'Three Little Pigs' finally gets Pittsburgh treatment

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Once upon a time -- excuse me -- ones apawn a time, there was a cartoonist who wrote a children's book entirely in Pittsburghese.

Joe Wos his name.

No, really, that's his name: Joe Wos. It rhymes with dose, as in "dose guys,'' and he's a cartoonist who runs the ToonSeum dahn on Libbity Avenue acrosst from where dat August Wilson Center jess shut dahn.

OK, three paragraphs in, I can already see I better not keep this up. Too many of you haven't had enough coffee to navigate a column written entirely in Pittsburghese, a dialect that should be heard and not seen.

That is, unless it's comically illustrated.

In plain English, Mr. Wos is going where neither Mother Goose nor Dr. Seuss dared venture. His book, "The Three Little Pigsburghers,'' will soon be a reality after a Kickstarter campaign raised $3,000 online in just three days.

That number is climbing, thanks to preorders of the book and other pledges on Pigsburgh.com.

Mr. Wos' inspiration came from a storytellers camp in Florida a decade ago. Participants were tasked with telling the classic fairy tale in a different language, and his peers had gone for Russian, Spanish, sign language and Cherokee. That put Mr. Wos in a bind.

"I only speak English and I don't even do that well,'' the 43-year-old Braddock native said.

So he began telling the story of the three little pigs and the big bad "wuff'' in Pittsburghese, stopping to translate whenever the crowd appeared too baffled, which was often.

It was a hit, but the story lay dormant until Mr. Wos was flying back from California last November. He'd had a residency at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, and not long into his flight home with his 10-year-old daughter, Lida, the battery in his computer died.

'Twas a fortuitous glitch. Mr. Wos spent the next six hours writing a story about the three pigs and sketching all the characters. (Their dad was the football at Stiller games because he is, you know, pigs' kin.) By the time the plane landed at that airport where George Washington and Franco Harris guard the escalators, his book was essentially complete.

Or so he thought. Then Mr. Wos started listening to ToonSeum patrons and himself more intently. He heard himself and others saying "Lie-gat'' for "like that," and decided a lot of folks around here don't shower, they "shire.''

"Shire,'' he said. "That's the one thing Hobbits and Pittsburghers have in common.''

He'll get arguments there. I hear it as "shar,'' and how in the world could he write "gian eggle'' instead of "gian iggle"? Even a yinz-vs.-yunz debate could last all night in the right circles with enough beer.

Some of Mr. Wos' writing still needs fixed, he allows, but he's at a peculiar disadvantage, because he's dyslexic and has been relying on standard computer spell checks for years. There's a translator at pittsburghese.com and other sites (really, I'm not jaggin' ya) but unanimous agreement will always be elusive.

His self-published book is a love letter to his city, and Mr. Wos certainly has the right backers. WQED's documentarian extraordinaire Rick Sebak is writing the foreword ("ford"), and Jimmy Krenn will supply the voice for the audio version.

As a teenager, Mr. Wos listened to Mr. Krenn do his Stanley P. Kachowski character on the DVE Morning Show and so this is a dialectical match made in heaven. Or at least along the Mon.

The computer age made all this possible. Not only has the Internet provided the book's financing, it has helped shape it. Gregg and Yu-Ling Behr of Aspinwall, longtime fans of the ToonSeum, pledged the $500 required to have themselves and their daughters, 2-year-old Catheryn and three-month-old Caroline, drawn into the book. Mrs. Behr, who was born in Taiwan but grew up in Seattle, said she wants to be surprised by what Mr. Wos manages, and that seems a certainty.

Most backers paid only the $15 for a book or $25 for a signed book. Pigsburgh.com is accepting pre-orders through April Fools' Day -- a coincidence, I'm sure.

For all this venture owes to computers, though, there will be no e-book. Mr. Wos wants this story to be told the way his great-grandpa entranced his family.

"Kid on the knee, the book right in front of them. That's the way books are meant to be shared.''

Pittsburghese may not always be easy on the ears, but it can warm the heart.


Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.

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