The Call of the Open Road
Some people are born to ride, and Stephanie Yue (Such a Little Mouse; The Mousenet Trilogy) has successfully managed to combine her love of scootering with her job of illustrating children’s books. After logging almost 32,000 miles, she’s currently in the last leg of her tour, crossing the continental United States on her electric blue 2009 Vespa GTS 250. During a recent pit stop in Houston, Yue spoke with me about her fascination with mice, martial arts, the siren call of rubber and asphalt, and an enduring admiration of Calvin and Hobbes.
Did your childhood in China influence how you illustrate?
I took Chinese calligraphy classes pretty early on, and that influenced my brushwork. Just understanding how you can express something with a tool like a brush is pretty important.
What kind of illustrators are you drawn to?
I admire Maurice Sendak. I know everyone loves him, but he is pretty great. I’m a fan of Edward Gorey too. He has a house on the Cape that’s now a museum. It’s one of my favorite summer destinations.
On your website, some of your cartoons’ expressions remind me of the characters in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Did his work influence you?
Absolutely, he’s one of my favorite cartoon artists. I admire him for many things, even beyond his impressive body of work.
Did you read his comics growing up?
Yes, before marathoning Netflix was a thing, marathoning Calvin and Hobbes was my thing. I would go into my dad’s study where he had all the anthologies and collections of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, and I read them dogeared. I don’t even realize it, I suppose his influence is inherent now. Watterson is not just a fantastic artist, he’s so technically skilled! His brushwork is very subtle. He doesn’t let on how much it takes to make everything work. He can have something as simple as a cartoon tiger next to a dinosaur that’s driving a jet. And how does that work? It does.
You draw lots of mice – can you talk about that?
That’s something from my childhood too. My favorite books were those adorable mouse stories by Kevin Henkes. I liked a lot of mouse-centric stories because it’s the same world but a completely different scale – there’s something going on in the background that big people wouldn’t otherwise notice. I think children can relate to that.
That comes through in your art – in some images it looks like nothing’s going on, but upon closer inspection, there’s a whole world wrought miniature.
Yes, another world running parallel to the human world. It worked great for MouseNet and MouseMobile. I love playing with scale and it’s a fun exercise when I can repurpose human objects for mice. I’ve always been a fan of miniatures.
Do you envision writing your own books?
I’d like to, but I’m not sure if it would be in the same field. I’m a big fan of travel. I’ve actually been traveling for 11 months. I’m working on the road.
Where are you?
I’m in Houston. Central Time Zone. I’ve been in all the time zones.
You’re on your scooter?
What are you doing?
I’ve been doing a blog, and I post drawings every day that I ride.
Could you talk about scootering and working on the road?
I take notes as I go. I love notes. I blog and upload my sketches every few days, depending on variables like camp lighting and WiFi. Generally, I’ll find a coffee shop and set up – and draw the images I’ve noted while on the road and post them. It’s a big task I set out for myself.
How long to do you plan on continuing your trek?
The trip is like an extreme four corners trip. I planned on visiting the four outermost points of the 48 contiguous United States. I went to Key West, then up to Angle Inlet, then I went west to Cape Flattery, then I took a side trip down to Baja, then to Colorado, now I’m here. I’m aiming for Lubec, Maine in early July, I think. It’d be nice to see some friends for July 4th.
Are you on your own?
What’s that like?
It can be lonely, but it gives me a lot of freedom. A lot of things aligned for this trip to happen. I’m already very used to working by myself – for all of my books, I work from home, I had a second bedroom in Providence converted into a studio and I work by myself and realized that I think I can take this on the road. I managed to pack my whole studio in a little box. If you look on my blog you’ll see photos of the scooter, and on the back there’s a big black box. It’s a Pelican case, shatterproof and waterproof. It works out great. My artwork and my laptop and tablet are in there. That’s my studio. And a thin box, pens and paper. All that goes into a Velcro bag, and then it all goes into that bag.
Is there anything you didn’t bring that you wish you did?
I was really involved in my martial arts group back home, and it’s really hard to do that from the road. I can’t really justify packing that stuff because it takes so much space. I can’t put my boxing gloves on my scooter.
How long have you been practicing martial arts?
About 10 years, all different styles – kung-fu, muay-thai, jiu jitsu. I love that stuff. If you look on my website, that’s how I started getting the mouse work, I made a poster of a mouse demonstrating the 24 steps of tai-chi. It was just a really popular poster.
Have you met people on the road? What’s the scooter/biker community like?
I know a lot of scooterists – I’m familiar with that community, and some of the bikers too. We’re all riders. It’s been a crazy trip.