December 13, 2016

Let's Talk Illustrators #10: AN Kang

Papillon, Book 1: The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon is one heck of an adorable book. AN Kang creates a touching tale of friendship with adorable characters, relatable emotions, and a touch of levity that comes together to give readers a glimpse into the life of the fluffiest cat in the land and his journey toward friendship.

About the book:
Papillon is a very fluffy kitty. So fluffy that he's lighter than air! His owner tries to weigh him down, but Papillon just wants to fly. One particularly sunny day, he floats right out the window! Exploring the wide world is exhilarating, but it's also a little scary. Will his new friend, a bird, be able to help him find his way home?

Let's talk AN Kang!

LTPB: I absolutely love that we as readers see the little red bird before Papillon does. In fact, the red bird seems to only exist in the world of the text at the beginning of the book. Why did you keep their worlds separate at the start and work to integrate them as the story continues? What do you think makes Papillon suddenly notice the bird?

I had to think a reason how a shy bird became friends with a cat. The bird should be the one who approached the cat first instead of being approached. I thought the latter would take a lot of convincing. So I decided to make the bird a secret admirer. The bird knew Papillon very well and was not afraid of him. The bird was very entertained by him as well. Although Papillon startled the bird, and she flew away initially, she was there to help him in the end. I placed the bird in every page. It was an afterthought for sure. I just wanted to stress the point that the bird was infatuated by Papillon and wanted to be his friend.

Miss Tilly kept Papillon close under her care until she left him for the market. Then the bird moved from outside world to Papillon’s world. That’s when he noticed the bird. Initially I had Papillon meet the bird when he got lost already, but I changed my mind. I wanted to show his interest in making friends as well.

LTPB: How did the story of Papillon and his little bird friend evolve as you developed the characters? What influences did you draw for their personalities?

AK: I had many story ideas for Papillon, but my favorite was a friendship one. I thought it would be fun to create an unlikely friendship. A mouse was my first choice, but I thought he wouldn’t be that helpful if Papillon accidentally floated away. So a bird became the next natural choice.

I think I made at least 10 revisions since my first manuscript. I was constantly worried that I would come up with a better idea after I sent it off to editors. So there were many story solutions that I sketched out that didn’t make it to the book. Listening to many other opinions confused me, too. When I finally was happy with a story, I would get comments like, "Oh, your first story idea was much better. You shouldn’t have changed it!". After a while, though, I learned to go with my gut. It helped me stay in focus..and at peace. 

Papillon's many incarnations
I don’t want to be too philosophical with the story, but my cat made me understand what it would be like to live weightlessly. Animals teach you many things. People would constantly make mean comments about how fat my cat was. Of course, my cat didn’t understand, still I was bothered by that. But my cat’s reaction to it all got me thinking. She was calm and peaceful. None of this negativity could get to her, and it was wonderful to watch. I wish I could live that way. I wish our kids could live that way, live weightlessly without feeling, judgements or stress, which pull you down. I want our kids to enjoy being just who they are, unique and wonderful. And that people will love you for it, just like the bird loved Papillon.

The real-life Papillon!

LTPB: This book is such a fantastic collage of media! Which ones did you use?

AK: My favorite mediums are colored pencil, watercolor and ink. I love textures of watercolor paper and brushstrokes, especially a dry brush look. I use Photoshop extensively. I don’t like a computerized look so I incorporate my own watercolor painting to look more hand done. Working in Photoshop is like doing collage, and I can play around without worrying about making mistakes. I can always go back and fix it. ‘Command + Z’ (undo) is the best tool... if only I could use that button for everything!

LTPB: No one in the whole world will ever love Papillon as much as Miss Tilly does, and yet the most we see of her are her hands and speech bubbles. Is there a reason we never see her face?

AK: Initially I showed Miss Tilly's character in my first dummy, but I decided against it later. I want this book to be about Papillon’s world, just like in a Peanuts cartoon. You are watching the world through their perspective. You couldn’t see or hear adults. You only see kid’s reactions. In my story, though, you get to hear Miss Tilly, I wanted to show how much she loves him. 

LTPB: I'm so excited that this is just the first book in a Papillon series! When will we be seeing more of Papillon and his bird friend? What else do you have in the works?

AK: I just finished final artwork for Papillon #2. The book should come out fall 2017.  I wish I could do a children’s book version of the movie Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. My cat was named after the movie, and her sister was named Dega, of course. They were rambunctious kittens always trying to escape!

LTPB: Lastly, my favorite question: if you could have one illustrator (other than yourself!) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

AK: Jon Klassen. I remember when I first read I Want My Hat Back. I was blown away. His story, illustrations and design--everything worked perfectly together in every way. It really opened up a new world of children’s books for me, too. Children’s books didn’t have to be so bright and cute all the time. In one of his interviews, Jon mentioned he didn’t like painting animals or people. He loved to paint objects, stage sets, and landscapes instead. It’s perfect because I spend most of my days in the studio anyway. I bet he would paint my studio beautifully! :)

Thank you so much to Anna for her thoughtful answers! As a special treat, Anna shared some of her alternate endings for the book. I'll let you take a look at the published ending by checking out Papillon, Book 1: The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon, available now from Disney-Hyperion Press!

Special thanks to Anna for use of these images!

Alternate ending 1

Alternate ending 2
Alternate ending 3

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