You might say Jorge Delara got a wild hair up his ass a few years back. A 35-year-old free-lance graphic artist who lives in Hialeah, Delara self-published a little pamphlet in 1993. Entitled The Book of Ass, it consisted of two dozen cartoon drawings illustrating English phrases that include the word ass. "Smartass," for instance: a figure wearing a mortarboard and graduation gown, with buttocks for a head. And "Big-Ass Tits": a tall-haired, four-breasted woman. Things like that -- literal, juvenile, and unabashedly without redeeming value.
It seems Delara struck a chord. About six months ago he uploaded versions of his book onto CompuServe, where it has logged 3500 "hits" monthly, from across the United States (one from the Pentagon) as well as from England, France, New Zealand, and India.
Sitting in his office -- actually a room in long-time friend Angel Lago's East Hialeah home -- amid a clutter of sci-fi paintings, video and Super-8 movie cameras, CDs, and sound systems, Delara dials up CompuServe on his PC. Punching in the commands more quickly than the computer can process them, he accesses the Comedy Central forum, then something called the Experimental Comedy Library, and points his cursor at entry after entry containing the word ass. Also displayed is the number of times people have accessed each entry.
"Seen any funny ASSES lately?" Delara types, having noticed a familiar name among the occupants of the chat room.
"Only you," replies his chat pal, a woman from Ottawa.
"There's a girl from Alaska who works in one of those oil refineries who I see in here a lot," Delara says, clicking back to the main menu. "And a couple of people from the U.K. come in once in a while. A lot of people are looking at this stuff!"
A fifteen-year veteran of advertising-related jobs, Delara is convinced that his $24 monthly CompuServe access fee is the most cost-effective way to promote anything (uploading his Ass was free, once it was approved by CompuServe). "You can't get this kind of advertising for $24 anywhere else," he says. "I'm amazed at the response to something that started as a joke."
The Bronx-born Delara, who moved to Hialeah when he was in junior high, describes himself as "a happy person" who has always done just what he wants: "Play basketball, draw, and hang out with friends." He's been a graphic artist since he turned twenty. About two and a half years ago, he recalls, when he was working for an engineering company, "Somebody said something like, 'I'm gonna kick yer ass,' and I thought it would be funny to sort of illustrate that," Delara says. "I dashed off a little drawing."
And another. And another.
"It, like, spread," says the cheeky artist. "I kept hearing more things and drawing more things."
He and Lago self-published 1000 copies of the crude pamphlet, but they didn't really start pushing The Book of Ass until this past September, after Delara lost his job. "The only way I'm gonna make it is on my own, not working for someone else," he decided. "And I thought, Once I get something out there I can make some money on, I'll never run out of ideas."
Now all but about 50 copies have been sold at $3.95 a pop A or given away in defiance of Angel Lago's protests (Delara has been known to hand stacks of the book to panhandlers passing among parked cars. "Let them give 'em to whoever they want. For me, it's the exposure," explains Delara. Though he has posted a mail-order offer through Comedy Central plugging the book as "the perfect gift for the ass in everyone's life," sales have come mainly by word of mouth. A second edition is slated for release June 1; a Book of Ass T-shirt, as well as a 1997 Book of Ass calendar, are also in the works.
"But it all started as just having fun," he says, shrugging. "It doesn't really matter."
Lago begs to differ. "No way, man," Lago scolds, mostly jokingly. "This is going big-time. We're -- I mean you're -- gonna make millions!