Raymond Briggs: British Children’s Author and Illustrator

From an AP story by Jill Lawless headlined “‘The Snowman’ children’s author Raymond Briggs dies at 88”:

LONDON (AP) — British children’s author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, whose creations include “The Snowman” and “Fungus the Bogeyman,” has died.

“We know that Raymond’s books were loved by and touched millions of people around the world, who will be sad to hear this news,” the family said in a statement released through Publisher Penguin Random House.

Born in London in 1934, Briggs studied art and briefly worked in advertising before starting a decades-long career as a children’s illustrator. He won a Kate Greenaway Medal — considered the Oscars of children’s publishing — in 1966 for illustrating a book of nursery rhymes, “The Mother Goose Treasury.”

He tweaked a fairy-tale story with “Jim and the Beanstalk,” published in 1970, and won a second Greenaway award for “Father Christmas.” Published in 1973, it featured a grumpy but genial Santa Claus and — like many of Briggs’ books — was adapted for television.

“Fungus the Bogeyman,” which charted a day in the life of a scary subterranean monster, disgusted and delighted children in equal measure after its publication in 1977.

The next year came “The Snowman,” a bittersweet story in which a boy’s wintry creation magically comes to life. The wordless book has sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world, and a 1982 animated adaptation has been shown on British TV every Christmas since.

Far more somber was 1982′s “When the Wind Blows,” a story about the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain imbued with melancholy and anger. It was adapted as an animated film in 1986, with music by David Bowie and others.

Briggs’ anti-nuclear stance made him unpopular with members of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. So did “The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman,” a picture-book satire on the Falklands War.

Later works include “Ethel & Ernest,” a poignant graphic novel based on the lives of Briggs’ parents, published in 1998.

Briggs’ books were poignant but never saccharine, shot through with the tart humor that rippled beneath his curmudgeonly public persona. Despite creating several seasonal classics, he always claimed to hate Christmas, and once said of children: “I try to avoid them whenever possible.”

“Raymond liked to act the professional curmudgeon, but we will remember him for his stories of love and of loss,” said Briggs’ literary agent, Hilary Delamere. “I know from the many letters he received how his books and animations touched people’s hearts.”

Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s, said Briggs was “unique” and “inspired generations of creators of picture books, graphic novels and animations.”

“Raymond’s books are picture masterpieces that address some of the fundamental questions of what it is to be human, speaking to both adults and children with a remarkable economy of words and illustrations,” she said.

Also see the New York Times obit by Jason M. Bailey headlined “Raymond Briggs, Who Drew a Wordless ‘Snowman,’ Dies at 88.” The opening grafs:

Raymond Briggs, the children’s author whose cheeky illustrations dignified workaday British life and an audacious breadth of emotions, most prominently in the wordless escapades of “The Snowman,” died on Tuesday in Brighton, England.

By piling up square and rectangular frames like toy blocks, Mr. Briggs helped bring the visual language of comic books to children’s stories. The technique allowed him to cram action onto a page before delighting or shocking a reader with a large canvas — two new friends soaring over an English palace, or five warplanes ominously approaching.

Despite primarily gearing his work for children, some of his most successful books are meditations on death. “The Snowman” (1978), which was adapted into one of England’s most popular Christmas films, focuses on a fleeting friendship between a young boy and a snowman. “When the Wind Blows” (1982), an argument for nuclear disarmament, shows a retired English couple blithely following the government’s precautions before they are killed in a Soviet attack.

“I don’t think about what children want,” Mr. Briggs told the BBC in 2017. “You get an idea and you just do it.”

Those offbeat ideas included “Fungus the Bogeyman” (1977), the title character a shy green creature whose long umbilical cord was censored by the publisher; “The Man” (1992), about a rude homunculus who vexes a boy; and “Jim and the Beanstalk” (1997), about a bald, farsighted giant’s makeover.

Mr. Briggs often depicted domesticity and the routines of the working class. In “Gentleman Jim” (1980), a toilet cleaner imagines what it would be like to have more fashionable careers; “Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age” (2001), follows a young cave man whose parents think he should be content with drudgery instead of pursuing his ideas about fire and wheels.

Mr. Briggs admired the Northern Renaissance’s emphasis on daily life — his studio wall included “Children’s Games” by the Flemish master Bruegel — but he was not interested in painting with oil. After using sticky gouache for the grotesquerie of “Fungus,” he turned to colored pencils to emphasize light in “The Snowman.”

He was meticulous about his backgrounds, drawing, for example, hundreds of bricks for a facade, and his squat, rounded humans often wondered whether there was more to life than toil; his approachable nonhumans — giants were an early specialty — suggested that perhaps there was.

Yet failed aspirations and loss were consistent themes for Mr. Briggs, a melancholy soul. In later years he told interviewers that he had contemplated suicide after his wife, Jean, died from leukemia in 1973, two years after he lost both his parents.

In “The Snowman” — which, unlike Mr. Briggs’s other books, has no words — rounded frames house the emotional arc of a boy’s winter adventure. The boy rejoices at a fresh snowfall, gleefully explores his home and country with a snowman who magically comes alive, and, in a crushing final panel, stares down at a green hat and scarf.

“The books are funny and the books are also sad,” Nicolette Jones, who wrote the biography “Raymond Briggs” (2020), said in an interview. “And he walks this incredible tightrope between those two things.”…

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