make it work.” They didn’t care if they did it right or wrong, just that they did it again; Books, films, the whole shebang.
Rick and Vandermolen have since put out a modest number of books and “scholarly” journals under the Nan Bu Nan label; mostly of their own work. They are currently looking into new ways of enhancing the stories they tell by use of digital publishing, but they’ve got much bigger ideas than what’s currently offered. Audio playback for word bubbles in the cartoons, and a “sketchbook” that draws as it’s being read are both on the horizon. The logistics are still being worked out, but they’re definitely aiming high. Once all the nuts and bolts are securely in place, this super-duo plans on publishing work that they believe has value; books that no other publishers would touch.
These guys have taken a risk that’s put their debt into the thousands, all for the sake of seeing their dreams come to fruition. Getting to know Rick and Vandermolen has not only been inspirational, it’s been non-stop entertainment. Almost every time I speak with one of them, I am presented with a new company slogan; at the closing of our interview, Rick threw another one of those gems at me. “Nan Bu Nan: I F*CKING QUIT.” Translation: Nan Bu Nan provides unconventional reading material, written by and for unconventional people. It goes without saying that Nan Bu Nan is a true force to be reckoned with; the publishing world definitely has another thing coming.