Exclusive Interview with Melanie Lee, Author and Arif Rafhan, Illustrator of “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma”

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Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is a heartwarming story about the special relationship between a girl and her grandmother gently introduces young readers to ageing and dementia in a compelling superhero story. A funny and wholesome story about family and acceptance, it is bound to be relatable to both the young and not-so-young. 

About the author, Melanie Lee, she is also the author of the picture book series, “The Adventures of Squirky the Alien” that was given the Crystal Kite Award (Middle East/India/Asia division) in 2016. In addition, she has worked together with Arif Rafhan to publish a collection of illustrated short stories titled “Imaginary Friends: 26 Whimsical Fables for Getting on in a Crazy World”. Besides books, Melanie writes content related to the arts, heritage and lifestyle for a variety of platforms including museums, documentaries, magazines and websites. She is with the Associate Faculty at the Singapore University of Social Sciences teaching and developing media writing courses.

Our team catches up with Melanie Lee to share about her new book, read on to find out more.

Exclusive Interview with Melanie Lee, Author of “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma”

1) Please share with us more about your background and what made you decide to come up with the book “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma”?

Melanie: I’ve been a freelance writer and part-time lecturer for the past 10 years. When I became a parent eight years ago, I started writing children’s picture books (you can see what I’ve written here: https://melanielee.sg/books). It’s been a good creative outlet!

In recent years, I also started reading more comics and graphic novels because they’re fun and easy to get through. Quite inevitably, I also toyed with the idea of writing a graphic novel. “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma” is very much based on my observations and personal experiences. I empathise with Ash as she struggles with her schoolwork, and I’m at the life stage now where my peers and I are also grappling with ageing parents, some of whom have dementia. I wanted to tell a story about this that would not just help kids come to terms with such a condition, but also to see their grandparents and other elderly people as unique individuals with agency and strengths.   

2) Can you tell us more about your new book, what is the story about and what can readers expect from the book?

Melanie: I think the synopsis of the book answers this question really well, so I’m just going to plonk it here:

Eleven-year-old Ash doesn’t have much to look forward to: maths tests, a naggy Mum, and an Ah Ma who doesn’t know much about her. That is, until she discovers something that will change her life—Ah Ma is a superhero! The best part is, Ash discovers that she has superpowers too!

Life is so much more exciting as a superhero-in-training. However, Ash can’t help but notice that Ah Ma sometimes gets a little absent-minded while showing her the ropes. Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is a funny and heartwarming story about family and acceptance. Growing up and growing old is never easy—and all the more perplexing when secrets and superpowers are added to the mix.

In addition, we wanted to introduce dementia to kids in an accessible yet realistic way, that it was not a condition that should be feared but that it could be something that can be accepted and managed and integrated into everyday settings. While the superpowers/superheroes premise is pretty far-fetched, the idea that a granddaughter and her friends can have so much with her Ah Ma is something that can happen in real life!

3) Who and or what inspired you to come up with the book’s name “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma” and the story?

Melanie: For a start, we knew there was going to be an Ah Ma and that her granddaughter’s name should also start with “A”. There were many ideas for the title of the book, and while this one is quite a mouthful, it somehow “matches” the story the best.

4) How long did you take to work on the book and what are the challenges that you have faced to complete the book?

Melanie: It took around two years to complete the book. In the beginning, I had quite a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to write for comics. I was reading a lot of middle-grade graphic novels and resources on creating comics. I’ve since learned that there are many ways to write a comic script, and fortunately, Arif gave quite a clear brief that he’d prefer to illustrate with a comic script that closely resembled a film script. While I communicated how I would see each panel visually in the script, he also added his own creative details to the illustrations, giving the story and characters interesting quirks and unexpected depth.

It was hard work, but creating this book has been one of my most enjoyable creative collaborations, not just with Arif but the publisher, Difference Engine as well.

5) What’s your advice to someone who aspires to be an author like yourself?

Melanie: Just sit down and write! I’ve always wanted to write books ever since I was a kid, but it took quite a while for that to happen because I never felt my writing was good enough to be published. Somehow, after being a parent, I started to be less concerned about whether I was “good enough”, I just wanted to create with words, and getting some of that work published is a bonus! Each book project has taught me new things on how to be a better person/writer.

6) Lastly, do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers about your new book and what’s your next plan/project if any?

Melanie: We hope that “Amazing Ash and Superhero Ah Ma” can be read together as a family! (We’ve included some discussion questions at the end of the book that perhaps can facilitate some heart-to-heart parent-child discussions.)

I’m currently working on a non-fiction inspirational book for tweens and teens that will be out next year!

Thank you Melanie Lee for taking our interview! 

“Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma” is illustrated by Arif Rafhan, he is a comic artist, illustrator and pre-production artist. His works include comics, content illustrations and cover illustrations and have been published in more than 10 books to date by MPH, Buku Fixi, Maple Comics, and Marshall Cavendish. In addition, he works with various production companies creating pre-production visuals such as concept art, character designs, environment designs, and storyboards. He is currently working as a character designer for the upcoming feature animation with Sony Animation.

Our team catches up with Arif Rafhan to share about the new book he has illustrated, read on to find out more.

Exclusive Interview with Arif Rafhan, Illustrator of “Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma”

1) Please share with us more about your background and how did you become an illustrator?

Arif Rafhan: Before I ventured into illustration world, I was in IT business for more than 12 years. When my hobby income managed to catch up with my day job income, then I decided to do this full time instead. One of my earliest work was a collaboration with Melanie, which was about 7 years ago.

2) Can you share with us about your collaboration with Melanie Lee and how did you come up with the illustrations?

Arif Rafhan: Since our first collaboration, we managed to get the right recipe for our work. My illustrations would comfortable sits in her writings. Basically we are pretty much open towards each other’s interpretation of our work, so the work itself grows naturally based on our understanding of each other’s vision.

3) What kind of tools/techniques that you used to do your illustrations?

Arif Rafhan: I used to be a manual kind of illustrator; ink and paper. But as time goes by, I need to catch up with the technology and I ventured into digital drawing, which is faster, easier to amend and saving the paper as well!

4) How long did you take to work on the book and what are the challenges that you have faced to complete the illustrations for the book?

Arif Rafhan: We had a schedule on creating the book; from writing to storyboarding, penciling and inking, the whole process took about 2 years. I realized that my work had a bit of a rough time when the COVID-19 hits. Since the school was closed, it was a bit tough juggling work and managing family, including home school and household. It took a while for me, and I’m sure all of us to adapt to this new normal while maintaining a good working schedule in order to get things done.

5) What’s your advice to someone who aspires to be an illustrator like yourself?

Arif Rafhan: Discipline yourself; produce a consistent artwork all the time. I don’t believe in ‘waiting for ideas or inspirations to start drawing’ myth because a focused mind and a practiced hand can churn consistent good artwork if you want to. If you can manage your distractions, sky is your limit. Trust me, I’m a dad of three. Haha!

6) Lastly, do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers about your new book and what’s your next plan/project if any?

Arif Rafhan: Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is a very endearing story about Ash and her grandmother. I really believe in this story, its message and tone. My kids love it as well. My next project would be an animated short that I’ve been working on for few years, but I can’t wait for my collaboration with Lat to come out hopefully in 2021.

Thank you Arif Rafhan for taking our interview!

We enjoyed reading the book. Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is a meaningful and heartfelt story about the struggles that intergenerational families face packs with lots of fun and adventure that will appeal to everyone. The story is also beautifully illustrated that will touch your heart and is delightful to read!

Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia. The book retails at SGD17.90 (w/o GST). The book is also available for purchase online at bit.ly/team-ASH 

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