Frog and Toad are Tweeting

@FrogandToadbot is All About Gay Melancholy

In the 1970s, an illustrator and writer named Arnold Lobel started writing children’s books. At the time, he was married to Anita Kempel, a fellow illustrator he’d met during his undergrad stint at Pratt Institue. In 1970, he published the first of his four “Frog and Toad” books, about a frog and a toad who share their lives and cozy adventures together. Four years later, he came out to his family as a gay man. He wrote three more Frog and Toad books before dying, in Greenwich Village, from AIDS-related complications, at the age of 54. He never publically addressed his queer identity in his work, but in the decades since the Frog and Toad books first came out, readers young and old have used their understanding of Lobel’s life, combined with the queerness of the work itself, to tell a different story.

One of these readers is Silas Bournes, the person behind @FrogandToadbot. “Frog and Toad are ‘of the same sex, and they love each other.'” Bournes explains in the bio.

Using a bot that’s set up to tweet quotes from the series every three hours, the account reminds followers just how beautiful, kind, and deep the original Frog and Toad stories are. And how extremely, amazingly gay. The account shares classic quotes like “And all the next day Toad read poems to his seeds,” and more cryptic offerings like “Then Toad began to bang his head against the wall. ‘Why are you banging your head against the wall?’ asked Frog.” But the love story between the two same-sex amphibians is never lost. It’s a beautiful tribute to Lobel’s world and work, not to mention one of the genuinely nicest accounts to follow on a site that can often be overburdened with negativity and chaos. @FrogandToadbot does the important work of centering queer melancholy by focusing on Frog and Toad’s private moments of love and friendship. INTO caught up with Bournes to figure out how the whole thing started.

How did this project start?

I was rereading Frog and Toad, and it struck me that I’d never seen a quote bot for the series. I looked to see if there was one, and to my surprise, there wasn’t! I thought then that there needed to be one, and that somebody should get on that. Then I realized that I could be that somebody!

Were you a huge Arnold Lobel fan before?

I’ve always loved his books, though I must admit I’ve learned a lot more about him after starting this account than I knew before. Anything you read about him lets you know that he was a really kind person who also had a lot of grief in his life. When you look at his work, you don’t really think much about what kind of personal life he might have had. You have to search a bit to learn about that.

How were you first introduced to the “Frog and Toad” stories?

My dad read them to me when I was really little! I can still remember him reading them to me and telling me they were his favorite books as a kid.

Who made the actual “bot” and what did it entail?

The website the bot runs through was created by George Buckenham. It’s called Cheap Bots, Done Quick! I do manually type out all of the quotes into it. As for formatting, I’ve had to look into some tutorials by others. Overall though, it’s much easier than trying to code an entire bot yourself.  

What kind of outreach have you gotten?

I get a lot of traction on this account that I didn’t really expect when making it. For a long time, the bot hovered around 100 followers with usually about 5 retweets at most. Next thing I knew, Toad‘s line where he insists on procrastinating by saying “Tomorrow!” blew up overnight. I woke up to 1,000 followers and was incredibly surprised! Then they kept coming in waves until it hit about 30,000. I was overwhelmed! Since then, it’s been a bit steadier, but now with 72,000 followers, I get a lot of interactions. It’s overwhelmingly positive, but I will admit there are a handful of people who have been hateful and then people who just don’t respect the fact that there’s a person actively behind this account. However, the good outweighs the bad by far.

How did you learn about Lobel’s queerness and how did this impact your appreciation of the “Frog and Toad” books?

I think I learned Arnold Lobel was gay when I was around fifteen or so, I can’t really remember the specifics of how I came across the knowledge since that was around seven years ago. I didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now, but that was only because I hadn’t read Frog and Toad for a spell. Of course I thought, “oh, neat!” at the time, but it’s become very important to me as a gay man myself. There are very few sources of media that I feel show the warmth behind men loving each other, and even less those that depict it in an everyday sort of domestic setting. Though Frog and Toad are just that, a frog and a toad, that doesn’t make it less meaningful to me and many others.

What do you do outside of @FrogandToadbot?

I’m pretty busy helping around the house, I have two younger siblings and a lot of pets. In my free time though, I like to write and draw. I’m going back to school this fall for English, right now I’ve got an associate’s degree. I hope to become a published author myself someday, and I’ve thought about writing and illustrating children’s books as a start!

Who are some people on Twitter we should follow (but might not know about?)

That’s hard! If I were to list everyone, it’d be too long, so I’ll stick to some artists I’m close to who deserve to be known. My biggest supporter of this account is probably my little sister, whose account you can find at @GremlinJohnny. My friend @kirbyairride2 and  I plan to collaborate in the future on some potential merch for this account! He’s an amazing artist with a webcomic and a few other projects. He and his fiance are two dear friends of mine.
@candycanidae and @mothgraveyard are two of my closest friend and great artists who have been through so much with me, and I appreciate them both for that a lot.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to these pals who are artists of varying sorts worth checking out: @lucidarian, @bloomfilters, @Rvvaite, @FOURTEENCELSIUS, @ProfessorDaft, and @hyenafangs!

Silas Bournes tweets at @FrogandToadbot.

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