How Austin Kleon Pulled Me From the Darkness

How Austin Kleon Pulled Me From the Darkness

If you’ve looked inside our book Z 2135, out in paperback today by the way, you may have noticed we’ve dedicated the title to another writer.

“To Austin Kleon for his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, and the countless storytellers before us.”

Austin, in case you’re not familiar with him, found popularity with his Newspaper Blackout collection where he took pages from The New York Times and blacked out all but a few words to create poetry with oftentimes poignant effect. But it was his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative that inspired me when I (Dave) needed it most.

As I wrote before, we got slammed by some reviewers on Z 2134, who called us everything from plagiarists to Satan’s spawn.

People were pissed because we were stupid enough to mash up The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and 1984.

You’d think we made a Fifty Shades of Jesus book or something.

(Note to self: million dollar idea!)

As a creator (first a cartoonist, and then a writer), I’ve always prided myself on my creativity. Being called a “plagiarist” made my stomach turn.

Even though I’d only read the first half or so of The Hunger Games, and we only outright lifted the opening part where everyone scrambles like crazy to get the good shit, I still felt sick in my gut, and defensive, as if I were guilty. That all ideas should be New and Completely Original.

Forget that The Hunger Games was slammed for “ripping off” Battle Royale.

Forget that our other series, Yesterday’s Gone and WhiteSpace, both do things that I’ve not seen any other book or TV series do.

Forget that lots of people love our stuff.

I still felt like a BIG FAT PHONY.

In fact, there was a time I didn’t even want to write! I was in a dark place — hating everything I attempted to write.


3d-Steal-Like-an-Artist-NYTSean sent me Austin’s little black book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.

Suddenly, I felt better.

Less like a BIG FAT PHONY.

Austin’s book talks about how so many artists (writers, musicians, painters, everyone) steal from those who came before them.

Of course steal is a provocative word, and I certainly never considered myself a thief of ideas!

But while reading the book, Austin made the case that we’re all inspired by the things we love.

For me, it’s comic books in my childhood, serialized TV shows I love like The Wire, Carnivale, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, and of course, Stephen King’s The Green Mile, the first serialized book that grabbed me hard and never let go.

All artists build on that which came before them.

The thing that separates art and theft is whether you bring your own ideas to the process. Whether you surpass the originals you’re inspired by (or at least come close, I suppose).


Austin’s thoughts on creative theft lifted me out of my funk, but so did his thoughts on creativity, the love he pours into his art, and the fact that he’s also a writer who draws.


I felt like I was connected with a kindred soul, someone who wasn’t just publishing his art, he was also discussing the process, and sharing it on his website.

This lit a fire in me, a fire which will drive my personal site’s direction throughout this year.

I like to think that we answered haters and critics with Z 2135.

Who knows how the series will be remembered, as just another rip-off or something more, but I do believe that without Austin’s influence, I might not have had the stamina to march forward, and co-write Z 2135 with Sean.

Thank you, Austin, not just for lifting me out of a deep, dark depression, but for reminding me what it means to be a writer, and an artist.

And thank you to Sean, my writing partner, and creative compass.

Get Austin Kleon’s remarkable book here (it’s a short and easy read that will stay with you for a lifetime):

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:


  1. Buying it now! I’m writing my first book now and I’m always struggling with how to come up with something no one in the history of the universe has ever done before. It’s not going to happen. You just have to make it yours.

    In regards to you being a phony, peshaw, I say! I definitely saw a few similarities in your book to others I’ve read but I see that with almost everything I read! Haters will always be there. You guys do great work. Keep it up!

  2. Austin Kleon is definitely an inspiration for me too. Have you read Hugh MacLeod’s book ‘Ignore Everybody’? It deals with similar themes and is also very good.

    p.s. The Hunger Games aside, there is no way any other book or movie has an interrogation scene like the bizarrely brilliant one in Z 2134!

  3. Dave, Austin is right. No one on this earth has ever really had an original idea. EVERYTHING comes from something else, some experience, some tangible item…something. Hell, even fire. (OK, the CAVEMAN who discovered it had an original idea…wait, maybe he didn’t…maybe he witnessed lightning striking a tree and roasting a Pterodactyl. He smelled the meat and just ran over and grabbed a burning limb to roast his own bird!) From that first campfire came gas and electric stoves, fireplaces and even microwaves. Think about it. We won’t even touch on the wheel. So, it’s time for you to drop the Big Fat Phony crap and get on with it! You’re awesome and it’s time you realized that! And Z 2134 remains one of my favorites that you guys have written.

  4. Dave, you’ve inspired me. In the same way Austin inspired me when I read Steal Like an Artist months ago – maybe even more. It’s that realization, once again: fuck the critics (particularly the one in my head) and just make great art. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Ephraim, glad to be of service. When in doubt, say “Fuck the critics.” 🙂

  5. It was fun to watch you get so excited during that interview. I’m going to have to read this book because it seems like it’s helped a lot of people. Keep soldiering on, Dave.


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