Chris Kennett has been drawing ever since he could hold a pencil (or so his mum says). But professionally, he’s has been creating quirky characters for just over 20 years. Working his way from animation through to children’s books, Chris has managed to work on some truly “out of this world” projects including the beloved Star Wars series of Little Golden Books.
His most recent projects include the hugely popular first reader series School of Monsters with Sally Rippin, the Nerd Herd series with Nathan Luff and Cross Bones with Jack Henseleit.
Let’s get to know a little more about the Star Wars artist, Chris Kennett!
JS: Do you have a comic book “origin story” on how Chris Kennett got introduced to comics and how did this lead into illustrating as a career?
CK: My first exposure to comics, growing up in the UK, probably came from the comic strips that you would find in the daily papers. So I was getting a regular dose of characters like Andy Capp or Hägar the Horrible delivered to our doorstep every day.
Then from about the age of 7-8 I moved on to weekly comics like Oink, Beano, Buster, Whizzer and Chips and Whoopee. Probably only people from the UK in the 80s would remember those, but they’re still influencing me to this day. All of my pocket money (allowance) would go on them, and I would study every detail from cover to cover. Not to mention a healthy diet of Disney movies, Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera and Garfield. Basically any form of illustrated or anime content I could access in a pre-internet world.
I think I wanted to illustrate for the UK comics scene right up until my early 20s. But when I moved to Australia things took a slightly different path.
I started out writing and animating eGreeting cards back in the early 2000s. Remember those? They were all made using Macromedia Flash (as it was known back then) and I did that for about 6 or 7 years. I was working for an LA based website called Sugarqube and basically I taught myself animation and basic script coding along the way.
Sadly the website folded and I started to approach animation studios who were also using Flash as production software for their TV shows. I did a few freelance things for both Web and TV, but once our family started growing, I wanted to get back to my true love of illustrating.
I wrote my first picture book for my kids back in 2011 and since then I’ve gone on to do over 45 books and counting.
How did you end up illustrating for Star Wars Little Golden Books and more?
It all began back in 2015 when an email landed in my inbox from an art director at Penguin Random House. They said they follow a number of character artists and blogs and that they thought my work would be a great fit for a new series of Star Wars Little Golden Books.
So after a fair amount of jumping around the room, I replied to that email within about half an hour. I think I was in the middle of a few other projects at the time, but there was no way I was letting that opportunity slip through my fingers.
Like many kids who grew up in the 80’s, Star Wars was (and still is) an obsession for me. So it was literally a dream come true.
We asked this same question to David Messina (illustrator on Han Solo & Chewbacca). Since our first introduction to Han Solo, Chewbacca and other Star Wars characters was in film, are there any challenges to illustrating characters such these with people having a preconceived idea of how these characters should look?
For me the biggest challenge was to curb my cartoony instincts. I’d spent every day, up to that point, drawing really silly or cute cartoon characters. I probably had more influence from Tex Avery and Chuck Jones than anyone else at that point, so my natural urge was always to go big on expressions.
So not only did I have to sit within the general aesthetic and legacy of the LBGs but I had to make the characters recognisable without being too cartoonish.
My early attempts didn’t quite meet the brief and I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hone those back those early designs.
Also I was acutely aware of the overwhelming responsibility I had to recreate these beloved characters onto the page. I knew there would be huge expectations not only from the fanbase, but also from myself!
I ended up doing five books in total, so I like to think I got something right along the way.
Is there a character from any publisher you most want to have the chance to illustrate or even illustrate again? If not Star Wars, Is there a Star Wars character or series you would most be interested in illustrating now that you have done a few titles?
I’d love to work on a super cute stylised Grogu book. Maybe some little solo adventures before he appeared in The Mandalorian? I think that would suit my style quite well.
Outside of Star Wars, the Beano comic is still going strong in the UK. So I would love an opportunity to have something in there. That would be like coming full circle for me. Back to where it all began.
Although you are no longer working on Star Wars stuff for Penguin Random House, would you return to the work if asked?
Right now the issue for me is time. I have projects booked through to mid 2024, so I’d really struggle to meet the demands. But I’d have to be crazy not to seriously consider it, wouldn’t I? I’d be very temped!
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I’m usually awake by 6.30am and I’m often sat down at the desk by about 8am. I check emails etc and my daily calendar and then just start drawing. I’m usually focused on a single project at a time, but occasionally I have the odd overlap. That might mean final art for one project overlaps with rough sketches for another. So I have to be aware of the status on everything I’m currently working on, plus what’s coming up.
I try to do more creative stuff in the morning when I my brain is more rested. I have better ideas in the morning.
I’ll sit and draw until about 6pm, with the standard lunch and coffee breaks in between. I try to stick to that five days a week. But if a deadline is looming, I might need to work through a weekend or two to get it over the line.
What are you working on currently that people should be on the lookout for?
I’m about to start work on book three of a series called Cross Bones, which is a heavily illustrated graphic style novel about a band of adventurous Pirate Dogs written by Jack Henseleit. It’s extremely fun and silly and fulfills all my comic book urges.
I’m also currently working on a series for older readers called Family Disasters by Nathan Luff about a dysfunctional family whose family vacations go spectacularly wrong. I’ve previously worked with Nathan on a five books series called The Nerd Herd about a group of lowly farm animals who are desperate to climb their way up the pecking order. So it’s great to keep that partnership going with him.
As well as that I’m illustrating a collection of early reader books called “School of Monsters” by Sally Rippin. I’ve just finished off books 17 and 18 in the series and there are more to come.
At some point I have to squeeze in my own picture book, so we’ll see how that goes!
Is there any comic books or novels your are reading at the moment that you would recommend?
Right now my reading time as taken up with upcoming projects, which I have to know back to front before I start to illustrate them.
But I’ve recently bought a five book boxed set of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” which I hope to start reading soon. I read the first book as a teenager and I loved it. I always intended to go back and finish the series and now I can. Better late than never!
Thank you Chris Kennett for chatting!
Thank you, Justin!