Archive for the ‘childrens books’ Category



Friday, September 28th, 2012

I’m currently touring several cities in support of my Everything Goes series. More details and anecdotes about this week of school visits and bookstore events will follow once I return to Philadelphia, but something happened today that I just have to share.
I was at Prairie Point Elementary School in Oswego, Illinois on Wednesday. This was my only event scheduled for the day, so we were able to slow things down a bit and have a little more fun than is usually possible at a school visit. It was a terrific group of kids at Prairie Point and it was extremely well-put-together by the school librarian, Ms. Carol Patterson.

First of all, there were cookies.

Since we had extra time, I got a chance to make a big drawing for the kids after my regular slide show. When I do these drawings, I like to have the students pick the subject, and it was decided that I needed to draw a dog riding a “weird motorcycle.” The dog was carrying an ice cream cone, and the cherry of the ice cream cone was stuck to the dog’s motorcycle helmet. Okay? Got it? This is an important detail.

So a half hour after I leave the school, my phone rings. I posted this on Facebook, so you may have seen it.

A boy’s voice says, “is this Brian Biggs?”

I say, “Yes.”

“Um, do you remember today at Prairie Point that you talked to us about your books?”

I say, now with a bit of trepidation, “…..Yes”

“I’m the one in the green shirt. Do you remember me?”

Now I’m lying, because I’m not really sure. “Yesssss….”

“I want to know when, um, Everything Goes in the Sea, or by Sea or whatever it is, is coming out.”

I told him, in a year. September of next year.

And then he hung up.

So I got a lot of mileage out of this, telling this story. Little did I know that this wasn’t the end of it.

Today I’m in Oxford, Mississippi visiting Square Books Jr. I was in the bookstore having a coffee and, again, my phone rings with that same Illinois phone number. I didn’t answer it this time and instead let it go to voicemail. I figured if he didn’t leave a message, all the better; and if he does leave a message it will probably be worth having. Boy was I right. I listened to it just before starting my signing event at the store and as I listened I nearly cried. Yes, out of wonder and joy but also because it’s freaking hilarious. Listen up.

[audio:student-phonecall.mp3]

The audio is transcribed below in case there are parts that are hard to understand.

Hello Brian Biggs um

Remember when you came to Prairie Point you called on the guy with the shirt with the green shirt. I’m him and I really — when I read your book…

IT was AWESOME. I mean…

I like your writing and stuff and that um, that um, the um, that picture where you um, the picture where you were like sitting and saying, “I love to draw” something like that.
You gave me a little clue and that little clue gave me an idea and that clue told me that um, I saw, I saw your writing and I thought you, your, like, your writing is awesome and I like how you draw that mouth on the weird, the dog with the cherry thingy with the, the weird motorcycle you came to Prairie Point and Mrs. Patterson told, and (indecipherable), I love your books and the, the one that Everything Goes: In the Air, I LOVE that one because it shows different kinds of planes and facts about those planes..

I learned a LOT from your books.

Thanks.

Bye.

I don’t think I suffer much in my work. I get to draw cool stuff and I work in a neat studio and I make a living and all that. It’s all good. But when I spend weeks on end by myself in my little garage in Philadelphia, it’s easy to sometimes forget that this Guy in Green Shirt is out there. So I’m glad I have it now to listen to when things aren’t just perfect.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

I’m humming the John Denver tune today, “I’m leaving on a jet plane… dum dee dah dah…”
At 4:30 today I depart Philadelphia to begin my six-days on the road (In the Air!) promoting Everything Goes. I’ll be going to Naperville and Winnetka IL, Oxford MS, Chapel Hill NC, and Arlington VA.

Before you get all excited and go camp out at your bookstore to wait, I should mention that only two of these stops, Oxford and Chapel Hill, are going to be public bookstore events. The others are school appearances and a booksellers conference. But here are the details of the two bookstore events.

On Friday, September 28, I’ll be at Square Books Jr. in Oxford, MS for a 4:00pm event. Square Books Jr. is at 111 Courthouse Square
Oxford, Mississippi 38655. I have a friend here in Philly that tells me that Oxford is a great little town and Square Books is a great shop, so I’m really looking forward to this.

On Saturday, September 29 I’ll be at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC at 12:30pm. Flyleaf is at 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd 
(Historic Airport Rd), Chapel Hill, NC 27514

The other stops on the tour are going to be big school events hosted by Anderson’s Books in Naperville, The Bookstall in Winnetka, and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association conference in Arlington VA. I attended last year’s conference in Atlantic City and it was terrific, so I’m pleased that they asked me back this year.

Stay tuned for some missives from the environs.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and return your tray-tables to the upright position, for the second book in the Everything Goes series takes off today. It’s scheduled for an arrival at a book store near you, and it’s currently making its cross-country flight from online retailers as well. And if you haven’t figured it out already, this one is called Everything Goes: In the Air, and it’s all about stuff that flies. Jet-planes, helicopters, blimps, balloons, little funny airplanes with propellors, and other flying contraptions.

As in the first book, we’re following Henry and his family (Mom’s along for the ride this time) as they go about their travels. This time the action takes place at an airport, where Henry and Mom and Dad are making their way through the ticket lines, security area, and to their gate to catch their plane. When I started sketching and writing this book it became painfully obvious that I was going to have to work to make the setting as interesting as the city is in book one. A few reviewers of On Land noticed that the book was as much about the city as it was about the cars and trucks and trains, and I had to go back and dive deep into my younger psyche, back when I thought that airports were fascinating and air travel was so cool.

I had help with this when I got a chance to visit Philadelphia International Airport at the invitation of Chuck Telles, who runs the American Airlines operation at PHL. I don’t get a chance to get out of the studio for research trips like this often, if at all, and it was pretty awesome to be able to get behind-the-scenes access to the airport. I was able to go down on the tarmac and walk around some of the jets, I got sit and watch people board and disembark in the international terminal, and I took about a million photographs. Here are three that, when you see the book, you’ll recognize how they were used.

In order to make things interesting, I focused on the passengers in the airport, giving every spread a jam-packed crowd of travelers dragging suitcases and duffle bags to their destination. The airport itself is also something I had a good time with, basing it on the airport designs of Eeno Saarinen, especially Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. Take a look and see what I mean.

Now, a much easier task than making the airport fun and funny was designing and illustrating the cover for Everything Goes: In the Air. From the beginning, I’ve known that the covers of all three books would feature as many of the respective vehicles as I could squeeze into a 12×10-inch space. The decisions I have to make a mostly around how to fit in the subtitle of the book, and where to put my name.

This turns out to be pretty simple as well. The main vehicle “character” in this book is a jet airliner, and airliners also happen to be the planes that we typically think of that might have typography running along the side. (The second obvious choice here would be a blimp, which you can see above I used on the inside title-page.) Also from the inception of this project I knew that I wanted something to be on one of those banners pulled by biplanes over parks and beaches in the summer time. Running this guy along the bottom made a lot of sense and was fun to draw.

Below are several images showing the process of creating this cover.

First is the thumbnail sketch. Typically there are a dozen or so variations of this, dealing with the spatial issues and seeing what naturally falls into place, and what doesn’t. I typically have an idea in my brain about how I expect an image like this to come out, but it’s not until these early sketches get drawn that I know if it’s going to work or not. I don’t use picture reference at this stage. Instead I’m just looking to fill space and get the gist of it. Specifics can wait.

I usually take a couple of the better thumbnails and create some refined versions. In this case I decided I wanted to try coloring the sketches as well. These two sketches are what I sent to my editor at HarperCollins, Donna Bray, and sometimes color helps “sell” the idea.

The left-to-right rule of picture books comes into play here where the first image clearly works better than the second. We also all really liked the idea of having the city below, which sort of weights the image.

If there was any concern about this particular cover, it’s that I needed to somehow avoid the notion that these airplanes were all on the verge of crashing into one another. With the previous cover, of On Land, this was not an issue as we dealt with lanes and bridges. I referred a lot to images from encyclopedias and airplane posters that I have loved since I was a kid, and felt that I’d be able to pull it off.

Once the color sketches were created, I felt that it didn’t look dangerous. Rather, it just kind of looked funny.

The next step was to create a refined version of the sketch. Once this final sketch is approved, I use it to create the final inked line art, so it has to be pretty close to done at this point.

Are you interested in seeing this part of the process in more detail? I shot a timelapse movie while I was drawing the cover last year.

The inked version is then scanned and the color is created in Photoshop.

Here’s a movie of this process as well.

Originally, as you see in the above image and movie, the airplane was red and white, but my editor believed that the color was too close to the red in the Everything Goes logo. So we tried a few other versions. This one didn’t win.

In the end, we decided to go with a magenta color for the plane, and I changed some of the colors of the supporting aircraft as well. The final cover is… tadaa!

Lastly, here are a couple of trailers for the book. Please feel free — in fact I demand this of you — to repost these things all over your various social networks. Just follow the Vimeo links. If you prefer the YouTubes, you can use them as well.


Buy it on Indiebound!

Buy it on Amazon!

Monday, August 27th, 2012


Something I hear a lot from people who have seen Everything Goes: On Land is that my cars and vehicles seem to come from a different time period than the present. Most people who see this seem to think that they kind of evoke some kind of retro 1960s vibe. I kind of understand this sentiment and I wouldn’t really argue it or tell them that they’re wrong, even though they are, because I can see where the idea comes from. But more accurately, what I like to draw is stuff that looks goofy. Over the years, designers and engineers have made some stuff that looks sleek and modern (no matter what era that “modern” was for), and, well, sexy. I like to draw the stuff that isn’t that. I like to draw cars that look like their names might be something like “Murray” or “Sal” rather than “Steve” or “Justin.” They’re a little odd-looking. Maybe nerdy. Roly-poly, cute. Not sexy.
So Everything Goes: In the Air is about to come out (September 18) and I suspect I’ll get a lot of the same kind of commentary. My planes and helicopters are so 1958 or whatever. When really, in the book, there are planes and copters from the birth of powered-flight all the way to current stuff. And the same holds true. I like the looks of airplanes and helicopters and things that just kind of look, I don’t know, silly. A good example that I thought of while I was drawing the book last year is illustrated with fighter jets. Fighter jets are the epitome of cool, right? They look mean and slick and fast and like they should look. But there are a lot of fighter jets that look rather silly. Like the guys that they were dog-fighting were probably laughing at them. Of course, these were pretty awesome airplanes even though they looked goofy so the enemy pilots probably didn’t laugh very long. The F-86 Sabre and F-104 Starfighter are perfect examples of this look of fighter-plane that I love. Some people, I’m sure, would look at the F-86 and the F-104 and think that they’re pretty awesome-looking. I look at them and see a plane with the hole in the middle of it and another plane that looks like George Jetson designed it. Granted, the F-86 was designed in the late 1940s and the F-104 was designed in the early 1950s. So I’m sure at the time, they were both the coolest thing ever.
So, hmm, maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s all this old stuff. Fins and chrome bumpers and metal parts and pointy things. Whatever. I know what I like.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Eight Brownie and Pearls

Back in 1954 2008 I began working on a series of books written by Cynthia Rylant about a little girl and her cat called Brownie & Pearl. After drawing the pictures for Shredderman and Roscoe Riley, doing a project like this seemed like a longshot, a fluke, and a relief, frankly. I was kind of tired of the snarky grade-school boy thing and it was fun to get going on a project that could bring out the cute in me. I have a lot of cute in me by the way.
The eighth and final book in the series, Brownie & Pearl Make Good, was published on August 14 and the series has wrapped itself up. Cynthia sent me a really sweet box of cookies and a nice note, and little girls all over America can go cry in their tea cups. My editor, Andrea Welch, and I had a little commiseration when the illustrations were done. We’d been thinking of patterns and colors and cuteness for four years and with any long project, it was weird to say goodbye.
You can find Brownie & Pearl Make Good and the entire Brownie & Pearl series here:

Amazon

Indiebound

Brownie & Pearl Make Good on Indiebound

Eight Brownie and Pearls

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I’m not one who is often accused of, nor credited with, planning ahead. But in this case I’ll take it. About a year ago, while I was working on the cover of Everything Goes: In the Air, the 2nd Everything Goes book, I decided to document the process with a time-lapse recording. I set my camera up so that it hovered over the drawing table and had it record a frame every couple of seconds. What resulted was a two-minute rendition of the drawing of an illustration that actually took a few hours.
I’ve had this video sitting around for a year now, and while on vacation up in Maine over the last few weeks I was able to string it together to make a little promo video for the book.

The movie is made up of 1,882 images, each shot six seconds apart. The color images are illustrations from the book, and the music is by my alter-ego, Dance Robot Dance.

Time-lapse videos can be funny to watch. I have a few that I sometimes show at schools events and they always get a good laugh from the students. Inevitably there are some kids who “get it” and know that the video was sped up, and there are other kids who later on will ask me how I did that so fast.

Of course, the bigger news here is that the book will be out in a matter of a few weeks. September 11 September 18 is the release date and you can pre-order it now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie-bound.

It probably goes without saying that for the next few weeks I’ll be posting a lot about Everything Goes: In the Air including a process post about designing and illustrating the cover that won’t be so speedy.

Bonus update 16 August:
Finished a second trailer. It’s this here:

Friday, July 13th, 2012

So I’m working on the third installment of Everything Goes, and I’m sketching the final segment where a ferry is pulling into a harbor at the end of the book. The way I work, see, is that I first draw thumbnail sketches more or less from my head. I think about what I have in my imagination for this page or drawing, and get that down. Then I’ll look at photos and stuff and get some details and ideas of what the thing I’m working on actually looks like. In this case, I imagined this little beach/harbor community with taffy and surf shops, a small boat harbor, some jetties and docks, and a road full of cars that runs between the shops and the harbor. So I drew that.

The towns I had in mind are towns I’ve visited in my life. Towns like Camden Maine, Cape May New Jersey, and Sausalito California. Imagine my surprise when as I’m looking at pictures on the internets of Sausalito and this picture comes up. I mean, that’s kinda weird, right?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Like the first Everything Goes book (as well as the second, which you likely haven’t seen yet), Everything Goes By Sea is going to have a mix of busy scenes full of vehicles (boats, in this case) mixed with spreads showing close-up single images explaining the inner-workings and various interesting parts of the vehicle. I’ve been working on one of these latter ones, where the concept of displacement and flotation is explained to Henry.
I’ve drawn about a thousand boats over the last few days. Here are a few of them. The original drawings are about 3 inches by 2 inches, and are pencil on tracing paper. You can click on them to see them much larger.
























Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

I’ll be appearing at some local events this week for Children’s Book Week, and if you live in the Philadelphia area I’d love to say hello. If you don’t live in the Philadelphia area, I’d still like to see you, but I just think it seems like a long-shot.

First, later today, I’ll be at the Lansdowne Public Library. I’ll be reading and chatting starting at 4pm. (55 S. Lansdowne Ave, Lansdowne, PA 19050)

Tomorrow night I’ll be in Harleysville, right up I-476 a few miles, at Harleysville Books. I’ll be reading here also, as well as doing some drawing on a big easel. This starts at 7pm. (Salford Square Shopping Center on Route 63, just west of the intersection of Route 63 and Route 113.)

Lastly, on Saturday I’ll be back at Children’s Book World in Haverford. I’ll be talking about Everything Goes and probably reading from The Boy Who Cried Alien, and they’ve got a big purple car set up for photos, as well as magnets and other goodies. This one starts at 1pm. (17 Haverford Sation Rd.
Haverford, PA 19041)

If you make it to all three, I’ll give you a prize.

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Today, the internet is filled with posts and post-mortems and obits and love-letters to Maurice Sendak, who died this morning. My friend Charles Hatfield wrote a particularly good one:

RIP Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), one of America’s great cartoonists, her preeminent picture book artist, and one of the most articulate and impassioned author/critics in the children’s book field.

Sendak was a genuine Renaissance man, an artist whose interests could not be neatly corralled into one tiny box (genre, style, medium). But for me the heart of his achievement will always be his picture book children, those squat, feisty urchins, full of vinegar and fire: feisty, anti-authoritarian, and, yes, wild. He paid tribute to their imaginations by unleashing his own fierce imagination, untrammeled, boundless, and free.

Sendak pursued his interests in defiance of pinched, hidebound ideas about what children’s book could be (and children’s authors could do). He is that rare artist whose pursuit of self-indulgence liberated and humanized an entire field, extending its horizons and enriching its emotional palette. And he was a genuine scholar of his field too: his understanding of the picture book form was so complete, and his reverence for its history and greatest practitioners so genuine, that he became the great practitioner-critic of children’s books. (Who else would accept his Caldecott Medal by giving a speech praising Randolph Caldecott?)

Farewell, Mr. Sendak, one of our bright, burning stars.

There’s not much I can add, since I’m not so good about putting these kinds of thoughts down on a blog or Facebook or whatever. What I can say is that Sendak always scared me. I had stacks of great books — Scarry, Seuss, I’ll Fix Anthony, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, etc — and I read these books all the time, even when I was “too old” for them. But Where the Wild Things Are was kind of like the monster under the bed. There was something harder about that story, something scarier and dark and true that I didn’t understand when I was a kid. Max was angry. At his mom. He left home (or at least imagined he did). The monsters were chaotic. Did he control them? It didn’t seem possible. The safety net was gone.
Of course in the end Max returns home, but the line had already been cut and the truth revealed. It’s like the fence in your backyard where the woods begin. The yard is safe, sure. But once you’ve seen things move in the woods, once you know there is something more out there, nothing seems right any more.

Later on, Sendak’s drawings themselves, apart from the stories, were what led me back to the Where the Wild Things Are. His crosshatching, his kids, his compositions. In college, he was a big piece of the influence-puzzle that I soaked in and obsessed over. Along with Moebius, Lobel, especially Gorey, and a hundred other cartoonists and artists, Sendak made me look. Somewhere around the early or mid-nineties I found The Juniper Tree and Zlateh the Goat, both of which startled me. I think the thought went something like “good lord, this dude can draw.” I fell in love with the folk tales and the magic and, again, the crosshatching.

Then, once I was actually able to step foot through that door and start making picture books myself, I went back and read his words. Both his stories and his essays about picture books, as well as the marvelous biography by Selma Lanes. It so happened that my kids were quite young at this time, and I discovered Little Bear. The kids didn’t choose Little Bear to read at night as often as I did. Mainly so I could look at the drawings.

I’d just moved to Philadelphia and spent a lot of time at the Rosenbach Library, where I could put on the white gloves, sit in a nice clean room, and get to handle and swoon over Sendak’s original art. (By the way, a couple of observations about this: the Juniper Tree drawings are drawn at 100% of the size that they’re printed in the book, and four-color offset doesn’t remotely do justice to the colors Sendak used to make Where the Wild Things Are. They’re unbelievably gorgeous, while the book is muted and dull.)

I got to meet Maurice Sendak twice. The first time was at The Boathouse Cafe in Central Park, New York City. I was a waiter at the restaurant there, and had a table with two very nice men chatting about the lake behind them as they ate. After I delivered the check, one of them gave me his credit card, American Express, where I saw that the man’s name was Maurice Sendak. I asked him, probably in a daze, if he was the children’s author Maurice Sendak. He agreed that he was, and asked if I was an artist. I admitted that although I was actually a graphic design major at Parsons, I was a fan, and illustrating books was one of the things I truly wanted to do. He wished me luck, and signed his AmEx receipt when I returned. I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired, so I can finally admit that I kept the original and I’ve had it framed over my drawing table in various studios in various cities for twenty-four years.

The second time I met him was in 1993 where I saw him lecture in San Francisco. At the end of his lecture I ran to the stage and handed someone a copy of my graphic novel, Frederick & Eloise, with a inscription to Maurice, which had weeks earlier been published by Fantagraphics. Gorey is the more obvious influence on Frederick, but it was Sendak that forced me to put down on paper what I had in my head. There is a scene in the book where the main character, Frederick, a kind of rotund middle-aged man is falling through the sky, naked, which came right from In the Night Kitchen, and me not worrying about what my parents or people might say at what was to me a pretty twisted and dark story came from Where the Wild Things Are. Even last week, at a school visit north of Philadelphia, the school librarian had mistakenly ordered several copies of my pre-kids-books books from Amazon (Frederick, and Dear Julia,). She was a bit wary of a naked Frederick, and I brought up Night Kitchen when she asked me about it. It felt good to do that.
So the woman to whom I gave the book, back at the lecture in San Francisco, politely thanked me and walked off stage. Optimistically I waited a minute or two, and was repaid by Mr. Sendak returning to the stage, my book in his hands, looking for me. He walked over and told me he hadn’t had time to read it (!) but he loved what he saw, and wished me luck. Again. Two good lucks from Maurice Sendak did me just fine.

Admittedly, the work I am doing now isn’t digging into those recesses that Sendak exists in for me. But like Where the Wild Things Are did among my stack of books when I was a kid, that honesty, that unruly child with fears and dreams and real emotions hasn’t gone anywhere, and those stories are still working their way to the surface. I knew as a kid that the book was sitting there in the shelf, and just as I do now, I opened it and read it just to remind myself of what’s over that fence or under that bed. I’d stare at the pages where Max’s room transmogrifies into the woods, and I’d shudder.

And I still do.