Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Super Star Interviews: Ken Min

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m happy to be catching up with the superstar Illustrator, Ken Min! Ken was amongst the very first illustrator friends I made when I first moved to Los Angeles. We met at the SCBWI’s annual conference and have been friends & crit buddies ever since. Ken grew up on the works of Margret & H.A. Rey, William Joyce, and DC Comics. He was born and raised here in Los Angeles and studied illustration at Art Center, College of Design. He has storyboarded for various commercials and animated TV shows such as Futurama, Fairly Odd Parents and Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket. His illustration work has been recognized numerous times by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). In 2012, the first picture book he illustrated, Hot, Hot Roti For Dada-Ji, received the Picture Book Honor Award for Literature from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). These days, you will find Ken illustrating, storyboarding, writing, and dreaming up stories for children. You can see more of his fabulous artwork here.

Gesundheit! Gesundheit! Gesundheit!

Q: You have not just one, but TWO fabulous new picture books releasing this Spring (2016)! Give us the full scoop on both Ah-Choo! and What Does It Mean To Be An Entrepreneur?—how the projects came to be, how you developed them and what you love the most about each—you know, all the good stuff!

A: For a time, I was privileged to help organize the local SCBWI Illustrator's Day event for Los Angeles. One year I met the art director for Sterling Publishing and we became friends. On and off, over time, I'd joke with her that we should work on a project together. She'd laugh and say when the right book came along, she'd let me know. And that project arrived in 2014. Ah-Choo! is a story about a boy who would really like to have a pet, but his sister is allergic to animals. He brings home a different pet and his sister pretty much sneezes throughout the whole story (thus—the title) but in the end, they find a pet that works out. I had a lot of fun designing the characters and all the animals. If memory serves, there are 33 potential pets in all—such a range of different animals that I had to Google about half of them since I wasn't familiar with all of them. Since the sister sneezes throughout the tale, I thought it would be fun if her sneezes (Ah-Choos) were different each time. Different graphics, different looks/incidents. My first thought was depicting wooden letter blocks young children play with and spelling out "Ah-Choo!". I liked how that came out and tried coming up with different hand lettered type for the rest of the different scenes. 

Hmmm? Who to choose?!

With What Does It Mean To Be An Entrepreneur? (Little Pickle Press) my agent sent me the manuscript to look over. Even though I was hip deep in working on the Sterling book, there was something in the manuscript that appealed to me. When I can start to imagine what I might do visually with a story, it's hard to walk away from a project. On the surface, the manuscript doesn't necessarily have a narrative direction. It doesn't give you a situation or structure. It's not set in a zoo or a farm or something like that. But there was something inspirational in the words that I thought would be encouraging to kids and possibly spur them to action. I tried thinking of different activities that a child might do as a business—selling lemonade, cookies, etc. I used to wash the family cars as part of my allowance and somewhere in there, combined with dogs and the notion of a doggie (car) wash came about. My art director liked the idea, but wanted to add a fantastical element to it. She mentioned space and robots and I hooked in on the idea of robots. Since a lot of car washes have automated elements, I thought it would be fun to put robots in those places. Plus it gave our main character a bit of a science/engineering background. 

Super smart engineering girlie—awesome!!

Q: You are a talented animator & storyboard artist, having worked on TV shows such as Futurama, Fairly Odd Parents and Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket. How have your experiences working in animation influenced your work in children’s book publishing?

A: Working as a storyboard artist, the whole idea there is STORY. Visualizing how the plot is narrated. What information you are feeding the viewer. Telling the story visually, but also keeping it simple and straightforward without a lot of clutter. Focusing on the key idea of each scene. All those learned techniques really do carry over into working on a picture book. All of those attributes for storyboarding are also the same in telling a picture book story. 

Q: In recent years, the movement to inspire, create and support more diverse books for children has become a force. As an Asian American illustrator, what efforts in the children’s book publishing community would you praise? And what changes would you like to see?

A: The fact that it's being discussed is a good step forward. And people talking with one another, leads to action like we have seen with the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign. 

As for changes, I think individually, we need to assess each story we write or each manuscript we're offered and look carefully and decide what is the make up of the character we are going to envision. Does it automatically become a "white" character or could it be someone of a different ethnicity? Could the heritage of a character of color add shading and depth to the story that wasn't seen on a first impression? Definitely consider all avenues. Because what we produce goes out into the world and should reflect what is going on. It starts at square one and is carried forth from there. 

Oops!!! That's SO cold!

Q: What was your most treasured picture book as a child? What is your most favorite picture book now? Why?

A: That's a tough one—coming up with a treasured picture book from the past. I don't have a strong recollection from that time. Maybe Curious George. I always had a fondness for the adventures of that monkey. And Pooh—although it might have started with the Disney version before I came to appreciate the A.A. Milne original. I do recall having this one book that was an album of dinosaurs that I looked at constantly. I will say, the book that really got me thinking about illustrating for picture books is William Joyce's George Shrinks. I came across this while working at a bookstore. I think it was the first time in a while that I really "looked" at picture books and was just taken by all the different styles of art that was out there in the market today. I had recently finished up art school and was looking for a direction and finding that book really made an impression on me. Ten years later... :)

As for a recent favorite book, that would have to be Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen's Extra Yarn. I really like the rhythm and the cadence of the story. When I'm trying to work on my own picture book ideas/stories, I like to read other books to get my head in the right space and this is always the first book I like to re-read. And the art is just amazing. 

It's all blue skies and good times!

Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: It can be a combination of different things, really. Working on a painting—when I get into a nice groove, there is a nice flow happening that's euphoric. It can also be spending time browsing through a favorite bookstore or lunch with my friends that I haven't seen in a while. It can be watching a really good movie and leaving the theatre on a high and savoring those choice moments. Taking in a ball game and having your team come from behind to win. It can be a "Ferris Beuller" style of day or a simple, laid-back day with a good book. All in all, it probably comes down to finding those moments in life that make you smile. 


Thank you so much for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Ken! Congratulations on your fabulous new picture books!!

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