Building a hero

| April 02, 2008

Drive, by Nathan Clement

“It’s been at least four years since the idea hit me,” says Nathan Clement. “It hit me when most ideas do, and that’s when I’m driving.” Sound familiar? Clement is the author/illustrator behind Drive, a new book for young children that focuses on a profession you know well.

It’s about a “little boy’s dad going to work and driving a truck,” as Indiana Truck Sales & Service sales manager Terry Garsey puts it. Garsey served as informal consultant to Clement over the years as he developed Drive. Clement himself describes the portrait of the father in the book as that of a “working-class man as hero in his family and on the road” with the potential to serve as a much-needed salve to the battered public perception of the American truck driver.

If “working-class hero” sounds like a far cry from the mainstream media image of the truck driver’s profession these days, that’s because it is, says Garsey. “I’m 57, but when I was 10, being a truck driver was considered a good profession. There was no one looking down their nose at drivers. The image was a lot better.”

Clement came at Drive from a lifetime on the periphery of the industry. While he was never a driver himself, he was, like so many children of the late 1960s and early 1970s, immersed in the pop culture of the big-truck driver. Furthermore, a close older cousin has been an owner-operator all his adult life, and he regularly took Clement and his brother out on runs. “At age 5 my brother could identify every truck by sight,” he says. “We all had CB handles. My brother was ‘Little Sodbuster.’”

Fast-forward 30 years, and Clement’s a graphic designer and freelance illustrator based in Indianapolis, but his in-laws are in Chicago, where he and his family drive north on I-65 regularly to visit. It’s a high-traffic haul for big trucks. “In the middle of one of these trips,” Clement says, “being a little annoyed by all the trucks, truthfully, it struck me that every one of them had somebody in it with some family at home. I spent the next two or three hours mulling it over.” Those thoughts bloomed over the years, during which time Clement met Garsey, consulted with budding long-haul drivers at a local truck-driving school (“change the alarm clock from 5 a.m. to 4 a.m. on the first page,” one said, and Clement did), and met the publisher of Front Street Books, based in Asheville, N.C.

The end result, Drive, is an innovatively wholesome take on a basic day-in-the-life story, combining simple, realistic storytelling from the point of view of a truck driver’s son with Clement’s own “digital airbrush” style, as he calls his method of illustration. He typically starts with small thumbnail sketches, then progresses to more detailed hand drawings modeled on photographs. Then, in Adobe Illustrator, he creates digital art utilizing the program’s myriad tools. It is a mechanical method of illustration that allowed him to unite form and content, he says. The final pages have a somewhat futuristic look while retaining a painterly quality, in keeping with both the industry’s rapid technological advance and many truck owners’ pride in their rigs’ look.

And that wasn’t the only outcome of his work.

“Now, when I’m driving, I’m looking at all the trucks around me and seeing their details,” Clement says. He’s also come to a greater appreciation of the potential held within his book to perform a restoration of the truck driver’s image in the public mind.

“If books like this, for such a young age,” says Garsey, “can promote the positive image of the truck driver, that’s great! Not everybody will grow up to sit in front of a computer. Work’s still got to be done to make those service jobs possible.”

Says Clement, “We believe a book such as this will ignite excitement in kids again for the profession.” According to the publisher, it’s suitable for 2- to 8-year-olds, and it’s available through the usual retailers. In a large hardbound edition, Drive lists for $16.95 (discounted at $12.71) at Amazon.com.

Clement recently brought a signed copy by Garsey’s office to give to Garsey’s 7-year-old son. “I was really proud of Nathan after I got the book and looked through it. It’s a simple story and well-done,” says Garsey. “You never know what could come of something like this. I don’t know how Bob the Builder came about, but it made somebody a lot of money.”
–Todd Dills


Big Music
Trucker DJ combines love for trucking and bluegrass

The title of larger-than-life radio personality “Big Al” Weekley’s second album of trucking music, Always in It for the Long Haul, says it all about his lifelong career in trucking and music.

Weekley, 45, of Parkersburg, W.Va., is best known as a DJ for KRVN radio in Lexington, Neb., where he hosts the “Big Al Bluegrass Program” every Saturday night and his “Gospel Americana” show each Sunday morning. Weekley’s history in radio and music gives him plenty of credibility in the broadcasting business, but it is his “big” presence on the air that listeners like to hear, especially at night, when he says he gets calls from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska.

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