In 2000, Mike Howatson, a gifted Vancouver animator, and I produced an illustrated novel called “God Hates Japan.” It was published only in Japanese — beautifully and elegantly, I might add — by Kadokawa Shoten in 2001. It’s the story of characters lost in a malaise that swept Japanese culture after the burst of the bubble economy in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It also depicted the way some of these characters lived in the shadow of a death cult’s 1995 sarin-gas assault on Tokyo’s subway system.

That same year, an old friend of mine from Japanese business school (I know, it’s as random as it sounds, but I actually have a degree in Japanese business science from the Japanese-American Institute for Management Science, Class of 1986) owned a mobile phone advertising company in Tokyo, so we simultaneously published the book in a digital form that could be read via cell phone. Images from the book became animated and appeared on screen in between chunks of text as readers clicked their way through. It was kind of crazy, and maybe 11 people finished the whole thing (that’s a lot of clicking), but the illustration and themes lent themselves to the format nicely, and it was definitely some kind of first. Forget e-books and all that stuff. My hunch is that it’s all going to go mobile, but that’s eight years in the future and another conversation. And I just know I’m going to wake up one morning, and some putz down in Palo Alto will have invented whatever it is that’s going to replace books. But until then …

I’ve been asked to publish “God Hates Japan” in English, but I’ll do it only under one circumstance, which is that we find a novice Japanese-English translator, and then publish his or her first, uncorrected translation of the book. It would be such a wonderful piece of Japanglish, those weird contortions of English that the Japanese put on their shirts and products, mostly from the 1980’s into the mid 1990’s, but not anymore, really. These days the Japanese have pretty much the most sophisticated consumer culture on earth, and there’s probably a huge secondary market in vintage 1980’s Japanglish T shirts somewhere in Shibuya next to a boutique that sells Finnish shoe eyelets carved from reindeer bones that play Smashing Pumpkins remixes if you tap them the right way.

The artwork in “God Hates Japan” was a mixture of vector-based design, theoretical design (there’s a selection of color swatches for people with low self-esteem) and good old fashioned appropriated imagery. For example, Mike redrew old New Yorker cartoons with ridiculous fidelity, and then we slapped on new and disturbing punchlines. We also made our own in-flight safety cards and were really proud of them, and then someone said, “Oh yeah, they made some of those for the publicity for ‘Fight Club.’ ” Grrrrrr.

I think the book is almost more fun to read if you don’t speak Japanese or know any Japanese characters — you have to work really hard to figure out what’s going on, and what you come up with could well be better than the real story. I think that’s the beauty of art in general — a good work allows the reader or listener or viewer to fill in the blanks. The work isn’t passive — it’s interactive, but secretly so.