Terry Gross: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I’m Terry Gross … with Fresh Air. On today’s program, 10-year-old Miles Layman. Miles is entering the fifth grade this September and has just published his first book, Blood Dragons. Blood Dragons was culled from dozens of notebooks featuring baroque and bloody pencil drawings of dragons eating people whose hands have varying numbers of fingers. Earlier today I talked to Miles about his work, about baseball, and about being a young man in America during these unsettling times.
Terry: Miles Layman, welcome to Fresh Air. I have to ask you, most of our listeners are hopelessly alienated from their childhoods, so … what’s it like being 10 years old in the post-9/11 landscape?
Miles Layman: Well, it’s better than being 9. I don’t know about 11 yet.
Terry: Now. I’ve been reading Blood Dragons, and I have to say I’m extremely amused. There are just, well, a lot of flames and smoke plumes here hnn-hmm-huh. How would you describe your style and medium?
Miles: There are all these dragons, mainly. Big ones with teeth. I draw a lot of cool ones that can fly and also have four sets of claws or can shoot fireballs and even rockets, and they’re just all-around dangerous. And they breathe fire too, of course. There’s one also that breathes ice.
Terry: So you subvert dragon stereotypes in some ways but conform to our expectations in others?
Miles: The best one is the boss dragon who can release 10 mini-dragons from the hatch on his back in midflight, and every one of those dragons has a grenade in each of his four claws. And they breathe fire too.
Terry: It’s funny, you know, as I read that part I couldn’t help but think of Thing One and Thing Two, emerging from the hat of Dr. Seuss’s eponymous cat. How would you … how would you say Ted Geisel has influenced your work?
Miles: Thing One and Thing Two mess up the house and all, Terry, but they don’t dominate their enemies with grenades, or fire.
Terry: Now, there is a human hero who vainly battles the dragons. You write this dialogue for him: “Let’s face it, there is no stopping the dragons. The world as we know it is one big explosion.” And-and, I thought it a rather dystopian vision of the world today. Can you talk about that?
Miles: Well, the human is hopelessly outgunned, if that’s what you mean. He’s got, like, an Uzi up against fire-breathing dragons with grenades.
Terry: Some critics have suggested that Blood Dragons is a not-so-subtle commentary on the Bush administration’s foreign policy. I have to say that I agree. How do you feel?
Miles: George Bush sucks, yeah. These dragons would totally burn him to toast. Afterward, one of the little dragons could lightly blow on him and his black cinders would scatter in the wind. That would be awesome.
Terry: Are you concerned that your work’s satirical, but admittedly subversive, content will bring you critical personal scrutiny in the post-Janet Jackson, Patriot Act environment, particularly in light of Nicholson Baker’s soon-to-be-published novella about a man planning to assassinate the president?
Miles: Terry, my book is cool drawings of dragons, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Terry: Do you consider yourself a political artist?
Miles: My dad is calling me. Baseball camp starts soon and I have to eat lunch first.
Terry: What’s for lunch?
Miles: Peanut butter and jelly.
Terry: Well, Miles Layman, thanks for talking with us.
Miles: Thank you, Terry.