GRIS GRIMLY can be best described as a storyteller. For almost two decades, his distinctive style, displayed in many forms, has captivated a variety of loyal fans worldwide. Originally recognized for his dark yet humorous illustrations for young readers, Grimly continues to transcend as an artist through writing, conceptual art, contemporary painting, fashion design, and film.
Gris was born in a small Nebraska farming community in 1975. At the early age of four, his passion for drawing, unrestrained imagination, and ability to replicate images indicated a greater artistic potential. Even though his father was a conservative farmer, his parents fostered his interests in the arts and enrolled him in art classes locally as well as in the nearby city of Omaha. After high school, he continued his education at Concordia University; upon graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, he moved to Greater Los Angeles to find work as an illustrator.
He spent his first two years in California working as a barista in Pasadena and picking up freelance work on the side. He started to have doubts as to whether his credentials were strong enough to elevate him to the next level, and contemplated continuing his education at Art Center College of Design. Then in 2000, two things occurred simultaneously that would launch his career.
Gris received his first children’s book job for Hyperion illustrating Monster Museum. Although the book was not considered a huge success, his distinct style earned the attention of fans and clients far and wide. A consistent demand from publishing giants followed and kept him employed doing what he had always wanted to do. That same year, he was picked up by a clothing company to design edgy t-shirt graphics for Hot Topic stores nationwide. He started with a series called Wicked Nursery Rhymes featuring twisted versions of famous Mother Goose characters. The shirts were an instant success, selling thousands of units, and put Gris in-demand to continue fulfilling orders. He followed up with equally successful parodies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland among other childhood staples. For the next two years, his brand would hold precedence in the store, making him a household name for pre-teens and adults who would not have discovered his work in children’s book aisles.
In 2002, Gris was approached by Bob Self to be the first author published by his independent company, Baby Tattoo Books. Gris was skeptical, but he took the risk and turned his popular t-shirt series, Wicked Nursery Rhymes, into a picture book inspired by Heinrich Hoffmann’s cautionary tale, Struwwelpeter. The book gained a cult following and launched Baby Tattoo Books, who has now published dozens of art books with some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Since then, the book has continued to be reprinted and garnered two other sequels.
The release of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness in 2004 brought attention to a need in the education system. When Gris illustrated the comic/storybook hybrid, he did so with the desire to create a whimsical interpretation that is heavily illustrated and yet maintains the actual prose of the master. He had no idea that schools would use this book as a tool to help young adults comprehend the otherwise difficult Victorian text. The book has exceeded a dozen editions, generated a sequel and has been translated into multiple languages. Other graphic interpretations of classics would follow, including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Frankenstein, all of which have been implemented into school curricula worldwide.
In addition, Gris has worked with Simon and Schuster, Chronicle, Random House, HarperCollins, and Scholastic. He has illustrated classics by Ray Bradbury, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Washington Irving, as well as contemporary authors like Jon Scieszka, Joan Aiken and Neil Gaiman with the New York Times best selling book The Dangerous Alphabet. He has also collaborated with big studios like Disney, DreamWorks and The Jim Henson Company as a character designer and production designer.
In 2014, Gris and his wife brought a son into the world. This experience has changed his perspective and direction as an artist. As he states, “Before I was a father, I created books for myself. Now, I want to create books for my son and children like him.” Only time will tell what new and magical worlds will come from Gris and his new life-changing experience.
Gris lives in Pasadena with his wife, son and a very vile Boston Terrier.