The Random Penguins Creator Mary Laura Philpott Shares Her Pop Culture Diet

by  | June 12

glomtacular header - ml philpott

Each week we share a pop culture diet from someone that we think is glom-worthy and help you find new things to glom on to! This week: Mary Laura Philpott, creator of The Random Penguins and author of the fabulous new book Penguins with People Problems! We follow her as she travels from South Carolina to NYC for BEA and BookCon, consuming an impressive range of pop culture deliciousness along the way.


Do you ever stumble across something online that’s so adorable and true that you just want to share it with everyone you’ve ever met in your life? That’s how we felt about The Random Penguins, the amazingly glommable site from Mary Laura Philpott, illustrator and independent bookseller (hey there Parnassus Books!). She puts her signature cartoon penguins in a dizzying array of situations to create images that reflect moments in our lives that we can all relate to—from the awkwardness of applying your own sunscreen and the horror of having a conversation with someone eating salad to the cameraderie that comes with dressing identically as your squad, we are all Random Penguins.

Now you can take your favorite Random Penguins to go in the new book, Penguins with People Problems! Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound—even better, get an autographed copy from Parnassus Books.


A Little of This, a Little of That

Silly/serious. Busy/chill. Crunchy/smooth. In looking at my pop culture diet, I’m realizing that it reflects my fondness for contrast and balance. I calibrate my mental state by consuming what I need to offset whatever else is going on in life. If I’m under stress, for example, I go for humor. If I’ve been goofing off and need to tether myself back to my desk, I read the news. Recently I went from vacation to business trip to the start of a book tour in a matter of days, and here’s what I clicked, watched, and read along the way:



As usual, the first two things I read in the morning were: (1) The Skimm daily news email, which took me on an imaginary Sorkinesque walk-and-talk back to reality, and (2) my calendar, which informed me that I needed to get a shower so I could catch a plane from South Carolina to New York. Goodbye, beach.

By that afternoon I found myself languishing in the airport, trapped by a flight delay. Luckily, I managed to score a prime end seat in the pleather chair farm of Terminal B. So I settled in and pulled up one of my favorite feel-good sites: Batzilla the Bat, run by an Australian bat rescue organization. Watching little bats eating bananas and getting itty-bitty bat baths with a washcloth soothes my raging soul.

As the delay grew longer and the reasons grew more varied (the plane isn’t here; it is here but it’s broken; it’s here and it works but there’s no crew; everyone’s here but there’s a cloud somewhere), I kept myself relaxed by focusing on the absurd. I scrolled through quirky cartoons by artists like Marc Johns (below), Gemma Correll, and my friend Sebastien Millon, who draws these adorably bloodthirsty bunnies that always make me laugh.

Image c/o Marc Johns.

Eventually the plane took off, and I’m pleased to report that I did not stab anyone in the airport while waiting. And that’s how the Internet saves lives.



Having finally made it to New York and gotten a whopping 4 hours of sleep, I cabbed it over to Tumblr headquarters, where their resident booknerds were throwing a breakfast party to introduce some authors to each other and to some cool book bloggers. I especially loved spending time with the sharp and thoughtful Adam J. Kurtz, Ashley C. Ford,  Maris Kreizman, and Rachel Fershleiser while testing out the new cold-pressed coffee tap in the Tumblr kitchen. PS: Now I want a cold-pressed coffee tap in my kitchen.

Then it was time to head over to BookExpo America for a wonderfully long day of discussing bookstores, book blogs, and online book magazines (like this one, Musing, from the bookstore where I work, Parnassus Books in Nashville).



One of the best parts of Friday morning was catching up with my former editor, Meg. Our conversation drifted to our favorite comedy writers, so naturally we then re-enacted our favorite Amy Schumer skit, “The Last Fuckable Day,” in its entirety.

Wandering around at BEA for a second day, I talked to a lot of authors and illustrators. That got me thinking about how art and words go together. Illustrating written work is tricky — it’s creating art that serves another piece of art. I found myself repeatedly referencing the beautiful work Abigail Gray Swartz is doing as the current artist-in-residence for the New York Times Motherlode column. She’s really been nailing it lately.

When it was time for bed, I couldn’t sleep. So I opened up the DubSmash app and made this:

A video posted by Mary Laura Philpott (@therandompenguins) on

Because that’s a good use of time at midnight.



The last full day of the trip saw more book signing and penguin-drawing at Book Con, plus a chance to record an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Beaks & Geeks. (Speaking of podcasts, I made sure I had plenty lined up in case of another flight fiasco, including a few episodes of the TED Radio Hour.)

I’m a big believer that the best way to balance out a bunch of time spent producing your own stuff is to stop and take in someone else’s creative work. It was a real thrill to watch the one and only Helen Mirren perform her Tony award winning role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience on Saturday night.  What a knockout — and a great end to the week.


Books I read this week:

mlp books

  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (who wrote The Paris Wife): Helllooooo, summer blockbuster.
  • The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor: This book had cover blurbs by both Stephen King and Tom Perotta. “Wha—?” I thought. Then I read it. Now I get it.
  • In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. You know how when your friend orders jalapeño poppers and cheesecake bites and you’re like, “Oh, I NEVER eat stuff like that,” but then before you know it, you’ve eaten a plateful because you can’t stop? That’s how I felt after staying up until 2 a.m. to finish this spooky, campfire-type story.


And finally, television:

I didn’t turn on a TV all week (because it’s still the official mourning period for Betty, Joan, and Peggy) but I’m looking forward to grabbing the remote when You’re the Worst returns for a second season on FXX, sometime this summer. I think I’ll skip the first few episodes and then binge-watch for a big hit of that delicious dark humor.