It’s the first Simply 7 interview of 2022 and what better way to start us off than with a giveaway? Today I get to introduce you to picture book author-illustrator Benson Shum! Yay!
I met Benson in person at a SCBWI LA conference back in 2018. I knew him from social media first, but meeting in person now seems like something that mainly happens in fairy tales, doesn’t it? It was fun seeing someone I knew at the conference, and Benson was kind and gracious. What more would I expect from my “almost-birthday-twin?” (Our birthdays are one day apart in August.)
Benson Shum is a children’s book author and illustrator. He uses watercolor, ink and digital tools to create his illustrations. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Frozen 2, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Encanto. Originally from Vancouver, BC, Benson now lives in sunny southern California. You can learn more about him at his website or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU is released into the world today. Yay! This is a story that could only have been written & illustrated by Benson. I haven’t seen anyone else write about kaiju in a picture book before! Plus it’s a story full of heart like Benson himself. Anzu is a little kaiju. (If you don’t know what a kaiju is, read the second question in the interview!) He comes from a long line of Kaiju who are fierce leaders (his mom, dad, and grandma). But Anzu is not fierce. He is gentle and his super powers are not something that inspire fear. Anzu has to figure out how to reconcile his heritage with his personal desires. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is an “aww” ending that felt incredibly satisfying to me.
Me: Can you share about your artistic journey? When did you start creating art? How did that bring you to where you are now as an author-illustrator and an animator at Disney?
Benson: Thank you so much Jena for having me here!
I always drew as a kid. I would create characters with my sister and give them a little back story. When I got older and learned what animation was, that was when I knew I wanted to become an animator. I’ve had the opportunity to work on television shows, games, visual effects and computer animated films. After years of applying and rejections I finally got hired at Disney in 2012 to work on Wreck-it Ralph, and have been there for almost 10 years now.
How I got into publishing was through the Walt Disney Artist Showcase program. Where employees could submit book ideas with illustrations. Disney-Hyperion and the Walt Disney Animation Studio created this program where they select stories that would fit the program. And luckily my story, Holly’s Day at the Pool was chosen. After working with on this book, I fell in love the process and was fascinated by the publishing world. So I attended SCBWI to learn more about the industry. And from there, found an agent and started working with her to write and illustrate books.
Me: Wow! What a journey. I have studied sci-fi film and recognized kaiju right away. I was so excited for your book. For those that don’t know, can you explain what a kaiju is?
Benson: Thank you! I grew up watching Godzilla, King Kong and Power Rangers. The idea of a creature so big that towered over cities was so fun. The word kaiju is Japanese for giant monsters. Much like Godzilla and King Kong.
Me: I don’t think I’ve seen a picture book about a kaiju before (and certainly not one this sweet and cute!). What gave you the idea for this story?
Benson: I’ve always been fascinated with giant monsters, but they’re usually depicted as destructive. So I wanted to take a spin on it. What if they didn’t like to destroy? What was going through their minds? And how does that make them feel?
Me: This is your fourth project, as an author-illustrator. Which is harder for you: writing or illustrating?
Benson: They both have their difficulties. For writing, sometimes I’m stewing over a line, or just one word! For illustrating, I may have something in mind of what I want to do with the art, but I’m also thinking, wait….how do I do that? Can I even draw that? How would I paint that? I think as creatives we all have doubts. But we try our best and see where it takes us.
Me: That is so true! What did your illustration process for this book look like? Are you a traditional or a digital artist? Or do you use a blend of both?
Benson: My process always starts with pen and paper, whether I’m writing or illustrating. I do a lot of thumbnails (small sketches) on paper, then I’ll scan and put them in the computer to enlarge and redraw again with more detail. Once the sketches have been approved then I’ll work traditionally with watercolor and ink. Then I’ll scan the painting, adjust and compile them digitally.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Benson: I would say, read read read. Watch how the illustrator and author balance the art versus the text. Within the text, what did the illustrator draw or not draw? Then ask yourself, why? For writers, listen to the pacing of the book. If there is a wordless spread, ask why does this page have no text, what is it trying to say?
Me: That is great advice. Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that you have in the works? What can we look forward to next from you?
Benson: Sure, thank you for asking. I have a new board book coming out in February 22nd, 2022 called LITTLE SEED, which wrote and illustrated. It started off as a picture book idea but we ended up turning into a board book. I’m currently also working on a sequel to Anzu that I’m super excited about.
Thank you again Jena for this wonderful opportunity!
I cannot wait to read LITTLE SEED. He looks adorable! And yay for more stories with Anzu! Thank you for stopping by my blog Benson.
Dear readers, you have to track this book down and read it. This is an endearing character whose world is unlike any I’ve seen in a picture book before. It is also the perfect example of writing from the heart about what you love. I can guarantee that this is a story you won’t want to miss.
BUT WAIT! There’s MORE! Benson has generously agreed to giveaway a copy of the book AND an Anzu art print and stickers! This is also something you won’t want to miss. You can enter the giveaway at the rafflecopter here.