Today I am have an awesome interview lined up with the duo team, Jack and Holman Wang, that are the creators behind the Star Wars Epic Yarn books and Cozy Classics series. Checkout my review of the Epic Yarn series and a chance to win the books! Enjoy!
1) Prior to creating the Star Wars Epic Yarns books, you created a series of board books called Cozy Classics which abridged adult classics such as Les Miserables, Oliver Twist, and Emma. What was the driving force behind bringing these stories to young children?
J: I came up with the concept for Cozy Classics after my older daughter was born. I was reading a lot of word books about things like colors, shapes and animals, which got a little stale. That’s when I started thinking about how to make board books more fun and original for kids and adults. I came up with the idea with abridging classics in twelve words, and organizing word books around the concept of narrative. Then Holman came up with the idea of needle-felted illustrations. That’s when Cozy Classics was born.
H: We wanted our books to appeal to any one of any age, serving as true word primers for wee ones, storytelling vehicles for older kids, and fun, ironic abridgements for adults. Hopefully, we’ve achieved that goal.
2) Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?
H: One of our literary heroes is Maurice Sendak. He once talked about a great misconception regarding children’s books: that they should always be healthy, funny, clever and upbeat. But Sendak wanted to show “the little tattered edges of what life is like.” So in Where the Wild Things Are, Max yells at his mom (unheard of for a children’s book at the time). In the Night Kitchen features full frontal nudity of a little boy, while Outside Over There depicts a fantastical baby kidnapping by goblins! So we agree with Sendak’s attitude that children’s books don’t need to be hyper-sanitized.
3) Where you always into crafts? How did you come upon needle felting and why did you choose it as your medium versus other 3D art styles?
J: I wouldn’t say we were always into “crafts.” We made a lot of stuff when we were kids, like our own Halloween costumes out of cardboard, without any help from our parents. We didn’t think of it as “crafting.” We were just doing stuff as kids and having fun.
H: As an adult, I never thought of myself as a “crafter” until I taught myself to needle felt, expressly for the purpose of illustrating Cozy Classics. Needle felting is actually a fairly new crafting technique that is still growing in popularity, but it seemed old-fashioned in a way that we thought resonated perfectly with the classics.
4) Is it truly amazing that you are able to boil down the essence of each movie into 12 words. Can you share your process for determining which scenes and which words to choose?
J: When you only have twelve words to work with, you have to focus on the main narrative arc. You can’t just pick the twelve coolest or most iconic scenes from each book or movie, because you have to make sure there’s at least some sense of narrative continuity for the uninitiated. Then you need to ensure that each image conveys in a direct way a child-friendly word or concept. So a lot goes into determining each page.
H: For example, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope begins with the words “princess” and “trouble,” because that’s the essence of the story: a princess is in trouble and needs to be rescued. The next two words are “boy” and “learn”—Luke needs to learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. So on one level, our books just pair simple words with simple images, but on another level we’re trying to help parents and kids find the story arc for each character.
5) Did illustrating Star Wars seem daunting since it is so iconic and universally recognizable? What steps did you take to make the art as authentic as possible to the movies?
H: Absolutely, it was daunting! When abridging classic novels, there’s always room for interpretation, because the original text is written. But with Star Wars, the original “text” is filmic, so we knew that readers would have a very clearly idea of what they wanted to see. So it was less about interpretation and more about homage. We ensured authenticity by watching the movies again and again, and studying film stills, and then recreating sets and doing location photography as slavishly as we could.
J: We even flew down to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California—where George Lucas filmed parts of Return of the Jedi—for the desert scenes on Tatooine. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!
6) Any new books we should be on the look out for?
J: Yes! Our Cozy Classics series is moving over to Chronicle Books starting next spring. Chronicle will be re-issuing backlist titles, as well as three new titles: Great Expectations (spring 2015), The Nutcracker (fall 2015) and The Wizard of Oz (spring 2016).
7) Where can readers find you on the Internet?
Check out this video to get a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the Star Wars Epic Yarn books!