Isabella Kung is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book No Fuzzball!. She grew up in Hong Kong and lives in San Francisco.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for No Fuzzball!?
A: No Fuzzball! started off as a wee-little character designed for a set of emojis. She is inspired by my own fur babies, Bubo and Bella. I must have painted 25 emoji stickers back then. Designing emojis is actually very similar to doing a character sheet, so I got to really know her personality by drawing and painting so many expressions and body languages.
As I got to know her more, I knew she was meant for greatness! Her popularity grew on the internet, at conventions and craft fairs too. People were drawn to her and they wanted to know her story.
Despite knowing this character’s personality well, I didn’t have a clue what her story should be at first. So I dug deeper to figure out her motives, desires, preferences, and reactions to different scenarios.
It took probably two months to come up with the main plot of the story, and as cliche as it sounds, I thought of it in a shower, despite working on it at my desk for months! Fourteen drafts later, it finally got picked up by Scholastic.
Q: You've said that you drew many pictures of Fuzzball before turning to the text. What did the process of creating the book look like?
A: Yes, for No Fuzzball! I started with the art first, or at least character designs first. After figuring out the main plot, I took a crack at the manuscript and worked on the text for 2-3 drafts before I started working on the storyboards (or layout sketches) for the illustrations.
Storyboards are small rough drawings of all 32 or 40 pages, usually laid out on the same piece of paper. This is the stage to really design the book as a whole, making sure there is a good flow or rhythm, that the illustration compositions are varied and interesting, and making room for the big moments to land.
There are so many things to consider at this stage! That’s why it is important to keep this stage loose and focus on the big picture first. I did another 11 drafts after that, revising both text and illustrations each round to perfect the storytelling.
While revising both text and illustration for so many rounds sounds like a lot of work, it was completely necessary to start thinking about the illustration early on. Finding the right balance in telling the story between illustration and text is crucial. There is no way I could achieve that until I draw it out.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: That black cats are amazing, awesome, and deserve to be loved like royalty!
Also, I hope this opens up a conversation about perspective, in both writing and in real life. No Fuzzball! is written in first-person, every word is coming directly from Queen NoFuzzball herself. As bright and mighty as she is, her perspective may not be all that reliable.
I encourage readers to look very closely at the illustrations and figure out what is really happening in the story. An unreliable narrator creates so much opportunity to add humor and depth to my story.
And in real life, I hope kids will understand that the same exact situation can be perceived very differently by different people (or cats!), and to always try to hear more than one perspective to understand the whole story.
Q: How did you first get interested in creating children's picture books?
A: I always loved reading picture books, even before this became my profession. I love that it is the one format (other than comics) where the illustrations are just as valued and significant to the story as the text. Without the illustrations, the story will simply be incomplete.
While I was studying illustration at the Academy of Art University, I also fell in love with watercolor. In this fast-paced digital world, the children's books industry remains to be the only illustrative field that still embraces and celebrates traditional media. That, with the combination of my love for storytelling, choosing to create children's pictured books was a no brainer!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished illustrating two cat board books with Candlewick and I am starting to work on No Fuzzball! book number 2. I can't wait to share it when that's done! It is going to be so cute!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm a big advocate for adopting (and not shopping) for pets! Especially black cats too. I wish to end the superstition that black cats are unlucky or hard to photograph as a reason to be abandoned or overlooked. They are beautiful inside and out. There so many sweet fur babies in need of a good home, so please check with your local shelters before contacting a breeder.
Also, follow me on Instagram @isabellakungill and twitter @isaberryk for more behind the scenes art process, event announcements, giveaways, and of course, pictures or videos of my adorable cats!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb