Wolf Erlbruch (born 1948)

Die gro├če Frage

(The Big Question)
Wuppertal: Hammer, 2004
[26] fol., mixed media, collage, col. pencil
29,8 x 17,5 cm, col. pictorial cardboard covers

OE: La Grande Question. Paris: Éditions Être, 2003

The book and its history

This slim, portrait-format picture book consists of many answers to the unasked question: why am I here? Brother, sister, cat, dog, duck, bird, as well as the fat man, the grandmother, a sailor, a stone and many others each get a double page to provide their one-sentence answer. We see a pilot in an airplane flying diagonally upwards trying to kiss a cloud, or the fat man with his massive body filling two thirds of the double page, who of course thinks that you are on earth to eat. Death concludes: "You are here to love life." The huge rock in the middle of the double page gives the no less philosophical reply: "You are here to be here."
The reader leafs through a sequence of strikingly designed motifs, characterized by outlined cut-outs and monochrome or slightly patterned surfaces. With the collage technique, the subdued, recurring hues, and the compositional variations of blank spaces and figures, Erlbruch lends even more associative power to his pictures. The images leave room for one's own ideas and because of their exaggerated or reduced form, they suggest possible further questions or answers to the big question.

Biographical note

Wolf Erlbruch, born 1948 in Wuppertal, lives there to this day as an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and author. He taught illustration until 2011, his last position being at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen. In Germany, he is considered the innovator of children's book illustration of the 1990s. With his strikingly poignant, often collaged drawings and compositions, he created a new style of bold visual design that influenced many of his students.


After studying graphic design at the Folkwang School of Design in Essen, he started working as an illustrator for magazines and for advertising agencies in 1974, designing maingly posters and book covers. In 1984 he illustrated his first children's book, after becoming a father. With the illustrations for his second book, "Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat" ("The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business"), written by Werner Holzwarth, he attracted a great deal of international attention in 1989, which may also be due to the unusual subject matter. The book counts among the contemporary picture book classics, was published in more than 30 languages and reached a circulation of over one million copies. Since this success, Wolf Erlbruch has devoted himself strongly to children's book illustration in addition to his teaching activities and also writes his own texts. Erlbruch sees himself as an illustrator, but feels that his approach to the text is an autonomous process, with its own laws that are closely related to those of the artist book.

Wolf Erlbruch has received numerous prizes, in 2017 as the first German artist the most prestigeous Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awrad for international children's books.


Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks: Creative and critical responses, ed. by Janet Evans. London: Routledge 2015


Vom kleinen Maulwurf und anderen Helden. Bilderbuchillustrationen von Wolf Erlbruch. Ausstellungskatalog Bilderbuchmuseum der Stadt Troisdorf, 1999

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