Thursday, April 30, 2015

North Melbourne Books May Newsletter - Featuring Jack and Holman Wang

In this month's edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to the creators of the hugely popular Cozy Classics series. Jack and Holman Wang now turn their awesome felting powers to the Star Wars trilogy with their Epic Yarns series. In our special interview they tell us about how their books are made and what inspires them, amongst other things.

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North Melbourne Books Talks to Jack and Holman Wang

North Melbourne Books: The Cozy Classics range concentrated on interpreting such literary classics as Moby Dick and Oliver Twist through your unique felt figures. What made you decide to move away from Jane Austen and Victor Hugo to tackle cinematic classics like the Star Wars films? Have you always been fans of Star Wars?

Jack Wang: In our minds, it’s not that significant a departure, since we’re just moving from 19th century classics to classics of the 20th century. But, yes, we grew up as children of the 70s, so Star Wars was a massive part of our childhoods. As lifelong fans of Star Wars, it just seemed like it would be incredible fun to work in a galaxy far, far away. And it has been!

Holman Wang: We’re also pleased to announce that Cozy Classics will be moving to Chronicle Books in spring 2016. Chronicle will re-issue all our backlist titles, and we will be producing three new titles: Great Expectations, The Nutcracker and The Wizard of Oz.

NMB: Our adult customers especially love your books and are always amazed at seeing War and Peace condensed down to 12 words and aimed at a toddler’s market. What kind of feedback do you get from your readers?

Holman Wang: Of course, people do use terms like “cute” and “adorable” to describe our books, because they are meant to be shared with the teething set. But we really enjoy it when parents tell us about the curious questions that older kids pose about bigger themes such as love, fear, obsession or redemption, and how parents try to answer those questions—or not!

Jack Wang: We also love it when adults give our books to other adults. We know people who have given Moby Dick to Melville scholars, Pride and Prejudice to their spouses on Valentine’s Day, and so on. Lots of people have also said, “I don’t have kids yet, but it doesn’t matter—these books are for me!”

NMB: There is so much detail in your work and it all looks so painstakingly put together. How long does each book take to put together and what’s the most difficult part of the whole process?

Jack Wang: It generally takes us three to four months of solid work to create each board book, which is an extraordinarily long time since the goal of many publishers in creating word primers is to get them done cheaply and quickly. Star Wars Epic Yarns, which is a three-volume series, took us nearly a year to complete.

Holman Wang: Needle-felting is painstaking work. For each figure, you have to stab the wool hundreds if not thousands of times. It takes anywhere from 20 to 60 hours to create a figure, depending on size and complexity. That’s probably the most difficult aspect of creating the books.

NMB: Are there any artists or photographers that you especially draw inspiration from?

Holman Wang: There are some children’s illustrators who are also “makers” like us, pushing the boundaries of traditional 2-D children’s illustration. They are Elly Mackay and Terry Border. We love their work.

NMB: When you’re not creating felt figures, what type of books do you like to relax with?

Holman Wang: Well, given that my kids are 3 and 5, picture books factor heavily into my reading these days! But when I have time, I like to pick up a good novel. Jack’s wife, Angelina Mirabella, is actually a novelist, and I’m reading her first book right now, called The Sweetheart, about lady wrestlers in the 1950s!

Jack Wang: I have an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in English/creative writing, so I read as much literary fiction as I can. I recently finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and loved both.