YEM Author Interview: Michelle Lam chats about pulling her own Chinese American childhood experiences into Meesh The Bad Demon

Michelle Lam is the author of the graphic novel Meesh The Bad Demon. Meesh The Bad Demon follows twelve-year-old Meesh who is more likely to be found reading magazines from Plumeria City—the fairy realm—and fangirling about the fairy princesses. Meesh is a bad demon. “Bad” in that she always sees the good in those around her. The graphic novel explores Meesh learning to love herself. YEM was able to speak with Michelle about creating a story about subverting harmful stereotypes, what made her decide she wanted to move from animation studios to creating graphic novels, and her plans for more graphic novels in the future.

Young Entertainment Mag: Meesh The Bad Demon is a graphic novel, when did you first know you wanted to create a graphic novel?

Michelle Lam: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to create my own comics. I always found ways of stapling papers together, utilizing blank notebooks, and self publishing my own books as a way to make my work feel “official.” In general, creating a graphic novel has been something I wanted to do ever since middle school, but it became more of a potential career option when I started to gain some attention for posting my comics online on instagram.

YEM: What is the process of creating a graphic novel like?

Michelle: It’s a very bumpy roller coaster, with the initiation of it always being fun and exciting. However, once a story idea marinates in your brain for some time, you get used to it and start to question it. The initial spark is not always as fun and exciting, and the remainder of it is powering through to see it completed. Once you see the book finished and you read it all over again, you then remind yourself what got you excited about it in the first place. Coming from the animation industry, working on a graphic novel gives you a lot more creative freedom to share your story without it being overpowered by executives.

YEM: Did you know going into creating Meesh The Bad Demon that you wanted to create a story about subverting harmful stereotypes?

Michelle: Yes, as a child I have seen my family overcome different hardships as immigrants from Hong Kong coming to New York. The idea for MEESH was initiated when I thought about how I felt like there wasn’t enough awareness yet for racism and microaggressions displayed towards Asians prior to 2020. Simultaneously, I wanted to make the story still light hearted, fun, and heartwarming without the dark elements of reality overshadowing the story too much.

YEM: You also pull your own Chinese American childhood experiences into the novel, what does it mean to you to be able to do that?

Michelle: It means a lot for me to be able to share some of the values of my culture such as the extreme respect we have for our elders and grandparents. Growing up, I always thought it was weird how I was always picked up from school by my grandparents and not my parents. In a way my grandparents were my second parents who raised me when my parents were busy working until the late evenings. While my grandparents are no longer here, it was really important for me to shed a spotlight on them by creating Chow, Meesh’s grandmother, so that any readers who may have had a similar childhood like me would understand.

YEM: Was there anything else in the novel that was inspired by your personal life?

Michelle: Nouna is inspired by my friend Noor. We went to CalArts together and I always remembered her as this prodigy art student who was the youngest of our class. I was amazed by her in the background, before we even became friends. To this day it’s surreal to me how this person I heard great things about amongst my classmates actually became one of my best friends to this day. Xavier is inspired by my cousin Samuel who was always a bully to me while we were kids. While he made fun of me a lot as a kid, I still knew we deeply cared for each other as we were raised closely together under our grandparents. Chai, although she is female and half wolf, is inspired by my boyfriend Collin who has encouraged me to come out of my shell more, and see the world in a more positive light.

YEM: What is your favorite part of creating a graphic novel?

Michelle: My favorite part about creating a graphic novel is always getting to the emotionally tense moments. I feel like conflict and disagreements are big parts of life, and although they may feel negative in the moment, I love when there are positive outcomes out of it. 

It’s always fun to create a story and fantastical world, but the emotional core reminds us that we’ve all experienced something similar in our own unique life experiences. It’s fascinating to me how although we all live different lives, one shared story can still make others feel like they’ve been there before too.

YEM: What made you decide you wanted to move from animation studios to creating graphic novels?

Michelle: Well, technically I am still in the animation industry, but I’ve always had a passion for narrative / sequential art. There are a lot of things that I learned from writing, directing, storyboarding in animation that are pretty much the same in publishing. It’s just the final form of the product is different. I always had an interest in drawing sequential art over singular illustrations. I like drawings that have intentions behind them that lead to the next drawing. I’ve always been more of a storyteller than a painter, so for me, graphic novels has just been another way I communicate stories to others through fictional worlds.

YEM: What do you hope your readers can take away from your novel?

Michelle: I hope that readers can just learn to be kind to each other, and learn to be more empathetic. In this day and age I feel like the definition of what the world needs always gets overly complicated, when being more empathetic is just a good, simple place to start from. Everyone out there has gone through something you don’t know about, so instead of displaying aggression towards others, I hope people take a moment to think before acting on something potentially harmful. Truthfully, I have never read a comic book in my life as a middle schooler regarding racism or stereotypes, so I hope MEESH can be one of the books that may spread some sort of awareness to others of that age range.

YEM: What do you like the most about writing for a young adult audience?

Michelle: Writing for a young adult audience feels like I am just talking to a friend in a different way. I’ve always struggled to communicate my thoughts clearly when I was younger, and anytime I drew a story, people would finally understand some of my values, intentions, and thoughts. I’ve gotten better at communicating now that I am older, but I want to continue using art and illustration as a form of communication to show others the ideas that have been marinating in my head for some time. Writing and stories aside, I also just enjoy being a positive influence, hopefully inspiring other young artists and writers out there to someday create their own comic too. You don’t have to be a veteran in any industry just to get a say out there.

YEM: What did you learn the most about yourself in the process of making Meesh The Bad Demon?

Michelle: I learned that I have a very chaotic way of working despite my organized planning process. When it comes to making plans and scheduling to do lists, I am always pretty organized about it. However, when it comes to story points, editing pages and panels, I feel like I am always performing a surgery where I have to rip out panels from one page, bring them to another page, and have 4-5 passes of the same story written in multiple variations. I realized that my stories rely more on feelings, so the way I create my work tends to be based on the way I feel. I worry that being overly technical sometimes takes out the heart of the story, even if there are imperfections, so I’ve learned to accept the chaotic energy and imperfectness.

YEM: What are three words that can describe your graphic novel?

Michelle: Cozy, Charming, Adventurous

YEM: What are your plans for more graphic novels in the future?

Michelle: I would love to do a young adult graphic novel in the future based on my parents’ stories of moving to New York from Hong Kong. It’s still a secret for now, but I can’t wait to work on characters that may be going through more similar existentialisms as I am now as a young adult.

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