Sitting in a warm coffee shop in the company of friends, leafing through a beautifully illustrated book, seems like a great way to spend a winter evening.
You stop on a page in the book and read as the author poses a question.
“Your 3-year-old family dog has a rare genetic mutation that will allow his blood to save the life of a 17-year-old boy in your neighborhood with leukemia. But the amount of blood needed will result in the death of your dog. Do you agree to the procedure?”
The accompanying illustration shows a two-thirds-full silhouette of the family dog, attached to a transfusion pole, draining.
The coffee shop is still warm, your company still friendly. How do you respond? Will you share your feelings and listen to the opinions of your fellow readers? Do you have an opinion? Do you change the subject or excuse yourself to go freshen up your latte?
This is the quest of a new book being released this holiday season, HypoEthicals, written by Michael Forge and Andre Khury, and illustrated by Haddon Township resident, Mark Parker.
Parker, who grew up in Haddon Township and studied art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, created Haddon Township's town logo, currently designs the town newsletter, designed the Saddler Woods brand and brought his love of turtles to the Strawbridge Elementary School mascot, Slider the Turtle.
The Parker family is great coffee shop company. Mark's wife, Kim, who moved east from Kansas during high school, where the two met as Haddon Township students in the 1980s, says about the book’s questions, “You know the right answer for you, inside,” as she gestures to her heart. She admits she isn’t sure if people will share their answers freely.
Parker’s two sons are Oliver, 15, and Quinn, who has been recognized by the New Jersey State PTA for his own artwork as an elementary student. Both are interested in the conversation and are excited about the new book.
“First of all, this book is not for kids. Right, Quinn?" says Mark.
Quinn beams and smiles a cheeky smile.
Parker admits he didn’t agree with how far some of the questions in HypoEthicals push the envelope.
“I disagreed with some. But my job was to illustrate the questions, and bring out the emotions in them,” he said.
Parker is a corporate creative director. He met the author, Michael Forge, at work. Forge said involving Mark in bringing HypoEthicals to life was “a no-brainer.”
“He is a really gifted, fantastic artist. Not just from a technical standpoint. His work can be quirky, it is unique,” Forge said.
Response to Parker’s drawings runs the gamut “from ‘laughing out loud’ to very poignant and nearly horrifying,” he said. “But it is not supposed to be a heavy book.”
Parker said, “We would play board games and have these discussions at lunch. It can be funny.”
“The concept is not an original concept," Forge said. "I have seen a couple of other books that put questions out for discussion. But we put a particular spin on it. All of our questions are going to tell you about the values of the person through their answers.”
Forge explains how the "sport" of HypoEthical-ing began.
“Andre and I have been friends since we were kids. We used to take a trip every year to Las Vegas and a big part of the trip was us asking hypothetical questions among the five guys in the car. You think you know people. … It was kind of fascinating.”
Forge’s background is in journalism and advertising. Over the last year, he has made the transition to writing full-time with some supplemental advertising work. In addition to HypoEthicals, he has two fiction novels and a vegetarian fitness book in the works.
Forge said they intentionally “tried never to make moral or ethical judgements in the book.” The intent is to open up the conversation.
When asked if people today are ready to have these conversations, Forge said, “I guess we are going to find out.”
“I think it is an important time for people to be able to step back and to think, 'What is the right thing to do?' in whatever situation. There really is a need for this kind of introspection in the climate we are in where people tend to get their thoughts from other people, the Internet, almost anyone,” he said.
Both Forge and Parker want people to have fun with the questions and to enjoy the illustrations, which are a combination of sketches painted freehand with India-ink and color-work using Adobe Illustrator. Parker did more than 100 drawings for the book.
HypoEthicals is available online directly from the authors at hypoethicals.com, where readers will also find a weekly query, blog entries, and a gallery of illustrations and questions. HypoEthicals will also be for sale on amazon.com in the first week of December. A future board game is also in the works.