Filmmaker Kevin Smith may have started his career selling convenience store coffee, but now he’s the subject of his very own coffee table book. A book so big, so bold, and so filled with behind-the-scenes stories and photos that Smith suggests it could be used someplace fairly uncomfortable. But no. Not the back of a Volkswagen. The back of your head.
“You can kill a human being with this book,” Smith joked on the phone with Gizmodo last week. “You wouldn’t have to drop it from the top of the Empire State Building or something like that. You’d just like, wham, in the back of the head with it. The book is so thick and heavy.” This would be Clue token called Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash: A Definitive Visual History, and it’s the culmination of 30 years of Smith’s films, television, books, speaking engagements, and more. It’ll be out September 14 and Gizmodo is excited to exclusively tell you it exists, reveal the cover (above) as well as five exclusive spreads, and talk to Smith about how it came to be and what makes it so special.
“I rolled tears it was so beautiful,” Smith said of the first time he saw an early PDF of the book. “[It’s a] gorgeous testimony to the last, well, now 27 years of stuff that we’ve been doing, and god, it’s just graphically gorgeous to look at. I’ve always loved Insight Editions. They put out amazing coffee table books about subject matter that matters to me, but to have one of those books on my career? I honestly never thought it would happen.”
Though Smith has been known to put out a piece of merchandise or two, the idea for the book actually didn’t come from him. It came from editor Chris Prince, who pitched Smith on the idea several years ago, hoping to time the release to the 25th anniversary of Clerks in 2019. Smith agreed, got his friend and frequent collaborator Malcolm Ingram to write it, and 10 minutes later the phone rang. “[Malcolm] called me back like 10 minutes later and he goes, ‘What if I brought a camera to every interview and shot the interviews and maybe we shoot a side documentary?’” Smith explained “And I was like, ‘Yeah, if you think you could put both together at the same time.’ And he dropped the book and just made a documentary.”
That doc, called Clerk, premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, which is great, but didn’t help Prince get his book off the ground. Things sat stagnant for a few years until Prince realised he was going to have to write it himself. Smith agreed and over several weeks, the pair spent about 20 hours total on the phone, with Smith telling Prince every story he could think of from every point in his career. Prince then edited all of that into the book as it is now. “Basically it’s meant to be a photo book but I’m very chatty so it wound up having a lot of words in it too,” Smith said. The book is over 300 pages and begins with Smith’s childhood, then goes into Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy, and continues through his entire career with chapters on Jersey Girl, Cop Out, Red State, Comic Book Men, Tusk, Yoga Hosers, podcasting, comic book writing, and more.
Anyone who has followed Smith over the past three decades, though, knows he’s already spent a good part of his career talking about all of this. Whether it’s on podcasts, in interviews, or during speaking engagements, you could easily assume all the stories have been told somewhere. However, Smith promises the book has stories even die-hard fans — who own every “An Evening With Kevin Smith” DVD, Clerks Inaction figure, Buddy Christ and Mooby magnet — will have never heard before. “I got to a place where I’m like, ‘Well, I guess I’m OK putting this on the record and stuff,’” he explained. “So, yeah, there’s a couple nuggets in there that I never really kind of put anyplace else.” When asked for an example, Smith didn’t want to spoil anything or sensationalise, but he would say this. “There’s a story I tell about a guy I used to work with who went to jail,” he said. “And I kind of tell a story about my weirdest encounter with him. I’ve never really told that story anyplace else, and it wound up in the book because I was recounting Dogma and Good Will Hunting and it’s part of the story.”
There’s also a big piece of the book Smith didn’t know existed until a frequent co-star and friend spoiled it from him. Prince asked many of the creator’s closest friends and collaborators to write testimonials about him under the heading “Who is Kevin Smith?” The prompt was for a quick 100 words that could be put in the book. Most people who did it went to that number or a little beyond (among the people are producer Scott Mosier; director J.J. Abrams; actors Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, and Justin Long; and Smith’s wife Jennifer Schwalbach-Smith and daughter Harley Quinn Smith, among others). But one person went way overboard and spoiled the surprise. You may know his name…
“Ben [Affleck] spoiled it for me,” Smith said. “Ben texted me to say like, ‘I’m now at the point in my career where I’m asked to write nice platitudes about people I worked with years ago.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he’s like ‘They asked me to write 100 words, but I went about 13 times over that or something.’” In reality, it was 17 times over, which was so long Prince couldn’t fit it in the book itself and it became a fold-out insert. Nevertheless, all of the testimonials meant a lot to the filmmaker. “[Reading them] was an absolute delight for me and obviously I had to break out the box of Kleenex when I saw all of them,” Smith said. “It was a walk down memory lane.”
While the testimonials may have been the biggest surprise for Smith, the main surprise for fans is likely to be the photos. The book is filled with many Smith thinks very few people will have seen before. Some were taken on sets of movies and weren’t deemed good enough for press images, but still capture something special — personal photos, deleted film scenes, you name it. Some came from Smith himself, others came from Prince and his team just doing lots of research. “They were these tiny snapshots into moments in my life that I absolutely remember once I saw them but never would have thought about had I not been presented with the image,” Smith said. “So if it did it for me, there’s definitely stuff in there that’s going to do it for the hardcore fan.”
It also helped immensely that Smith has basically kept every single thing he’s ever done since he was a child. Well before he made Clerks, Smith confesses to being something of a hoarder in terms of things related to himself. He even made scrapbooks of himself, for himself. “I was afraid that I would go unnoticed in the world,” Smith said. “So when you look at the scrapbooks that I kept, from even before my career kicked in, it was clear that I was trying to piece together a narrative that made my life seem more important than it really was. So in order to do that, you got to keep everything.”
That habit got even more intense once Smith did get noticed in the world, so from Clerks on, he has even more. All of which was made available for the book. “Certainly this is not bragging, it’s more sad than anything else, but we could probably fill two more books of pictures with all the crap that I’ve saved or hung on my walls over the years,” Smith said. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. “I honestly think that I’m more in the nostalgia business than anything else,” Smith said. “Everything I do is predicated on the past.”
He’s right, of course. Smith’s first movie, Clerks, is about what it was like for him growing up; his upcoming project, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, is a pure love letter to a cartoon he loved as a kid. Even the upcoming Clerks III is very much about characters from the previous films. So while this book was originally imagined as being released a few years ago, the man who built a career on the past believes the present is the perfect time to look back. “Everything happens when it’s supposed to,” Smith said. “And the book is better for the wait because we were able to include stuff like Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and me and [Jason Mewes] putting our footprints in the Chinese Theatre and stuff. So it was able to be even more expansive. Like the old adage says, ‘Good things come to those who wait,’ and good things come to good people who wait and Chris Prince is one of the best people. And man, did he wait. But it’s paid off.”
Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash, which features a foreword by Jason Mewes, is out September 14 and retails for $75. Here’s the link to pre-order. There will also be a limited edition version and details are TBA, but you can sign up for more information here.