Archive for the ‘press’ Category



Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

I just found an interview on NPR with Lynn Brunelle, the author of a book I illustrated called CAMP OUT! I’ve always loved this book and I still find it in stores. Take a listen and get the book, then get outside this summer!

Friday, December 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to draw and design some bookplates and postcards for Literati, which is a book club for kids. They send out curated collections of children’s books, and each of these has a theme. The theme I was asked to illustrate was “Heroes,” and I’m a Veterinarian from the Tinyville Town series is part of the collection of books.

Along with the artwork, I got to talk about my work and answer some questions via a short interview. Here’s a link to the interview, but I’m gonna copy/paste the whole thing below, for posterity. In the past, I felt I didn’t have much to say about why I make the books I make and what’s important to me in going about it. Lately though, maybe as my own kids are getting older (17 and 18) and maybe as we’re living in this age of Trump and the daily embarrassment and, well, horror, frankly, that goes along with that, I’m finding I’ve got words. Stay tuned for more.

In discussions on your early comics, Frederick & Eloise and Dear Julia, you’ve listed artists such as Edward Gorey, Jacques Tardi, and Jim Jarmusch as influences. What intrigued you about their work when you were working on your comics, and has their influence crept into your books for children at all?

I grew up in a time and place of The Love Boat, Chips, and Gilligan’s Island reruns. I knew I had a dark, or “weird” streak but in the suburbs of Houston in the 80s, I didn’t have a name for it or a place to put it. I first ran across Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies my first year of college, and that dark humor was a revelation. It was later, living in Paris, where Tardi and Jarmusch appeared in my world, and they were more about a mood and a different way of storytelling that I hadn’t seen to that point.

Over the last fifteen years of making kids’ books, I’ve kind of kept those influences in my pocket, I think. I haven’t had the opportunity to pull that stuff out for the books I’ve worked on yet. There are plenty of strains of that kind of thing in middle-grade, like Lemony Snicket of course. And some picture book artists seem to be able to get away with it too, especially the Europeans like Wolf Erlbruch (see Duck, Death and the Tulip to see what I mean). Sendak and Lobel among others were able to bring darker themes into their work as well, but today’s market seems to limit it somewhat.

These darker, “weird” stories are what naturally exists in my head, so hope to bring that world into my kids’ books at some point.

It’s cute, but it bites.

Are you still creating, or do you have plans to create, more comics or graphic novels for an older audience?

While I’ve been saying “yes” to this question since 1996, with no real results to speak of, I started writing something a comic last Spring that has potential. It’s about a guy who is dying. Probably not for kids.

Was it a challenge to move from writing comics for adults to picture books for young people?

Stories “for kids” aren’t what naturally comes out of my pen. I find that because of this, I over-compensate when I write, and end up oversimplifying and maybe not giving the potential younger audience enough credit. Thank god for editors.

The two book series I’ve written, Everything Goes and Tinyville Town, do a lot of things I want to do. But finding the voice of those books was more work than it maybe should have been.

Many of your books for children (in particular Everything Goes On Land and, of course, the Tinyville Town series) are based on cities, with a focus on the way citizens work together and keep their community running. You’ve been recognized for your attention to diversity in these fictional cities. Can you tell us a bit about why representation was important to you when creating these characters?

Because it’s what exists in real life. I can’t even think of a reason why a city or community wouldn’t be represented this way.

Your newest release, (This Is Not A Normal) Animal Book with author Julie Segal-Walters, just came out in October. What was the process/collaboration like between you and Julie on this hilarious book?

Well, nothing like the book would imply, of course. She wrote the manuscript in 2014, and I didn’t see it until six months later. She saw sketches now and then as I worked on the art, but there was no collaboration per se. This is the way picture books almost always work, by the way. The writer and artist rarely have any communication during the process. The book pretends otherwise, which is most of the joke. You’re right, it is hilarious and I had a great time making it.

Which artists or illustrators have had the most influence on your style and approach to your work for children?

This is always so hard to answer. There are so many ways to approach the question. I see work all the time that inspires me and makes me want to draw like that, or tell stories like that. I can’t leave a bookstore without seeing at least one book that depresses me because it’s so good and I wish I’d done it. A thousand illustrators have influenced a thousand of my drawings, and while there are probably a few giants that I tried to emulate as I developed my work, the last time I can actually remember actually sitting down and changing the way I draw a picture was when I rediscovered the singular Mexican printmaker José Posada a few years back. Would you see that influence in my current drawings? Well, I do, but I would doubt anyone else would.

The real answer here is probably Maurice Sendak. Not in any particular method or technique he used to draw pictures, but in his commitment to honesty in his way of writing about children, for children. Where the Wild Things Are came out in 1963, and Max’s emotions and imaginings in that book may have scared a bunch of parents and librarians back then, but kids knew it was the truth. This is totally aspirational for me. If I even get close to that in my own storytelling in my lifetime, I think I’ll be satisfied.

What is your favorite interaction you’ve had with a child about your work?

I was on a Tinyville Town deadline two New Year’s Eves ago while staying at a cabin in the Poconos with family, which included my sister-in-law and her three little kids. I had my computer set up on the big dining table every day, finishing up the drawings for Tinyville Town Gets to Work, and the kids were kind of warned to leave Uncle Brian alone so he could work. One morning, my at-the-time seven-year-old niece, Kate, who has all of my books and even several of my drawings hanging on her bedroom wall, came by and looked over my shoulder to see what I was doing. In the way that only Kate can, she incredulously announced to the house, “Uncle Brian’s not working! He’s just drawing pictures!”

What tips do you have for the young person who wants to create books?

A big part of the job that editors and agents do, is look for and find new work by new talent with new things to say. No matter how hard it seems to get through that door, keep writing, keep drawing, and keep knocking. They’re looking for you, too.

What’s next for you, in Tinyville Town and beyond?

I’m a Mail Carrier will be out in March, which is the next Tinyville Town book. And I’ll be illustrating four picture books in 2018, including one which is a Tinyville Town book, and one of which is a book I wrote about an astronaut who just wants to take a walk.

If you could split a pizza with one person you admire, living or dead, who would it be? (Bonus: What kind of pizza?)

Jim Henson. (Bonus: Any kind of pizza he wants.)

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The Noisy Night review in the New York Times Book Review is out today, online, and will be on your porch in print tomorrow morning. The review was written by the amazing Sophie Blackall, last year’s Caldecott winner, and I’m thrilled. This is the first review in the NYT for a book I was part of, and I’m pretty happy that book readers everywhere will be eyeballing my drawings this weekend. Mac Barnett wrote just a few words in this manuscript, but boy are they the right words, and Noisy Night was a joy to illustrate.
Last week, at Books of Wonder in NYC, someone asked me whether I like working with other authors best, or whether I prefer to “have total control.” It’s hard to answer this, since it’s not really the right question. The biggest part about working on a book that I didn’t write is that I’d never have come up with a book like Noisy Night in my lifetime. So working on other authors’ books is a chance to get out of my own brain-hole and into someone else’s for a bit. But the truth is, I had more control over the look and function of this book, that Mac wrote, than I do over some books that I write and illustrate. This is partly because the books I write are typically part of a series, and there are certain aspects to a series revolving around branding and a set “world” that I have to confine myself within. The other part of this is that Mac writes a script, and then he’s done. We never really “collaborated” and he never told me what to do either directly or indirectly through the editor. I had 179 words (143 if you take out the small bit of stage direction Mac provided), and I had a few months to turn these words into a 32-page picture book. All that stuff in the middle was mine to make (with a lot of good advice and guidance from Anne Diebel, the art director on Noisy Night).
When Anne and I first started thinking of the form this book would take, we kept running into a few specific issues that made it an interesting challenge. Foremost, the book takes place in a 10-story apartment building. This means that the story goes up as it unfolds. First floor to second floor and so on. Now, a book opens left to right. We turn the pages horizontally. So, how do we make a book go up, as it inherently is a horizontal medium?
Of course, the first idea was to turn the book around 90 degrees. But 90 degrees clockwise, or counter-clockwise? Clockwise was out, since then we’d be reading the book down as we turned the pages. Counter-clockwise would at least have us turn the pages “upward” as we go along. I have to say here that I’m not a big fan of gimmicks like this. I read a lot of books to my kids when they were young, and I watched them read a lot of books as well. And when we had to turn books vertically, I always felt like it was a crutch. Plus, I feel like it makes the book unwieldy for such little people. Nevertheless, I gave it some thought, and if I were writing this book for that format, that might have worked. But I didn’t write it, and the way that Mac did, it didn’t lead to a natural page-turn that would have worked with a vertical format. For example, starting with the first bit of text:

What’s going la-la-la above my head?

A man is singing opera above my head.
What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?

We begin with a boy in bed hearing a noise above him. He asks “What’s going la-la-la above my head?”

The answer is “an opera singer,” but we don’t know this until we turn the page. When we make that turn, we see the opera singer (“LA LA LA!”) and we get the answer from the boy, on the floor below the singer: “A man is singing opera above my head.”

The next line, “What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?” is asked by the opera singer. Since he was busy going LA LA LA previously, we need a new page for this. Vertically, we would have to turn the page again, leading to a new (vertical) spread. Which would be pretty cool (if I liked such things…), but would double the length of the book as well. The way it’s written, we don’t need a new page-turn here. All we need is a new page. A shift of perspective from the boy’s response (“A man is singing opera…”) to the man now hearing something (“What is going ma-ma-ma…). A gutter is enough to separate one from the other, and in fact, to me, ties them together and adds some funny kinetic movement to the page (imagine it animated — or better yet, don’t imagine it). The gutter would also be a big problem with the vertical format, as each of the characters would fall into it somewhere. And with the voice balloons being the main text location, a lot of important stuff would fall into that gutter. A baby’s head. A crow’s face.
In the end, it just created a lot of unnecessary problems which outweighed benefits. Not to mention, did I mention this, I just don’t like having to make a kid turn a picture book vertically, anyway.

The solution we went with, shifting that perspective each page, clicked into place the moment I laid it out in a series of thumbnails. It created the rhythm I was looking for, and by using color, I could differentiate each story of the building from one another. They each got a color palette, which we could then use on the cover in the building windows as well.

This is before I decided to use the endpapers to help tell the story, but it does show the page patterns and colors.

I think my favorite part of making books, other than the fame and fortune and reviews in the New York Times, is this process of solving these weird problems, and constructing the form of the book before we even get to the illustrations. Finding the rhythms and patterns and motifs that make the story work. I know my rhythms, and when I write, I write to my strengths. But an author like Mac isn’t thinking about how the drawings will work, and probably not how the book will work. He’s focusing on the words alone, and the story they make. And the words that make Noisy Night are words that would never have been put together in my own imagination, and Noisy Night is a book I’d never have made on my own. What a treat.

Thursday, April 6th, 2017


Children’s books are reviewed six times a year in the New York Times, and I’m quite happy to let you know that Noisy Night is getting some ink this weekend. The April 9 edition of the New York Times Book Review features a review of three books set at bedtime, and Noisy Night (written by Mac Barnett, published by Roaring Brook Press) is one of them. This is a first for me, and I’m pretty thrilled.
I’ll post the review itself this weekend.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Cover reveals are funny things. They’re a part of the kid-book business that I haven’t figured out whether I like ’em or not yet. (I’ve only been doing this for fifteen years – give me time.) To me, revealing a cover in some fancy way implies that everyone has been sitting out there waiting for it. In some cases I suspect that this is a real thing. But in other cases, it’s more like it’s being hoisted upon the Twitterers and Facebooks and Instagrams and becomes just more noise.
Sometimes, however, it can be fun, and last week was one of those times. Julie Segal-Walters and I have a book coming next fall where there are, kinda, two covers. The book is about the making of a book, where the premise is that the illustrator and the author are not in agreement as to how the pictures should look. The illustrator loses patience and finally just starts drawing whatever he wants. This extends to the cover, where the “original” cover is a staid, boring book cover. And the “actual” cover, that which will be see in stores and stuff, has been vandalized by the illustrator.
Jon Schumaker (Mr. Schu) and Colby Sharp teamed up to do simultaneous reveals of the covers. Colby interviewed Julie, the writer, and Mr. Schu talked to me. You’re going to hear a lot more about this book as we get closer to its release date in October. But for now, here are he covers, and the links to the reveals.

Mr. Schu’s thing with me, here.

Colby’s thing with Julie, here.

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

trump

Julie over at Kirkus asked me a few questions last week, and I gave her answers. These were written before the election on Tuesday, and my feelings about the series and about our responsibilities and as parents and adults are even stronger now, two days after watching this unmitigated disaster take place. The world I want my kids (all kids) to grow up in is a different one than this new president represents. Maybe you feel differently about the events than I do. And that’s fine. If so, don’t gripe at me here about it. Go make a children’s book.

Here’s the interview.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Philadelphia Weekly

Back in the year 2000, I was asked to design two alternate covers for Philadelphia Weekly’s election issue. This issue would go to print on Tuesday night election night, and be in newsstands on Wednesday morning. One was to depict Bush winning (note the family car on its way to Canada) and the other would show Gore (the marching band with the guilty Nader voter). I recall being on the phone that afternoon with the art director, Jeff Cox, and him telling me the fear was that we’d get to midnight and still not know.
Well, most of us remember how that turned out. I woke up the next day hungover from the late night Florida surprise to find this third cover in the newspaper boxes around town. Jeff had to throw it together in 15 minutes when it was clear that the election wasn’t over. I remember being bummed that my cover would never see the light of day, and thinking that elections couldn’t ever get any worse than that one, and now the whole thing just seems so quaint.
I’m with Her.

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Received an email this morning that Tinyville Town Gets to Work got into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show. I’d forgotten to enter the show entirely this year (I know, how do I even make a living at this?) but Abrams entered the book for me, and it was one of three Abrams books that was selected. I couldn’t be happier.
My books have been in a few times in the past. The first two Everything Goes books got in, as did the fourth Brownie & Pearl book and The Boy Who Cried Alien. It’s been a few years for me, however, and it just makes my week that Gets to Work will be at the show in October.

We have to choose one spread to hang. These are my favorites. Thoughts? (click to enlarge)

Tinyville Town Gets to Work

Tinyville Town Gets to Work

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Tinyville Town, by Brian Biggs

Super-blogger and librarian Betsy Bird wanted to talk to me about Tinyville Town recently, and put together some really good questions about the series and around some more general children’s book topics, like gender roles and the idea of “timelessness.” The spark that became Tinyville Town came from my literary agent, Steve Malk, but the ingredients had been cooking in my head for some time, and I was happy to mix it up a bit. I don’t often think of myself as one of those children’s book authors with an axe to grind or anything, but as I raise and send these kids of mine into this sometimes backward world, I realize that words have formed in my head. Please enjoy, and feel free to comment.

Here’s the interview.

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Tinyville Town Gets to Work

The first three Tinyville Town books will be in stores on September. This includes two board books, I’m a Firefighter and I’m a Veterinarian, and a picture book, Tinyville Town Gets to Work. Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly have reviewed Gets to Work, and they use all the right words.

From Kirkus:
“The diverse people of Tinyville Town fill jobs with a healthy disregard for strict adherence to gender roles in this big, bright, and friendly construction tale.”
(see full Kirkus review here)

From Publisher’s Weekly:
“Biggs kicks off the Tinyville Town series, focusing on hard-working, civic-minded folks, from the police officer to the trash collectors, who share their expertise to make a city work. The visuals are more stylized than in Biggs’s Everything Goes series—while Tinyville Town is diverse, everyone has the same toylike body shape—but the mood is similarly exuberant and attentive to detail. And the can-do spirit is off the charts.”
(see full PW review here)

Tinyville Town picture book