Isaac Stewart is well-known for his artistic contributions to Brandon Sanderson series like Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive.
Now the talented artist is about to be an author. Stewart recently declined a publisher’s offer for Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants and turned to Kickstarter to raise $14,000. He reached the goal in only 12 hours.
Where did the idea of Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants come from?
Isaac Stewart: I had just completed an illustrated middle grade fantasy that my literary agent, Ben Grange, was getting ready to shop it around New York. Illustrating a picture book wasn’t on my radar beyond the middle grade I was working on, but one evening, I was talking to my daughter (who was maybe five or six at the time) and told her to remember to put on clean underpants.
She has this great monster voice that she would sometimes use, and said, “But Daddy, monsters don’t wear underpants!”
It made everyone who heard it laugh, and I thought, this is a great title for a children’s book.
I jotted down some ideas that night, started running some of them past friends and relatives, and even workshopped an early version at a local children’s book conference. By the time I pitched it to Ben, the idea was starting to come together. He was very supportive, so when we done shopping the middle grade book, we went on submission with Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants.
Why did it take you so long to write such a short book?
Isaac Stewart: It didn’t take long to write that first draft, but I found that writing a children’s book where there are maybe around 200 words spread across twenty-ish pages is more like writing poetry.
Every word counts.
Additionally, I had to make sure there was a narrative that made sense with good pacing, some foreshadowing, and a character arc. The more I got into revising the book, the more I realized that everything I knew about writing a novel was streamlined and distilled into this weird little 200-word lift-the-flap book.
Illustrating the pages to work with flaps in a way that also supports the story and enhances it took a fair amount of time too. I started with sketches until I knew they were working, and then moved on to creating a visual style for the book. I had to not only pick the style—rounded corners, hard corners, that sort of thing—but also how I would render the style:
- Is it cartoony?
- Does it look like it was painted?
- Should the shadows be dark or light?
How much time goes into a single page of artwork?
Isaac Stewart: This is a hard question to answer since I was creating all the sketches at one time and then going on to finishing them all as a batch (for the most part).
But if I had to venture a conservative guess? It’s probably at least 20 hours of work per page.
Are you planning on creating more board books with Little Blue?
Isaac Stewart: This depends on a lot of factors. Creating a book like this is very time consuming, but it was also a lot of fun. And I love to hear people laugh when they see the finished product, so that also factors into the possibility of sequels.
I have tons of ideas, but I think next would be Monsters Don’t Like Babies followed by a direct sequel, Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants 2.
You had a book deal with a publisher. What made you turn down their offer?
Isaac Stewart: We were actually under contract with a publisher for almost a year, but in March several things happened that made my agent and I realize that our goals for the book didn’t quite match the publisher’s. We made the difficult decision to pull the book.
But that opened up a lot of possibilities.
I had written, illustrated, laid out and designed the entire book. Why not learn the self-publishing end of things? I already work in publishing designing books and interfacing with printers. It seemed like all the tools and ingredients were there to strike out on my own with the help of my agent.
In the meantime, I was learning how to run a Kickstarter for Brandon Sanderson’s leatherbound version of The Way of Kings. So Kickstarter was looking like a viable option for launching a story.
I began to make plans for my own campaign in October, since it’s a month of monsters anyway, and here we are with a funded book now.
One of my favorite parts is that the video is a narration of the entire book by two fantastic narrators, Kate Reading and Michael Kramer, who some might know from narrating The Wheel of Time books as well as The Stormlight Archive.
Do you have any deleted scenes you could share with us?
Isaac Stewart: Of course! I wanted to get the pacing just right for the book, and that meant cutting a middle spread and one spread to either side of the midpoint. One of those came early in the book, right before the dragon.
At one point it began with, “Does my friend Steve wear underpants?”
I still absolutely love the look on Little Blue’s face when his friend turns into a werewolf. I need to find a place to use that expression. We cut the spread because it just generally made the book too long, and this joke was very similar in feel to the vampire joke.
What about your creative process—do you have some side-by-sides of initial sketches and final artwork?
Isaac Stewart: One of the things my former publisher did that I’m quite grateful for is push for a good cover. After showing them a few concepts, we all decided on one, and I got busy to sketching it, followed by finishing it up.
Here’s the sketch and the finished illustration:
One of my favorite things about this cover is that it’s an homage to one of my favorite paintings of all time, Starry Night by Van Gogh. I wanted that same peaceful, mysterious nighttime ambience, and I even took cues from the colors he used.
I’m really happy with the result.
You’re the art director for Brandon Sanderson, and he’s been very supportive of Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants. How has his support helped you to achieve your dreams as an author?
Isaac Stewart: I’m lucky to get to work with Brandon and the rest of the team at Dragonsteel. Not only has Brandon been an amazing friend, he’s also been a mentor in many ways, especially when it comes to writing. He’s always been very supportive of my creative projects and has been a cheerleader for this book for awhile now.
One of my favorite things that has helped fulfill my desire to write epic fantasy is getting to work on writing little projects in the Cosmere, which include the broadsheets from Shadows of Self and The Bands of Mourning.
I’m also working on new content for White Sand—along with a few other things.
On Kickstarter, you share how you came up with the idea and the title for Monsters Don’t Wear Underpants. How did you come up with the content?
Isaac Stewart: A lot of brainstorming, looking up types of monsters, talking to creative and clever friends of mine, trying out monster jokes on random relatives or writing groups… it really was a stew of ideas that I then had to boil down the best monsters for the situations in the book.
If there are ever sequels, I can’t wait to use some of the ideas I didn’t get to put in this book!
Did you have any editorial or artistic help, or did you create the whole book on your own?
Isaac Stewart: We had a helpful copy edit arranged by the former publisher, which most notably helped me refine the vampire page. (Thank you, Kaylee!) Otherwise, my agent Ben Grange has been amazing at giving content edits, advice, and just in general being an awesome human being and supportive friend. A lawyer friend of mine spent time making sure each of the monsters mentioned in the book were ones I could legally have as characters, and this was extremely helpful.
Additionally, I read versions of this book out loud to family, relatives, neices and nephews, and a few of my children’s school classes. Each time, I would listen to how the book sounded and sometimes adjust words or phrases based on audience reaction.
This book would not have existed in a vacuum! Thanks to everyone who contributed in one way or another!