Brian Biggs Before Breakfast

h1 January 31st, 2012 by jules

A visit, that is. From Brian. Before breakfast. I do have strong coffee out, though.

Last year, one book I very much liked on many levels was author/illustrator (and former art director and graphic designer) Brian Biggs’ On Land (Balzer + Bray, September 2011), what is, it turns out, the first in an Everything Goes series of picture books he has planned (as you’ll read below, if you’re so inclined).

Brian and I discussed last year a cyber-breakfast visit here at 7-Imp, but I got busy and he got busy — and then it just never happened. Better late than never, though. He’s here this morning to talk about that book, as well as what’s coming up next in the series. And he’s sharing lots of images (which is exactly how you win over this illustration junkie’s heart).

Lots of other folks covered it last year, but in case you missed the book … On Land chronicles a simple journey a boy takes through the city in the back seat of his father’s car, but the details that Biggs captures (through the boy’s eyes) about the things that go vroom-vroom on land are hardly simple. It’s a visual feast, as Biggs notes (with a very Richard-Scarry vibe) the various trucks, streetcars, bikes, motorcycles, and much more that scoot along streets and rails. As Betsy Bird wrote in her November 2011 review:

Brian Biggs has brought to life the literary equivalent of Pop Rocks and Pixie Stix dissolved into Jolt Cola. A hugely entertaining, entirely loving citywide romp that puts the author/illustrator on the map … Everything Goes on Land is sort of the perfect gift book for a child, any child, regardless of a predisposition for vehicular transportation or not. It’s just fun on a bunch of different levels. Give it to the kid who has a parent that’s sick and tired of rereading picture books. Odds are it’ll become their favorite book too.

Other reviewers liked it, too: “Biggs has a cheery cartooning style that’s reminiscent of R. Crumb and ideal for populating his oversized pages with a multitude of players and detail,” wrote Publishers Weekly. “With running visual jokes and mini-narratives adding to the fun, Biggs gives readers lots to take in and enjoy.” And the Kirkus review, referring to Biggs’ cartoons here as “amiably rumpled,” called it a “glory ride for young car, truck, train, bus and trolley devotees.”

But I’m with Betsy; I think it can be enjoyed in many different directions by kids of all stripes — that is, for its keen attention to the small details of a normal day, for its bold colors, and for its engaging cartoon style, to name just a few.

Here’s Brian to tell us more about it, as well as share lots of early sketches and final illustrations from the book. I thank him for visiting, since he is a busy guy (given his animation work, parenting, writing, illustrating, designing, graphic novel’ing, and editorial illustrating).

Brian: Everything Goes started out as a conversation back in 2007 I had with my agent, Steve Malk. We were discussing the fact that I’ve illustrated a lot of books and I wanted to write some books, but what would be a good first book to put together? I’d been working on several transportation-themed puzzles and games for various companies, mostly Mudpuppy, and I was enjoying creating these busy scenes. Furthermore, I’ve been a Richard Scarry fan my entire life. With all of this in mind, I decided to start working on a book about transportation. And ‘about transportation’ is all I had for a long time.

Brian’s mother reading Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever
to Brian and his little brother, circa early ’70s

It’s hard to start something like this when one can literally go in any direction. I began writing ideas, drawing sketches, following paths, seeing where these things took me. It was a year or two later that I had piles and piles of notes and ideas and sketches, but no book. I enlisted the help of my longest and oldest friend, who is a college art professor and who was my roommate in college in Paris. We spent a day at the public library in Philadelphia going over every scrap of paper and every drawing. It’s always nice to have a fresh set of eyeballs look at something like this. Jason found connections and threads and storylines that I’d missed or let fall by the wayside, and over the course of that day and a few more talking about it, we found the thread of this kid and his dad working their way through streets and highways and on trains, learning about these things that go. Originally, they would be on some grand journey, where they’d fly, take ships, ride subways, catch cabs, and so on. They might take a bus to an airport, catch a plane to a seaside town, take a ferry, rent a car, drive to a truck stop, and so on.

Finding the intersections and connections and telling this story proved to be a bit much, however, and it didn’t really fall into place until I realized that Everything Goes was going to be three different books, and the journey that the kid and his dad would take would be a much more mundane—and recognizable—one. Kids ride in cars with their parents every day, and I believed that sitting in the back seat on a trip through the city, in the first book, would make so much sense and would still allow amazing sights to be seen and an incredible journey to be had. Having two kids myself, I know that the simplest trip into Center City, Philadelphia, or to the grocery store even, can be full of discovery. Sounds dorky, but I knew I had the book right there.

Early sketchIt was also pretty easy to attach storylines to what would be the second and third books, In The Air and By Sea. The second book would take place at an airport, as this boy, whom we named Henry later on (after Henry Ford, which sounded better than Wilbur or Orville), and his family would be taking a trip by plane and would be in an airport where we’d learn about various airplanes and helicopters and other aircraft. The third book would take place on a ferry, where Henry can see the entire harbor and various ships and boats.

In the spring of 2009, I put together a pitch — with the storyline roughed out and a lot of these sketches and drawings that i’d been working on. There were bids, we chose Balzer + Bray (I’d worked with Donna Bray when she was at Hyperion), and I got to work.

I still wasn’t entirely clear on the tone of the book. It was important to keep dad from being an expert. Which was perfect for me, since I’m not one myself. I wrote dad’s dialogue just as if I was explaining how cars and traffic work to my own kids. I had my mechanic help me out with some technical issues (he gets a shout out in the book — thanks Joe Melnick), and I took a lot of pictures for reference.

I began working in earnest on the illustrations for On Land in April of 2010, and the book was completed February 2011. Now I’m on the tail-end of book two, In the Air, which should be done in a month or so. I have a book that I’ll be illustrating for Hyperion as soon as I complete In the Air, and the preliminary work for book three will begin at the same time. As I mentioned, it takes place on a ferry, so I’ll go down and take the ferry from Cape May, NJ, to Lewes, DE. I also plan to go up to New England this summer and ride around on a few of them up there.

It’s hard work but someone has to do it.

Hmm … Wonder if Brian needs an assistant.

Thanks again to Brian for sharing today. Below are lots of sketches and some final art from On Land. Note: The images in this post of the final illustrations don’t include the book’s wonderfully detailed text. (Items are labelled, and there is speech-balloon dialogue all throughout the book, not just from the boy and his father.) Many of the images below are also click-to-enlarge-able, which is a good thing, since poring over these detailed illustrations is a very fun thing to do with your time.


* * * * * * *

(Click to enlarge)


People sketches

Title page sketch

Sketch of title-page traffic

Opening spread (without text)
(Click to enlarge)

Working out the car lay-outs

(Click to enlarge)

Sketch and final (without text) of inside-of-car spread

Sketches of trucks, followed by final spread (without text)
(Click each to enlarge)

Sketch of RV’s exit, followed by final spread (without text)
(Click each to enlarge)

Sketch of RV, followed by final spread (without text)
(Click each to enlarge)

Sketch of bikes, followed by final spread (without text)
(Click each to enlarge)

Trolley sketches

Final streetcar/trolley spread (without text)
(Click to enlarge)

Sketches of gatefold
(Click each to enlarge)

Final gatefold
(Click to enlarge)

Progression of the book’s cover:

The cover as a work-in-progress
(Click each image to enlarge and see in detail)

Cover sketches
(Click first one to enlarge)

Cover sketch revised again

Cover sketch
(Click to enlarge)

Final cover
(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

EVERYTHING GOES ON LAND. Copyright © 2011 by Brian Biggs. Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Brian Biggs.

18 comments to “Brian Biggs Before Breakfast”

  1. The detailed evolution of this picture book from concept and sketch to its colorful finale is awesome. I see the Richard Scarry influence of course, but also some “How Things Work” and some Monty Python oversized signs for fun. This book is now on my ‘must buy’ list. Thanks for sharing!

  2. A wonderful interview and such fun work!
    Everything Goes is definitely one that goes in my boy’s library!

  3. I love the busy, colorful illustrations! I will be adding this one to my picture book wish list.

  4. We love this book in our house. So much to look at and talk about!

  5. Love the colorful art and attention to detail. Can only imagine the text that goes along with it. Looking forward to reading this book – for the kid in me. 🙂

  6. Oh, my, goodness, this is wonderful. I loved each of the illustrations and how they shaped to become the final piece. The series is going in our library media center and on my personal shelves. Thanks to you both for sharing.

  7. On Land is one of those books that never sits on the shelf in my library. As soon as it’s reshelved, some kid spots it and checks it out. Really a gem.

  8. This is my two-year old’s MOST favorite book in the world!!! We love looking at the spreads together, and finding little details (like Mr. Biggs himself drawing buses and the Drink Malk Milk sign!)
    Cannot wait for the other two to come out…

  9. Wow! I have two girls who so sterotypically do not like vehicle books but I have already added this one to my Amazon cart. The illustrations look amazing!!

  10. I have admired Biggs’ book cover over and over. Now I’m going to go out and get the book.

  11. Incredible. I too would sit and pore over Richard Scarry books when I was little, reviewing every detail, imagining myself in that world, especially with the cut-away portions that showed the innards of buildings and such. This is the next generation of those books. Hooray, for for the amazing Mr. Biggs!

  12. Ah, the legal pads and list-making that went into this fantastic series. Congratulations Brian, a remarkable achievement!

  13. Amazing… 🙂

  14. […] out this amazing interview with the author, Brian Biggs, of the book Everything Goes: On […]

  15. […] featured Brian Biggs fairly recently here at 7-Imp, but now he’s back, ’cause I just gotta show some early sketches and final art […]

  16. […] met author/illustrator Brian Biggs when he signed up for my first Continuing Ed Screenprinting course. We were doing the ice-breaker […]

  17. […] posted before here at 7-Imp about this wonderful series (see this 2012 post in which I chat with Brian), which is perfect for the vehicle- and transportation-obsessed child in […]

  18. […] This illustration in Brian Biggs’ new board book, I’m a Librarian (coming to shelves in March):     Looks like this […]

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