Chasing the Dream like a Ninja
By Krysta Schaub
If there is one thing we can learn from Arree Chung’s story it is to keep holding on to your dreams no matter what. Dreams exist to be pursued and the well-reviewed children’s book Ninja! would not exist if Chung had not been so passionate about his dream.
Ninja! was just published two years ago in June of 2014. The journey that this story took to get from a wishful thought to a children’s picture book was long and bumpy. Chung went through several jobs and sleepless nights in order to make his dream a reality.
After graduating U.C. Davis with a degree in Economics, Arree Chung got a job making spreadsheets on Excel, a job he was less than excited about. One day on a whim, Chung visited Pixar’s website to see how they recruited new employees. Next thing he knew he was applying for a job that he got just two weeks later. In all his three years at Pixar, Chung did not do any art, “I wasn’t very good at art” he says in his blog.
Aside from Pixar, Chung has worked several different jobs. Right after art school, he got a job with Walt Disney Imagineering. He later worked on art for several different games, some that he loved and some that he didn’t care for as much. This industry did not give Chung the best experiences, though it was not all bad. One game he was working on didn’t have enough money so he was laid off. Later, he was working at a startup company where he was fired, although he says that “hostility at the company was high and firings were commonplace.”
One company he did do well in was Crowdstar. He was the leading artist for a popular Facebook game called “ItGirl.” Overall it was a good position to be in, there was just one catch, he hated the work. Through all of this he still longed to write and illustrate children’s books.
Ninja! From Scribble to Reality
The road to making Ninja! a reality was full of hard work, determination, and risks. In 2010 Chung went to the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators conference in Washington. “Then something really unexpected happened. I won the best portfolio show!” said Chung as he discusses his experience in his blog.
Things were looking up, however he was still four years away from realizing his dream. After the high of the conference Chung dipped into a low. Although he would work on his stories at night after work, he was stuck and didn’t have as much time as he would like to tackle his creative problems. “Most of all, I was fed up. I was fed up with not making my own art. I was fed up with jobs that I was not passionate about,” says Chung.
The very beginnings of Ninja! did not come about until 2012 when Chung signed up for the SCBWI conference and Illustrator Intensive. For this he needed a manuscript for a book along with loose sketches. None of his current ideas seemed up to the challenge, in his own words he says “…they all sucked.”
Looking for a fresh idea he looked back through his old work from his days in art school. There he found an old note that unbeknownst to him at the time would turn into his first children’s book. “I looked through old sketchbooks from Art Center and found a scribble that said,“‘Brian isn’t just a kid…he’s a kid ninja!’” says Chung.
At the Illustrator Intensive Chung met his agent Rubin Pfeffer. The two of them worked on Chung’s story and sent it off to two publishers. After much blood, sweat, and tears Ninja! was published in June 2014 making Chung’s long awaited for wish come true. The book trailer can be viewed here.
Leap of Faith
Chung’s dream of becoming a children’s book author and illustrator never would have come true if he had not taken any leaps of faith. His first leap of faith that plunged him into the world of art dates all the way back to his days at Pixar. Although he loved his job at Pixar he still longed to pursue his dream.
He found an art school that he fell in love with but the Economics major in him told him it wasn’t the best idea. “’I had a “Dear God…are you there?’ moment.” Says Chung. He took the leap and didn’t look back. Even if it was an expensive decision, it was not one of regret. Chung knew this was where God wanted him to be.
His faith in God and his determination to hold on to his dream is what lead to the birth of Ninja! Although the life of chasing your dreams is not an easy one, it is a fulfilling one. “Being an artist is not easy. But if you’re a dreamer like me, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive. You feel most alive when you’re creating” says Chung.
Advice From Chung
Arree Chung learned a lot about life in his pursuit of his passion and can give heaps of advice to those who wish to do the same. Here are ten things to keep in mind on your own journey straight from Arree Chung’s blog:
THINGS I’VE LEARNED
- Listen to that voice inside of you.
- Don’t be afraid to quit.
- Take leaps of faith.
- Scribble and keep a notebook.
- Write down your dreams and the things you absolutely want to do. They WILL happen.
- Work on your craft EVERYDAY.
- Find mentors.
- Don’t give up. Rest when you need it. Try again.
- There are kind people out there that will help you.
- Be kind and help others.
As adults we often lose the magical appeal of children’s books. The stories seem more simple and basic than young adult fiction. However, Chung shows us that a children’s book can be just as meaningful and beautiful as any other book.