Local Author Makes it Big
There is no shortage of child-family-parenting positivity these days. Local author Dave Engledow, originally from Texas and now living in Takoma Park, Maryland, has created his own brand of positivity by coming up with a series of humorous visual stories that have amused both children and parents alike. The visual stories feature Engledow’s daughter, Alice Bee, in photos that are edited to look like exaggerated and unrealistic scenarios, similar to what you’d expect to see in a movie.
Engledow, like many first-time parents, was unsure of the best way to raise a child. He addressed his insecurities head-on by incorporating them into raw images and spending a lot of time with their planning, executing and editing. Engledow came up with the idea of using humor to “deal with my personal fears and neuroses,” as he said on a Kickstarter campaign from a few years back.
He self-published one calendar in 2012 featuring photos of Alice Bee in comedic scenarios and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to publish a second calendar. Little by little, Engledow and his unusual sense of humor began gaining recognition and eventually attracted attention from a literary agent. That resulted in Engledow publishing his first picture book with a major publisher in 2014, “Confessions of the World’s Best Father.”
The success of his first picture book led to the publication of his second book in 2017, “The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Go to Bed.” In his third picture book published in late 2018, “The Little Girl Who Wanted to Be Big,” Engledow continued featuring Alice Bee, then 8, in a series of imaginative photos that were envisioned, set up and edited to convey specific things.
Engledow is often referred to as the character he plays, the World’s Best Father. According to Engledow, “The World’s Best Father is a character that I portray in this ongoing photo series … The images themselves are primarily intended as a cautionary tale for myself, a reminder to not be ‘that guy’ as I learn about how best to be a good father.”
How it All Started
In 2010, Engledow and his wife learned they were expecting their first child at the end of that year. They talked about capturing the scariness and concerns of first-time parenthood in a photo, which was intended exclusively for a limited purpose and a small audience.
“As Engledow says, “I … wanted to … capture how I was feeling as a new parent, to poke fun at myself for how clueless and sleep-deprived I was feeling at the time.” Together with his wife, Engledow decided to photograph himself absentmindedly pouring baby Alice Bee’s milk into his own coffee mug while holding her in an awkward football-like position. Engledow posted the first image of him in his World’s Best Father character on his personal Facebook page to make friends and family laugh. (Right)
Since then, Engledow has created many one-of-a-kind images featuring Alice Bee, but he cites this first photo as his favorite. “It’s one of the only images … that is not manipulated – it’s a single shot, and I feel … it really captures how I was feeling at the time. I also love the serendipitous expression of longing in Alice’s eyes as she stares at the bottle of milk, trying to figure out why she can’t have it,” reminisces Engledow.
Visual Gags in the Photos
Unlike pretty, fantastical or whimsical images featuring children and their parents in perfect, ideal photographic environments, the World’s Best Father images are mostly classified as dark humor due to the fact that many of the photos depict dangerous, scary or unrealistic situations. However, Engledow is unfazed by any flak received from his images.
He has clear intentions with his series of World’s Best Father photographs: “There’s a reason that I do not edit these to look like documentary photographs – I’m not interested in trolling people into thinking these are actual snapshots … By making the images overly saturated and vibrant … [with] a more cartoony vibe … these are intended to be editorial gags … [none] of it is actually real.”
Engledow also emphasizes his humorous approach by describing the character he created, the World’s Best Father, as “almost always distracted, disengaged, clueless or behav[ing] inappropriately.” He intentionally incorporates a coffee mug with the ironic words “World’s Best Father” into every photo to juxtapose exaggerated visual problems with the ideal characterization that every father is indeed the world’s best father.
By making these strong comparisons in his photos, Engledow is in essence humanizing everything that parents go through and making things more relatable through comedic visual storytelling.
In another of his favorite World’s Best Father photos, Engledow had originally hoped to create a joke that looked silly – a grown man wrestling with a baby. The result ended up taking on a different meaning for Engledow as “the perfect metaphor for parenting and the years-long battle of wills that will ensue.
How Does Alice Bee Feel?
After spending nearly her entire life in over 150 photos with extreme, dramatic, playful and always humorous photos for all the world to see, how does Alice Bee feel about being the subject of her dad’s books? According to Engledow, “Alice is proud of the images that we have created and the work that she has put into them, particularly the two picture books we created together.”
When asked how Engledow and his family were dealing with the fame that comes from being recognized with the photos that have been shared online many times, his level-headed response revealed that he has stayed grounded despite massive success. (Engledow and his family have been featured in many national television shows and periodicals!) Engledow states, “Luckily for us, our ‘fame’ is primarily limited to the internet, so we don’t really have to worry much about being recognized outside our community.”