Author-Illustrator Ian Falconer, Creator of ‘Olivia,’ Dies Age 63

Ian Falconer
Ian Falconer illustration

Ian Falconer, the author and illustrator of the bestselling Olivia children’s book series chronicling the charming adventures of a very capable young piglet in a distinctive minimalist art style, has died at age 63. The Caldecott Honor winner succumbed to kidney failure Tuesday in the Norwalk, Connecticut village of Rowayton.

“Ian’s acerbic genius touched many different mediums and many different lives, but it should be noted that he is one of a handful of creators about whom we can say they truly changed the conversation about children’s books,” Justin Chanda, SVP Publisher of Simon & Schuster, shared in a statement. “Olivia is a character that generations will laugh, dance and dream big alongside of, and we have Ian to thank for that.”

Falconer was born August 25, 1959 in Ridgefield, Conn. After graduating from the historic Cambridge School of Weston, he studied art history at New York University, furthering his arts education at the Parsons School of Design and Otis Art Institute.

New Yorker cover by Ian Falconer
New Yorker cover by Ian Falconer

Before introducing the world to Olivia, Falconer was known for his 30 cuttingly clever, and sometimes quite sweet, cover illustrations for The New Yorker, which he began creating in 1996. This work is what brought the artist to the attention of Simon & Schuster children’s book publisher Anne Schwartz. She told NPR in an interview that she knew right away Olivia was a standout.

“One thing that was very special about it is the whole book was in red and black and picture books at that time were full color. To see something so stark and graphically striking was unusual,” said Schwartz. “There was also this amazing character of Olivia that just really jumped off the pages. In every single picture, I knew that kids would be able to connect with her.”

Falconer created he story in 1996 as a Christmas gift for his then three-year-old niece, also named Olivia. The first book was published in 2000, winning numerous awards including the Caldecott Honor and enjoying more than a year on the New York Times Bestseller List. The book has sold 10 million copies. Falconer continued Olivia’s adventures through seven more books through 2017’s Olivia the Spy.

In 2009, Olivia set out to conquer kids’ TV with a 3D CG series produced for Nickelodeon by Silver Lining Productions and Chorion, with animation by Brown Bag Films. Created by Ricki Lake and Emily Gray, the series ran for 40 episodes on Nick Jr. from 2009 to 2015, and earned a Parents’ Choice Award. A further series of books not created by Falconer were spun off from the show. The series is currently owned by DreamWorks Classics.

In addition to his illustration work, Falconer became involved in theater design over the course of a productive relationship with artist David Hockney in the 1990s. The duo created costumes for productions around the world. Solo, he garnered critical notice for incorporating his monochromatic cartoon style into the set design of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries at The Atlantic Theater, and went on to design scenery, sets and costumes for New York City Ballet, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Two Dogs

In a 2004 interview with GQ, film director and fashion designer Tom Ford shared that he had once been in a relationship with Falconer, who was gay, and that the two remained friends. In 2010, he told The Telegraph that Falconer had broken up with him to date Hockney.

Falconer published a new children’s book, Two Dogs, through HarperCollins in June of last year. Inspired by his sister’s children, the story centers on two Dachshund brothers who get out of the house and into some mischief while their humans are away.



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