When Judd Winick decided to return to his first love, cartooning - launching the all-ages Hilo graphic novel series in 2015 - he had no idea how long he’d be able to continue.
After all, Winick had spent more than a decade dabbling in other creative careers, from writing multiple superhero comic books to developing the animated series The Life and Times of Juniper Lee for television.
But with this week’s release of Hilo Book 6: All the Pieces Fit, Winick says he has no intention to stop his work on the New York Times-bestselling series. And as long as kids keep loving Hilo, he’s hoping to continue telling the stories.
The full color Hilo graphic novels, which are published by Random House, focus on an alien boy named Hilo (pronounced “high-low”) who crashed to Earth and made two new human friends, D.J. and Gina.
Over the course of the first five books, the three characters went on various adventures as they learned more about Hilo’s history - and the villainous Razorwark who has been chasing Hilo through the universe.
With Hilo Book 6, Winick is bringing the battle to Earth as Hilo and friends finally collide with Razorwark. But the end of Book 6 doesn’t mean the end of the characters’ adventures, as Winick already has more stories planned for future volumes.
Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about this volume’s story and why Winick wants to keep creating Hilo.
Newsarama: Judd, this is the sixth book in your Hilo series, and I know it finishes up this storyline. But are there more Hilo books coming after this story ends?
Judd Winick: Yes, there will be more. But I refer to this as the end of the beginning. This is the first big story arc.
It’s sort of the end of Hilo’s origin story — all the secrets have been revealed and things happen to end this part of the story. Big things happen.
Nrama: As we’ve discussed before, the books center on a boy named Hilo who crashes to Earth, as well the friends he meets here - specifically his two closest friends, Gina and DJ. We learned about a villain named Razorwark that Hilo has been running from. But now it’s time for the showdown, right?
Winick: Yeah, it’s the big fight at the end. The good guy and the bad guy are finally going to meet.
And when I say it’s a big fight, I mean big! It took much longer to draw than I had imagined, because at certain points, there’s a cast of thousands! There’s a lot of business going on.
It is both exciting and kind of sad, because it is a definitive ending of this storyline, and things happen.
But the best way I can describe it without feeling like I’m giving away too much would be just that - it is the big fight at the end. Our hero meets our villain and it’s all hands on deck.
Nrama: I know you had a multi-book saga in mind from the beginning - you told told us about your plans the last time we talked about Hilo. Was it always intended to be six books for the first arc, then more books beyond that? Or did it evolve into a bigger story?
Winick: The honest to goodness truth is that I had an idea about how it was going to end, and I wanted it to be an ongoing series from the start.
My editor, Shana Corey, when we first signed on with Random House, really loved the idea, but she wanted to know - how many books do you think it’s going to take to get to the ending?
I told her I kind of see it being like episodic television, with like, 20 or more books.
Shana is a terrific editor and now one of my closest friends, and she said very calmly, “Twenty is very ambitious. It’s a good number, and we can always do what you want to do. But two things: As a reader at this point, the mystery of who Hilo is and where he comes from… I kind of want to get to that quicker. … And secondly, if you average, like, a book a year, then if we don’t learn the answers for 20 books, that would mean a 10-year-old who’s reading it now is going to be 30 when you get to the answers.”
I realized that 20 might be too many for the initial story. So I sat down and thought it through. I decided I could tell the story in six. And I think the last time we talked, I was probably talking about a six-book story.
But after the success of the first book, Random House came back and said, “well, if you want to do more than six, that’s OK too.” [Laughs]
But I had planned for the mysteries about Hilo to be revealed in six books, so we still get to those answers here.
However, Shana said it best: “Do they all die at the end of the sixth book?” And of course, they don’t. So as I was working on these six volumes, it took me until about the third book to realize what I could do next.
I actually envisioned the next three books. And then I got an idea for another three and so on.
So I started with 20, then went down to six, and now we’re just saying an infinite amount - like comic books; you know, regular monthlies.
Nrama: So are you thinking each arc kind of stands alone? I mean, kids can always go back and pick up the older ones if they want to binge, right?
Winick: Yeah! And I think the next three can probably be read without having to rely too much on the first six.
But we’ll see. I’m just going to keep going with these stories as long as it’s fun and people seem to like it, which is probably the most important thing.
Nrama: Yeah, I looked up some of the video reviews that kids have done. You seem to have quite an audience of kids who love these books.
Winick: Oh, it’s the best. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s just spectacularly wonderful.
I think it took me a long time to figure out that this is exactly where I want to be, and luckily, kids really enjoy it.
One of the great joys I have is meeting readers.
Nrama: Do you interact with them a lot?
Winick: I do! I do assemblies, which is the best thing in the whole wide world. I’ll be going to like 40 schools over the next six weeks or two months. And it’s the best.
Kids are a wonderful audience because they are unbelievably honest. They love the books for the books.
Being someone who finally creates an original story where kids are geeking out is great - you know, old school fangirl-/fanboy-type geeking out stuff where they’re speculating; where they’re asking questions; where they have their favorite moments. You know, how I was when I read the X-Men when I was a kid. It is just an uncommon blast.
Nrama: Do you feel like you achieved what you wanted to with the first story arc in Hilo?
Winick: Yes, definitely. I really wanted to do an all-ages action/adventure story. I wanted to do a superhero story that was like the ones that I read when I was a kid - a story that you didn’t have to read five years of comics to catch up to know what’s going on. And it has a general audience feel to it, like a Pixar movie. And everybody can read it.
The fact that kids actually get it and they’re into it? It’s the best. I highly recommend it to everybody.