March 6, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #61: James Yang

If you live in a commuter city like I do, you undoubtedly have experienced that sinking feeling of missing a bus or train. Missing your ride can put you in a bad mood pretty darn fast, especially when you are forced to sit there and watch every other possible bus and train come your way except for the one you need. Author-illustrator James Yang’s new book Bus! Stop! is about missing a bus, but rather than giving readers a sinking feeling, it actually has the opposite effect. Bus! Stop! provides an imaginative look at the creativity that can come our way with a little patience (okay, a LOT of patience) and opens new realms of possibility. No need to run to catch this interview – it’ll be sticking around for a while.

About the book:

"Bus! Stop!" a boy yells, as his bus pulls away one early morning. He must wait for the next bus. But the next one does NOT look like his bus at all. And neither does the next one, or the next. At first, the boy is annoyed. Then he is puzzled. Then intrigued. The other buses look much more interesting than his bus. Maybe he should try a different bus after all, and he's glad he does!

Let's talk James Yang!

LTPB: Let's start by talking about the inspiration behind the story in Bus! Stop! Is it autobiographical? What was the impetus for creating Bus! Stop!? Since this was a more personal story, how long did you work on it before you decided it was ready to submit?

It’s not really an autobiographical book, but is inspired by living in New York. One day my wife and I were waiting at a stop for a bus in the city, and it was taking longer than usual. We kept seeing vehicles in the distance which we thought were our bus, and as it got closer we saw it was vehicles not even remotely resembling our bus. It’s a trick the mind plays when you’re waiting. I made a joke about seeing everything but our bus, and my wife said, “That should be a book!” The book is more of a premise, and I thought it would be funny to wait for a bus and everything BUT your bus arrives.

LTPB: You’ve illustrated half a dozen books so far in your career, so how does your process change from book to book? How did you come up with such a unique trim size?

The process is pretty much the same for books. The big idea for the story comes first and then I start sketching the story out to see if it can be told visually. This is how my sketches look at the beginning when I’m trying to figure out if the story makes sense compositionally.

Then I make a very simple storyboard with type dropped in. I like to see if there is a flow and the dialogue is very rough. Once the storyboarding is done the dialogue or text starts to happen, and at this point Jim Hoover and Tracy Gates from Viking Children's gave me the specs for our book so I could start sketching for the final book. Tracy came up with the idea that the book should be very horizontal to enhance the story.

Cleaned up sketches are used as a rough template for the final art. They are scanned into photoshop.

Bus! Stop! is my first book with Viking, and we like talking things over before I start. It’s a great process.

LTPB: How did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

Everything is done in Photoshop. I use a 27 inch iMac and both a Wacom Intuos tablet and iPad Pro with the Apple pencil. Having elements on different layers is a big time saver when you need to make subtle adjustments or move things around.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

I’m working on my second book for Viking Children’s which should be out next year, and doing branding artwork for one client which must be kept secret. I just found out a magazine will have me travel and draw on site for the project of my dreams. That is also secret! I can show a story just finished for iammama,com. They are a site for young moms in Asia, and I do a series of children’s stories every month or so.

LTPB: If you were to write a picture book autobiography, who would you want to illustrate it (dead or alive!), and why?

This is an easy question. I would have had Miroslav Sasek do it in a second. I love the energy of his books and his ability to catch his time and place. He’s a big inspiration and I wish I could draw like him. I don’t try but we definitely share some DNA. 

Thank you, James, for taking time out to discuss how you made this hilarious book! Bus! Stop! publishes March 13, 2018 from Viking Books for Young Readers!

Special thanks to James and Viking Books for Young Readers for use of these images!

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