Jeffrey Brown, writer and illustrator, known for his autobiographical books, (most recently A Matter of Life) is also well recognized for his humorous works like the superhero parody Bighead and his books on relationships like Clumsy. He is perhaps best known to Star Wars fans as the author of the endearing books Darth Vader and Son and then last year’s Vader’s Little Princess. Both books made the New York Times bestseller list and have catapulted Jeffrey into the spotlight. He is also the author of the popular young reader’s novel Jedi Academy, another venture into the Star Wars Universe.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jeffrey about his books, life in general, and what it means to him to be a dad:
You have a new book coming out Kids Are Weird. It seems to be a return to your more autobiographical work except that it focuses on your oldest son, Oscar. What inspired you to go back to your “roots” as it were?
In a way, the Vader books are as inspired by my kids as much as Kids Are Weird. A friend of mine did letterpress and gave me the thought of doing a letterpress mini-comic. At the time I had been writing down just the goofy stuff my son had been saying and I thought about turning them into these hand-crafted, very personal little objects. And then over time, I just kept collecting funny things my son was saying. It got to the point where I was thinking what I wanted to do after Vader and Sons, and thought about drawing it all out in full color and that’s how it came to be.
Kids can be so cute and funny even when throwing a tantrum. There’s this tiny person throwing a tantrum about something silly. Both this book (Kids Are Weird) and the Vader books are about finding the happiness that comes with parenting even in the frustration.
Who in the Star Wars universe do you think actually would make the best parent and why?
That’s a tough one. Because you don’t really get to see any of them reacting with their kids. I think Lando. He’s a bit of a realist. But at the same time he’s got a good heart and tries to do the right thing. You’ve got this balance. He would set a good example of being your own person.
What has been the most challenging part of being a dad and the most rewarding?
Challenging? Getting sleep! No, I mean, the day-to-day balancing time. Said it to a friend once. You feel guilty because you’re working and not spending time with your kid and guilty when you ARE spending time with your kid and the work is piling up. Or when you want to spend time with them but want them to do their own thing.
Rewarding: Kids can be funny and really sweet most of the time. Watching them grow and learn and change is also really rewarding. Our youngest son is just learning to say mama and dada. It seems like everyday he is just changing so much. Watching Oscar learn how to read and learn about the world and who he is and what he’s interested in — that’s really rewarding to see, too.
I think the one piece of advice that I usually give is don’t stress out so much. As hard as it is and as many books as there are, it’s pretty simple. You have to figure out what works for you and your kid. Everyone is so different. Just embrace that and be okay with that. Your kid may sleep through the night and my kid may not and that’s fine. With our second kid, thinking back about when Oscar was born and what we worried out about before, we see him picking something up off the floor and we just say, “Oh, he’s going to eat that.” [laughs].
I understand you have a new Star Wars parenting book coming out, Goodnight Darth Vader. Sounds like Luke and Leia are going to get in more trouble. Is there anything in particular you’d like to share about this book?
This one is a little different set up. I get parents emailing me and telling me, “My kid loves this book and I have to read it to them before bed.” And I think to myself, “Wait a minute. It’s not exactly a bedtime story.” I’m thinking it’s the kind of book that’s going to wind them up. But that’s the book they are looking at as they fall asleep. People have sent photos of their kids falling asleep with it. So this one is more of a proper bedtime story. It’s really a tour of the Star Wars universe of different characters and creatures going to bed. Luke and Leia going to bed is sort of the framework for it.
What has been the most challenging character to draw and the most fun?
Most challenging: Asoka. She’s from the Clone Wars and it’s a different style of drawing. So there’s no real life Asoka to base it on. I’ve created this way of cartoonizing the film characters, but it’s a lot harder to do from this stylized drawing and going from there. Other than that, it’s just fun.
Most fun: Dexter Jettster (alien cook and friend of Obi Wan Kenobi). Really fun to draw. We share the stubble so that might be why I enjoy drawing him. Anything from Hoth is always fun, too.
Has Oscar adopted your love of Star Wars?
Yeah, but it’s probably hard for him to match that level probably that I have. Getting to watch the films in the theater is a different experience, a different level of involvement. But he loves the films. He has a ton of LEGO Star Wars and Star Wars books he likes to read.
I noticed the same thing with my daughter. She loves Star Wars, but it’s different. We grew up watching the movies in the theater and having that surround us. It’s a little bit different now.
Well, that was one of the initial impetus of doing Darth Vader and Son. I thought, “There’s probably a ton of parents out there like me who grew up with Star Wars and are having kids of their own” and these books bridge those generations.
To find out the 5 ways Darth Vader inspired Craig as a dad, check out this post.
And you can read more from Craig on his Disney Nerd Blog here.