Jason Platt couldn’t have written much more of a happy ending to this chapter of his wonderful life.
In the past month, the successful Davenport author-illustrator has earned a new contract for a trilogy of children’s books, got to speak about his art and craft to an American school in London, and return to act on stage at Circa ’21 in Rock Island.
The 50-year-old veteran actor, writer and director (half of a theatrical power couple with his wife Erin Platt) is back on stage after a five-year absence as the quiet TV cameraman A.C. in the new comedy, “The Outsider” at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse.
Jason was initially cast for the whole run (from Sept. 13 through Oct. 29), but had a trip to London, England planned with Erin last month.
He had just three rehearsals at Circa and his first performance was Wednesday, Sept. 27. The role was originated by James Major Burns, who stayed on at Circa after being in “Escape to Margaritaville.”
“The cast is just dynamite. It’s not intimidating, but it was kind of like, everyone was saying ‘Are you nervous?’ but you want to make sure you get it right,” Platt said recently of “The Outsider.” “The character A.C. has a lot of props – with lights, the camera, the bag, the microphone. So that’s the biggest hurdle with this.”
“It’s like it’s very choreographed,” he said, praising the sweet, idealistic play. “Without being sappy, it’s just very uplifting.”
The last show Platt acted in was “It Had To Be You,” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre, in fall 2018. His last major show was starring in “Deathtrap” at Playcrafters in September 2016.
“It’s one of those things, as an actor, I love performing and I love acting, but you feel after a while like a hamster – you’re running around in a circle,” Platt said. “I benefit from it creatively, but financially…There’s absolutely nothing wrong with community theater.”
While Circa actors are paid, local community theater actors are not. Platt calls the local casts and crews “rock stars.” “You have to respect people who do it for the love,” he said.
He was briefly a Circa Bootlegger in the late ‘90s, for about 18 months, before moving to Savannah, Ga., where he earned his bachelor’s degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2001. Platt did a lot of theater in the Savannah area.
He and Erin performed in a radio play version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Black Box in 2017, and co-starred as Gomez and Morticia Addams in the “Addams Family” musical at the former District Theatre when it was in the old Rock Island Argus building in 2015.
In the latter, Platt inhabited the famous role originated by Nathan Lane, and he’s also played Nathan Detroit (in the classic “Guys & Dolls”) twice, another role immortalized by Lane in a Broadway revival.
“It wasn’t written for him, so you can take Nathan Detroit and make it your own,” Platt said. He was in “Guys & Dolls” in Savannah, and later at New Era Dinner Theater (Muscatine) in 2009.
He’s really enjoying being back performing with Brad Hauskins, the head Bootlegger, who stars in “The Outsider.”
Little books hit big
Platt has had a trio of middle-grade graphic novels (“Middle School Misadventures”) published by Little, Brown and the original “Middle School Misadventures” (2019) has been republished in new translations by different companies in seven countries over the past few years.
It has been translated for Turkey, Portugal, Israel, Poland, Netherlands, Norway and Finland with Platt’s iconic art.
The protagonist of “Middle School Misadventures” is Newell, a sixth-grader who is a grown-up version of the boy from Platt’s online comic “Mister & Me.” He created that comic when his son Wyeth, whose nickname was Mister, was 5, and he remains that age in the comic.
In 2008, Platt came up with the comic purely as an homage to his relationship to his son, but later the web comic was adapted by Western Illinois University’s theatre department and toured the region. And eventually, Mister & Me became the basis of the graphic novel series.
“I tell people I’m in the business of making people happy. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days, can you?” he wrote for his website bio.
The Middle School Misadventures series features a group of friends as they navigate the ins and outs of middle school and its unpredictable predicaments.
Platt was originally contracted for two books – the second was “Operation Hat Heist” (2020) and the publisher extended for him to do the third one, “Dance Disaster” (2022).
Each book took about a year to create – writing, penciling, inking, coloring and editing. In the heat of each, Platt worked 18-hour days, seven days a week. The translated versions were orchestrated through his agent, and are released by different publishers.
“I have nothing to do with it,” Platt said of the foreign versions. “One of the things I’m very impressed with is all the hand-lettering they do. It’s really exciting.”
He has Little, Brown send each country his original electronic page files without the English text.
“The only time they contact me is if they have a translation question,” Platt said, noting Newell calls his dad “Poppio,” which they didn’t understand but is a term of endearment.
He has sold all three books for the translations in all but Portugal.
“While we don’t have a fourth book lined up – I have an outline, the foreign publishers are interested in a fourth book,” Platt said, noting Little, Brown hasn’t contracted him for one in the U.S.
“It’s actually very surreal in a way, because kids in Turkey and Poland and Amsterdam are reading my material in their native language,” he said. “I’m connecting with those audiences – it’s surreal in a very satisfying way.”
Unlike theater, where you know immediately whether actors connect with an audience, it’s very different with books.
“It’s a slow burn, because you don’t know how it’s connecting,” Platt said.
One of the favorite stories he heard, a teacher in New Jersey has his books in her library, and he sent her personalized sketches. One of her former students really loved the first book and during the pandemic, she gave that student a sketch and it made his day, he said.
In late 2020, Platt for the second time made the Texas Library Association’s 2021 Little Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List for his “Middle School Misadventures: Operation Hat Heist.”
The TLA is the country’s largest state library association and Platt’s 2019 debut graphic novel was named to the 2020 list as well.
Released on Dec. 1, 2020, the list was a recommended reading list of 83 graphic novels nationwide designed for children in grades K-5. The books were selected by public and school librarians who are members of the Texas Library Association’s Children’s Round Table.
When COVID shut the world down in March 2020, it didn’t change Platt’s work life, since he’s long worked from home.
“It didn’t affect me at all. I just got up like I usually did,” he recalled, laughing. “It just changed how I got groceries, really. It was nice, because I got a co-worker for the first time in a while. So Erin and I got to have lunch together and stuff like that.”
Platt’s son Wyeth (a Davenport Central grad) is now a junior at University of Iowa, majoring in creative writing and education.
“He started writing his own stories in the 2nd grade. It wasn’t something I pushed him toward,” Platt said. “I helped water the seed. One of my favorite joys – when he and I talk about books, literary and character development, it’s one of those things, two hours go by and you’ve solved nothing but talked about everything.”
His talks on “Middle School Misadventures” last month was at the American School in London, a college-preparatory, preK-12 day school, providing an American education to an international student body. Platt spoke to five 4th-grade classes and after that, they asked him to return to talk to about 500 kids (5th through 8th grades).
“It was really cool,” he said, noting the 4th-grade kids were excited to get hand-sketched cards from him. “I wanted to do something special for the kids.”
That was his first overseas appearance so far. In April 2024, Platt will do a talk in Las Vegas.
A new pet series
A member of the National Cartoonists Society, Platt has been signed by Papercutz for a new series of graphic novels (“Petectives”) that will be geared to younger readers, 1st to 4th grades.
The two main characters are Purrlock and Marlowe, a cat and dog based on famous literary detectives (Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe).
“While the names are a pun or straight take-away from two literary heroes of mine, it’s not like a complete parody of Sherlock Holmes,” Platt said.
Purrlock has a nemesis named “Meow-iarty” (based off the famous Arthur Conan Doyle series’ Moriarty), but the stories are set in the present and are very modern. They all will be animal characters.
The pet detectives (the series will be called “Petectives”) are friendly buddies. The first book, of what is intended as a trilogy, will arrive in spring 2025, published by Papercutz.
Platt called his Marlowe “a real chill co-worker,” while Purrlock is “more the anxious, gotta go-get-‘em attitude.”
He and Erin have a cat, named Pudding. “She’s my actual co-worker,” Jason joked. “She sleeps on the job a lot, looks out the window. She says she’s brainstorming, but…”
These also will be graphic novels, and Platt said he’ll see what happens after the first three books.
Like the Middle School series, the “Petectives” books will each have a separate title under that umbrella brand, and Platt expects to produce the three once every six months.
Platt also has written plays, but that aspect of his multi-faceted career is not a priority now. He’s had a short one-act play through a staged reading (by Jessica Taylor and Angela Rathman) for the former Susan Glaspell Playwriting Festival in Davenport.
“One of my joys is, handing them the script and backing away,” Platt said. “If I did my job right, then everything I’d want to see happen should happen. It’s so cool to see a production and see their creative part come out.”
“It’s a very rewarding experience to see someone performing your work,” he said.
For more information on the Middle School books, click HERE.