Raymond Briggs, beloved creator behind The Snowman, dies aged 88

Master of capturing the imaginations of children and grown-ups alike, the author and illustrator remains king of anti-Christmas festive tales and stories that reflect universal truths.

10 August 2022

Raymond Briggs, the creator who has inspired generations of illustrators with his magical, disarmingly honest books, has died at age 88.

For decades, Briggs has produced some of the most influential picture books in the industry. These works include his wonderful look at a bogeyman facing a crisis of spirit in his monotonous job scaring humans with the 1977 Fungus the Bogeyman, and his wordless 1978 classic The Snowman, following the night a snowman comes to life and sparks a wonderful friendship, before melting away the next morning. Often producing works that appear at first as fuzzy festive tales or bedtime stories, Briggs would instead place the quotidian struggles of working men into his pages or confront the fleeting nature of real life. No more so is this more apparent than Father Christmas, his 1973 picture book set one Christmas eve featuring a refreshingly grumpy Mr Claus.

Briggs was born in 1934. Showing an interest in cartooning from an early age, he first studied at Wimbledon School of Art before enrolling at Slade School of Fine Art. After the author published The Snowman in 1978, which he drew with a pot of coloured pencils, the picture book was quickly picked up by Channel 4. Producer John Coates who created an animated version of Briggs’ story, first broadcast on 26 December 1982. It remains one of the most iconic animated adaptations to grace the screen and has been broadcast every Christmas since its first release. Though, Briggs famously hated the adaptation.

In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Briggs stated: “I don’t like the Christmas thing at all.” The author explained: “In the book version of The Snowman, there’s no Christmas, there’s nothing Christmassy in Fungus, and Father Christmas is anti-Christmas.” Briggs added that though the film was “corny”, “film-making is a very different form from books and you have to make something commercially viable, so putting Father Christmas in as John Coates suggested was right, even though I hated it at the time.”

Over the years, the illustrator has spoken of his humorous nonchalance towards children, despite his books being loved by kids across the world. In the same interview with The Guardian, Briggs commented: “I don’t actually know anything much about children. I try to avoid them whenever possible.”

Olivia Ahmad, artistic director at Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration has published a tribute to the illustrator on the centre’s blog. Olivia writes that Briggs used cartooning techniques to talk about “the big stuff of life – social mobility, grief and abuses of power." Olivia continues, "He didn’t forget to have fun though: his surreal picture books are full of outrageous situations and subversive jokes. He wasn’t afraid to do toilet stuff either (in fact, he was one of the first to go there!). Many of his books are thought of as for children, but Raymond never saw his books as being for (or not for) anyone in particular: 'Books are not missiles, you don’t aim them at anybody,’ he said.”

Penguin Random House managing director Francesca Dow said in a tribute: “And so in life: Raymond was a generous, unjealous spirit who was a pleasure to work with, as well as to visit in his Sussex cottage and experience his teasing genius in its home. I will miss him. He leaves an extraordinary legacy and a big hole.” Penguin Books UK also tweeted: “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Raymond Briggs, creator of pioneering picture book The Snowman, the hilariously grumpy Father Christmas series and (much, much) more. All of us who had the privilege of working with him will miss him.”

Other titles from the legendary illustrator include the graphic novels Ethel and Ernest and When the Wind Blows, the 1994 book The Bear and a 2001 book about a boy in the stone age, Ug.

BookTrust, which awarded the author its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, tweeted: “We are all devastated to hear about the death of Raymond Briggs… He will live on in his stunning, iconic books.”

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Raymond Briggs, illustration by Robin Shaw (Courtesy of Snowman Ent.)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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