Just a bunch of chicks, sitting around talking

Artist Sloane Tanen had no idea that her cheep little dioramas would hatch a hit book

Pop Culture

December 21, 2003|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff

You might call Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same, one of the newest books about the frustrations of modern life and romance, the ultimate in chick lit.

It is, after all, about chicks. In this hilarious book of color photos and captions, author and visual artist Sloane Tanen fashions a parallel universe where toy chicks, the kind you find in Easter baskets, appear in various dollhouse dioramas, pondering the very modern situations and mindsets in which they find themselves.

We see troubled chicks and shrinks. Dateless chicks perusing the singles ads. Chicks on the Atkins diet. Chicks tackling dysfunctional relationships with their mothers. Chicks adjusting to the unhappy surprises of blind dates. Chicks navigating the wide and lonesome range of American pop culture in search of the right beauty treatment and rap song.

"I think of it like a book of cartoons, like The Far Side," says the New York-based Tanen. "It's a lot of jokes from a woman's perspective. ... If anything, it's a riff on the chick lit genre."

And it's a big hit. Published last month, there are now more than 120,000 copies in print. The chick book is selling particularly well in such untraditional outlets as Urban Outfitters and the Kroger chain of supermarkets, according to the publisher.

Its initial success comes as a delightful surprise to its creator. A native of Los Angeles, 33-year-old Tanen came east to study painting at Sarah Lawrence College -- the butt of one of her chick jokes. When her father convinced her that painting wasn't such a great career choice, she received additional degrees in literary theory from New York University and art history from Columbia University.

Then, degrees in hand, she chucked the notion of becoming a professor and went back to painting.

Tanen's "Chicken Period" began when she hit a rough patch in the studio. She began tailoring tongue-in-chick dioramas, set up in small 8-by-10-by-5-inch boxes, for her friends and family.

"I was blocked with the painting and it was a way for me to explore more," Tanen says. "The paintings were dark and this was a lighter diversion. ... In a million years, I didn't think they would be anything but gifts or cards. People responded really well."

A few editor friends suggested she turn the gags into a book.

Tanen was skeptical, but eventually agreed.

Bloomsbury has already signed her up for a sequel to Bitter with Baggage, as well as for two children's books centered on the exploits of a chick named Coco.

Making her debut in Bitter with Baggage, Coco is much indulged and totally irresistible. Tanen based the character on her 3-year-old niece.

"She's spoiled beyond belief and funny and great and she's the source of a lot of inspiration," the author says. "She also might sue me in a few years."

Tanen also pokes fun at other family business. Several chicks refer to the Atkins diet, a regimen thoroughly investigated by her husband, award-winning science journalist Gary Taubes, in an iconoclastic cover story for The New York Times Magazine.

And as for her painting? A show of her black-and-white architectural landscapes has been rescheduled to open next fall. The chicks have caused her a few other adjustments as well.

"I used to buy clothes," Tanen laments. "Now I buy miniature furniture."

Published by Bloomsbury USA, Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same: The Life and Times of Some Chickens retails at $14.95. It is also available for less at various on-line outlets.

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