The Bright Agency (Children's Illustration blog) The Bright Emporium (STS & Book Launches)

Supertato & The Super-Duo Behind the Book

At Bright we are extremely proud of Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, who are currently on tour for World book day with their creation – that much loved hero of veg, Supertato

We want to share with you the thoughts and ideas and beginnings of this truly remarkable little vegetable – so let me hand you over to Sue and Paul for a behind the book spectacular!

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Sue and Paul at The Bright Emporium (top) World book day reading (photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster) 

So, we had always wanted to do a story about a superhero. A new exciting, dynamic, crime fighting icon of justice. But who or what should this character be? A dinosaur – pirate – alien – radio-active – bug – thing? No, no, no, that’s far too common! We decided on a humble spud, a plain old potato for our story.

Our character started life in a garden; living half way down a compost heap.

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It’s arch enemy was a giant fluffy bunny who commanded an army of evil carrots.

 Carrots who tried to defeat our hero with a pan of baked beans and a good helping of cheese!

‘Hang on, that’s not how the story goes!!’ you may well be saying.

True, but that was how it started!

We always work together to create the books. When I say together I mean that we both write the text for them and we both make the pictures for them. I don’t mean that we both hold the same pencil – that would be silly.

One of the things we realised about each other on our early dates was that we loved to laugh. We are almost competitive in our desire to get a huge, drink out of the nose, belly laugh from of the other. For every two or three funny lines we put in a book there are hundreds that are either too long, too silly, or too rude to get in.

Usually one of us will come up with an idea, then together we will try to flesh it out. Sometimes that idea is just a sketch on a scrap of paper or a joke or a concept (where do fish fingers come from for example). We then pass sketches and illustrator documents back and forward between each other gradually sculpting the final art and story. It’s not always straight forward getting the story together. Although we share a sense of humour we differ in what we want from a story. One of us wants a big thrill ride adventure with too many words and too much action and the other wants surreal, no rules, story telling with a tight text. It’s trying to find the middle ground that gives the books their style.

So, even though our books are quite simple, it takes lots of time, experimentation and fierce debate to create a character and to create the right world for it to live in – and decide on what will happen to it. In the example of Supertato, the compost heap just wasn’t right. We experimented with a kitchen and a city but finally agreed on a shop. Here’s a big pile of mock-ups that only made it as far as the re-cycling bin.

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Here are some scribbles from the early versions of Supertato. At first we thought Supertato could be saving vegetables and fruit from their own mishaps but it soon became apparent that we needed a proper baddy.

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As you can see, he defeated an evil soup monster who ended up in a pool of his own broth. Meanwhile Supertato and the pea (his sidekick in this version) look on triumphantly. 

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It’s funny looking back at these versions and seeing that Supertato used to be called Derek.

Once we had the Environment and the characters right we had an absolute ball making the first Supertato.

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We were talking in Supertato and evil pea voices which helped a lot when working out the dialogue and winding up our daughter! When we were asked if we’d like to make a sequel to the first book we jumped at the chance.

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You may notice that in Supertato veggies assemble our hero appears to have some friends. Even a completely amazing superhero needs a hand sometimes.

When we heard that our publisher wanted to put us (and Supertato) forward for a £1 WBD book we were really excited at being involved in such a wonderful endeavour.

They suggested we make a smaller (shorter) version of the first book, but Paul was adamant it needed to be a new story specifically involving books.

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He came up with the idea from beginning to end in about and hour and we started scribbling.

This was our initial plan for the book. You can tell I’m an illustrator can’t you! Unlike many of our books it stayed pretty close to this initial pagination all the way through the process. 

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So, here we are three books in and really excited about doing our World Book Day events.

Thanks to Supertato we’ve been invited to The Hay and Edinburgh festivals for the premiere of our Veggies Assemble ‘show’ (don’t expect too much) the plan is to make some veggie props and get the audience involved. I’m thinking it’s going to be fun… SH

To keep up to date with Sue and Paul’s adventures, you can follow them on Twitter – @suehendra, @PaulLinnet and of course, not forgetting the hero of the hour! @supertato_here

 For any forth-coming events with Sue and Paul, keep an eye on us too – @BrightEmporium and also @Bright_Group

Thanks Sue and Paul for a brilliant peek into your world!