Zibby is joined by author and illustrator Mike White (along with two other special guests) to discuss his Mellybean series. Mike shares the story of how he adopted his real-life dog, Melly, and how she inspires him to be more optimistic and outgoing every day. The four also talk about the person who inspired Mike to get into illustration and storytelling, how working on the series helps him work through his mental illnesses, and where the series could go next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Mike. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” with our special guest today, my two little kids and Mike White. Welcome.

Mike White: Hello. Thank you for having me. Are you going to introduce Graham and Sadie? Are you going to say hi?

Children: Hi.

Zibby: Mellybean, it’s their favorite book series of the moment. They were fighting every night over who would get the books, which has never ever happened before with any other book. I said, what is with these books? Let’s hear all about them. They were telling me more about them. Then as you know, Graham said he wanted you to illustrate his Among Us book. Let’s start with this. Mellybean series, why don’t you tell listeners — unless you guys want to — what the Mellybean series is about. Would you like Mike to do it?

Graham: Sadie, would you like to do it?

Sadie: Which Mellybean book?

Zibby: The whole series. Start at the beginning. For listeners who don’t know what Mellybean is about — I’m going to let Mike do it because you’re not answering quickly enough.

Sadie: I’ll do it.

Zibby: Okay, go ahead. Step forward. Here’s a mic.

Sadie: Mellybean is about a dog who can talk, unusually. I mean, it’s a book. She has siblings, which are cats. She finds this deep hole that leads to another land. After the first book, there’s a portal in a giant monster’s nose. He puts that in the castle. They have great adventures together. Those are in the next books.

Mike: Sounds good. You guys obviously read it and got the whole premise.

Zibby: How did you come up with the idea for this?

Mike: I was inspired by my real-life dog that I adopted at a pop-up adoption event in Sausalito when I used to live there. Didn’t expect to get a dog. Me and my girlfriend at the time had always talked about it but always talked ourselves out of getting a dog. I had no idea how much it would enrich my life, having a pet that depended on you and needed you. We got this tiny little puppy. Me, I’m sort like Nara, the big, grumpy monster. Myself is the actual inspiration for the giant monster who gets down and wants to hide from the humans all the time. The story just evolved from how Melly changed my life and inspires me daily how to be more outgoing, more personable, and more true to myself. That’s how the story came about. How do I make a story about this little dog that’s impacted my life? This is just what came out.

Zibby: How did you get your start in storytelling in general?

Mike: I started when I was four years old. My babysitter’s son taught me how to draw Garfield or taught me how to trace Garfield. I would practice my drawing and drawing comics by copying out of books, like putting a piece of paper over top of a book and then tracing panel to panel, and even the letters. I have okay penmanship. My writing is legible because I practice a lot. Growing up, I just memorized the steps on how to draw characters. I would learn by doing things over and over. Then eventually, you can do it yourself and apply those steps to your own ideas that you learn from other people. That’s sort of where I got my start, was from tracing Garfield comics and stuff that I admire, trying to replicate it first and then go off on my own later, forty years later.

Zibby: Wow. Are you still in touch with your babysitter? Does she know that this has inspired your whole career?

Mike: We went to the same college. One of my babysitter’s sons found me somehow on Facebook or something. We kept in touch a little bit throughout college, but we’ve since lost touch. I should hunt them down and say thank you for affecting my life. You never know what little encouragement is going to manifest itself and take hold and be a life-changing event.

Zibby: It’s very true. You both had some questions.

Sadie: Graham, you go first.

Graham: What’s the next book going to be about, again?

Sadie: He doesn’t know.

Mike: You guys are going to help me with that, right?

Graham: Yeah.

Zibby: They’re serious. They’ve been drawing in their rooms and getting ready.

Sadie: Not so much drawing.

Zibby: You’ve been writing. Graham has been drawing, right?

Graham: I do comics.

Mike: So far, I’ve only talked to my editor and agent about Nara coming to visit our world. I don’t know what’s going to happen because I haven’t made it up yet. It’s going to be a difficult one because I don’t know how you would hide a giant monster. I may have to watch a movie like The Iron Giant or something for some inspiration, if you guys have seen that one.

Zibby: How would you hide a giant in plain sight if Nara came to our world?

Sadie: I would build something, like a giant —

Graham: — I would paint it with the background.

Mike: You would paint it?

Sadie: He would disguise it.

Zibby: Camouflage?

Graham: Yeah, camouflage.

Mike: That’s smart. That’s a good idea. He can be blue like the sky or paint him like a house. He can just sort of stand there beside the houses or something. Great ideas.

Zibby: What other questions? I want to hear more about the struggle to not be down that you were referring to yourself.

Mike: It’s still hard. I still struggle with it a lot. Despite you guys being able to make me smile by sharing the books, I’m a pretty sad person. It’s an active effort to be optimistic or positive day to day. Interactions with other people help me out a lot. Having a personality like Melody — Melody is the long form for Melly. We just nicknamed her Melly. Then that turned into Mellybean. That’s how we got Mellybean, the book. Having a personality that is strong around you to inspire goodness and optimism — you see the hope in dogs, their eyes. They’re always optimistic, whether you’re going to get a treat, whether you’re going to go outside. For me, it’s really humbling because are so high. I’m often disappointed with life or what happens in the world. With all the problems going on in the world, it’s enough to get you down. I still struggle to this day with depression and anxiety and sadness, but Mellybean helps with that a lot. Having people around to reach out to and to inspire me to be better, to be a better version of the person I am is always good and helpful. You guys are lucky you have each other to be around and help each other bring you up.

Graham: We also have a dog.

Mike: You do? What kind of dog?

Sadie: A black lab. Where’s a photo of her?

Zibby: No, we’re not going to share screen. She’ll come in. Do you have anything to say? Mike just shared his innermost feelings with us. How do we respond to that?

Sadie: I feel like it’s a very nice story. I feel very empathic because sometimes I know how it feels.

Zibby: Thank you, honey.

Mike: I hope you don’t feel sad too often. You seem to have a wonderful family and surroundings. I hope you can spend more time happy than you do sad.

Zibby: You too. What do you have to say about this, Graham, Mike admitting that sometimes he feels really sad?

Graham: I don’t know.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for him? No, don’t tell him. I’m asking Graham. Sometimes there is no advice.

Graham: Advice of being sad?

Zibby: Yeah. What can you say to cheer up Mike?

Graham: I don’t know.

Zibby: Really?

Mike: Maybe you’re going to write a story and we’re going to make a really successful book together.

Graham: Maybe.

Zibby: What types of books do you like to read?

Mike: Mostly, graphic novels and comics. Probably, my favorite graphic novel series was one you guys may have heard of called Bone.

Graham: I think I know that.

Sadie: Wasn’t that on Instagram?

Graham: That was library.

Sadie: No, it was on his Instagram.

Zibby: On his Instagram?

Mike: on my Instagram.

Zibby: I showed them your Instagram.

Mike: Thank you. It has little animations that I do. The little Bone characters are little circles with these big noses. They go on this grand adventure. That’s a story that I would like days, a big fantasy adventure, which is a little bit in Mellybean, the fantasy world. I’d like to have a dragon in it, and some wizards, which would be cool. Another one of my favorites is Calvin and Hobbes. I don’t know if you guys would know that. That was probably finished before you were born. It’s about this little boy and his stuffed tiger. They go on adventures together. The expressiveness of very simple line drawing and things like that just really inspire me and amaze me every time I look at the work.

Sadie: I have an idea for the fourth book.

Mike: Oh, yeah?

Sadie: Does Mellybean live in a city or more of a —

Mike: — More of a suburb.

Sadie: Are there woods?

Mike: Yes, woods and hiking trails where we used to go.

Sadie: Maybe Nara could visit, and they could go on a hike.

Mike: That’s a good idea.

Sadie: Melly could get lost in the forest with Nara.

Mike: The forest is a good hiding spot for Nara.

Zibby: Especially if we paint her to look like a tree.

Mike: Good bad guy, too, now —

Zibby: Oh, Nara’s a boy. Sorry.

Mike: — to see if people want to experiment on the big monster or if people will be scared.

Zibby: Is Nara a boy or a girl? We’re having a debate here.

Mike: Nara’s a boy.

Sadie: I told you.

Zibby: Okay, okay.

Mike: He has a gravelly voice kind of like mine.

Zibby: You mentioned that you had thought about turning it into a series or you maybe wanted to turn it into a series — tell us about that — to watch.

Mike: When I graduated school, I went to college for animation. I actually worked in television for a little bit making kids’ shows. One of them is named Johnny Test, for the Warner Brothers, which is on Netflix, which you may or may not have seen. I learned how to animate. What I did was I animated the first chapter of the book to show around to people like Netflix or Amazon, if they want to make a show out of it. That’s one of the things I have in the works. My agent is currently talking to other agents about pitching it to studios. I’m not sure how the magic works aside from doing the drawings over and over.

Zibby: That’s exciting. That’s cool.

Mike: That’s what I did.

Zibby: How do you animate? You were trying to animate.

Sadie: Yeah, I want to be an animator.

Mike: You do? You got to do a lot of drawings. Just make it move little by little, inch by inch.

Sadie: If you don’t, then it’ll be here and here and here. It doesn’t look real. Comic books, you don’t have to do a lot of that.

Mike: In comic books, you still do.

Sadie: You don’t have to move it inch by inch in every photo.

Mike: That’s true, but you can do pose to pose and panel to panel. Then take two pieces of paper. You can trace the in-between drawings. If you have a couple drawings that move from very far to very far, if you do what’s called an in-between in between there, it’ll look like it’s moving very fast. Then you can flip through them to make it look like it’s animated.

Graham: Just like a flipbook?

Mike: Yeah, exactly like a flipbook. Actually, Dog Man books, I don’t know if you’ve read those, but they have the flip-o-rama.

Zibby: Yes, flip-o-rama.

Mike: That’s basically how you do animation. I use a program called Flash. Then you draw right in the computer. You just draw on one frame. Then you draw the next frame. You draw the next frame.

Zibby: You like to draw on the computer and not by hand?

Mike: My favorite is drawing on paper. I just discovered it’s faster and removes a step by drawing directly into the computer. The first two books, I actually did on paper with pen and ink using a brush that you dip in ink, very old-timey. Then I would scan each page into the computer to be colored. With the third book, I was in transit moving around, so I didn’t have my drawing table and all my tools and drawing supplies. I just had my monitor and my laptop. With the third book, I actually inked it digitally and just did the pencils on paper.

Zibby: Graham has an idea for how to continue this series. Go ahead.

Graham: Sadie, can you say it?

Zibby: At least show him the page.

Sadie: It says that he’d take a look after dinner in the last page right there. Maybe that could be a continuous thing about him taking a look after dinner.

Mike: Oh, the adults can go into the magical world?

Sadie: Yeah.

Mike: That could be another one. That’s another good idea. I like it.

Zibby: Just keep these guys around. They charge hourly.

Sadie: Like a flipbook like this.

Zibby: Oh, that’s cool. Here, show Mike. You see it? Show him.

Sadie: It’s kind of tiny. It’s from a handstand to the —

Zibby: — She did a little mini flipbook.

Mike: Right now? That’s awesome. If you want to be an animator, learn to draw a lot. Don’t be afraid to do things over and over and over because that’s how you get good at something. That’s how I learned. When I was doing my books, it only took me two months to draw the entire book because when I went to school, I learned how to — some people take years. Because I went to school and learned how to animate traditionally on paper, I learned how to draw. College taught me a lot. That’s my encouragement.

Zibby: So, go to college.

Mike: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to throw away bad drawings or just redraw them over and over. If somebody asks you to redraw them, don’t be afraid. Just be encouraged.

Zibby: You’re hearing this, guys?

Children: Yes.

Zibby: Any last questions for Mike, you guys? Do you have a question?

Graham: Yeah.

Zibby: What is it?

Graham: What’s going to be the cover of this fourth book?

Sadie: We don’t even know what the fourth book is going to be about yet.

Mike: It might be Nara painted like a house.

Zibby: I love it. House painter. Do you have a last question, Sadie?

Sadie: I like that you put yourself in the end of the book.

Mike: Thanks. That was not by design. It just sort of happened that way.

Sadie: It was really cool.

Mike: Thanks. The chicken nuggets is a tradition we stole from a pet rescue that always gives their pets chicken nuggets on Wednesdays.

Zibby: That’s funny.

Mike: We adopted that as well as adopting a dog.

Sadie: A bunch of things you didn’t think you would adopt.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Thank you for the time. What do you guys say?

Sadie: I’m almost done with my flipbook.

Zibby: She wants to show you her flipbook. She’s putting on a cover, right? Is that what you’re doing, or you’re doing a new one?

Mike: Wow, you’ve done a full production over there.

Zibby: We’re doing a full production. I could stop the recording and you could just show him the flipbook.

Graham: We’re recording?

Zibby: Yeah. Can you say thank you?

Children: Thank you.

Mike: My pleasure.

Zibby: Can you say it like you mean it?

Graham: Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on.



Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts