In 2018, young readers had their first close encounter with a new character who was literally out of this world: Spacekid iLK.
An 11-year-old alien kid from the planet Glub, iLK finds himself appointed the “Emperor of the World” after his dad invades Earth, then quickly tires of ruling the planet.
His first adventure, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, saw Earth’s new leader taking on the mantle of responsibility while learning to deal with the scary process of making difficult decisions in a world he knows nothing about.
The graphic novel’s gentle blend of humour and life-lessons has proven a hit with children and parents alike, especially among kids who wouldn’t typically pick up a book, such as ‘reluctant readers’ and those with dyslexia.
For Andrew, who is also passionate about education, this has been the most rewarding outcome because, as he explains, he, himself, was not a keen reader while growing up.
He said: “Books didn’t set my imagination alight when I was a kid and it was only when I was older that I realised that it wasn’t that I didn’t like books per se, but simply that I hadn’t found the right books for me.
“Spacekid iLK is the kind of book that I would have wanted as a kid. It’s in an illustrated novel format that brings the story to life in a new way.
“Now I hear about children who have discovered reading through Spacekid iLK, and who have since gone on to find other graphic novels and series that they love. It makes the whole experience incredibly satisfying.”
Hammond’s love of art began during childhood, beginning with drawing video game characters and making his own comic strips. After leaving university, where he studied film production and screenwriting, he turned his hand to storyboarding and landed his first job while working as a runner at a production company.
He said: “With a foot in the door, I was able to secure further freelance positions for international brands such as Coca-Cola and Google, as well as working with the BBC on their CBBC show ‘Big Babies’.
“I prepared the storyboards for each episode, which basically means outlining the first visualisation of the script. I’d illustrate where the comedy moments would be, the characters’ reactions and the composition of the shots. I learnt so much from this about what works visually, and why, and how to go about turning ideas into reality”.
In 2015, Andrew launched his own company, Andrew Hammond Art Limited. Still operating on a freelance basis, he was able to work on commissions while pursuing his own projects, including producing short films and developing online comics which would later be drawn upon for Spacekid iLK.
He continued: “I set up a website called ‘Mythed’, which featured an ongoing comic strip where the readers voted for what would happen next.
“The comic mirrored my love of sci-fi, fantasy, and mythology. I had always been attracted to Greek myths as they were exciting, visual, and came with underlying messages that taught about human nature and the consequences of our actions.
“I injected humour to make these stories more appealing to modern-day audiences and the result was ‘Invasion’.
“As well as being funny, fantasy stories, the Spacekid iLK books teach kids aged between seven and 13 about the importance of finding courage to make and follow their own choices.
“From the messages I’ve received from readers, this central message about developing conviction and inner strength has really resonated.
“As a very welcome bonus, releasing the book also opened another door for me, teaching creative workshops in schools.
“The creative arts are sometimes looked down upon in relation to core subjects such as English and Maths, but they are also the subjects where children have to face up to the scary prospect of using their own choices to create value and meaning for others.
“These subjects teach the same the values that are at the heart of Spacekid iLK: empathy, courage, communication, and connection.”
Andrew subsequently worked with UK video game studio Maverick Media on another hit title, Marvel Puzzle Quest—a relationship that would lead to him accepting his first full-time job, as their UK-based Creative Director, and the chance to direct commercials for popular international game franchises.
At present, outside of his day job, he is hard at work on the follow up to Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!, and is also developing a treatment of the series for a potential TV or big-screen adaptation.
He concluded: “Before the pandemic I had met LA production executives for the likes of DreamWorks, Lucasfilm, and Disney, among many others, to speak about film or TV adaptation.
“Covid then struck and everything was put on hold.
“Whatever happens going forward with Spacekid iLK, I’m happy. For me, it’s the chance to engage in the creative process and learn from it, as well as bounce off other creatives and inspire kids through the stories I share, that is most important.”
Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101 by Andrew Hammond is available on Amazon, as well as on Kobo and Apple Books. 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.
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW HAMMOND
We speak with Spacekid iLK creator Andrew Hammond to find out more about his charming illustrated series of graphic novels, their wide appeal, and why he wishes something similar had existed when he was a child.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for the Spacekid iLK series?
A. As I gained more experience as a writer, I learned to hone my ideas. Common themes and approaches begin to arise. Spacekid iLK was born out of a combination of three comics I’d developed previously.
One was about the son of King Kong living life as a kid, attending a new school and trying to learn how he fits in, while also holding on to part of his identity. This was the first book that I wrote for that age range of 8-12 and through the process of writing it I learned a lot about the topics and themes that are particularly poignant at that age.
I also developed a comic book, which played with the format mould of conventional comic books, set in a fantasy world where characters broke out of their frames and literally lived outside the lines of the comic panel. These two ideas, combined with a short comic strip about an alien who invades Earth to eventually help, formed Spacekid iLK.
Q. What has the reaction been like to the series among young readers and parents?
A. Seeing the reaction of kids and parents to the first Spacekid iLK book, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever experienced. When creating something, you only really have yourself as the audience a lot of the time. You have to be your own judge and it’s only when the rest of the world sees what you’ve made that that perception is tested.
As soon as it was published, I started getting responses from parents saying their kids had never read a book on their own before, yet they picked this up, read it cover to cover in one sitting, and laughed the whole way through.
Hearing the response was an incredible motivator when it came to writing the second book, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!. I’ve had kids email me asking when it was arriving and telling me they thought the first book was hilarious. It’s easier to work on something when you know there’s an audience out there that wants to read it. I didn’t have that the first time.
Q. You have a schools outreach programme, teaching creativity. How do you go about this, and what do you think is the value?
A. I’ve developed a relationship with a few different charities, like Artists in Residence and A New Direction, that believe in the capacity of creativity to give kids a voice, to give them confidence, and to also help them find work in later life. This shared belief helps us to help each other.
These charities team me up with schools and different groups, so that I can deliver my workshops on comic creation and character development, in situations where they’ll best fit. They make a particular effort to send me on visits to students that may otherwise not have access to these kinds of opportunities.
When I meet the kids, I work with them to remove the fear around creation to help them to develop their own ideas. They tell their own stories and realise their unique perspective. I also talk about working in the creative industries, so that they understand that there are opportunities there.
Q. How has your interaction with children helped shape the Spacekid iLK series?
A. Going into schools I’ve seen first-hand how the confidence of children to express themselves changes as they grow older. Kids aged eight or nine still don’t really care what other people think. They shout out their ideas and don’t hold back from pursuing their thoughts, regardless of how it might turn out. But then, in senior school, I see the kids aged 12 or 13, question if their idea is ‘correct’. They copy what others are doing and ask more questions about how it should be done, reluctant to make mistakes.
Seeing these challenges that kids face as they grow older has helped me to focus the experiences that I develop for Spacekid iLK. I work to express those same fears and desires in the book, giving kids something to relate to as well as an opportunity to see how these feelings play out in different ways.
Q. You have previously worked in TV. Do you think that the Spacekid iLK series would work well as a TV show, and how much involvement would like to have in such a production?
A. The thought of bringing Spacekid iLK to life as an animated series is very exciting. There’s a wealth of stories there. When I began the novel series, I came up with an overall arc that iLK adventures through. Since developing it more, I see all these opportunities to explore the relationships around iLK and unravel the lives of these different characters. They all relate to the central theme in some way and lead us back to iLK’s main story, but the chance to dive deeper into those individual opportunities would be wonderful.
I’ve spent over 10 years working in TV and animation as a storyboard artist. I’ve needed to hold back to some extent with the graphic novel, as I can’t depict these grand action sequences as I see them in my head. So I’d relish the experience of working with a team to put these moments from the story into animated action on screen.
Q. Being visual, your books appeal to reluctant readers. Were you conscious of wanting to attract reluctant readers when creating them, and why was it important to you?
A. The term ‘reluctant reader’ never came up when I was a kid; I just thought I didn’t like reading when I was younger. You can be quickly characterised as one thing or another as a child, and those identities can stick with you. However, now I believe that I was just reading the wrong books. Books hadn’t come alive for me yet, which made it difficult for me to understand why people enjoyed reading.
We all have different tastes and different ways of digesting information. When I read, I read slowly. I need to create images in my mind to make sense of the information and understand how different components relate to each other. I’ve also learned that I’m drawn more towards fantasy novels than real-life fiction. I didn’t come across these often as a kid so I thought I didn’t enjoy reading. I thought of reading as something ‘other’, like a group that I wasn’t a part of.
I didn’t appreciate when I was younger that hidden in these books, within those codes that I found difficult to unravel, were stories. Maps of meaning that offer us experiences. The value of which being that these offer us a sense of shared experience and insights into others’ lives. Stories help us to develop empathy and to feel less alone. I think I missed out on that a lot of the time, because I found the way the material was presented difficult to digest, so that initial experience put me off.
But when you can appreciate the worth of reading for yourself, you develop more intrinsic motivation to read and to seek out books that will suit your specific tastes. So with Spacekid iLK I just wanted to bring a book alive for a child like myself. To offer an alternative initial thread into reading that can lead to a new universe of experiences.
Q. How much work goes into preparing a Spacekid iLK graphic novel?
A. Making time to write a book alongside other work is a challenge in itself. I make it easier on myself by breaking it up into lots of smaller pieces.
I lay out the book in chapters first, plotting what will happen at different points in the story. I spend quite a lot of time in this planning stage. It helps me to move forward with confidence later on.
This plan then acts as my blueprint as I progress. With it, I’ve created lots of clear stimuli for writing scenes. It allows me to pick up writing when opportunities arise with relative ease. I can find the motivation for the scene quickly and focus on just one moment at a time, with the knowledge of how it relates to the whole.
By the time I move to drawing the book, things need to be fairly set in place as it becomes more difficult and time consuming to change at this stage. The preparations really help this stage to go smoothly.
Then it goes to an editor, who returns with notes, helping me to refine and hone the book. It’s a lot of work altogether, but I really enjoy the individual components.
Q. What are your plans for the future, not only concerning future Spacekid iLK books but potentially other graphic novels?
A. I have a host of other ideas and stories I want to tell, that all stem from core themes that I care about. I’ve started to gather these in something called the ‘Mythed Anthology’. This isn’t for publication as such. It’s more of a promise to myself that I will create all these different worlds one day.
Q. As both an author and illustrator, what do you find the most rewarding part of the creative process?
A. I love the way that you can create an idea in the viewer’s mind that exists somewhere between the words and the pictures. When you combine words and images in this way, you don’t need to use much information to convey a lot. The reader reviews the juxtapositions and creates their own meaning. Being the conductor of that experience is what I enjoy most.
Q. You have worked as an illustrator and storyboard artist for both animation and video games. How has this influenced the development of Spacekid iLK?
A. There is a filmic language of sorts that I use in Spacekid iLK. I consider the angle from which to observe certain moments, thinking of them as shots in a movie. Although they are flat, two-dimensional comic illustrations, I think in terms of a three-dimensional space, using over-the-shoulder shots, close ups, wide angle shots. It’s wonderful because I can place the camera wherever I want, with no budget restraints and I have an in-built understanding of what these compositions can do for the audience.
Similarly, I’ve learned lessons from the visual language used in animation. My drawing style has definitely developed in this aspect across the two books as my understanding of expressing emotions and movement with the characters has improved. The form they take now has been adapted from lessons I’ve learned in animation.