Holman Wang graduated from UBC in 2005. After working in the legal profession for seven years, he left to pursue his true passion: creating children's books. He and his brother are artists who help visualize literary classics with needle-felt figures. The classics are reduced to 12-words so that parents can share their favourite works with their young children. We recently caught up with Holman to learn more about him, his business, and his time as a law student at UBC.
Why did you get into this unique line of work?
I became a children's author / illustrator because I've always loved visual arts, and after practicing law for seven years, the creative itch became increasingly difficult not to scratch. The need to be artistically creative is simply something that defines who I am. You can call it a higher calling, or perhaps an addiction! Either way, the impulse became impossible to ignore. Besides, I hated wearing ties.
How do you create Cozy Classics?
I work on our children's series, Cozy Classics, with my brother, Jack, who is a college writing professor in New York. It was his idea to create word primers organized around the idea of narrative. Jack usually takes the first crack at abridging the classics into 12 child-friendly words, which is not nearly as easy as many people think. Once a draft is done, we think about the 12 accompanying images, and how they might help trace a classic's basic narrative arc. Then we set about needle-felting small figures (7 - 10 inches tall), which I then photograph indoors in small hand-made sets, or on location at various sites around Vancouver. The process of creating our books is almost like mini-moviemaking, and we take a very cinematic approach to our illustrations.
These books look work-intensive. How long do they take to complete?
Several months of very full-time work. In fact, I think I work more now than I did as a private practice lawyer! For those unfamiliar with needle-felting, it is a craft technique where one sculpts by stabbing loose wool literally thousands of times with a specialized barbed needle until the wool fibers entangle, become firmer, and take on shape. This is a very time-consuming process, as is the process of scale-model set building and photography.
What's going on in the world of Cozy Classics right now?
Our spring 2014 titles, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, are being released April 1. They are the 8th and 9th titles in the Cozy Classics series. We've already had wonderful press coverage, from the front page of the New York Times to People magazine to the Wall Street Journal. This success to date has led to our current project: 12-word, needle-felted versions of each of the three original Star Wars movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). These books, produced in conjunction with Disney / LucasFilm, will be published in spring 2015 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco, and we couldn't be more excited about the project.
What makes you passionate about this work?
In short: art, kids and early literacy. Parents who share stories that they love with their children are modeling an engaged and affectionate relationship with books, and hopefully that will help inspire their kids to love books, too.
Before embarking on this exciting artistic adventure what brought you to law school?
I went back to law school as a mature student at the age of 30, epitomizing the saying, "30 is the new 20". I had definitely (mis)spent my 20s being overeducated and underemployed, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, so it was time to bring the disparate strands of my schooling and experience together in a challenging, stable, and difference-making career. My hope was that it was going to be law.
What were some memorable experiences at UBC Law?
My most memorable moments at UBC Law revolved around moots-one which I participated in and one which I organized. I participated in the Wilson Moot on Constitutional Law under the fine tutelage of Robin Elliot. Though we didn't wind up winning, the team grew very close during the process. I also came up with the idea of a Traffic Court Moot, which was run for a few years. I invited an actual Judicial Justice of the Peace to come out to UBC and hear mock traffic court cases where UBC Law faculty squared off against Law students. It was part drama, part comedy, and a ton of fun for everyone.
What skills did you learn during law school?
I think that both personally and professionally, having legal training simply makes the world a far less intimidating place. It helps demystify so many aspects of life. Being able to read a contract or understand the nature of litigation-obviously useful if you're practicing law-becomes almost a general life skill to help negotiate everyday problems and pitfalls. And when the world is not a completely bewildering place, you can face it with a whole lot more confidence.
My brother and I don't have a literary agent, and we handle all the deal-making ourselves. Undoubtedly, my legal education has been an invaluable help to my new career.
What are some of your hobbies?
I play ice hockey, play the guitar, and spend a lot of time with my four year-old daughter and two-and-a-half year-old son, which includes a lot of reading!
Learn more about Cozy Classics here: http://www.mycozyclassics.com/.