Fall is my absolute favorite time of year and nothing says fall like Halloween. Unless you live in Alaska (we usually have snow by Halloween). Today’s picture book is another fun Halloween treat you won’t want to miss.
Gris Grimly is an award-winning illustrator best known for his “macabre” yet humorous books for children and young adults. For almost twenty years, his distinctive style and wide selection of mediums have captivated a variety of loyal fans worldwide. Outside of the publishing world, he has contributed his unique vision to film, animation, apparel design, and consumer products. Gris lives in the Nebraska country with his wife, two children, and a very vile Boston Terrier. You can learn more about him at his website.
10 SPOOKY PUMPKINS is a delightfully ghoulish celebration of the season with Halloween characters you should know, but probably won’t recognize as “typical.” These are twisted bats and ghosts, wolves and goblins, BUT somehow they aren’t scary. Perhaps this is because of the little girl traipsing through the landscape who seems undaunted in any way. In fact, as the numbers count down from 10, I’d say she seems downright gleeful in her pursuit. It’s incredibly hard to describe this book, but one thing is for sure, the watercolor painting will leave you breathless. It’s a stunning work of art.
Me: Can you share about your artistic journey? When did you start creating art? How did that bring you to where you are now as an illustrator?
Gris: I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler. Drawing has always been a passion for me. I heard once, think of the thing you did as a child that your parents could not pull you away from. Make that your career. Mine has always been drawing.
I think the biggest choice that lead me down this path was when I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s. I had just finished college in Nebraska with an interest in comic book illustration, but no clear direction where to go from there. I attended San Diego Comic Con in the late 90s and showed my portfolio around. One woman in particular, a recruit for Universal Studios, told me if I moved to LA, she would get me work. So shortly after returning home, I packed my bags and moved west with whatever I could fit in my car. This is a long complex story, but the brief telling of it is this. I started working at Universal part time. From there I was introduced to my first agent who got me my first book deal with Disney. After that, I continued to get work and through this exposure, I was introduced to new management and agencies over the twenty-plus years I’ve been working.
Me: You are known for gothic stories such as retellings of Frankenstein and Poe (among many others), but over the last few years you started creating picture books. What is it that draws you to creating picture books?
Gris: My first book was a picture book. I had always wanted to work in comics, but the work I was getting was through the children’s book industry. It frustrated me at the time, because I wanted to produce media for an older audience and would always push the envelope, even with the younger book jobs. I really felt a kinship to works like Edgar Allan Poe, Sleepy Hollow, and Frankenstein because they appealed to my desired demographic.
In 2014, my wife brought my son into the world. My motivations changed at that time. I wanted to create books for him and kids like him. This started with Old MacDonald Had A Farm, followed by 10 Spooky Pumpkins.
Me: “10 Spooky Pumpkins” is such a fun picture book with an addictive rhyme and glorious illustrations that capitalize on your spooky style. What gave you the idea for this story?
Gris: My son came home from preschool and taught me the song 5 Little Pumpkins. That was the spring board. I was also very influenced by the cadence in some of the books we were reading to him, like 10 Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa and Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. The visuals for the book come from my interest in primitive folk art and my childhood growing up in rural Nebraska.
Me: Which is harder for you: writing or illustrating? Which was harder for this book?
Gris: It depends. Sometimes writing can be hard and sometimes illustrating can. For example, this book came to me quickly. I had a first draft written in an hour. This was also the case for Little Jordan Ray’s Muddy Spud. The idea for that story came to me late at night and I started writing. By sunrise, I had finished the first draft. The hardest part for illustrating books is mapping it all out. Once the sketches are down, the painting is pretty natural and enjoyable.
Me: What did your illustration process for this book look like? I know you work traditionally in watercolor (which is beautiful!), but do you use digital at all for touch up? Or a blend of traditional and digital techniques?
Gris: Typically, my art process is mostly (if not all) traditional. I start with thumbnails to get an idea of the visual narrative flow. Then I do sketches that are larger and more developed. These get scanned in and put in the layout. Then I print those images out and use tracing paper to do a detailed sketch over that. For this book, I also did a color script to have as a reference for the sun setting, as well as a black and white value script. If any computers were used, it would be for color correction or changes after the art was completed.
Me: I love how you capture a creepy monster vibe for Halloween and yet the story (and the little girl in it) aren’t scared at all. Why is this something you want to share with young readers?
Gris: While Old MacDonald Had A Farm was inspired by my son and his love for the song, 10 Spooky Pumpkins was inspired by my fearless daughter. This book is really about a brave little girl who gets to experience a magical adventure all because she was brave enough to venture beyond the fence on Halloween night.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Gris: Always be authentic. Look around you. Look at your life. Take inspiration from the things that mean the most to you.
I love that. Great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Gris.
Dear readers, if you love a rhyming jaunt and a good Halloween picture book, don’t miss this book. It’s spooky and dark, as well as fun and celebratory. I can guarantee that this will be read and re-read during Halloween season by young readers on many nights.