the news section

By "news" of course, we mean that which is new. Information, projects, ideas, that sort of thing. Maybe sometimes now and then you might find the "recent" and occasionally something quite "old" might find its way on to these pages. Possibly it could be in the form of an illustration, or perhaps I"m just behind the curve in some way. Enjoy.

Camp Out, 11 years later!

July 4, 2018 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

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!

Community Helpers

March 22, 2018 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Hey, I’m a Mail carrier, the 8th book in the Tinyville Town series came out two weeks ago. I stopped by the local USPS and gave a copy to Rita, who has worked there forever and was one of the inspirations for the character of Rita in the book. Also, I dropped by the local fire station, Engine 30, and gave Lieutenant Tony Knighton a copy of I’m a Firefighter. I’d been meaning to do this for a while now, and the perfect chance came up when I also needed to take some pictures for the next Tinyville Town book, called At the Firehouse, which will be out in Spring 2019.

Thanks Rita, and thanks Tony!

Turning Japanese

December 5, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Noisy Night was published recently in Japan, and I got a few copies in the mail. This is really amazing. When I learned this was happening, I really had my doubts whether it could be pulled off. It’s not merely translating the text and typesetting the words in a Japanese font. The words are integrally part of the illustrations. But man, this is amazing. 私は感銘を受けて

Literati interview

December 1, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

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.)

I don’t want to draw a blobfish!

November 7, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Back a couple of years ago, I got the strangest manuscript. It was called Blobfish!, written by Julie Segal-Walters, and I didn’t have a clue what it was about. It was kind of a book about animals, it was kind of a meta-book thing where the illustrator and author get into a spat about how the book is supposed to go, and it was pretty funny. I signed on, and went about worrying about it for months. Usually, when I decide to illustrate a book, I have some idea what the book will look like. It’s usually clear why someone asked me to work on it, and I can see pretty quickly what I want to do with it. This one was an exception. Even my agent, in his email to me about the script, said it was weird.
Time went by, and I worked on other commitments, occasionally sketching from this story, and occasionally talking to the editor about what we might be doing with it. Julie made some revisions to the script, I stared the process of laying out the page-breaks and finding the story’s rhythms, and things started to fall into place.
Well, today is the book-birthday for the resulting picture book. Now it’s called (This is Not a Normal) Animal Book, and Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster has it available today for you to order up and read aloud to your kids, you partner, or yourself.

I’m pretty happy that we even got to have the “fake” cover as the case-cover here. The idea, of course, being that the illustrator sabotaged the jacket cover.

Matthew Winner, he who makes the All the Wonders podcast interviewed Julie and me a few weeks ago, and today that conversation went live. You can listen to us here.

This is a very different book than anything i’ve ever made. There are drawings in it, of course, but there are also pages and pages of cut paper, and crayons, and scissors, and sketches. My art studio became a photography studio for a week last year while I was photographing these objects. I even had jars of jelly (you’ll see why).

So, go get it. I think it’s hilarious.

Jennifer is a Police Officer

August 1, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

The sixth book in the Tinyville Town series is out today, called “I’m a Police Officer.” It follows our hero, Kathy, as she walks her beat, solves a crime, and generally keeps the citizens of Tinyville Town safe. It’s available today at a bookseller near you.

I also want to point out that it’s dedicated to my good friend from high school, Jennifer Coffelt of the Houston Police. Because she’s awesome.

Jennifer Orsak Koffert houston police

Go to Princeton!

July 14, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I first attended the Princeton Children’s Book Festival about three or four years ago and thought it was just terrific. Four big tents full of people reading, writing, illustrating, and especially buying books. I was set up next to Jon Scieszka where we were writing our names in copies of Frank Einstein, and I’ve been back each year since.
I was especially pleased when they asked me to make the poster for this year’s festival, which will be on September 23. I’d seen the posters that Peter Brown, Dan Yaccarino, and Greg Pizzoli made, and figured I better work hard on this one.

So… it’s time to reveal this thing. I’m also posting a few sketches from the process that led to the final design. Please enjoy thanks, and I hope to see you on September 23 in Princeton, NJ. Thanks to Susan Conlon, Caroline Quinones, and Tim Quinn for the opportunity and the help throughout the process.

princeton book festival poster

lettering, typography

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

Time for School!

July 11, 2017 | bookmark | 2 Comments

Today is the “book birthday” for the 2nd picture book in the Tinyville Town series. This one is called “Time for School” and it follows our hero, Ellie Emberley, as she begins her first day at Tinyville Town Elementary.

The name “Ellie” came from my daughter, Elliot, and “Emberley” from one of my first favorite illustrators, Ed Emberley. Mainly, I like the alliteration of the names, and it’s fun to say while reading aloud.


I also made another time-lapse video of the drawing of the cover art. I hope you like watching this stuff as much as I like making it. Buy it on Indiebound here!

Time for School cover draw. from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

So begins a poster

June 7, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I’ll be working on the rest next week. The festival itself is Sept 23.

What’s old is new again

May 26, 2017 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing some updating on the site. Two months ago, we changed servers from Laughing Squid to some kind of custom thing my teenage son made with Digital Ocean. I don’t know if you’ve notice the difference, but it’s huge. Much quicker, more responsive. We had some email glitches but those are fixed and all seems to be working well.
The only remaining issue is in converting my old illustration galleries to new formats and getting them to work. I’m also going through and finding out-of-date media and trying to convert it to modern stuff. Namely, Flash animations to anything that isn’t Flash. One of my first attempts at animation was in 2004 with the trailer to a little French book I made called Un Mode de Transport. Today I nailed it down using a .FLV file I found in my archive hard drive, and converted it using Adobe Media Encoder. The soundtrack was made using Propellerhead Reason, which was the first electronic music software I played with. Here I sampled my own voice for the first part, and used a bunch of accordion and percussion samples for the second. It’s always nice to use hot-stuff electronic music software to make something sound like it was recorded in a kitchen with pots and pans.

Enjoy.

Un Mode de Transport from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.