Cozy Classics: Artist Interview and Giveaway
I still remember feeling giddy when I saw the first Cozy Classics cover of Pride and Prejudice last year. Immediately, my imagination was captured by these tiny felt characters journeying through a vast (and very real) world. The clever juxtaposition of the fictional with the real, showing the strengths and beauties of each, was absolutely brilliant. And, the Cozy Classics team was kind enough to sponsor one of my first giveaways last December — giving one of you their first two books: Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice.
Ever since, I’ve been curious about the creators of Cozy Classics – twin brothers Holman and Jack Wang – and their creative process. Through their Facebook page, I have continued to be inspired by their considered creations and the detailed effort they put forth to produce such refined quality. Creativity like theirs brightens the world. And I am thankful for their contributions to the world of books.
This fall, when I discovered that they were now offering Cozy Classics prints in addition to their board books, I contacted them again to see if they would be willing to do another giveaway. Not only were Holman & Jack willing to offer two giveaways, they were also kind enough to let me pepper them with questions, and share their answers with you — including several behind-the-scenes photos!
The Cozy Classics creators are as delightful as their creations.
The Creators of Cozy Classics: Jack & Holman Wang
How and when did you first come up with the idea of creating Cozy Classics?
Jack: I came up with the concept of abridging classics after my older daughter was born. I was reading a lot of board books about numbers and barnyard animals, which got a little old. That’s when I started thinking about how board books might appeal to children and adults alike. When I came up with the concept, I shared it with Holman, and he came up with the idea using needle-felted illustrations. That’s when Cozy Classics was born.
How do you pick which books you’re going to recreate?
Holman: We do have to think practically—it’s harder, for example, to do a book with too many principal characters—but mostly we just pick books that we like and that we think hold a place in the hearts and minds of most readers. Our publisher gives us the freedom to choose, so we’re lucky that way.
When you choose a book, how do you pick which scenes to include and select the word for each scene?
Jack: When you only have twelve words to work with, you have to focus on the main narrative arc. Then you have to make sure there’s at least some sense of narrative continuity for the uninitiated, and that each image conveys in a direct way a child-friendly word or concept. So a lot goes into determining each page.
What is your process for creating your felt characters?
Holman: We usually start with some research. Sometimes it’s engravings from first editions, other times it’s paintings, photographs, and movie stills. We don’t do sketches; we just come up with an image in our minds and pursue it. Fortunately, we don’t usually have false starts.
Once you begin creating the dolls, do you ever have to scrap them and choose a different scene/word?
Jack: Because needle-felting is so labor-intensive, we’ve never scrapped a figure. But sometimes after an image is shot, we’ll tweak the word. It’s funny to think, since our books are only twelve words, but we do have an editor!
When I saw a few photos from your Huck Finn photo shoot on your Facebook page a while back, I suddenly realised the potential for mishaps and the likelihood that your felt creations get damaged during shoots. Do you create duplicates of everything, or just on an as needed basis? What are some of the misadventures that have occurred during the photography stage? And—do you have any pictures you’d be willing to share?
Holman: Our felt creations are nearly always in some kind of jeopardy on photo shoots! Dust, mud, and rain are ordinary hazards. But I’ve done a number of shoots requiring real fire, which is always a bit nerve-wracking. I burned off one of Tom Sawyer’s thumbs by accident when the candle he was holding burned down too low, but thankfully, we’ve never had to duplicate an entire figure due to a mishap (knock on wood).
What do you do with the felt creations once you’ve finished creating a book?
Holman: No matter where the figures are made—Jack lives in Ithaca, NY—they all wind up in Vancouver, where I do the shooting. Once the shooting is done, the figures retire to a bookshelf in my office. It’s getting to be quite the literary gathering!
Did you always see Cozy Classics as a brother venture?
Jack: As I mentioned, I came up with the concept of abridging classics in word book form, and Holman came up with the artistic direction. The success of our series depends on the union of those ideas, so Cozy Classics has been a shared venture from the start.
Holman: There have been many writers and artists who have offered to collaborate with us on our series since it’s come out, but right now Cozy Classics is strictly a brother venture.
How is it working with your brother? And, which brother does what?
Holman: We’ve been working together all our lives, so in one sense it’s easy. But we’ve also had plenty of disagreements, especially at the beginning when we knew that we were creating the template for the whole series and wanted to get it right. Sometimes it can get testy, but we usually make better decisions because we’ve considered all points of view.
Jack: I usually come up with the words and the scenes. I help out with the needle-felting, but Holman does most of it, and he does all the set-making and photography as well.
In “Downshifting Your Career the Hard Way,” I read how Holman transitioned out of working as a lawyer to focus on Cozy Classics; what’s your career path story, Jack?
Jack: I have an MFA and a PhD in creative writing, so Cozy Classics is a natural extension of my literary interests. I guess you could say that I’m a fiction writer and professor by day and a children’s author and illustrator by night!
How do your kids respond to your creations?
Holman: My daughter is three and my son is two, and they love the books. Often, I test-drive images on them and ask them questions, just so I know the images are conveying what they should to a toddler.
Jack: I have two daughters, five and almost three, and they love the series, too. It’s wonderful hearing words like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre come out of the mouths of babes.
What is one of your favourite books, authors, and quotes?
Holman: One of my favorite children’s authors is Maurice Sendak, and he once talked in an interview about the misconception of what a children’s book should be. The prevailing attitude is that a children’s book “…is to be healthy, and funny, and clever, and upbeat, and not show the little tattered edges of what life is like. But I remember what life was like, and I didn’t know what else to write about.” So in Where the Wild Things Are, Max yells at his mom (unheard of for a children’s book at the time), and in In the Night Kitchen, there is full frontal nudity of a little boy (scandalous!). Cozy Classics takes inspiration from Sendak’s attitude that children’s books need not be hyper-sanitized.
Jack: Atonement, Ian McEwan: “She need not judge. There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.”
What has most surprised you in your Cozy Classics journey?
Jack: Getting selected for the Illustrators Exhibition at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair was a great surprise. We were thrilled and humbled to be included alongside so many incredibly talented artists. Plus, we got to take our wives to Italy!
What’s the best fan response you’ve had?
Holman: We really get a kick out of parents who tell us that they “co-own” Cozy Classics with their babies. It’s not “my daughter’s book” or “my son’s book,” but “our book.” It speaks to the fact that anyone, of any age, can love our books.
How many books are currently on your “To Create” list?
Holman: We recently finished two titles for the spring, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. For next fall, we’re fairly committed to doing a third Jane Austen title (yes, we’re thinking box set!). After that, anything is possible.
Do you have any ideas for the future of Cozy Classics [beyond what you’re currently creating] that you’d like to share?
Jack: There are currently some big ideas in the works, but you’ll have to stay tuned!
What is Included in the Giveaway?
One lucky winner will receive:
And, another lucky winner will receive:
- 1 set of four 8×10 prints from Cozy Classics’s Emma
All the prints are fine art (giclée) reproductions of images originally created through the integrated arts of needle-felting, scale-modeling and photography.
How to Enter the Cozy Classics Giveaway:
Note: The giveaway will be going on through December 13th.
Cozy Classics Collection
Thus far, there are nine books in the Cozy Classics collection:
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
- Moby Dick – Herman Melville
- Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
- War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
- Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
- Emma – Jane Austen
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain [Spring 2014]
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain [Spring 2014]