In BonHyung Jeong’s graphic novel, Kyle’s Little Sister, middle schooler Grace is fed up with always being compared to her more extroverted and popular older brother, Kyle. As she looks for ways to step out from behind his shadow, she ultimately learns more about being the best version of herself. The relatable story is the first for writer and illustrator Jeong, who studied cartooning in New York City. She is originally from Korea, where she currently lives, draws, and writes.
Kyle’s Little Sister is published by JY, the middle grade graphic novel imprint of Yen Press. JuYoun Lee, the deputy publisher and editor-and-chief of Yen Press who founded JY, knew immediately that she wanted to publish Jeong’s work. “I fell in love with Bon’s art the moment I saw it,” Lee said. She also praised “the raw emotions and easy-to-miss moments [Jeong] captured on the page.” JY is already established as a publisher of standout middle grade graphic novels. Notably, JY has brought readers modern classics like Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, Brave, and Crush. As the middle grade comics category continues to grow in popularity, JY plans to meet the demand by publishing the work of newer, up-and-coming artists.
As the first of many more author-illustrators to join JY’s growing roster of creators, Jeong chatted with PW about her creative process and the inspirations behind her debut.
What should readers know about your protagonist?
Grace is a character who just got into middle school and is trying to fit into her new environment. Like all of the characters in Kyle’s Little Sister, she is far from perfect and is in the process of growing up.
Do you write a story first or do you tend to create the images before the text?
I tend to start with the images first. Having the art in front of me helps me stay focused on the story. My story changes a lot…like…a lot… But having the images sorted out really helps guide the story in a clearer direction.
Tell me about your background as a reader, writer, and illustrator. What inspires you?
All creators inspire me, to be honest, but I’m especially drawn to those who have different perspectives on the same concept. A recent example that struck me was a TV show that is based on the traditional sense of demon and angel. I’m the type who takes those concepts in a more literal matter, but that TV show twisted it in a way that gave me a whole new insight. It was very interesting!
You studied art at New York School of Visual Arts. Is New York City home (or “a home”) for you?
Yes, New York is definitely a home for me. Same with Framingham, Massachusetts, ‘cause I have an amazing host family there who took care of me when I was in high school. I still think of those days and miss them a lot!
How much do you feel your surroundings help shape what you are working on?
It’s thanks to those around me that I was able to make a book. I literally wouldn’t have been able to make it without my parents’ support.
Have you created art and stories for adults as well? If so, how does it differ from writing and illustrating for middle grade readers?
I have yet to make a story for adults in an official capacity. But I think that the emotions and thoughts of characters in adult fiction can be portrayed more directly and with less filter…at least that’s how it seems to me!
The experience of living in the shadow of an older sibling will be familiar to many readers. How about you? Did you grow up with siblings?
I have an older sibling…an older brother! We didn’t grow up quite like Kyle and Grace, but my experience with him was definitely the reason why I came up with the brother and sister characters in Kyle’s Little Sister.