Children's Author/Illustrator Biographies
November 25, 1946 -
2006 Ludington Award Winner
"Marc (Tolon) Brown." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Gale Group, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.
Photo provided by Hachette Book Group.
An affable aardvark named Arthur stars in several dozen of Marc Brown's acclaimed children's books. The bespeckled character, whose adventures mirror the lives of young audiences from preschoolers to beginning readers, is the center of an empire that includes print, an Emmy-winning animated series, and a 2001 touring exhibition marking Arthur's twenty-fifth anniversary.
The "Arthur" series grew from bedtime tales told by writer-illustrator Brown to his young son, Tolon. But why an aardvark? "I guess all the bunnies and bears had been written about," Brown told Kathleen Kernicky of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The first "Arthur" story concerned the youngster's dismay over his prominent nose. "I just imagined being an aardvark and trying to play hide and seek and my nose getting in the way," Brown added. "And if I had a cold, there would really be trouble. I was making it up as I was going along."
Brown collected his tales and drawings and submitted them to an editor. Six months later, the first "Arthur" book was published. Over the years, the aardvark family has expanded to include Arthur's parents and Grandma Thora, pesky-but-lovable little sister D. W. and baby Kate, good pal Francine, teachers, playmates, and many others. The books proved popular enough, with five million sold between 1976 and 1995. But the appeal of the characters exploded when the Arthur animated television series made its 1996 debut. In fact, the "Arthur" series sold an additional 45 million books from 1996-2001. Respected by critics as well as audiences, the Arthur television show received further validation by winning the prestigious Peabody Award in 2001.
That he would concentrate his career recreating childhood experiences came naturally to Brown, who spent most of his childhood entertaining himself with pens, pencils, and paper. His grandmother Thora, for whom he named an Arthur character, encouraged him to take his drawing seriously, and after a trip to the Chicago Art Institute, he became interested in painting. Nancy Bryan, his high school art teacher, suggested he should try working with watercolors and invested her time in his success with them.
The work of other artists continued to influence Brown's choice of a career. As he once told an interviewer: "Through art books I discovered the work of Marc Chagall, and was so impressed, I changed my name from Mark to Marc. A light went on with (Maurice) Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I had no idea the potential the field of children's books held. Sendak may well have determined the course of my life. Recently I was looking through my high school yearbook and noticed that under my picture, in the blank after the word 'ambition,' I wrote illustrator--I'm sure a 'post-Sendak' ambition.
"It was pretty clear that my parents were not going to send me to art school. They would have preferred more 'respectable' ambitions. If I wanted to get there, I'd have to do it on my own. I did, for the most part, with help from my grandmother.
"I majored in painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art. In those days illustration was considered a poor stepchild to Art with a capital 'A.' The temptation to experiment in various mediums was overpowering--I studied printmaking, photography, textile, and graphic design in addition to painting. My work consisted of large figurative paintings in acrylic and mixed media. When I let my interest in children's book illustration be known, I got the definite message that the field was absolutely the lowest rung on the artistic ladder. I was insecure enough to care what my peers thought of me. Everyone assumed I would win the Institute's drawing award. When I submitted my portfolio, I included my children's illustrations and was told that their presence cost me the award I, otherwise, would have won. I was angry and disappointed at the faculty's narrow-mindedness in choosing to ignore the scope of my work.
"After graduation I received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University. I went to Boston for the summer to earn some money before starting school in the fall. I was getting tired of the starving artist scene. I had held several odd jobs from delivery truck driver (I kept getting lost) to short-order cook."
After presenting sample drawings to the Boston, Massachusetts publisher Houghton Mifflin, Brown was told they would contact him in the event they were interested. They did. When they offered him nearly five thousand dollars worth of freelance work in illustration, he learned more about opportunities in professional illustrating and decided to make it his career. In 1969 he began part-time teaching at Garland Junior College in Boston and illustrated textbooks.
Because publishers were trying to avoid implying any values about race or gender in their books, each drawing had to fulfill specific instructions. Brown enjoyed the steadiness of the work, but missed using his creativity. By the end of the year he was determined to do more creative drawing. He explained, "My first non-textbook illustration was What Makes the Sun Shine? by Isaac Asimov. I was a little nervous because Asimov was so famous, but I had no contact with him while I was doing the illustrations. After the book was done he wrote saying that at first he wasn't sure about the art work, until he looked through the eyes of a six-year-old child, then enjoyed it very much. I think that was a compliment."
At first Brown drew mostly animals, not drawing human characters until working on Why the Tides Ebb and Flow by Joan Chase Bowden. Another experience that helped him to develop his skills as an artist was a trip to Haiti to prepare illustrations for Diane Wolkstein's book The Banza: A Haitian Story. He became more conscious of a variety of textures and colors and thought of ways to use them to enhance his drawings.
Describing his writing process, Brown said, "I think of my work as telling stories in words and pictures. When I get an idea for a book, the language and images happen simultaneously. First I must make the story work--the hardest aspect of doing a book. The text goes through many revisions. The two most troublesome parts are staying on a straight line and coming to a satisfying conclusion. If I don't watch it, I can digress and never find my way back. Stories have a way of spawning other stories, which in its way is wonderful, but I do like to have a sense of closure.
"My ideas have to germinate a long time before they come together in a book. I depend on an idea drawer full of scraps of stories, bits of dialogue, quick drawings, titles, concepts. At any one time there are probably one hundred ideas in the drawer, not all of them good. Sometimes just one small part of a drawing, one line of a vignette is usable. Often I scramble elements of a number of ideas and come up with something totally unexpected. A lot of my stories derive from things that have happened to me. Arthur's Baby, for example, sprang from our new baby.
"I like to find an issue that is important to kids," Brown told Kernicky. "That's what I think I do best. Focusing on real subjects that kids are struggling with in their lives, whether it's a new sibling or dealing with a bully. Putting that into a format that is entertaining but also helpful."
Born Mark Tolon Brown, November 25, 1946, in Erie, PA; first name legally changed to Marc, 1956; son of LeRoy Edward and Renita (Tolon) Brown; married Stephanie Marini (a ballet dancer and college teacher), September 1, 1968 (marriage ended, 1977); married Laurene Krasny (a psychologist and writer), September 11, 1983; children: (first marriage) Tolon Adam, Tucker Eliot; (second marriage) Eliza Morgan. Avocation: Collecting early American art and antiques, gardening, small-scale farming (horses and chickens). Education: Cleveland Institute of Art, B.F.A., 1969. Religion: "Protestant Episcopalian Catholic currently practicing Judaism." Memberships: Authors Guild, Authors League of America. Addresses: Homeoff--Martha's Vineyard, MA. Agent--c/o Little, Brown, 3 Center Plaza, Boston, MA 02108.
Truck driver, short-order cook, soda jerk, college professor, gentleman farmer, television art director, actor, and costume and set designer during the 1960s; WICU-TV (NBC affiliate), Erie, PA, television art director, 1968-69; Garland Junior College, Boston, MA, assistant professor, 1969-76; author and illustrator of children's books, 1976--. Exhibitions: Work exhibited widely in the U.S. and abroad, including numerous one-man shows; Arthur traveling exhibition toured U.S. in 2001.
For information on purchasing books by these and other authors, click here.