Barroux is a household name in contemporary French illustration. He was born in Paris but grew up in Morocco, returning to France to study architecture at the Ecole Estiennes, then art at the prestigious Ecole Boulle. Having risen up to the rank of art director, working for several advertising agencies, he moved to Montreal (in 1996) and New York (2000). During that time, he also published his cartoons in some of the most prestigious North American newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal…). He then moved back to France in 2003.
Although he is also a very capable illustrator for adults, it is his many children’s books that have won Barroux the most fame and acclaim. Two years after this children’s illustration debut, Where’s Mary’s Hat, he won the 2005 Swiss Enfantaisie prize for Uncle John and the Giant Cherry Tree. Since then has also won awards for Extraordinary Pets (Golden Award of the 2011 New York Book Fair) and Alpha: Abidjan- Gare du Nord (2016 PEN Promotes).
Barroux describes himself as an illustrator driven by his taste for colours and fantasy. In terms of technique, he uses quite traditional but mixes them into an innovative blend that gives him a very distinctive style: linocut drawings coloured in with acrylic paint, along with a healthy dose of lead pencil. This style of his is as attractive in his lighter works (see for example Where’s the Elephant?) as it is powerfully evocative in the grittier or more sombre books like the recently published Alpha and Line of Fire.
Barroux has published quite a few books directly in English, many of which have been translated. Here’s a small selection:
Alpha: Abidjan to Garde du Nord (Barrington Stoke), translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Written for teenagers and adults than young children, this graphic novel tells us the poignant story of a man seeking to get from his native Abidjan, in Cote D’Ivoire, to the Gare du Nord neighbourhood in Paris where his wife and children are waiting. It is the tale of one man who like so many others faces countless obstacles and dangers just for a chance at a better future.
Where’s the Elephant (Egmont)
Barroux’s playful book attempts to explain the consequences of climate change through the misfortunes of an elephant, a parrot, and a snake. As humans chop down the trees of their native rainforest, it becomes harder and harder for the three friends to play hide-and-seek… Where’s the Elephant has received plenty of praise from critics and commercial success, deservedly so.
Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier (Phoenix Yard Books), translated by Sarah Ardizzone.
It was a pure coincidence that one day, Barroux came across workers emptying out an old house in Paris. Amongst the furniture and boxes they were carrying, a cardboard box containing a notebook and a Cross of War (medal awarded to soldiers of the First World War) caught Barroux’s eye. These were the words of an enlisted Frenchman telling the story of the thirst three months of a war that everybody believed would be a short-run affair. The drawings seamlessly join the soldier’s diary in trying to answer that question we all want to ask: “what was it like?”
Mr Leon's Paris (Phoenix Yard Books), translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Mr Leon, a Parisian taxi driver of many years, spends his days ferrying colourful characters to designations corresponding to his passengers' personalities and nationalities. From behind the wheel of his little yellow taxi, Mr Leon travels the world, from the North Pole to the Eiffel Tower to the Congo. Until, that is, Mr Leon decides it's time to explore the real places after which the streets in Paris are named. After putting up his taxi for sale, Mr Leon sets sail for Liberty Street and beyond, even the moon if the wind is good.