We had the good fortune of connecting with Stan Yan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stan, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
The funny thing is I never looked at myself as much of a risk taker. But, it’s undeniable that starting my own business is fraught with risks. Despite this, I never felt like any decision I’ve made as an entrepreneur was a risk. When I started, unless my spouse had been already earning a steady and reliable income and able to add me to her health insurance, I don’t know if I would have tried starting my own business. Prior to starting to do my artwork full time, I had already started self publishing my own comic books and traveling to comic book conventions to promote them, so by the time I got laid off from my financial business career twice in 3 years, I already had some momentum in my art career and experience promoting my artwork. So, this gave me data to work with and helped me decide to add caricature commissions (zombie, to be specific) to my mix to help me generate more revenue and make these events reliably profitable. This was definitely a risk/reward analysis. My business has no employees, only myself, so that made things much simpler, and even when I started enlisting sales assistants to help me, they were independent contractors only, so that lowered my fixed expenditures and liabilities. As my business has developed, I have continued to look at it like a diversified income portfolio. Harkening back to my investment advisory career, I saw my caricature work and art instruction I’d been doing as being low risk, but limited growth, but it was also a physically demanding endeavor. As such, I needed to make sure I had a part of my career that gave me the chance to provide me with a passive, residual income — something that I had some intellectual ownership of. Fortunately for me, that was my story writing, something that was my passion and muse already. So, that led me to trying to formulate a plan to publish my work in a way that had a better chance (slim as it may be) to distributed enough to become beloved, printed in subsequent editions, maybe translated into other languages, be merchandised, and maybe optioned for production in other media. That’s what led me to pursuit of creating stories for the children’s book industry, one of the sectors of the publishing industry that experiences consistent growth and seems less sensitive to economic cycles. Not to mention, with the birth of my son, I had a new source of inspiration that was driving me in that direction. But, true to my risk averse nature, I didn’t want to abandon all of the fandom I had cultivated by drawing zombie caricatures of people, so my first foray into children’s books was a zombie picture book, “There’s a Zombie in the Basement”. Now, while it didn’t get published, thanks in large part to these supporters I was able to crowdfund the self-publishing of this book, and open up a new avenue for creating income by doing school visits to promote this book, which has happily done well enough to demand a second and third printing to date. With this success promoting this book on my own, I feel this adds to my resume to hopefully get a publishing contract from a larger publisher, many of whom still depend in large part that authors can self promote to make a book successful.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art has almost always been one part humorous and one part creepy. Growing up, my main influences were comic strips, so punchlines were essential. As my love for longer comic forms developed, I found my passions for scary, creepy and/or unsettling things that I loved as a child seeping back into my comics and graphic novels. So, when I started doing zombie caricature portraits of people, this should’ve seemed natural. All along the way, I’ve been passionate about sharing my wisdom, which helped me begin teaching camps, workshops, and courses on comic art in 2007, so when I started doing children’s books in 2016, it seemed only natural that I could do school visits to not only promote my book, but teach kids how I draw. Of course, since my book was a zombie picture book, I’d teach them to draw monsters. I think that makes what I do pretty unique.
To be honest, I didn’t look at my artwork as a viable career initially. It was just something that I always did that was my muse. So, I didn’t even think about going to art school and ended up going to business school, which in retrospect might have been a blessing in disguise. My business degree led me to working in sales for the financial industry for 13 years where I learned a lot about client relationships and contracts. I had already started self publishing my own comic books during that time and ended up traveling to comic book conventions to promote them, so by the time I got laid off twice in 3 years, I already had some momentum in my art career and experience promoting my artwork. The only difference now was I needed to figure out how to turn these conventions profitable. That’s when I started drawing caricatures of people at these events — specifically zombie caricatures (so people would expect to look awful, which was a lot of pressure off of me) — to generate additional income at these events. Fortunately, the zombie thing was getting pretty popular by then, and a lot of my customers ended up making getting a drawing from me an annual tradition for their convention going experience at the various events I went to.
As I already mentioned, once my son was born, my interest in writing for children, but not abandoning my current fan base led me to produce “There’s a Zombie in the Basement,” my first children’s book and join the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).
I currently am producing creepy middle grade graphic novels that I hope to find publishers for. I guess according to the industry, I’m still considered “unpublished”, so I still feel like I’m just starting my career at 50.
So, if this sounds like it’s easy, then yes it was easy. To be honest, because I’m pursuing my passions and I have a professional and personal support system, the journey has been quite fun, but I wouldn’t call it easy by any stretch.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, and not all of them are from me, but from other artists. 1) Always have a contract. Every artist I know has been stiffed for work except for me. But, I always have a contract. 2) Always conduct yourself professionally. If you don’t it will come back to bite you. Even if you do, like I pride myself on, it can still come back to bite you. In a creative industry, there are a lot of egos, so you’ll eventually make enemies even if you did nothing to bring it on yourself. 3) Surround yourself with positive people. It’s easy enough to get discouraged when your income stream is erratic and so much depends on other people making decisions. Surrounding yourself with a support system full of pessimists is like dog piling on your emotions. It’s hard enough to do what I do without the negative energy. 4) Make time for your passions. Not all creative work, no matter how fun, feeds your creative soul. I find that making time for your passion projects (even if those aren’t paying the bills right now) are good for your mental and physical health. 5) Make time for exercise. When I got laid off and decided (with my wife’s blessing) to pursue my creative career full time, I also made the mistake of quitting my gym membership to save money. Because drawing and writing is a lot of sitting, I started throwing my back out regularly and often because I wasn’t training my core. I got back to it, which has helped the speed of my recovery when it happens (which is also less frequent), but unfortunately, that lapse in exercise caused a lifelong problem for me now.
My brand is tongue in cheek. I might draw monsters, but there will always be humor to it. On my bucket list is my goal of writing and drawing a comic story that scares me. If I am able to accomplish this, you can bet there will still be a lot of humor to it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would probably take my friend to Estes Park to visit the Stanley Hotel. I might go to Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ there or in Lyons for dinner, my favorite BBQ place! Then to Glenwood Springs to visit the Hotel Colorado, the hot springs pool and Hanging Lake. If the friend was into beer, I’d definitely want to take them on a brewery tour at New Belgium Brewery in Ft. Collins and Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont. A couple of great hikes would be the Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Amphitheater and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The biggest shout out probably belongs to my wife, Erica, but there are so many other people and organizations that have affected the trajectory of my career, I certainly feel like they deserve mention. Stacey Vowell, my dear friend and convention sales assistant has been an indispensable part of multiplying my convention revenues on a year-over-year basis immediately, and suggest and implement business changes to help me sustain revenue growth for the next decade. My membership and involvement with The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI has not only provided me with a tangible roadmap to publishing, but has provided a treasure trove of networking within the children’s book industry. My SCBWI critique group, which includes a group of highly talented author illustrator friends, including Heather Brockman Lee, Amber Owen, David Deen, Dustin Resch, Anden Wilder, and last, but definitely not least, the person who roped me into the SCBWI, and one of my best friends, Kaz Windness.
Other: http://www.zombicatures.com http://www.theresazombieinthebasement.com http://www.salemcharteracademy.com