May 2018

The Fan Brothers

Over the sea, across the sky

Eric and Terry Fan, who co-illustrate as the Fan Brothers, both live in Toronto, but it wasn’t until they were awarded the illustrious Sendak Fellowship last year that they first shared a studio space.

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Eric and Terry Fan, who co-illustrate as the Fan Brothers, both live in Toronto, but it wasn’t until they were awarded the illustrious Sendak Fellowship last year that they first shared a studio space.

Over four weeks at Scotch Hill Farm in upstate New York, once owned by beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, the Fans dug into illustrating their newest book, Ocean Meets Sky, their fourth collaboration.

“We had started the book and completed the dummy,” Eric says via phone, “but I think we turned a corner at the Sendak Fellowship.” Terry agrees, adding that it was there that the book started taking shape and going in the direction they’d always envisioned. “The fellowship was pretty inspiring,” says Eric. “I don’t actually have a studio. I work from my home computer, so it was nice having that space—and the inspiring atmosphere.”

Ocean Meets Sky begins with young Finn, who is staring out the bedroom window of his seaside home. A framed photograph of his grandfather and a toy boat adorn the windowsill. Finn recalls memories of his deceased grandfather—his voice and his stories about a “place far away where ocean meets sky.” As a way of honoring him, Finn builds a boat, one just right for the journey he had planned to take with his grandfather.

Because building a boat is tiresome work, Finn falls asleep and wakes to discover his journey has already begun. Adrift in the ocean, he takes in the fantastical creatures formed in the clouds; he meets a “great golden fish” who promises to lead Finn to where the ocean meets sky; he visits the Library Islands with “bookish birds . . . roosting”; and he explores an island of giant shells. His odyssey has a few surreal moments, including a Cyclops-like creature that guards the Library Islands. “I remember, as a kid, reading books that were a little bit scary,” says Eric, “and that other level made [the stories] more thrilling.”

When Finn reaches the place he suspects may be the location of his grandfather’s tales, his boat lifts from the water. A surprise waits for Finn as he flies toward the moon, and he is reminded that his grandfather, though physically gone from this world, is never far away.

In many ways, Ocean Meets Sky is a tribute to the tradition of oral storytelling, in particular to the stories told by the Fans’ Taiwanese grandfather, who lived on the other side of the world and didn’t frequently visit (both Eric and Terry were born in the U.S. but moved to Canada as children). “Both of our grandparents used to tell so many stories to our dad,” Terry says, “and I think that [tradition] passed on to him. He used to tell us a lot of stories.” Eric agrees: “The storytelling aspect is a sort of merging of our dad and our grandfather. It is a way of honoring Chinese culture, [in which] relatives and family are so important.”

Eric and Terry also had fairy tales in mind when penning Ocean Meets Sky, and the rhythm of the writing evokes that spirit. (The book’s opening proclaims, “Finn lived by the sea, and the sea lived by him,” and the great golden fish describes the place where ocean meets sky as “high and low, and as deep as the sea.”) But Ocean Meets Sky also pulls from folktales in the way that readers experience the story itself.

From Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster.

Eric explains: “The reader is looking at it from Finn’s perspective. But as a writer, you’re almost looking at it from the grandfather’s perspective. It’s about what you’re going to leave behind. The place where ocean meets sky is the narrative world that writers create. Finn is the reader. You’re thinking about how, after you’re gone, these are the worlds you’re leaving behind for people.”

Like all of Terry and Eric’s previously published books, Ocean Meets Sky was a truly collaborative effort. “We both do the writing and the illustrating,” Eric says. “Sometimes we work on the same illustration. . . . We’ll each do different parts, and then we bring it together in Photoshop. Usually, we’re separated, but since this book coincided with the fellowship, I think that helped with communication because every day we were in the same space.”

They have traditionally created their illustrations with a mix of graphite and Photoshop drawings, but for Ocean Meets Sky, they experimented with some entirely digital images. “We did this out of necessity,” Terry says. “There wasn’t the greatest internet connection [at the fellowship], so it was hard to scan original artwork.” Though the beautiful, final illustrations are a blend of mediums, both Eric and Terry prefer traditional pencil drawings. “There’s something about it that you just can’t quite re-create,” Terry says.

There’s no doubt that the brothers enjoy collaborating. In fact, they’ll soon be adding their youngest brother, Devon, to the mix for a project they will publish with Tundra Books sometime in the next couple of years. “That will be a first,” says Eric, “to get three people together. That will be an interesting process.”

But for now, you can find the Fan Brothers surrounded by gently rocking boats and golden fish, in a place where stories matter and the ocean meets the sky.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Author photo © Eric and Terry Fan.

Get the Book

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky

By Eric Fan & Terry Fan
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781481470377

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