I met Stan Yan, a Denver-based writer/illustrator, caricature artist, and instructor, at his booth at San Diego Comic this year. I’m a bit of a zombie-aficionado and could not resist checking out his kids’ picture book – There’s a Zombie in the Basement (Squid Works Kids). We got to talking, and, when I found out he is an SCBWI member, I knew I had to interview him. He went to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he got his bachelor’s degree in accounting, but gave up on financial security to become a full-time freelance cartoonist. Stan also teaches summer camps, after-school programs, workshops, and helped to develop a degree program in graphic storytelling as an adjunct faculty member at the Community College of Aurora. His other recent credits include art and colors for Show Devils (Mother Mind Studios) and writing and art for Vincent Price Presents (BlueWater Productions / Storm Comics).
Sarah Parker-Lee: You’ve written and illustrated comics and books with horror themes for adults and older readers, but There’s a Zombie in the Basement is a picture book for kids. How did that come about? Were you worried it might be too scary?
Stan Yan: Even though I spent most of my life doing more adult-oriented comic book work, some of my major inspirations growing up were picture books, including anything Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. While many of my family continued to badger me to do children’s books, I had no interest until my son was almost 4 years old. One day, he wouldn’t come downstairs to my basement studio, and when asked why, he said he was afraid. When asked what he was afraid of, he started pointing at all of my zombie artwork decorating the walls. Over the next hour, I wrote the fast draft version of my rhyming bedtime storybook.
As I worked on the artwork I wanted it to be a bit unsettling at the beginning, not unlike Sendak’s Wild Things. And, it was precisely my fascination with these unsettling Wild Things that kept me checking that book out from the library as a kid. Of course, by the end of the story, they’re no longer scary, which is what I was going for too.
SPL: As a writer and illustrator, you’ve spent a lot of time with “horror” themes, monsters, and the like. Any advice for other kid lit writers/illustrators looking to translate some of these things into spooky stories kids can enjoy? Continue reading