July 19, 2011
An Evening with Brian Floca
Even after all these events, WiCM is still providing a new experience every week. For instance…
This week’s event was in an entirely different room than the usual one at NYU. You see, we faithful event-goers have come to depend on good old Suite 1121. It’s the WiCM room, home away from home. I don’t even check event location details, I’ve grown so accustomed to the space. But this week’s change of plan left me hunting for my WiCM fix. Already late, I searched frantically from door to door for a familiar face. Instead, I WALKED INTO A ROOM FULL OF NAKED PEOPLE.
I would never kid you, readers. I entered a room full of completely, utterly, nakedly nude strangers. Imagine the trauma of not only finding Suite 1121 empty, but then stumbling into a circle of birthday-suited meditation practitioners. In just under two seconds I glimpsed a lifetime’s worth of skin. Did this disturb me? No. I was a bit surprised, but I’m fine. Consider it handled. I just wish to raise the issue that room consistency is important, that’s all. Really, really important.
Ok, on to more genteel matters…
This week, WiCM members enjoyed an evening with celebrated author and illustrator Brian Floca. Brian welcomed us along an informal tour of the lessons guiding his career in children’s books.
For those of you who want to copy Brian’s every step, you should study at Brown, where you should let your interest in story and narration lead you to write a comic strip. At the same time, take classes down the street at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) under David Macaulay, the famed author/illustrator of Castle and Cathedral. This class will develop your adult interest in kids’ books.
If all goes to plan, you’ll end up somewhere in the artistic stratosphere as Brian Floca. Brian’s books are loaded with incredibly detailed drawings with plentiful labeling for curious readers. Think of a hand-drawn book about how things work, or just check out the big hits: Dinosaurs at the End of the Earth, The Racecar Alphabet, Lightship, Five Trucks, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, and Ballet for Martha.
A look inside Brian’s process helped us understand why his books strike the reader as something much more than beautifully illustrated technical manuals about dinosaurs, cars, lightships or space shuttles.
The development of Brian’s books is an incredibly long affair, in no small part due to his extensive research. For his new project about trains, he actually drove the transcontinental railroad route for research. Many people tell aspiring writers to write what they know. Brian writes what he wants to know. Writing a book allows him to learn so much, satisfying his curiosity and keeping him involved with his project. But even when the research is done—more accurately, when he forces himself to believe the research is done—there’s still plenty of work ahead.
Storyboards and Dummies
First Brian storyboards his books. Each image must work with its neighbors. Perhaps this is the advantage of being both a writer and an illustrator, but it’s also a function of taking full advantage of the medium.
Attention to story accompanies the visual detail. Brian spoke frequently about his focus on narrative in these picture books. This approach, along with his attention to the size, subject, and placement of illustrations, carefully builds and resolves tension.
While this lengthy process can certainly intimidate, Brian explained how time is an ally. Moonshot, for instance, FOR INSTANCE, sat after an initial draft for over a year before he returned to it. After the passage of this time, he knew what parts deserved to stay and what parts needed to face the blade. And it worked. The results of conscientious storytelling, book planning, and time are apparent in Moonshot, where visual and narrative tension culminate in a glorious space shuttle launch reveal.
This event was just what I needed. I really craved a visual experience—even after I saw the NAKED PEOPLE in the other room—and his books are wonderful. While the picture book genre faces new challenges, Brian Floca is showing us what a beautiful art form the picture book can be. It’s hard to see the medium slipping into obscurity when products like this are still being created. I’m really looking forward to when his newest work hits the shelves.
Until the next one,