I was so impressed with Josh and Minha’s book Neo the Cool Cat that I asked them if I could interview them. I am so grateful that they took the time to answer my questions. Thank you so much, Josh and Minha!
How did you do it? How did you go from being worried that your cat was sick to creating an amazing picture book?
One day Neo was sick. We took him to the hospital that we usually visit, but he was in too much pain and wouldn’t let us or the vet touch him. The vet gave us some pain killers for Neo and said to wait a couple of days and see how he was. The very next day Neo was puking blood. The vet told us to go to a bigger hospital, which was 3 hours away on the other side of the city (Seoul). At that time, Josh was working in a different city and had to come up to Seoul (Where Neo and Mina were staying). When Josh got to Seoul, he wanted to hurry to the hospital. Mina told Josh he had better not rush and take some time with Neo. Mina had horrible experiences from the past when visiting the vet. Every time she visited the vet with a very sick animal, she always returned alone without her pet. We were scared to get to the hospital and have them tell us that we needed to say goodbye to him.
While we were driving to the hospital, Neo was in Mina’s arms. She was crying and wishing that Neo could tell us what the problem was. She said she wanted to go inside of Neo and heal him herself. Then she said, that’s the story we have to make. Mina thought that if we could heal him with the story, then perhaps Neo might get better. That was our wish and prayer. While we were in the waiting room, we came up with our first draft of the story…
When did you decide to turn something upsetting and frightening into something beautiful and original and so incredibly special?
Our first answer sort of covers the “when and why,” but we wanted to mention a bit more. Although we have had experience with pets, Neo was our first pet that we had ever had together. He is like our son and we are his parents. We felt absolutely helpless and imagined how other parents must feel in a similar situation. We wanted to create something positive and hopeful not just for our own situation, but for others as well.
Did you approach publishers or did you know all along that you would go the independent route?
We had no idea about how to publish a book through a publisher and were working on Late Larva while Neo was sick. We did a bit of research in terms of how we could get our story published and out there for others to find and decided that self publishing was our best option. Neither of us had had any experience publishing a book, so this whole adventure is still new to us. We are still learning a lot and working with a publisher would be a good experience as well.
How did you illustrate it? What did you use? It looks like digital art on some pages and hand painted in others. Is it all digital, or a mix?
It’s all digital. Mina has a background in film which she applied to the storytelling process. She views each page as a scene and considers the angle of the shot, just as she would film it. First she sketched out the storyboard in a sketchbook. Then she used a tablet to make the final art on the computer. Some of the styles of the pictures, atmosphere and colors changed as the scenes suggested. She wanted to diversify the art to make it more interesting and elicit different emotions.
Was this idea something you had while Neo was actually sick, or did it come to you when you were creating the story?
As mentioned previously, yes, the story came to us while Neo was sick. He was in the hospital for 2 weeks, which was very hard for all of us. Mina traveled 6 hours to visit him every single day. Josh could only visit him certain times because he was working in another city. He also felt helpless and heartbroken that he couldn’t be there for him. As we were going through this process, we came up with more ideas for the Neo story. The whole time, Neo was slowly recovering. When we were developing the story, it came to us quite naturally because we know Neo’s personality so well.
What were some of your favorite parts about making Neo the Cool cat? What kind of challenges did you need to work though? How long roughly did it take you to create Neo the Cool Cat?
It took about 9 months from when we first started the storyboard to the completed book. External factors and personal issues made it the most challenging. Mina lost one family member prior to starting the book, and lost another during the process. For about one month, she couldn’t work at all. Working on the story itself was actually not too challenging, in fact it was more of a healing process.
Our favorite part was imagining a bunch of little Neos inside running around. Thinking about which body parts to visit, how they dressed, how they thought, what they were doing or supposed to be doing in each section, while keeping it somewhat anatomically accurate, that was really fun. We also enjoyed hiding fun little hidden “Easter eggs” in our books. For example, Neo can actually be found in Late Larva and vice versa.
You have also created Larva the Late Bloomer, that I love and will be writing about shortly. Do you have any others in the works?
Yes, our third story is nearly finished and will be published this year. Additionally, we have about 4 or 5 other stories that we are developing and will publish in the coming years.
What are some of your favorite picture books?
A picture book that we both really enjoy is The Arrival by Shaun Tan.
We also both enjoy the work of Eric Carle. Mina especially likes Papa Please Get the Moon for Me. We visited an Eric Carle exhibition in Seoul and found it very inspiring.
As a child Mina’s favorite picture book was The Town Musician of Bremen by The Grimm Brothers.
One of Josh’s favorite picture books as a child was The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.”
I believe you all live in South Korea full time. Is that right? What kinds of picture books are available there? Are picture books a common/popular medium for storytelling?
Yes, we both live in Korea full time. We visit America during the summer for a couple of months each year. Josh is from Minnesota, which is where we usually visit. There are a lot of different picture books available. Some for children, some for adults, and some for all ages. There are so many different kinds of picture books. In large book stores, the same sorts of books that are found in USA could be found in Korea. In independent bookstores, there are a lot of unique picture books that you may not find in the larger stores. Picture books are common and there are those, including ourselves, who really love picture books.
We really enjoyed answering your questions. Once again, we thank you so much for reviewing our books and taking the time to interview us.
Thank you so much for chatting with me and for sharing Neo the Cool Cat and Late Larva with us! They’re beautiful, beautiful books that we really love!