I recently finished my fourth custom storybook—yay! But in many ways it's a first for me. My first international storybook, my first non-English text, and my first LGBTQ story (it's a proposal book :3). Then again, it's also just like any other story—in a good way.
Below are the story images (English version below video), a bit about the illustration process, and finally my thoughts on why this project is special to me.
When it comes to storybooks, sometimes people have no idea what they want to say, sometimes they have an outline of an idea, and sometimes they have the full story ready to go. The girl I made this for, let's call her SV, was the latter. She provided all of the text, including an English translation for me to work off of. Thankfully it was a story that really resonated with me (more on that later!).
In terms of visual direction, other than asking that it be like my more colorful work because her girlfriend L likes color, she was very open to however I wanted to pace out the story and bring it to life. I always enjoy that kind of direction ;)
I designed the book in English first just for my own sake. Then, once all layouts and illustrations were approved, I changed everything to Dutch, including re-writing all of the dialogue since I had decided to go down a handwritten route there.
Quick capture of the translation in progress
Below are the final page layouts in English, along with a couple of the sketch layouts for you to see a little of the development. We needed to keep this within a certain scope, so part of my challenge was figuring out designs that were simple but maximized for effectiveness. I'm really into new graphic novel layouts so it was fun to incorporate a little of that here.
For those curious about my illustration process, I generally:
Please keep in mind it's intended to be read in Dutch so the English was provided for utility purposes :)
SV loved it and said it turned out better than she could have imagined, which always makes me happy to hear :) Don't worry, she assured me I could post everything without ruining anything on her end!
Finally, I just want to say this project was special to me for a few reasons:
1. It's in Dutch!
Life is so strange in its coincidences. That my first non-English storybook happens to be in Dutch is pretty specific; The Netherlands is one of the few countries I have personal nostalgia for. I spent a semester in law school externing at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague/Den Haag (most of the major international courts are there, such as the ICC). I loved living in The Netherlands, and sometimes still feel pangs of longing for the small market in our neighborhood, the peaceful tree-lined bike paths (what I'm imagining while biking along the concrete LA River!), the little tram that took me to work. Sigh. I got to visit many cities I wouldn't normally have gone if just traveling to Europe. Besides Amsterdam, we visited Rotterdam, Delft, Gouda, Kinderdijk, and even a crazy monkey zoo in Apenheul. AND HER STORY INCLUDED A MONKEY ZOO, WHAT IS LIFE.
A photo I took in Kinderdijk—in 2008!
It was as peaceful as it looks. I miss this place.
2. It's an LGBTQ Story!
I at once don't want to make this a big deal, but it also IS a big deal. It's a timely coincidence that I finished this book during Pride Month. LGBTQ rights have come a long way but there's still a long way to go, especially internationally. What I love about this story is that, while it IS about an LGBTQ relationship, it is also just like any other story. Other than showing two girls, the story could be about any couple. It never references that they are an "other" or unusual; and it wasn't something SV and I talked about any more than when I work with straight couples.There's no agenda or second guessing. And that, to me, is "love is love." I think of how hard it is to find and maintain love, period, and to then prevent people from loving others or to make them feel like they are wrong for who they love is so heartbreaking and maddening at the same time.
I don't know that there are any other picture books out there depicting a same sex couple in this way, and I think that's one of the beauties of today's technology—allowing individuals to come together to create things only companies could afford to make before, thus bringing to life content companies wouldn't have put out. Of course, this is just one story, and there are many different ones out there with different experiences, but it's the diversity of representation that is important to me. I'm grateful to be able to help bring even just a small piece of representation to life.
And finally, I just want to say that a big part of my motivation for taking on this project was that their relationship dynamic really resonated with me, regardless of sexual orientation. I've definitely been in that Dreamer position, finding a balance of being brought down to earth by a Thinker/Realist. Some people might find that part of the bubbles bursting a little harsh, but I think it's very real and I love how they balanced each other out and made the best of both worlds.
3. It's a Sign of the Times
Lately it's been hard for me to live my happy personal life while processing my overwhelming feelings about the state of the presidency/world. I'm reminded of a recent photo of a man calmly mowing his lawn while a huge tornado swirls in the background.
But I need to keep things like this in perspective. Yes we still have a long way to go, but even within my short lifetime, so much has progressed for the better. I was born at a time the internet didn't exist. Growing up, I didn't have role models (let alone Asian American females) in the creative field; I didn't even know being an illustrator was a real job. I was in high school in a time when a big celebrity lost her show because she came out as gay. It was common for kids to use the word "gay" as casual slang for "stupid" or "lame" without thinking twice about it. Gay marriage was unthinkable.
And now I, an Asian-American female former lawyer turned illustrator, can help realize a sweet LGBTQ engagement story for a couple in The Netherlands who found me over the internets. And Ellen DeGeneres is doing just fine.
Thanks for reading <3