‘It just exploded’: Bad Guys author on writing ‘Tarantino for kids’ – and selling millions | Children and teenagers


OWhat would a Quentin Tarantino movie for children look like? Probably something akin to The Bad Guys, a DreamWorks adaptation of a series of books about a gang of criminal animals who, after a lifetime of heists, are tasked with doing good for the world in order to avoid jail time.

It has a star-studded cast: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade and Zazie Beetz, among others. But the man behind the series is Australian author Aaron Blabey, who has sold around 30 million books: a staggering and mind-blowing figure. Speaking to Blabey ahead of the release of The Bad Guys, even he still seems reeling from his own success.

The 48-year-old father of two, born in Bendigo and now living in the Blue Mountains, started out as an actor. “I’ve done a lot of acting jobs that all looked like ill-fitting costumes,” he says. “I was an inferior actor and never fit in. I worked in advertising, I taught design. When I was about 32, I wrote my first picture book, which was well received, but I couldn’t make a living out of it.

Aaron Blabey: “If I met Tarantino, I think I would have a heart attack”. Photo: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Everything reversed when he turned 40: “I went up to the [Blue] mountains and I thought I had one last chance to do it as an author. In a single day, I had the idea for The Bad Guys and [another of his series] Thelma the Unicorn.

This day became the rest of his life. The Bad Guys was a hit in Australia and then the United States and “once it hit the school system it blew up”. This series alone has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

“Before I turned 40, there wasn’t a whisper or a rumor of commercial success,” Blabey says. “My wife and I had a deep feeling of throwing our dreams up in the air and watching them fall to the ground.”

Not anymore. Refusing to take his current success for granted, Blabey is a workaholic, writing two Bad Guys books a year to meet the demand of his young readers. Addicted to book cliffhangers, like their parents binge-watching a Netflix series, the children are hungry to know what happens next: “It’s a gigantic job to release two books a year, but I’m motivated by the fact that children around the world are waiting for. With this age group, cliffhangers are quite risky. We rolled the dice, but it worked.

The Bad Guys trailer

The original inspiration for the series came from Blabey’s then six-year-old son, who brought home “those annoying, unforgivable readers.” I wanted to do something he would like. I just started thinking about the things I loved when I was a kid. He wondered if he could “hot spin” books, incorporating “iconography, like the Tarantino films, which is not suitable for children, but not neutral, do it in a way that leaves out the bits and pieces. too scary or too full to.” He has a formula he follows for each book: “On my wall I wrote ‘clever/stupid’ and ‘scary/funny’. This space in the middle is where the right balance is found.

Blabey has never met Tarantino, whose influence casts a blackish shadow (refracted through a soft lens) over film and books, but Tarantino is “one of five people in the world, if I met him, I think I’d have a heart attack,” he says. He seems genuinely amazed when he remembers seeing Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for the first time, in a Melbourne cinema when he was 18 years old.

With his success, Blabey finally gets the Los Angeles red carpet treatment as a writer he could only dream of getting as an actor. “All the studios could just smell the potential – in a single week in 2016, I met the heads of every major studio and three or four aggressively pursued it,” he says.

For a children’s film, The Bad Guys is rather sexy and dark, set in an imaginary LA that evokes LA Confidential, Ocean’s Eleven and Pulp Fiction; Blabey describes it as “oversaturated sunlight seen from a restaurant window”. The screenplay was written by Etan Cohen, famous for Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder; “Every time I opened each draft, I thought, ‘He gets this,'” says Blabey, who served as executive producer on the film, “to keep the spirit of the books safe.”

The spirit of the books – anarchic, but warm – is something children all over the world relate to, especially those who are not natural readers.

“Reluctant readers appreciate them and they’ve clung to them,” says Blabey. “If kids have trouble reading, rather than carrying around a picture book, they think it’s cooler to have a copy of The Bad Guys.”

Although he plans to take a break from his busy schedule in a few years, Blabey is happy where he is now. “I’m in a gambling place,” he says. “Me, at thirteen, I would be so happy with what I do!”


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