Ninja! and an interview with Arree Chung

Ninja! by Arree Chungby Arree Chung

published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan.

Friends, I’m so excited to have Arree Chung in this corner of the internet today. I met Arree last summer at SCBWI in Los Angeles, and am humbled every time I think about how we share an agent and a friendship. He’s an expert storyteller with a bright, animated style and a fresh perspective. Ninja! is his debut picture book, and it will be far from his last.

First, you should watch this short film. And here’s my confession. Arree sent this to me a number of weeks ago with the caveat that it was unreleased and not to share. Except: it was too awesome not to. So I showed it to my students, because single-digit-aged kids are pretty good at secrets and don’t have Twitter accounts anyway.

They loved it. And I mean L O V E D  I T. Each class, without fail, asked to watch it many, many times in a row. So we did.

Meet Maxwell, and then meet Arree.

breaker What has been the most surprising thing about this whole debut picture book thing?

The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how long it takes to actually bring a book to market (1.5 – 2 years).  My background is in games, where companies can publish with the click of a button and make updates via the internet.  The process gives me appreciation for the care that goes into the publishing process.  It also helps to have a great team of people to work with.  Everyone from your agent, publisher, editor and art director in making the book and then there’s publicity, marketing and sales folks that help in getting the book out. 1stCoverAn early cover design. An early cover design. Ninja_Revision_Notesrevision notes.

I’m fortunate to have a supportive publisher in Macmillan.  They have a great team of experts.  Each one helps you with a specific aspect of the publishing process.  I’ve learned so much.  I’m so grateful I’ve been in good hands.  I’ve worked hard to hold up my end of the deal and make something special.  With Ninja it was easy, because I loved it so much.

Who are your creative and/or literary heroes?

Oh, so many!

Authors:
Roald Dahl
E.B. White
Jack Gantos
Judy Blume
Jeff Kinney

Illustrators:
Russell Patterson
Chris Ware
Yuko Shimitzo

Author/Illustrators:
Shel Silverstien
Wolf Erlbruch
William Steig
Mo Willems
Peter Brown
Leo Lionni
Maurice Sendak
Ian Falconer
Jon Klassen
David Shannon
Bill Peet
Calef Brown

Comics:
Jim Lee
Scott McFarlane
Jeffrey Brown
Bill Watterson
Jim Davis
Charles Schulz

Animation/Film:
Brad Bird
John Lassetter
Guillermo Del Toro
Chris Sanders
Danny Boyle
Tim Burton
Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
Steven Spielberg
Hayao Miyazaki

Can you talk about the similarities and differences in animation and the picture book form?

I love both mediums for different reasons.  Both mediums can transport the reader into new worlds.  I love it when a book or movie captures my imagination and I am completely immersed in a world that has been built.  The world is invented but it feels familiar and the story resonates with honesty.  I hate it when a story is force feeding me a message and it feels like an infomercial or when a story rambles without a focus.  Storytelling is magical when it has both the imagination and heart and speaks to you directly and honestly.  A great story is so exhilarating.  There’s nothing in the world that feels like it.  I love both animation and picture books because they have the ability to create magic.

How they are different?  Well, I think the main difference is that film tends to be a passive experience.  The viewer is in a dream like state that watches the story unfold.  It’s like being suspended in a time capsule and you watch everything that happens.  You take the story in a more subliminal kind of way. NinjaCreepAway Spread14_15Books on the other hand I think are active experiences.  You as the reader actively interact with the words and pictures.  It’s like your brain is the film projector and is working to play the story.  Because of this, I think books are much more intimate experiences.  You go at your own pace.  You stop, question and wonder.  Sometimes you’re so engaged, you speed all the way through and sometimes you like to read slowly just because.  Readers engage books with their imaginations and a lot of the story is told in-between the words, the page turns and the illustrations whereas films are full experiences that use all the arts of composition, acting, music and visuals to put you in a state of suspension.

Both are magical and I love doing both so much.

Can you give us any behind-the-scenes information on how you created the short film? Did you get to know Maxwell differently in that format?

Yeah!  It was so thrilling to bring Maxwell to life.  I had a pretty good idea of who he is as a character after creating the book but actually seeing him move and casting Taylor Wong as Maxwell brought another whole dimension.

As for production, here’s a quick behind the scenes look of what it took to make the short film.  I plan on doing a much more in-depth look in a separate blog post.

We used 4 software tools: Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro.  The process was a highly collaborative effort between folks at MacMillan, myself and David Shovlin, the animator.  It was a ton of work to do but a ton of fun as well.ShortFilm_Process

In all, it took about 5 weeks of work.  David and I worked really hard on it and I’m really proud of what we created in a relatively short period of time.2013-09-09 23:23Where did Ninja! come from?

It’s been my dream to make my own picture books for a long time.  The first conception of Ninja came when I was in art school.  I jotted down “A boy goes creeping around the house dressed as a Ninja and causes trouble.”  That was probably in 2007 or so.

Maxwell_1st_CharacterSketchesNinja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_earlySketches-1Early Ninja! thumbnails and character sketches.

In 2012, I decided to do the Illustrator Intensive at the SCBWI Summer Conference.  We were given an assignment to submit a story along with a manuscript, thumbnails, character sketches, and a finished illustration.  Up to that point, I had been writing stories for years but was stuck on many of them.  For the workshop we had to write down answers to the following questions:

WHO
WHAT is the dilemma?
WHERE does it take place?
HOW is the problem solved?

This really helped me a lot.  Previous to this, many of my stories didn’t have focus and wandered a lot.  Ninja was a big break through for me as a storyteller and I had lots of people who helped guide me through it.   I’m so thankful for Rubin, my agent, and Kate, my editor.  The more I worked on it, the more the world and character took shape and gained depth.  It was so much fun to make.

Do you remember any art you made as a kid? What was it?!

Yeah, I made a lot of ninja stars and origami.  I was also obsessed with Legos.  I loved to build cruiser space ships and large fortresses armed to the teeth.  Whenever my uncle bought us Legos, we would make the thing we were supposed to make and then tear it apart and then make what we wanted to make.  Making your own thing was much more fun.

I was a huge comic book reader and collector as well.  I bought all of the X-men, Spiderman, Spider-ham, Batman and Spawn comics.  I still buy comics.

I also really love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I used to record all of the episodes.  In fact, I used to press pause on the VCR and trace drawings of the Ninja Turtles by overlaying paper onto the TV.  At school, everyone thought I was the best drawer, but I never told anyone my technique til now!  Eventually I copied so many drawings I could draw it out of memory.  I tried to do the same technique with Transformers but that wasn’t nearly as successful because I didn’t understand perspective as at 12 year old.

And now what’s next for you?Ninja_GhostStoryI’ve got a lot of things I’m working on.  I have lots of Ninja stories to tell with Maxwell. (I’m so excited about all of them!)  One of them involves an old Chinese folktale involving ghosts!

I’m also illustrating two Potty Training books for kids that are hilarious.HowToPeeillustrations from How to Pee

I have lots of picture book stories I’m developing and I’m also writing a middle grade novel titled Ming Lee, All American.  Ming Lee chronicles my experiences growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese).  It’s deeply personal and is funny in that Louis CK, embarrassing but honest kind of way.  I would describe it as Judy Blume meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Of course, it is its own thing that I am figuring out.  I have a sense of what I want it to be but you never know what it will be until you get there.

Ming_Lee_Cover MingLeeHairCut

breaker A huge thanks to Arree for this peek into the mind of a master craftsman. Be sure to get your hands on Ninja! this week!

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Andrew Drew And Drew

Are you a sketcher? A doodler? A drawer?

(As in draw-er, not dresser!)

If so, you just may see yourself in this crafty, clever book.

This is a fairly new release from my fairly new friend, Barney Saltzberg.

Whether you have a tiny imagination that needs some calisthenics, or a huge-mongous, uncontrollable one, meet Andrew.

He draws. And draws.

And his lines become, well — anything at all!

Or even nothing.

And sometimes nothing is the best something.

Andrew.

He (and my new friend Barney!) have crafted a wonderfully animated book. You can’t just sit back and read it. You have to guess! And wonder! And unfold all of the pages!

And? Andrew (and Barney!) have left you enough white space to fill in the story with things from your own brain. What do you see? Where does your line take you?

It’s a delight. A brain tickler. An interactive treat.

A book.

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics

by Norton Juster, who rocks a fishing vest with mad style. How do I know? I saw him in person:

…and had him sign this smart love story for my own love story. When you are part of a couple who prioritizes Jeopardy! and does math problems on diner napkins for fun, this book matters.

Once upon a time there was a sensible straight line who was hopelessly in love with a dot.

Our hapless line jumps through hoops and over hurdles to impress his round red love. Each page is visually stunning; this book reads like a master class in graphic design.

This line, nothing but a straight series of points, becomes a very loud, larger than life character. A simple horizontal line becomes a celebrated daredevil or an international sportsman.

Likewise, the flirty red dot is just as zesty and appealing. It’s JUST a red circle, but Norton Juster characterized her so brilliantly that a simple shape becomes larger than life.

Soon, you are entirely wrapped up in the love story between a dot and a line. A dot. And a line. Two basic graphic elements.

You marvel at the line’s ingenuity,

his vision,

and his dedication.

But does he get the girl and complete his equation?

If the animated endpapers are any consideration, I’d bet on a happy ending.

This MGM animated short from 1965 is such a fun adaptation of Norton Juster’s work, and won that year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In the spirit of this Hollywood awards season and because Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, spend 10 minutes celebrating the love of a dot and a line. You’ll love it.

I Want My Hat Back {the preview}

This Twitter exchange today made me wobble in my knees a little bit:

THE Jon Klassen replied to my tweet? On an enormous award-winning day? Yeah, I squealed a bit.

I’ve been planning a post for I Want My Hat Back this week, and have had a hard time putting its perfection into words that haven’t already been said. Motion graphics to the rescue. I didn’t create this trailer, but I love it. Get your feet wet on this, run out and read it, and I’ll be back with more. It’s just that great.

Dinosaur Mardi Gras Trailer

Remember the Picture Book Month trailer?

Once upon a time, Dianne de Las Casas and I decided to team up again to celebrate the release of her vibrant picture book, Dinosaur Mardi Gras. Once upon a time is NOW.

If you like oviraptors, doubloons, parade floats and jazzy tunes, you will LOVE Dinosaur Mardi Gras. The illustrations by Marita Gentry are loose and dreamy and floaty (technical art term of course.) My ultimate goal in creating this trailer? Honoring the story, honoring the pictures. YOU will be in the book, with the dinos, with the floats, with the doubloons, and with the jazzy tunes. Ready?

CHOMP.

ROAR.

Picture Book Month 2011 Teaser

Lines That Wiggle

Candace Whitman’s Lines That Wiggle Is. Just. Wow. And illustrator Steve Wilson in his debut performance? More wow.

Lines that wiggle, lines that bend

Wavy lines from end to end

So…what do I love so much?

1) It rhymes. And rhymes well.

2) It’s quirky, quick, and clever.

3) The characters are so adorable that I want to peel them off the page and stick them in my pocket forever. A beret-wearing cat walking dachshunds and wearing a bow tie? Shaggy high-fiving monsters on pink bikes? AN ELEPHANT anxiously crossing a swinging bridge?! Created with few colors, little shading, and lines…they are perfect.

4) The lines that wiggle through the book are raised and rough and fun to touch. And GLITTERY.

5) And unexpected color combinations that feel retro and modern at once.

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: LINE (+ COLOR, + TEXTURE, + JUST PLAIN AMAZING WORK)

The lines in this book are the building blocks of the illustrations. They connect words to pictures. Visual literacy meets traditional literacy. The lines ARE the pictures. Sometimes, they are even the words. Each page on its own is gorgeous enough to remain a solitary piece of art. But we are luckier than that! This is an art gallery that fits in your backpack. Canvas after canvas of portable prints that connect together with words and a story. This is art, manifested in words and pictures bound in a book for a reader to savor and to study. Lines That Wiggle reminds me how much I love words, how much I love images, and how much I love picture books. 

This is me, celebrating Picture Book Month…Stunning little creatures that, not unlike these lines, have wiggled their way into my heart.

Freight Train

Quick but thorough profile of Donald Crews here. {Fun fact: he called his grandmother ‘Bigmama.’}

I love this book. I vividly remember reading it in the library at Ridge Elementary School. I remember it was shelved near The Story of Ping, and I remember plopping down on the blue scratchy carpet until Mrs. Marks begged me to leave. {Fun fact: I am the same age as Freight Train. That’s freight-ening.}

Freight Train describes eight different freight cars in seven pure colors. The primary colors red, yellow, and blue, and the secondary colors orange, green, and violet join the massive black steam engine. The rainbow of cars moves forward throughout the book in a blur of motion. Quick and rhythmic, just like the chugging of the freight train.

DIRECTION

All lines have direction. They can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or rounded/oblique. Generally, horizontal lines suggest calmness, stillness, and lack of motion. Think of a sun setting beneath the ocean, or a lonely road endlessly stretching to the desert sky’s horizon. Freight Train utilizes the horizontal line of the track on every single turn of the page. And yet nothing about this line represents stillness.

Donald Crews turns this notion upside down to visually create motion. Perhaps it is because his subject is a mode of transportation, and the reader expects motion, but I like to think that he intentionally designed this book to make us feel it. His cars fly over the track, through tunnels, by the city, and constantly are going, going,