‘I love parents telling me they have to read my bloody books EVERY NIGHT’

Brothers in arts Andrew and Chris Judge, the duo behind the Create Your Own Superhero Epic series, talk creativity and collaboration

Andrew and Chris Judge: “We never really fought, I just considered him more of an annoyance when we were kids. Now, we’ve a great relationship, more friends than brothers”

Andrew and Chris Judge: “We never really fought, I just considered him more of an annoyance when we were kids. Now, we’ve a great relationship, more friends than brothers”

 

Who needs Marvel comics or blockbuster movies when you have your own imagination? This is the premise behind Andrew Judge and Chris Judge’s Create Your Own Superhero Epic (Scholastic, £6.99), a story with plenty of space for the reader to add their own contributions to the world of Doodletown. Part sketchbook and part Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, it is the third in a series that also offers children the chance to invent their own alien adventure and spy mission. The fourth – featuring a fantastic quest – will be available later this month.

Chris Judge is perhaps the better-known of the two brothers, familiar to parents for his picture books, beginning with The Lonely Beast. “I love the limitations of picture books,” he says. “You have 12-15 spreads to tell a story which is a huge challenge, but when you get it right it’s incredibly satisfying. I love getting emails from parents telling me they have to read my bloody books EVERY NIGHT. That’s when I know I have done something right.”

I write an elaborate description of how the illustrations are to be laid out, as well as the text. Chris then ignores these and does his own thing, which I have to admit are usually better

Chris has also collaborated with David O’Doherty on the Danger Is Everywhere series, featuring the exploits of Docter [sic] Noel Zone. At “Danger” events he often draws very quickly for the audience, the capacity for which he attributes to “just lots and lots of practice. I love drawing live, reacting to what the audience shout at me. It’s impossible to know what I will be drawing in the next 10 seconds and that challenge is thrilling. Even when some of the drawings turn out astonishingly bad.”

Older brother Andrew Judge also writes and illustrates but has a day job as an architect, noting, “I squeeze writing into any gaps in the day, like the commute to work. A lot of this book was written very early in the morning on the Dart between Bayside and Blackrock.” Working with his brother as an adult has, fortunately, not brought back any traumatic childhood memories: “We never really fought, I just considered him more of an annoyance when we were kids. Now, we’ve a great relationship, more friends than brothers.”

Sibling envy does rear its head, however. When asked about stealing one talent from each other, Andrew cites Chris’s “ability to bring fruit and veg to life with a few strokes of a marker. The results are always hilarious.” Chris remarks, “I actually stole his ability to draw years ago. Andrew is an incredible illustrator himself and very much influenced me when I was younger. I’d steal his ability to dance the Mamba which he does effortlessly.”

The series reflects their own genre interests. The spies title is influenced by Andrew’s love of the Bond films, while the aliens one is inspired by Chris’s love of sci-fi. Superheroes were always on their radar, though
The series reflects their own genre interests. The spies title is influenced by Andrew’s love of the Bond films, while the aliens one is inspired by Chris’s love of sci-fi. Superheroes were always on their radar, though

The series reflects their own genre interests. The spies title is influenced by Andrew’s love of the Bond films, while the aliens one is inspired by Chris’s love of sci-fi. Superheroes were always on their radar, though; Chris reflects, “I did love Superman when I was a kid. I had all of the weird ’80s toys like his space ship that fired big red fists. Our mum made me a Superman suit for Christmas too which I loved.”

Each book has a clear story but also provides space for the reader to add their own material – encouraging creativity within a certain framework. Often “creativity” is perceived as best supported by “total freedom”, but as many artists are aware, prompts or limitations can be much more useful than one might imagine. “Total freedom to do anything I like creatively is a nightmare for me,” says Andrew. “I find that working with restrictions seems to produce the best results, makes my thinking sharper. That’s the same whether I’m working as an architect on an awkward site, or writing to a tight deadline.”

Chris agrees. “I find I generally like getting a brief or a script to work from but when I’m making my own picture books I can feel very much at sea for 80 per cent of the project. It’s only after months of trying new ideas that it finally comes together. Making picture books is incredibly difficult.” Among his earliest briefs was a request, when in secondary school, to turn “incredibly boring dialogues in Irish into comics . . . They ended up photocopying them and they used them for years after. I never got paid, though!”

Working together on the Create Your Own series, they find themselves very much on the same wavelength. Andrew explains the process: “I write the books as a comic script, with an elaborate description of how the illustrations are to be laid out, as well as the actual text on each page. I go to great lengths to get this just right, including adding my own sketches and drawings. Chris then ignores these and does his own thing, which I then have to admit are usually better than my original idea.”

They are equally in agreement when it comes to advice for young artists: “Make lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff,” Chris says, and Andrew agrees: “Just keep producing stuff. We’re all guilty of wasting a lot of time staring at screens, when we could be drawing, writing, or just making stuff for our own pleasure. Chris and I have forced ourselves to make loads of short comic strips over the years to entertain each other. One thing leads to another and occasionally you will do something that other people like, which is a great feeling.”

“If you are on Facebook,” Chris adds, “my advice is to leave it immediately as you will gainthree to four valuable hours extra work a day. Create rather than consume.”

Claire Hennessy is a writer, editor and creative writing facilitator

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