Monday, December 13th, 2010

Behind the Scenes with the Mad Creator

Gris Grimly

By Jesse Horn

Not since the brilliance of Charles Adams or Edward Gorey has there been and artist who has defined themselves with such glorious ghoulish and delightfully sinister mastery as the mad creator himself, Gris Grimly. His distinctive style and eclectic selection of creations, ranging from children’s books to films, has garnered himself a loyal worldwide following. His work has appeared in over a dozen bestselling books including his New York Times best selling collaboration with author Neil Gaiman, The Dangerous Alphabet. His own stories have been highly successful with titles such as Little Jordan Ray’s Muddy Spud and the Wicked Nursery Rhymes series. He has been paired with such classic authors as Carlo Colodi on Pinocchio, Washington Irving on The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Edgar Allan Poe on both Tales of Mystery and Madness and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley on the highly anticipated 2012 release of Frankenstein. Grimly has received countless honors and awards for is work, and in 2005 he ventured into independent film with Cannibal Flesh Riot!

He is currently working on his second featurette Wounded Embark of the Lovesick Mind with an anticipated release in 2011, and has signed on to direct a stop motion feature film version of his book Pinocchio, produced by Guillermo Del Torro and The Henson Company. Oddities had the honor and privilege to speak to Mr. Grimly about his influences, his work, and the exciting developments surrounding Pinocchio.

Wounded Embark of the Lovesick Mind Poster By Gris Grimly

The Day I Dead - By Gris Grimly

Oddities: What would you say was the biggest influence on you creatively as a youth, and is there anything that inspires, or has inspired you, that might surprise readers to know?

Grimly: Comic books were the biggest influence on me as a kid. Not just as far as visual style, but also how I think and my since of humor. Everything from Sam Keith and Bill Sienkeiwicz to Charles Addams and Berkeley Breathed. I don’t know if there is anything that would really surprise readers. People are pretty hard to shock these days.

Oddities: What draws you to the macabre?

Grimly: What draws a jock to football? Whatever it is, it was instilled in me when I was created.

Oddities: What brought you to use the mediums you use for art?

Grimly: Jon J Muth is the sole reason I took up watercolor. When I was young, I saw a copy of Moonshadow and wanted to do art like that. My work looks nothing like it, but that is why I went in that direction.

Oddities: You have indicated on your website, in reference to getting started as an artist, that fate had dropped all of this in your lap, can you explain the circumstances of that?

Grimly: I come from a sleepy midwestern town and knew I was going to go to one of two places- LA or New York. The one driving force that drew me westbound was an encounter with someone who worked at Universal Studios. She said if I moved out here, she would find me work. So I did. Through her I was introduced to my first agency. At the time I was only interested in doing comic books. While attending a gallery for a Ralph Steadman art show, I found myself in a conversation with one of the workers. We discussed an Edward Gorey art show currently on exhibit in LA. To make a long story short, she talked me into illustrating little children’s books that would be sold in the gallery. This is the work that my agency at the time used to get me my first children’s book job. Everyone I met since seems to be an integral fall in one long row of dominos.

Oddities: What is something that people don’t know about you, but would find interesting to know?

Grimly: I’ve been known to growl in my sleep.

Oddities: How have your faired in the changing media world, have you been affected by the way media business is having to evolve? Do you feel it is evolving, or do you feel that it is being reborn? (odd question I know, but with news and music media having to change and find a functioning format or die, I am curious how this is affecting the crafters of the very art they are trying to sell)

Grimly: I haven’t adapted very well. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to the art form. I’ve never embraced the computer as a tool to create artwork, animation or special effects. I personally feel that the outcome is stale. But I hope that I can maintain to be a prevailer of the traditionalist form.

Oddities: Can you describe a little about your creation process when you are working on a project?

Grimly: That depends on what kind of a project it is.

Oddities: How much of your art is preplanned?  Do you sketch it out first, or is the process somewhat organic?

Grimly: I like to work more organic. I usually stick to my original thought. I may evolve from that instinct in the process but I remain true to that impulse. It is much like music. You can make a song more produced by recording it over and over and over. But you simultaneously loose it’s soul.

Oddities: What sort of things inspire the overall look of a particular image, such as mood, color, and style, as well as what will be included in it? Do you use people from your life and experiences as character inspiration?

Grimly: They say all inspiration comes from life. I’m not denying that. But most of my ideas come from some mess that oozes from my brain.

Oddities: How do you work? You have indicated that you primarily use ink and watercolors, do you also utilize a computer in this process, or is the entire piece done as a whole?

Grimly: My art is done completely by hand. The only time a computer is used is for color separations as needed for silkscreen projects.

Oddities: I did notice on “Sipping Spiders” you used some mixed media, is this something that you enjoy and do elsewhere?

Grimly: I used to use more mixed media in my personal projects and art pieces.

Oddities: When working with others how much are you involved with the author? Do you influence each other, or are you working with a completed text?

Grimly: For the most part, I don’t work with the author at all. The exception to this was The Dangerous Alphabet with Neil Gaiman. There really wasn’t much of a story there in the text, so we worked together on the phone developing the narrative together. This narrative is expressed visually rather than in the text.

Oddities: Can you give some insight into the Pinocchio movie project, and where it is going?

Grimly: Pinocchio is an animated feature that I presented to Guillermo Del Toro about seven years ago. Since then, many talented individuals and companies have become involved. We are at a very pivotal moment in the film. Early in 2010 we received a development deal with the studio Pathe. That money was used to create a visual presentation along with a script for the film. We plan to pitch to studios in February for the full budget to get the film made there after.

The most exciting news recently is locking down Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to do the score. I’m a huge fan of their music and can’t imagine a more appropriate composer to deliver the score for this film.

Oddities: How did this project get started, and what has it been like working on the Jim Henson lot with Mackinnon and Saunders? Are you pleased with what is being done?

Grimly: My illustrated version of Pinocchio had just come out and I was working with a company producing 3-dimensional statues based off the book. Some friends and I started playing around with the idea of Pinocchio as a stop motion feature. We started working on ideas and brainstorming on ways to get this made. We came up with a list of directors who would be ideal for this project. Guillermo Del Toro was one of them. Ironically, shortly after that I get a call from a gallery who was selling artwork from my Pinocchio book. They told me that Guillermo was just in and bought a piece of art from the book. I asked if they could contact him and arrange a meeting. We met for lunch. This was back when he was still working on the first Hellboy. I told him all about the film idea and how it would look. He said he wouldn’t direct it, but he would produce it. Seven years later, we are on the verge of seeing that project become a reality.

Oddities: What is it like to see your world being crafted into something tangible?

Grimly: Always amazing. Because it is then that others can see what I see.

Oddities: What other projects do you have in the works, do you have anything we can expect to see soon?

Grimly: Pinocchio is taking up a big portion of my time. Other than that, I am illustrating Frankenstein which will be released in 2012. I am also finishing up on a short film of mine, Wounded Embark of the Lovesick Mind. I plan to have that completed and released this year.

Frank Paradise Lost (upcoming release) By Gris Grimly

Dog Slobber (upcoming release) By Gris Grimly

Category: Feature
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