Illustrator Ken Min Takes Us Behind the Art of Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

Released earlier this month, Benji, the Bad Day, and Me is about one of the rottenest, worst days that Sammy has ever had. His little brother, Benji, knows exactly what that’s like. In this tender story about siblings, author Sally J. Pla’s shares her experience of raising sons on different parts of the wide spectrum of neurodiversity. We asked illustrator Ken Min to take us behind the scenes of his art process bringing Benji, the Bad Day, and Me to life:
benji, the bad day, and me

When I first started doing paperbacks, I did most everything by hand: pencil and paper, tissue paper to trace back portions iI liked and wanted to reuse, but eventually, with technology, it was just smarter or at least more efficient to work on the computer. Much easier to copy/paste, resize things and carry portions from one draft to the next, even drop temporary text to see if I’m leaving enough room.
benny character development
spread with text
spread no text
 With suggested text/page breaks, I’ll use that initially and block out the action for each spread. Once I’m happy, I’ll send a draft out to the editor and art director. As you can see below, we went through several drafts with each spread, not necessarily having wholesale changes each time but just winnowing down certain aspects of certain pages/spreads until we were all happy.draft 1
I thought it might be interesting to focus on particular spreads and see how much it has changed from draft to draft.
Case point: page 20-21
 My initial interpretation was from Sammy’s point of view, so I focused on him and the spilt milk and his distress. I liked the copy where the last line said “no one notices.” But if you look out into the image, a head pops up taking notice. benny draft 1
After conversations with the editor and art director, it was suggested this would be a good time to show the action from Benji’s point of view. So I drew what would be from inside Benji’s box looking out one of the cut out holes.
benji draft 2
Further conversations and it was decided to crop in on the picture. Just focus on Benji and the hole.
benji draft 3
They liked the results so much that they decided to move the text off the image and redistribute it to the previous page. They felt there was more power in letting the spread be wordless.
benji draft 4
We eventually turned Sammy from sitting facing away from benji to being able to see his distress and anguish.benji draft 5
The final spread:
benji spread final
You can check out Ken Min’s work on his website. Purchase a copy of Benji, the Bad Day, and Me here.

ken min

Ken Min‘s picture book debut Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji, published by Lee & Low Books, received the Picture Book Honor for Literature from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). Ken is an illustrator and animation storyboard artist for commercials and animated TV shows such as Futurama, Fairly Odd Parents, and New Looney Tunes. His illustration work has been recognized numerous times by the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). Min lives in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Ryan Astamendi