Mika Song is an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books and young graphic novels. We love her energetic, expressive illustration style and her dedication to telling stories about "sweetly funny outsiders" (quoted from Mika's website, which by the way is full of comics and goodies, so definitely check it out). Her newest graphic novel for young readers, Donut Feed the Squirrels, is about two squirrels who will do anything to get their paws on a donut! We’re excited to continue our da Shop Talk series with Mika to discuss her work, her experience illustrating, Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior, and what she's reading now.
You spent your childhood years in Hawai‘i and the Philippines. Can you share a bit about your childhood memories from Hawai‘i and if they influence your work?
MS: I moved to Manoa Valley to live with my grandparents during high school. It's such a lush valley and I spent a lot of time walking around there and all over that side of the island. It was the '90s and the local indie music scene was thriving, and I discovered self-published comics and zines at stores like Jelly's. I met so many inspiring characters that were making things for themselves. I think those things left a permanent impression on my taste and drawing style. Before I started working in children's books, I was self-publishing a mini-comic inspired by my grandparents and Manoa Valley, but I could never figure out the ending maybe one day.
What's your favorite part about the illustration process?
MS: My favorite part about illustrating other writers' stories is when you first get to read the manuscript, and images and ideas start to form in your mind. You're part of the secret club that gets to read the story before anyone else does. That's, I think, the best part of the job because I love books and reading. And then you've been trusted to add your story to it. If I'm illustrating my own book I think I enjoy the final art process the best but it's all fun, really.
Tea with Oliver (HarperCollins, 2017), Picnic with Oliver (HarperCollins, 2018), Love, Sophia on the Moon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020), Donut Feed the Squirrels (Rh Graphic, 2020)
Can you talk about your background in animation and how it might relate to your process for making children's books?
MS: I studied animation at Pratt and worked for an online educational animation company. It was a unique process in animation because each animator storyboarded and animated their own projects. Usually these jobs would be done by different people. I think regular storyboarding was great practice for visual storytelling.
You have some adorable comics on your website! Can you talk about why you draw them and how they might influence your picture books?
MS: The comics on my website I made as a side project to promote my picture book, Tea with Oliver. The characters were fresh in my mind and I still wanted to let them have a place to do things. Picture books take 1-2 years and a lot of people to produce so making my own web comics is a nice quick way to do that whenever I feel like it.
Also, I'm so curious about the "Sunday Haha." I just received my first digital issue (what do you call it?) and loved it. Can you tell us about how/why it came to be, who's involved, and how people can subscribe?
MS: Sunday Haha is a free weekly newsletter of comics for kids. I started it in March when we went into quarantine with Jen de Oliveira who makes the excellent Reggie comics because we were looking for a good way to share our comics with young kids. Turned out there were a bunch of us cartoonists looking for a way to share our web comics with kids. You can subscribe at http://www.sundayhaha.com to get a fresh selection of kids comic strips for free every week in your inbox.
A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017), A Friend for Henry (Chronicle Books, 2019), Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior (Tundra Books, 2019), Cancer Hates Kisses (Dial Books, 2017), The Runaway Belly Button (Roaring Book Press, 2020)
Can you tell us about how the job of illustrating Ho'onani: Hula Warrior found its way to you and a little bit about your process for creating the pictures? Did you get to take a research trip to Hawai'i?
MS: I worked with Tundra, the publisher of Ho'onani: Hula Warrior on my first ever illustration project. When Heather Gale's story came in I think the editor I had worked with on it remembered me and thought I'd be a good fit. Because I am not Hawaiian I was unsure about whether I should take the project but then I thought I know enough to know what I don't know and find someone to help me with it and that it could even be illustrated by someone with even less experience of the culture. Then I watched A Place in the Middle and I felt like I understood something about her experience that I wanted to convey in my drawing. I also knew from the editor that the book was going to require a final approval by the family and Kumu Hina. I ended up showing my complete sketches of the book to a halau here in NYC, Na Pua Mai Ka Lani Nuioka and was able to get a lot of critical feedback and through them met even more people who helped with the book. So I didn't even have to fly there because the diaspora is everywhere.
What are you reading these days?
MS: These days I just finished Stargazing by Jen Wang a great middle-grade graphic novel that I just loved. My five year old just got Aram Kim's Let's go To Taekwondo which she is really into. I just read an advanced reader copy of the MG YA graphic novel The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen and it's a beautiful story that weaves fairy tales and a young boy's experience coming out to his parents in such a masterful way. I checked out some books before quarantine from the library and one of them was Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James which is not, I repeat, not for children but is an epic, bloody, totally unique classic. I had such a great time reading it.
Mahalo nui loa to Mika Song for giving us the gift of her time and words. You can connect with Mika on Instagram, at her website, mikasongdraws.com, and buy her prints at Etsy. Mika's books are available in our online shop or for special order.
Shop Mika's Books:
Shop Mika's Books: