Billout, Guy (René) 1941-
BILLOUT, Guy (René) 1941-
PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "be-you"; born July 7, 1941, in Decize, France; immigrated to United States in 1969; son of René George (a journalist) and Christiane (a bookseller; maiden name, Vichard) Billout. Education: Attended Ecole des Arts Appliques de Beaune (France), 1956-60.
CAREER: Freelance illustrator and writer. Publicis (advertising agency), Paris, France, designer, 1962-66; Thibaud-Lintas (advertising agency), Paris, France, designer, 1966-68.
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books selection, 1973, for Number Twenty-four, 1979, for By Camel or by Car: A Look at Transportation, 1980, for Stone and Steel: A Look at Engineering, and 1982, for Squid and Spider: A Look at the Animal Kingdom; Society of Illustrators gold medal, 1974 and 1988, and silver medal, 1984 and 1985; books selected by American Institute of Graphic Arts include Stone and Steel, 1980, Thunderbolt and Rainbow: A Look at Greek Mythology, 1981, and Squid and Spider, 1982.
Number Twenty-four, Harlin Quist Books (New York, NY), 1973.
By Camel or by Car: A Look at Transportation, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1979.
Stone and Steel: A Look at Engineering, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1980.
Thunderbolt and Rainbow: A Look at Greek Mythology, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1981.
Squid and Spider: A Look at the Animal Kingdom, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1982.
The Journey: Travel Diary of a Daydreamer, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1993.
Question of Detail, Harlin Quist Books (Paris, France), 1998.
Il y a quelque chose qui cloche, Harlin Quist Books (Paris, France), 1998, published as Something's Not Quite Right, David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 2002.
Contributor of illustrations and columns to Atlantic Monthly, and of illustrations to Le Monde, New Republic, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times.
SIDELIGHTS: Guy Billout's illustrated books are indeed reviewed for children, but it is often noted that the highly-stylized artwork and cryptic or sophisticated texts will require adult interpretation for younger audiences. However, the artist's fanciful renderings of everything from wildlife to modern architecture is often considered inspiring for creatively-minded older audiences. While his books cover a variety of subjects, Billout's approach is generally consistent. Although critics have sometimes questioned whether Billout's texts are too difficult or dry for young readers, his illustrations are praised for their exceptional execution and unique, inspiring vision. His stark, poster-like watercolor paintings, with large expanses of space, bold color, and precise linear perspective, are distinguished by whimsical or surreal touches.
Billout's first book, Number Twenty-four, is a series of wordless images of a man waiting for bus number twenty-four while before him parade conveyances of all kinds, including a rowboat, a tank, a train, and an airplane, each of which crashes in front of him. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Selma G. Lanes called this "a surreal work, as mysterious as a roomful of René Magritte paintings." Billout added words to his modus operandi in his second book, By Camel or by Car: A Look at Transportation. Here, his paintings are "simple nearly to the point of austere yet meticulous in detail, with a bold use of color," according to Connie Tyrrell in School Library Journal. Each painting depicts a mode of transportation, accompanied by two paragraphs of text, the first describing the mode in somewhat objective terms, such as speed, life span, and so forth, and the second paragraph adding the personal element, as the author muses on his own experiences with that form of transportation.
Stone and Steel: A Look at Engineering quickly followed By Camel or by Car. In it, Billout presents his own special look at a number of architectural marvels, blending fine detail with whimsical additions "that will delight children of all ages," according to S. W. Dobyns in Science Books & Films. While Paul Goldberger, writing in the New York Times Book Review, felt that Billout's failure to incorporate much factual information in his brief text would frustrate young readers, Leonard S. Marcus, who made a similar judgement in the Washington Post Book World, nevertheless noted that "daydreamers will be well in their element" in examining the illustrations in Stone and Steel.
For his next book, Thunderbolt and Rainbow: A Look at Greek Mythology, Billout envisions a modern-day Manhattan inhabited by the gods of the ancient Greeks. Steam rising from a grate offers proof of the presence of Hephaestus, the god of fire, while Zeus perches atop the Empire State Building, poised to throw his thunderbolt. "The writing is swift and unfailingly interesting," wrote a critic for Publishers Weekly. And though not all critics concurred with this assessment, most felt that Billout's visual rendering of ancient Greece in New York City was the true focus of the book. "The illustrations are stunning, striking, original," announced Peter Neumeyer in School Library Journal.
For Squid and Spider: A Look at the Animal Kingdom, Billout chooses thirteen animals and poses each "in unusual situations or habitats that will get observant readers giggling, thinking, or both," in Ilene Cooper's estimation in Booklist. "With their sly wit and eyecatching brilliance, the illustrations are striking and memorable," asserted Ethel R. Twichell in Horn Book, while noting that Billout's brief text debunks some popular myths about each creature.
This work was followed more than ten years later by The Journey: Travel Diary of a Daydreamer, a return to the cryptic, textual style of his earlier books, accompanied by an equally ambiguous series of visual images. On the left-hand page of each two-page spread, a boy sits at the window of a train looking out on a view that is only partially available. On the right hand side of the spread, the view from the window is expanded and alone, revealing details that completely alter the significance of the partial view. For Susan Scheps, writing in School Library Journal, the book works best as "a collection of unusual illustrations that could provide inspiration for creative writers or daydreamers of all ages."
Originally published in French as Il y a quelque chose qui cloche, Billout's Something's Not Quite Right challenges readers to find the out-of-place element in each seemingly ordinary illustration, with the unusual thing sometimes being the picture's own, single-word caption. For instance, Billout creates a seemingly-normal map of the ancient center of Paris, with one small modification. In this illustration titled "Secession," he slices through the bridges connecting Paris's Ile de la Cite to the Left and Right Banks, allowing the island to drift down the Seine. While many reviewers noted that younger children, and even some older ones, would not understand the irony, humor, and contradiction behind some of the work, Booklist's Gillian Engberg suggested that teens who enjoy the surrealism of Salvador Dali and optical illusions of M. C. Escher would be attracted to Something's Not Quite Right. She also added that the illustrations would "make excellent exercises for creative-writing students," an aspect also noted by Horn Book reviewer Lolly Robinson, who predicted, "It's easy to see this book as a starting point for creative writing assignments."
Billout once told CA: "By education and practice, I am used to solving problems for editorial and advertising. [Upon] becoming an author/illustrator, I discovered my best capacities because I was working with a story of my own. For me, so far, the only field allowing such freedom is illustrated books, and illustrated books are mostly made for children. I would like to create picture books for adults."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Appraisal, spring, 1980, Douglas B. Sands, review of By Camel or by Car: A Look at Transportation, p. 15.
Booklist, March 15, 1982, Ilene Cooper, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow: A Look at Greek Mythology, p. 955; March 1, 1983, Ilene Cooper, review of Squid and Spider: A Look at the Animal Kingdom, p. 902; February 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Something's Not Quite Right, p. 1062.
Boston, December, 1983, Charles Matthews, review of Squid and Spider, p. 100.
Children's Literature: Annual of the Modern Language Association Seminar on Children's Literature and the Children's Literature Association, 1974, William Anderson, review of Number Twenty-four, p. 217.
Design, January-February, 1982, Kenneth Marantz, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow, p. 46.
Esquire, November 11, 1987.
Graphis, November-December, 1998, Veronique Vienne, "Guy Billout's Parallel Universe," p. 50.
Horn Book, April, 1983, Ethel R. Twichell, review of Squid and Spider, p. 181; January-February, 2003, Lolly Robinson, review of Something's Not Quite Right, p. 52.
New York, December 17, 1973.
New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1973, Selma Lanes, review of Number Twenty-four, p. 30; October 14, 1979, George A. Woods, review of By Camel or by Car, p. 40; November 9, 1980, Paul Goldberger, review of Stone and Steel: A Look at Engineering, p. 67; November 29, 1981, John Russell, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow, p. 42; December 19, 1982, Selma G. Lanes, review of Squid and Spider, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1980, review of Stone and Steel, p. 90; December 4, 1981, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow, p. 50; November 12, 1982, review of Squid and Spider, p. 67; May 20, 1983, review of By Camel or by Car, p. 237; November 15, 1993, review of The Journey: Travel Diary of a Daydreamer, p. 78; November 18, 2002, review of Something's Not Quite Right, p. 58.
School Library Journal, February 15, 1974, Judith Shor Kronick, review of Number Twenty-four, p. 59; December, 1979, Connie Tyrrell, review of By Camel or by Car, pp. 71-72; December, 1980, Ruby G. Campbell, review of Stone and Steel, p. 58; February, 1982, Peter Neumeyer, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow, p. 64; April, 1983, Margaret Bush, review of Squid and Spider, p. 120; February, 1994, Susan Scheps, review of The Journey, p. 100; January, 2003, Marianne Saccardi, review of Something's Not Quite Right, p. 150.
Science Books & Films, September-October, 1981, S. W. Dobyns, review of Stone and Steel, p. 34.
Time, December 20, 1982, Stefan Kanfer, review of Squid and Spider, p. 80.
Washington Post Book World, November 9, 1980, Leonard S. Marcus, review of Stone and Steel, p. 12; January 10, 1982, Brigitte Weeks and Robert Wilson, review of Thunderbolt and Rainbow, p. 10.
Zoom (France), March-April, 1975.
Guy Billout Home Page,http://www.guybillout.com/ (August 2, 2003).*