Jeff Reifman has written a lot in recent years about Amazon, offering his opinion on what the company has done to Seattle with its explosive growth. Now he’s bringing that viewpoint down to a level even kids can understand.
Reifman — a technology consultant, writer and activist — is pitching a new children’s book called “Zoe and the Amazocalypse: Daddy, Where’s the Space Needle?” With illustrations by Northwest artist Megan Marie Myers, the project is looking for backers on Kickstarter.
In 2014, Reifman contributed guest posts to GeekWire in which he bemoaned the toll that Amazon culture was taking on Seattle’s future, referring to the wave of new employees and buildings and traffic as “Amageddon.” He also lamented the dating scene, saying that Amazon’s heavily male workforce had made things very tough for a single guy.
In “Amazocalypse,” a little girl returns to Seattle from summer camp to realize that she can’t find the iconic Space Needle because too many tall buildings are blocking her view. A monster named Amazocalypse — in the shape of an Amazon package and wearing a blue badge — is shocked to learn that it has harmed the city and sets out to help the girl find the Needle. There’s also a dog named Prime that looks like a shopping cart.
“It came to me one day that Amazocalypse could be an image, like a monster,” Reifman told Geekwire. “I saw Megan’s work in a coffee shop and it was just wonderful. Her work is really oriented toward children and it made me think that the Amazocalypse could be effective kind of as a lovable character.”
Reifman said for a year he’s been making a joke about Seattle density: “Remember when you didn’t have to visit the Space Needle to see it?” He said from the southern half of the city the joke rings mostly true. And he said there’s so much energy around Amazon now with “the affordability crisis and the traffic and everything” that the timing made sense.
But will kids get it?
“They’re affected by it to, they’re stuck in traffic with their frustrated parents,” Reifman said. “You’d have to be really young not to pick up on some of this. You don’t have to be super political to engage in the story. It’s just a fun story.”
Asked whether he’s concerned that Amazon may not find the humor in the project, Reifman pointed to a some wording at the bottom of the Kickstarter page.
Certainly, there’s always a risk of a lawsuit when you use art and humor to critique a corporation — that could require us to hire lawyers with funds we don’t have to fulfill the project. I’m inspired by what Jeff Bezos recently said to [Recode’s] Walt Mossberg, “‘Seek revenge and you should dig two graves — one for yourself.’ You have to ask yourself how you want to spend your time.”
“I think it’s all parody,” Reifman said, noting that his license with Myers isn’t set up so that he makes money from the book. “It’s all about civic awareness. … I have a feeling they’ll laugh along with the story and not get too worked up about it.”
Reifman, like many Seattleites who have experienced the city’s growth over the past two decades, has a lot to say about the traffic problems. He said people just don’t understand what’s about to happen in the next few years in Seattle, saying it’s going to get a lot worse before it ever gets better.
“One thing I can give away is that when Amazocalypse commandeers a few Amazon Fresh trucks to take Zoe around the city, they might get stuck in traffic,” Reifman said.
Keying off that irony, Reifman also said there’s a high likelihood that one day you’ll be able to get his book on Amazon.com. He noted that a lot of the publishers who do self-publishing books, which is what he plans, make it easy to sell your e-book or print on demand at Amazon.
Reifman laughs a lot when discussing the project, even though he takes the crisis of affordability and culture very seriously. In the end he stresses that the element of humor is really important.
“This is a chance for people to kind of look at this with their guard down a little bit more and hopefully drive some conversations in different ways about these issues,” Reifman said. “I think at this point the humor allows us to have conversations about what it’s like now that these changes are happening and what else can we do, how do we try to work around it.”