Introducing 'What Is it?' by Dustin Nguyen and Nicole Hoang.
Credit: Boom! Studios

What Is It?

Comic artist Dustin Nguyen is widely known for his work on series such as Li’l Gotham, Descender (written by Jeff Lemire) and DC Comics: Secret Hero Society, which& recently became a New York Times best seller. But this July, he’ll soon be known for a personal project that, thanks to BOOM! Studios, will find its way into the comic world.

KaBOOM!, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, has been at the forefront of kid-friendly comics with series like Adventure Time and Over The Garden Wall. What Is It?, a childhood story illustrated by Nguyen and written by his wife, Nicole Hoang as a wedding gift, marks the company’s first picture book.

“Like most inspirations in my life, it happened while eating food,” Managing Editor Bryce Carlson told EW. “Dustin and I go back quite a few years as friends and sometimes collaborators so you can track What Is It? back to a random lunch in 2013. I can’t recall if we were eating ramen or ribs, but I do clearly remember it being the first time I heard the incredible story about his wedding day. How his wife Nicole had written this fun, quirky, Shel Silverstein-esque story as a kid in 1988 and then Dustin, being the genuine, thoughtful human being that he is, fully illustrated her story and printed copies as gifts for their wedding guests made up of extremely close friends and family. My exact words might have been, ‘Dude, you have to do that as a book.’ He thought I was joking and that it was a ridiculous idea but I was dead serious.”

Although it took some time for the book to come to fruition, Carlson believes it’s worth it. “It’s extremely rare you find such a deeply personal and meaningful story in the creative process and I was convinced that the love and passion that went into the creation of this little illustrated story would pour out and touch people if they had a chance to read it,” he said. “Dustin and I had talked about putting together some kind of all-ages project for years and this was too perfect to merely be coincidence. So he gave me a copy of the wedding booklet from 2002 and it was everything I thought it would be and more. It was sweet and fun and touching and everyone I showed it to at BOOM! Studios agreed: If Nicole and Dustin wanted to publish this book, we most certainly wanted to be the publisher.”

“KaBOOM! is our kids-focused imprint — although the material produced there appeals to readers of all ages — and the perfect place to build a picture book program with some of the best storytellers in comics. Expanding our content into this market gives comic book luminaries, like Dustin Nguyen, an opportunity to stretch their muscles and continue to build a fan base from the youngest readers to the eldest of us,” added senior editor Sierra Hahn.

EW spoke to Dustin and his wife, Nicole Hoang, about the personal nature of their project, how the concept came together, and more.

Credit: Boom! Studios

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dustin and Nicole, this is obviously a very personal project. Can you share a little bit about why you decided to create it in the first place and what made it special? What were some inspirations?

NICOLE HOANG: As a young girl, I loved writing stories for fun and this was one of them. I showed Dustin this story and never thought he would actually keep it.

DUSTIN NGUYEN: With the first pass of the story, I just wanted to create something fun and special for Nicole as a surprise for our wedding in 2002. I went off of Nicole’s original hand-drawn, hand-written comic she made when she was about 10 or 11 years old. She drew the story on index cards and tied the pages together with ribbons. It was a half-frantic rush; I made a short run of about 200 copies for our guests, stapled stitched and all. With What Is It? publishing through KaBOOM!, I am redrawing this story once again 13 years later with Nicole’s original story.

I love the art in this. It’s simplistic but it’s also so vivid and you really feel the emotions of the characters. Was that the goal when you were putting this together?

NGUYEN: Thanks so much. I really wanted to give a whimsical nature to it and show that both characters are equally as curious of one another. I went with a very warm autumn palette because that’s Nicole’s favorite season.

What do you hope your readers take away from this story? What’s an important message that you hope they take with them after they read it?

HOANG: I didn’t have a message in mind when I wrote this, but I’m hoping this story could inspire kids to use their imaginations to write their own stories.

NGUYEN: Likewise, I wanted kids to enjoy and be inspired. Let them know, with words and pictures, you can create anything. I hope they read it, love it, and create thousands of stories of their own to share with their friends and family.

What Is It?
  • Book