Judd Winick was born on a doomed alien planet, but survived when his parents sent him off in a rocket into the darkness of space. His alien mother was heard saying to her scientist husband, “You seriously couldn’t have made this rocket any bigger so we could fit inside?! We’re sending the baby off into space! And, y’know, we’re gonna die!”
“Yeah,” my alien dad said, “I didn’t think this all the way through.”
Judd landed and grew up in Dix Hills, New York. He graduated from high school in 1988 and entered the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor’s School of Art, intending to emulate his cartoonist heroes, Garry Trudeau and Berkeley Breathed. His comic strip, “Nuts and Bolts“, began running in the school’s newspaper, the Michigan Daily, in his freshman year.
In his senior year, through the University of Michigan’s mentor program Judd was taken under the mighty wing of cartoonist, juggernaut and supremely good egg, Cathy Guisewite of the comic strip CATHY.
Cathy provided advice and introductions which lead to Universal Press Syndicate, which syndicates strips such as Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes, and yeah, CATHY, offering Winick a development contract.
Development only lasted a year, and UPS decided not to syndicate Judd’s strip. Weeping ensued.
You got your start in comics with creator-owned work, but have also done a lot of licensed work for DC comics. How different is your process for working with your own creations versus getting to play with characters like Batman and Green Lantern?
JUDD: There are certain advantages to working with characters that are, for lack of a better expression, owned by other companies. It forces you to write stories within certain parameters. Like, you can only really write Batman from A to B. Batman is never going to well, kill anybody, grow old, getting married, take the costume off for a while and, I don’t know, starting an accounting firm. Not that these things would improve on Batman, but I’m just saying that your stories are always pretty limited. The trick, the challenge, is to find those stories that lie within A to B. Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the X-Men, they are always going to have stories that about them basically being crime-fighters, basically fighting villians. You have to find something new and different or at least inventive in that very very small piece of real estate. It’s a good challenge. And you get to make up stories for the characters you grew up on. So, it’s awesome.
But writing your own characters– holy mackerel– the entire world is open to you. You can take your characters anywhere, you can do anything with them, there’s no limitations to how far you can go and what you can actually do with them.That is amazing and that also can be somewhat daunting. The fact that you can do anything, sometimes feel like too big a pool to swim in. Feels like an ocean.
But I spent over 10 years writing superhero comics. I knew that I was due for a change. And making stories for my own characters without a limitation is where I needed to go.
What are the pros and cons of drawing your own scripts versus having other artists draw them?
Judd: I would say there’s no pros and cons, there’s just differences. And I’m not being overly diplomatic. It’s just an entirely different process for me. When writing a script for another artist, I’m basically writing a letter to them. I specific one. I will actually say:
Page 1. panel one. INT. an office, Gotham city, night.
But when it comes to describing what’s going on in the panel, sometimes I’m very specific or I’ll leave it up to them. It’s about their interpretation of how this action or how this character should move. It’s a team effort. You’re working together.
When I’m working on my own, it’s just me. And the writing becomes sort of a messy process. I write kind of a messy outline, in longhand, that I don’t think anybody but me would understand. I take it scene by scene, figure out as much as I possibly can figure out and THEN I go over to the keyboard and start writing up what is a rough script. Again it’s a rough script. Mostly just dialogue and some notes. The real work happens when I go to actually doing my first draft. I do that with full layouts on a 8 x 11 copy paper. I draw it up, fully lettering in messy handwriting, drawn in sketchy cartoons. This is where I figure everything out. This is where the story really comes alive. When I’m done with that, I know I have a book. After the editing that’s when the fun starts. I get to pencil, ink and letter it. That’s the fun.
Again, flying solo and working with a an artist are totally different animals.
Hilo is your first work appropriate for young readers. How much of an impact has that change in pace had in your creative process?
Honestly it’s totally different than anything I’ve ever done. I think the last time I’ve actually done a full graphic novel when I did Pedro and Me. That’s the last graphic novel I did, long form, beginning, middle and end. Before that I did about a dozen or so issues of Barry Ween 15 years ago. When I started doing Hilo, I had a lot of atrophied muscles I need to be worked out, and also to find a new process to do it. But, this is more about just doing the story. I really fell in love with this character in the story and I knew this is the way I was going to tell it.
Is it difficult to keep a little Barry Ween from sneaking in?
JUDD: yes, no lie. When I first started, it felt somewhat confining I was gonna be telling a story where there’s no cursing. But in truth that’s on the only real major difference train Hilo and I Barry Ween. In Barry when there’s cursing and some sex jokes. And maybe a times a higher level of vocabulary.
With Hilo, I pretty much want to do this like as a Pixar movie. And for me Pixar movies really don’t feel like kids movies.
They feel very “all-ages” in the true sense of the word. I hope Hilo is doing it too.
When I was a kid, I read comic strips, superhero comics and Mad Magazine. And none of those were geared towards kids. They just happen to be for everyone of any age. THAT’S what I wanted to make with Hilo. I wanted a book that kids and parents alike could sit down and get a kick out of, get involved with and get invested in the story.
What is your inspiration for the series?
Judd: When my son was seven years old he asked if he could read my Batman comics. I told him he couldn’t! At those books are for teenagers and grown-ups. So we went about finding him an all ages comic that he could really get into. So I gave him a BONE, and he fell for it big-time. Jeff Smith, the creator of bone, is a friend of mine, so I sent him an email telling him my son went bananas for Bone.
Jeff being an extremely good egg he sent us a pile of merchandise. And then my son started wearing the Bone hats and the bone T-shirts and playing with the action figures and hanging up posters — and I got jealous!
The truth was I felt that I’m a cartoonist and I should be able to make something that he loves much as Bone. And that was the start of it. And now it’s really about my son and daughter.
My wife, my son, and my daughter are my first readers when I’m done with each book. And they are my biggest fans. If that sounds mushy, so be it — I am mushy. But that’s the truth. They love Hilo, and nothing has ever made me prouder .
Can you talk about your early influences? What were some of your favorite comics or cartoons as a kid?
JUDD: I owe everything to the TV show MASH, the TV show THE ODD COUPLE, the comic strip Garfield, Byrne and Claremont X-Men, and most importantly I’ll everything to Bloom County.
When I was 11years old , my grandmother sent me a Sunday Magazine section from her newspaper in Florida. It had a cover story on Berke Breathed and his fairly new comic strip. She thought she just sent me a magazine article about a cartoonist, she had no idea that it would change my life. It really did. I read the article, but more importantly I read maybe just the seven or 8 comic strips that they posted along with the article. I just flipped! I think I had that first Bloom County collection even before my local newspaper carried the strip. Loose Tails! I still have my dog eared copy sitting on my shelf.
I loved everything about the strip. I really loved how it was drawn. It was very cartoony, but to get really specific about, it there was something about the how they move their bodies. It was very naturalistic AND very cartoony. I just loved it. It was funny. Capital F funny. It was funny in all the ways I thought TV was funny. Characters. Timing. It had an adult sensibility but was also silly as hell.
I’ve never met Berke Breathed. But I hope to someday. I need to thank him.
Did you know you always wanted to be a cartoonist?
Yes. I’ve never want to do anything else. It’s funny cause I feel like for about 5 solid years I got away from being a cartoonist completely. It wasn’t something I realized. It slowly happened. It just seems like over the course of a couple years I went from always drawing and writing something, and then writing something else on the side, to finally JUST writing a bunch of stuff.
I wasn’t putting a pencil to paper at all. I wasn’t drawing. It took awhile to realize how frustrated I was. Well, frustrated is the wrong word for it.
I was angry and sad.
I didn’t realize how much cartooning was a part of me. I’m so much happier and I’ve gotten back to it.
What advice do you have for kids who share that dream?
Judd: Copy a lot of the cartoons that you like. It’s OK to mimic your influences. I began cartooning by ripping off Mad Magazine and Garfield, and then Bloom County. Hell, my college comic strip that for four years, the first year or two, we’re just pretty much aping Bloom County. Then I found my own voice. So that’s my advice I have. Rip people off.
But in all seriousness, if you want to be a cartoonist you have to keep making cartoons. And figure out which kind cartoons you like best and work really really hard to making them. If it’s comic strips — do ‘em.. Do you want to be an animator? There’s piles of animation to do out there. You just got to make your cartoons and keep at them. You’ll get better. I’m better now than I’ve been before that’s for sure. But the most important thing is you gotta do the work you love, nit the work that you think is going to sell. I’ve done both. I’ve gotten paid for the work I did to get paid, but I’ve always gotten MUCH more success but hunkering down and doing the work that dig.
In addition to comics you also work in animation.
Judd: I did. I created and produced a my own show for cartoon network called The Life And Times Of Juniper Lee. We ran for about three seasons. And I had a blast. It was a great show. It’s still a great show. The most fun I had with that was that it was the first time in my life that I actually got to work with a large group of people. AND they’re working on something I made up! That was both daunting, tremendous compliment, and a crap ton of fun. It was a great crew.
I also got to write and produce for the Hulu series The Awesomes which was created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker. That was amazing because Seth and Mike created a terrific show which, frankly, was cater made for a dork like me to hop in there. I mean, it was a comedy about a superhero team. And by the way it wasn’t making fun of superheroes, it was more like an office comedy about superheroes. And that really appealled to me. Seth and Mike are guys who have such love for comics, they wanted to make a show that was both exciting and incredibly funny. Honestly, it was one the best professional experiences in my whole life. I miss it.
What books or cartoons can we expect from you next?
Judd: More Hilo. Ohm boy howdy, more Hilo. They’ll be six book in the series. I just finished the third one and I’ve just begun writing the fourth. SO, there’s little time for much else. But the truth is I don’t want much time for anything else. This is too much fun. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. THIS is who I’m supposed to be.
John Green grew up on Long Island and has worked in New York City ever since graduating from School of Visual Arts for Graphic Design in 1997. He was the comics consultant for Disney Adventures magazine, and in addition to Disney has written, illustrated, or otherwise worked on comics for Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Scholastic, DC Comics, and First Second Books. When not drawing comics John creates artwork for video games, such as Emerald City Confidential, Puzzle Bots, and Nearly Departed. See more of John’s work at http://www.johngreenart.com.
Monday, May 2nd – Forever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang
Monday, May 2nd – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom
Monday, May 2nd – Kid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt
Tuesday, May 3rd – Sharp Read featuring Ryan North
Tuesday, May 3rd – Teen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed
Wednesday, May 4th – Love is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer
Wednesday, May 4th – SLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson
Thursday, May 5th – The Book Wars featuring Judd Winick
Thursday, May 5th – SLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal
Friday, May 6th – SLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale
Friday, May 6th – The Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks
Saturday, May 7th – YA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack
Saturday, May 7th – Supernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma
Sunday, May 8th – Charlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks
Sunday, May 8th – The Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier