In 1997 I gave this fourteen-year-old kid advice about RISD and art school, and now he's set to direct and cowrite a movie based on my book series for a major Hollywood studio.
As many of you may know, I spent many years working at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp starting in my late teens. One of my nearest and dearest friends that I worked with there was Ali Baghai. When camp wasn't in session, I often found myself at his house, just outside of Boston. The Baghai house was just one of those households where everyone collected. Ali's mother, Jane, just reveled in having her sons and all of their friends under one roof at the same time. She was a remarkable woman who always made you feel so loved—Wendy to our Lost Boys. It was at one of these get-togethers that I met this red-headed kid named Jon Saunders. Jon was Ali's younger-brother Jeff's friend. Jon and Jeff were (and are) both artists, and in-between games of Goldeneye on N64, I'd share my experiences at Rhode Island School of Design. I was a sophomore at the time.
(Another friend that I made at the Baghai house in those days was Chris Zengo, who grew up to be a Massachusetts State Trooper, and the namesake for a certain platypus detective.)
Jon would later attend RISD, along with Jeff, and during their time there, I was a frequent guest lecturer for my former professors. We'd catch up whenever I was in Providence. I even won an alumni award the year that Jon graduated in 2005. So I got to see him grab his diploma from the stage.
Jon moved to L.A. after graduation, and I found myself there often. Punk Farm had just been picked up for development and I was hitting the streets, meeting with just about every development executive in town that would make time for me. I crashed on Jon's couch in those days and shared folders filled with samples of this Lunch Lady project I had brewing.
Jon moved forward with some amazing animation projects over the ensuing years, and I kept plugging along with my books. We kept in touch, but as it goes when you start having kids—I got insanely busy. I named the corrupt mayor in Platypus Police Squad after Jon to thank him for those weeks of couch surfing.
Jon called me up last winter. His career was picking up steam, and was I doing anything with Platypus Police Squad? I was, in fact, readying something. We put our heads together, along with his brilliant writing partner, Ross Evans. Walden Media was quickly on board, and we now have a movie in development! Jon and Ross really get what I have been doing in the Platypus Police Squad books, and I could not have found a better pair to shepherd this project along from page to screen.
Jane Baghai is no longer with us, but I can only begin to imagine how tickled she'd be by all of this. If she was here, I know she'd instantly produce a photograph of a gang of kids sitting on her couch playing Nintendo in 1997. I miss Jane terribly, she was a very special woman—and I will forever be grateful to her for opening her doors to me.
The photo on the left is of Jane and Ali Baghai and I at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in 1997. On the right, that's Jon Saunders, Ross Evans and I on our first creative meeting for the film adaptation of Platypus Police Squad back in February.
Check out the animation that Jon Saunders directed for Nike. It currently has more than 88 million views!!