In 2018, author and illustrator Andrew Hammond launched his first illustrated children’s book, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, to critical acclaim. Telling the story of a young alien finding himself in charge of our planet, its gentle humour and eye-catching artwork won the hearts of readers aged seven to 13 while helping them to understand the importance of finding the courage to make their own choices in life.
With the hotly-anticipated second book in the series, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!, set for release next spring, and a potential TV adaptation in the works, we spoke with Andrew to learn more about his adorable creation and why he thinks it has such wide appeal, especially to children who are typically classed as ‘reluctant readers’.
By Timothy Arden
Q. How would you sum up the Spacekid iLK books to a new reader?
A. They are illustrated novels with images throughout, so they bear a likeness to books like The Wimpy Kid Diaries or Timmy Failure. However, they reflect the adolescent journey, using an epic, fantasy/science-fiction narrative. iLK is an eleven-year-old kid who hates obeying the rules. His father is an alien overlord who has just invaded Earth. When his dad decides to quit and hand the job down to his son, suddenly iLK must be the one to make the rules. As the new Emperor of Earth, iLK needs to make decisions in the context of a planet he knows absolutely nothing about.
The series of Spacekid iLk books are about how connecting with others can help you to find purpose and the courage required to protect the things you care about.
Q. How do you come up with the storylines for the Spacekid iLK books?
A. I started by asking myself what the challenges were that I faced at that age. What mistakes did I make and which choices would I make again and be proud of. I wanted to understand how a person can tap into that courage to design their own life, which seems like a valuable topic as we are all faced with so many daunting decisions as we grow up.
Q. Spacekid iLK isn’t your first foray into the world of comic-based art. Tell us more about how you have got to this point, and the evolution of your work?
A. I’ve been writing and drawing my own comics ever since studying screenwriting at university. It’s been a joy to do, albeit difficult to maintain at times, and has also taught me a great deal.
I believe writing stories helps you to process your assumptions about the world around you. I found myself returning to certain themes of courage, connection, alienation, and shame. I also loved using humour and fantasy to turn these really intimate stories into epic, but relatable, adventures.
Slowly I learned who my audience were and I was able to tailor my stories to create much more effective experiences for the reader. This is what eventually gave birth to Spacekid iLK. I’ve also noticed, having honed my craft to offer something entertaining and relatable to young readers, that the first book, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, has a much wider appeal, being enjoyed by adults and fans of graphic novels as well.
Q. You’ve received some glowing feedback from parents about your books. What feedback has made you feel the most proud of your series?
A. Some kids get characterised as ‘reluctant readers’. But when parents have seen their kids pick up Spacekid iLK, read it cover to cover, and ask for more, their perspective seems to shift. Sometimes it isn’t that a child doesn’t enjoy reading but that they just haven’t discovered the books that appeal to them yet.
I think that once kids see what books have to offer—in the sense of this shared experience, these stories that they can relate to and journeys that excite them—they begin to develop their own intrinsic desire to seek out books that they’ll enjoy. With Spacekid iLK, I wanted to develop a new way to bring books alive for kids so that those who hadn’t found their way into reading yet would begin to see it as a pleasure.
Q. You are now looking to make a TV series based on the Spacekid iLK series. How do you see the series being captured on the small screen?
A. The TV series, as I see it, will be founded on all these same themes, but with more opportunities to show these relationships, to bring the humour to life, and to develop action sequences that make the most of this epic, sci-fi setting.
I’d love to explore all of the robots and technological advances brought to Earth by iLK. I think that would be really fun. I want to hear how ‘Y-bot’ sounds. I imagine them to be like a cross between C-3PO and Amy from The Big Bang Theory, questioning everything and providing rational feedback whenever it’s least wanted!
Q. You have also worked as an artist for computer games. What can you tell us about this, and what’s it like being involved in the gaming industry?
A. The joy of working in a creative industry like gaming, for me, is the opportunity to work on these exciting experiences, which such a talented variety of artists and creators take part in to build. Each person takes responsibility for their component, to create something that really puts the user at the centre of the story.
This kind of collaborative effort is a wonderful thing to be a part of. I enjoy working with other passionate, creative individuals more than anything. We support each other to develop the best work we possibly can and it’s so much fun.
Q. You are a keen advocate of encouraging creativity in young children. How do you go about this, and why is it needed?
A. I work with different charities like Artists in Residence and A New Direction, which connect artists with schools and students so that we can help build the students’ confidence in their own unique creative capacities. I have developed a “Create Your Own Comic” workshop in which children use any combination of words and pictures to tell their own stories.
Before they become teenagers, children aren’t as inhibited, but from around age 11 they become more aware of all the different points of views that exist around them. That can be daunting and intimidating. I’ve noticed how the 13-year-olds I work with will be much more inclined to copy what others are doing and are reluctant to share their ideas. So, I’ve worked on finding ways to make this process less scary for them. I believe there is great value in being creative, to strengthen our confidence, hone our decision-making skills, and to teach us about ourselves and others.
Even by simply making time for students at school to be creative, we show them that we believe there is value in them and their ideas. So many subjects at school teach children about things other people already know. This is their opportunity for them to show us something new. To show us what they know, what they think, what they feel, and how they communicate.
As adults, we need to find the courage to create value for others. To take risks and communicate our ideas. With the creative subjects, students have an opportunity to exercise those skills early on.
Q. What advice would you give to others who might want to become an illustrator/author?
A. Firstly, make time to write and draw. At whatever stage you are in life, that is sometimes the hardest thing. Creativity requires time and space. Especially when starting out, try not to think about the outcome. Don’t think about how it will earn money or even how it will look at the end. Just focus on enjoying the process. This will make sure that you continue. When we think ahead too much, we have a tendency to put the brakes on ourselves before we’ve even gotten started.
As your experience grows, I believe that it is important to share your work. Take note of how you feel when you share your work. What are you most proud of? Find your audience, understand how you add value, and hone in on that. Soon, people will start paying you for it.
Q. How do you keep yourself inspired and motivated?
A. I love what I do, but writing and illustrating a book is a long process and, trying to fit it around other things I do, means it has the potential to feel like an added chore. To avoid this, I schedule time to do it and I really try to focus on enjoying the process as I go. I enjoy different parts in different ways. Drawing and listening to music can be calming. The puzzle solving involved in working out how the images all fit on the page is always a really interesting challenge. Writing a book is an opportunity to communicate ideas and thoughts that I don’t know how to convey any other way. I focus on the experience and I find it really helps me to stay motivated.
A sense of purpose is also a key cornerstone when it comes to feeling inspired and energised. Knowing my audience, and imagining the challenges they face, helps me to find ideas and to also feel that there is value in what I’m doing.
Receiving emails and messages from parents and kids, who loved the first book and want more, has also been incredibly motivating. When you find others who are enthusiastic about what you do, it gives you more reason to keep doing it.
Q. What can youngsters and parents expect next from you?
A. I love stories which take very personal, relatable experiences and turn them into epic sagas. I enjoy myth and fantasy, metaphor and symbols. I’ve been compiling a book called the Mythed Anthology, in which I develop other stories that I want to tell, about a host of different characters.
I expect my books will always use images, but in different ways. I want to explore the medium and offer something new to this young audience. However, I see these stories as being relatable across all age ranges. They are about how people find courage and, as such, they’re situations that we can all sympathise with. In time, I see them becoming animated films and television series.
For now I’m just focusing on the next step and am excited to release the second book in the Spacekid ILK series – Spacekid iLK: Stranded!.
Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101 by Andrew Hammond is available on Amazon. The second in the series, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!, is set to be released next year in paperback and eBook formats. Further information about the Spacekid iLK series can be found here . More information about Andrew Hammond can be found here.