Welcome to another kid lit interview brought to you by “Galaxy-Boy Delivery”. Today we have special guest Michelle Lam creator of “MEESH the BAD DEMON” and many other mini comics and videos found across social media like her Instagram account @mewtripled. Today we talk all about “MEESH the BAD DEMON” and the inspirations behind the creation of the series from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Interview with Michelle Lam Creator of “MEESH the BAD DEMON”
Hi, thanks for having me! My name is Michelle Lam and I am the author and illustrator behind the middle grade novel MEESH the BAD DEMON, coming out to bookstores near you on March 21st, 2023. I had the pleasure of working on MEESH the past 2-3 years, and I am excited for the world to finally see it. While creating MEESH has definitely been one of my greatest projects thus far, I’ve also been working in the animation industry as a story artist and sharing my life stories through mini comics and videos on social media. I don’t just create art for my own personal sake, but I do it to inspire others in their artistic and personal journeys as well.
What inspired you to create your graphic novel series, “Meesh the Bad Demon”?
Growing up, I was inspired by a lot of magic and adventure themed animated shows and wanted to create my own version through the lens of a demon girl. Like any other young tween out there, I also struggled to truly accept myself while going through middle school and wanted to portray that journey of self love through a fantasy world. In Meesh’s world, she learns to love herself as a demon, but the reality behind it is of me, Michelle, learning to love herself as a Chinese American.
How do you incorporate your Chinese American childhood experiences into this fantasy story?
A lot of Chinese American children are raised by their grandparents at a young age while their parents work their jobs throughout the day. That is reflected through Meesh’s grandmother Chow, who pretty much raises Meesh while working her lava treatment job. I trace a lot of my cultural identity back to my grandparents primarily as they were the ones who made the great sacrifice of leaving their home country of Hong Kong to move to the United States. On top of that, Meesh’s struggle to love herself as a demon is pretty much about how I struggled to love myself as a Chinese American growing up in New York and California. When I was a kid, dim sum and boba weren’t as popular back then, and I was often made fun of for it. I had to watch my parents and grandparents tough out racist remarks thrown at them. And most recently with the rise of Asian hate crimes in the past few years, it forced me to love and protect my cultural identity extra hard, just like how Meesh had to hold onto her demon identity even more the moment she was forced out of her home.
Who is Meesh, the main character in “Meesh the Bad Demon”? How would you describe her?
Meesh is a young middle school demon girl from Mt. Magma, raised primarily by her grandmother named Chow. Meesh feels pressured to be like the other demons in her world, as everyone breathes fire, spits acid, and sharpens their horns. Meesh would much rather play with her fairy figurines and daydream about riding unicorns, which are considered disgusting to most demons. While Meesh stays true to herself for the most part, she is still naive and easily impressionable by the media and TV shows just like any other kid out there, and is in for a rude awakening.
What challenges does Meesh face in her journey to find her place?
Meesh struggles to love herself as a demon at first, and is forced to defend herself and her home once she faces discrimination in Plumeria City, the place where her idolized fairies are from. In addition to learning to love who she truly is, she also must find creatures from other worlds to help save the demons of Mt. Magma. Once Meesh thought that maybe she could love both her demon side and her love for fairies, she learns about the dark truth behind the fairies and has to swallow that hard pill.
How does Meesh’s character challenge traditional stereotypes of demons in fantasy literature?
Demons are usually portrayed as the villains or symbols of evil in traditional literature. In MEESH the BAD DEMON, demons are just creatures who are attached with a negative label. Inherently, there is really nothing wrong with demons, but they are “demonized” by others. To society, demons are labeled as evil and lesser than, which is not so different from how our world still has people who continue to demonize others who are different from them.
What themes does “Meesh the Bad Demon” explore?
MEESH the BAD DEMON explores themes of self discovery, enemies to friends, uniting misfits, fighting racism, and breaking stereotypes packaged into a fantastical adventure story.
How does the story of “Meesh the Bad Demon” relate to young readers?
In middle school, I remembered awkwardly despising my true self while also glorifying individuals I was not. With this day and age of social media and streaming platforms trying to grab out attention from every direction possible, the idealization of being a type of person is more amplified than ever and often affects young girls the most. Young girls are more likely to compare themselves to what they see online and be negatively impacted by unrealistic standards set by social media and society. I can’t imagine being who I was in middle school in today’s generation, so I hope Meesh’s story can remind young readers that the people you see online are all imperfect people with flaws just as real as yours. I hope Meesh’s story inspires them to appreciate their own individual uniqueness while still feeling allowed to admire others out there.
What other fantasy novels is “Meesh the Bad Demon” similar to?
MEESH the BAD Demon is similar to THE WITCH BOY by Molly Knox Ostertag and AMULET by Kazu Kibuishi. Like the novels listed, MEESH also features acceptance of one’s identity through challenges faced in a fantastical world as well as being forced into an adventure far from home.
How does your background in animation influence your storytelling in “Meesh the Bad Demon”?
As a story artist in the animation industry, telling the emotional story of MEESH while also immersing readers into a believable world was a lot easier than what I imagined it would be like if I did not have an animation background. A story artist translates the script of a film or show into a visual sequence, just like how a comic artist will lay out all the story beats into panels. The only difference is that in storyboarding, you are bound to a 16:9 screen ratio and break down moments within each shot a lot more than a comic book. However, I wanted to be able to merge the two worlds into one and make readers feel like they’re watching a movie more so than reading a book. I enjoy milking moments of a character’s emotional processing which could take 2-3 panels instead of just 1, and I also enjoy establishing different shots and camera angles within a set location.
What kind of art style can readers expect to see in “Meesh the Bad Demon”?
The art style of MEESH is a mixture of both anime and western animation styles. Growing up in an Asian household, we had a lot of anime DVDs imported from Japan to Hong Kong that my relatives always brought back for me to watch. I watched a lot of Studio Ghibli’s work as a kid as well as a lot of western animation such as Disney and Don Bluth films.
What are some of the worlds Meesh will encounter in her journey?
Meesh will encounter a forest full of emotional trees, the fairy world in the clouds known as Plumeria City, a hopeless black sand beach inhabited by a giant pufferfish, and a quirky little town full of creatures from everywhere known as Ponderosa. Most of these places are inspired by my travels!
What kind of friends will Meesh make on her journey?
Meesh becomes friends with the most unexpected group of creatures of all different backgrounds. Some she could only dream of ever meeting, others she’d never imagine ever becoming friendly with. And others are just pleasant surprises she meets along the way which is very similar to how most of us meet our main friends in life. Not all of us have a linear start to our friendships, and Meesh’s friendships with her friends reflects that as well.
Who is the fairy princess that Meesh meets and what role does she play in the story?
Princess Nouna is the fairy princess Meesh meets on her journey. Meesh has idolized Princess Nouna through magazines and TV shows and could only dream of ever being in her presence. Turns out she does bump into Princess Nouna along the way of trying to save Mt. Magma. At first Princess Nouna is almost like a god to Meesh, but Meesh eventually realizes that Princess Nouna is just as imperfect as she is. What she has seen of Princess Nouna in the media is not always reflective of her true self, which leads Meesh into further realizing that Plumeria City is not the perfect picture she always painted in her head.
How does the story of Meesh relate to the theme of self-love?
Meesh and Nouna both are from different worlds, but both struggle to love themselves for who they are. Meesh struggles to love herself because she glorifies fairies and hates being a demon. Nouna can’t meet up to the expectations set by her mother and fairy-hero persona for the media. Other characters in the story also struggle to love themselves due to expectations from others and do the most extreme things just to be accepted. Everyone in the story is where they are because of a part of themselves they despise.
How is the story of Meesh different from other fantasy stories?
MEESH is different in the sense that while the fantastical elements of the story are still pretty literal, a lot of it is also symbolic. It’s not that difficult to replace the different creatures with different groups and figures we know in today’s society. In a way, Meesh is also a subtle commentary on today’s societal issues such as the media, racism and stereotyping, the pressure of today’s youth facing unrealistic expectations, etc.
What is the significance of the name Meesh?
Meesh is derived from my name “Michelle,” while keeping it simple and weird. I’ve never been called Meesh before in my life, but I’ve been called Michi, Mishy, Mish, and more for fun by my loved ones. I wanted to keep the essence of Meesh’s name similar to my previous nicknames, but more appropriate for an awkward tween girl. So while Meesh’s story is still inspired by my life, I still wouldn’t call it an autobiography to have her name exactly the same as mine or my previous nicknames.
How does the story of Meesh relate to breaking out of prescribed roles?
When you see the types of creatures and characters in the world of MEESH the BAD DEMON, you probably already have your own assumptions about how each character should be based on the way they were told to us in stories throughout history. Demons = bad, Fairies = good, etc. We all have biases based on our experiences and stories we were told, but it’s important to remember the world is beyond just what you have known in your life. Demons are seemingly dark, gross, and weird, but there are demons like Meesh who love soft things, Chow who has unconditional love for her family, and Xavier who isn’t as bad as you think he is. Fairies are seemingly beautiful, innocent, and inspiring, but there are fairies like Nouna who feels obligated to fake her perfection, a Fairy Queen with a guilty past, and fairy guard traitors. People, or in this case creatures, are not always as you expect them to be.
How does the story of Meesh relate to the theme of stereotypes and judgment?
Meesh faces discrimination against demons the moment she leaves Mt. Magma. Plumeria City displays obvious distaste in demons when Meesh reveals her true self, and Meesh herself also discriminates against fairies based on something she discovers later. While Meesh faces judgment from others on her journey, she is also not innocent of judgment herself, and I think that’s an important aspect everyone should reflect upon themselves.
Where can people find your work online?
You can find my personal comics on my instagram @mewTripled and you can also watch my videos where I share my career journey and helpful advice for aspiring artists on my youtube channel also under @mewTripled. For portfolio and animation work you can check out http://www.mewtripled.com
Thank you so much for having me, I truly appreciate you giving MEESH a platform to be shared on, and I truly hope that young readers and artists out there can be inspired by MEESH’s journey in the story, as well as my own personal journey in creating the book. See you next time in Book 2 coming out in Spring 2024!