The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Eric and Terry Fan
I am so excited and honored to have The Fan Brothers visiting to share with us insights and backstory about their amazing new picture book, It Fell From the Sky! It is an absolutely glorious masterpiece.
Eric Fan - Eric Fan is an artist and writer who also lives in Toronto, Canada. Born in Hawaii and raised in Toronto, he attended the Ontario College of Art and Design, where he studied illustration, sculpture, and film. He has a passion for vintage bikes, clockwork contraptions, and impossible dreams.
Terry Fan - Terry Fan received his formal art training at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada. His work is a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, using ink or graphite mixed with digital. He spends his days (and nights) creating magical paintings, portraits, and prints. Born in Illinois, he now lives in Toronto.
Sendak Fellows and Kate Greenaway Medal nominees, their work is a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, using ink or graphite mixed with digital. They are the co-author/illustrators of the widely acclaimed The Night Gardener (2016) and Ocean Meets Sky (2018). And their collaboration with their younger brother, artist and poet Devin Fan, The Barnabus Project (2020), is the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award Winner.
They are also the illustrators of The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry (2019), The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater (2017), and The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield (2016).
For additional information, see our earlier interview (here).
Their newest picture book collaboration, It Fell From the Sky, released on September 28th.
Welcome Eric & Terry, it’s great to visit with you both again.
So, tell me what was your inspiration for It Fell From the Sky? (When I first saw the title and cover, The Gods Must Be Crazy flashed through my mind.)
Eric -That’s an interesting comparison, and no doubt that film was probably buried in our subconscious. Like all our books, the initial idea came from standalone image we had done about ten years ago showing top hat-wearing insects in a garden, surrounding a marble. We like to use an image as a springboard for our stories. Most writers can relate to the difficulty of starting a new story and being faced with an empty page. Finding a visual image that seems to have a story around it already, or is open-ended enough to suggest one, is a great way to begin. As you go through the process of interrogating the image, the story has a way of constructing itself.
Terry – Another inspiration for It Fell from the Sky is the fact that Eric and I both collected marbles when we were younger. We loved the mystery and beauty of these humble little glass worlds. Over time we discovered that there were rare marbles and handmade marbles that were nearly a hundred years old. They all had evocative names like onionskins, “end of the day” marbles, agates, gooseberries, micas, lattice-core, Benningtons, lutzes, and sulphides. We learned to identify the handmade ones by the two rough patches at the marble’s poles, known as pontils. The pontils are where the marble was cut from its cane by a glassmaker. For our book, we used the most recognizable, machine-made marble, which is the cat’s eye. We wanted something very ordinary that was still intriguing and mysterious enough to be a wonder to the insects of the garden.
Such a fun image to start with and your listing of marbles reminded me of ones I had as a kid. Was there any difference in the style or method of your collaboration for It Fell From the Sky versus your other three author/illustrated books - The Night Gardener, Ocean Meets Sky, and The Barnabus Project ?
Eric - At this point our working process is fairly solidified. Stylistically, we did something a little different than previous books, which was to do the whole book in black and white, with only the marble and the Spider’s leaf “money” in color, along with the final spread.
Terry – We wanted to emphasize the otherworldly quality of the marble, and how different it was from the rest of the insect’s world; almost as if it had fallen from another dimension. We like to think of it as a bit Lovecraftian, minus the cosmic horror.
I really loved the contrast, and the spread, it is different, but still as stunningly beautiful and poignant as your other books. How many revisions did it take to get for the illustrations and/or the text from first draft to publication?
Eric - I believe we did three versions of the rough dummy before we started final art, so it was a fairly typical time frame for us.
Terry – For previous books it’s been similar. We try to have a fairly comprehensive first draft and then tweaks and changes based on whatever feedback we receive from our editor and art director. It seems like three or four drafts usually gets us there.
I guess now the smart question should have been how long does that first draft take? So. what was the hardest thing for each of you about writing and/or illustrating It Fell From the Sky?
Eric -The story process itself was fairly painless. I think the main challenge was doing the book primarily in black and white while finding ways to keep it interesting visually.
Terry – I think one of the biggest challenges for any book is finding the right page turns, and the right pacing for a story. It was no different for It Fell from the Sky, and that’s probably what we agonized the most about.
The ethereal feel of the dandelion heads and the minute details of the garden inhabitants is phenomenal and whimsical. You have previous left treasures or woven a story throughout the illustrations. Did either of you do this in It Fell From the Sky? If so, could you share one or more with us?
Eric - We stayed fairly on-track with this one and didn’t sneak in many asides or Easter eggs. The one suggestion we had early on from our editor and art director (Justin Chanda and Lizzy Bromley) was to preview the Spider earlier in the illustrations, so that he’s always half hidden in the background, but slowly sneaking closer to the marble.
Terry – Another little Easter Egg is that one of the insects on the cover is known as a Picasso Beetle (which is one of the coolest real bugs there is). We thought it would be funny to have him wearing a beret, and on one of the flaps we had him painting a little portrait of the marble en plein air.
© Terry and Eric Fan, 2021.
Kids will have fun trying to spot him. Especially on the Luna Moth spread. I love the Picasso Beetle! Do you each have a favorite spread in It Fell From the Sky? Which one?
Eric - My favorite spread is probably the spread with the wise old grasshopper, who is consulted early on to determine what the marble is. I don’t know why exactly; I just find it funny.
© Terry and Eric Fan, 2021.
Terry – It’s a toss-up for me. I like the big close-up of the Spider clutching the marble, and also the final spread just because it brings back fond memories of objects I used to collect as a kid, and toys I played with.
It is pretty funny! Well, I'll go with the Spider close-up, so I don't ruin the ending. What's something you want your readers to know about It Fell From the Sky?
Eric - Hopefully the central message of the book: which is that the things you give back to the world are ultimately more meaningful than the things you take from it.
Terry – We also hoped it will give readers a new way to look at the world around them, especially “mundane” objects. It’s all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, by looking at it with fresh eyes.
Personally, I think you succeeded in spades. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Eric - We’re just finishing up our next book with Simon & Schuster, but I’m not sure if we’re allowed to say anything about it at this point. I also have a picture book coming out next year that I wrote but didn’t illustrate called Night Lunch. It’s being published by Tundra Books – Penguin Random House Canada, and illustrated by the brilliant Dena Seiferling. I thought it would be interesting to be on the other side of the creative ledger for once, and hand off a piece of writing to an illustrator you admire.
Terry – Yes, our next book should be published next fall as well. As soon as more is announced we’ll be able to say more about it, but I will say that we’re excited about how its’s going!
That's interesting! I can't wait to see what you think of that experience and for the announcement of your next collaboration. How have you both been staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Eric - We’ve been quite busy, so we haven’t really had much time to reflect upon it. Part of staying creative is simply staying healthy, so I try to go out for a walk every day, or a bike ride.
Terry – After our next book or two is finished, we’ve talked about taking a break for a while for the very reason you mention. Sometimes you need to step away from things to recharge and “prime” the creative well. You need time to simply reflect and experiment and dream about things without any pressure or deadlines.
I definitely get that and wish you a wonderful break. But I'm sure others will join me in hoping you come back and make more books. If you could meet anyone real, literary, or imaginary who would that be?
Eric - That’s such a tough question. I guess maybe someone like Shakespeare, or Laozi (if he existed). I’m fascinated by any historical figure that has grown so larger-than-life in the imagination that they almost seem like fictional characters themselves. I’d like to hang out with one of them just to affirm their core humanity, without the hagiography and cultural lens we’re used to seeing them through.
Terry – I think I’d enjoy meeting a fictional hero instead: Sherlock Holmes perhaps. I was a big fan of those books growing up and I can’t think of a more enjoyable day than spending it as a substitute Watson, helping him solve a case, but then surprising him with my own shrewd deductions, since I’m familiar with all his cases.
I have to agree, both would be awesome to meet. Thank you so much, Eric and Terry for stopping by and candidly sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post for It Fell From the Sky.
To find out more about Eric and Terry Fan, or get in touch with them:
The Fan Brothers Website: http://www.thefanbrothers.com/
Society 6: https://society6.com/opifan64