Imagine a world of endless autumns and watercolor sunsets, where butterflies flutter from skull-faced specters and there is a strange sort of beauty in the most horrifying monsters. Gris Grimly exists in that world.
Grimly was just a ghost in the shadows until he started designing the Wicked Nursery Rhymes T-shirt series for Hot Topic, something I distinctly remember from high school without ever knowing the artist behind those wickedly awesome graphics. For over two decades, he has been bringing his brand of whimsical horror to stories such as Hellboy, The Halloween Tree, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Frankenstein, and Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia.
Poe would have probably asked Grimly to be his illustrator had he been alive or called back in a séance. His skeletal figures, frayed edges, and purposely disproportionate creatures inhabit a realm that exists somewhere between consciousness and dreams. You can’t possibly prepare yourself for the things you’ll encounter here. Twisted Mickey Mouse-esque figures with razor teeth emerge from a moonlit wood. A deranged ringmaster beckons you to step right up to the greatest show in an alternate universe. Trick-or-treaters leer at you from behind masks that obscure faces you might rather not see.
Grimly’s take on Over the Garden Wall is one of my favorite spook-ifications of an existing show that the artist has done. Not that the adventures of Greg, Wirt, and the frog with the ever-changing name aren’t sufficiently creepy enough. It’s just that Grimly brings something to them that manages to be both eerie and enchanting at once. The way he drew the curling tendrils of that monstrous talking pumpkin in Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee could easily take you away to a land of otherworldly dreams — or nightmares.
Let’s talk about Mother. The vision Grimly had of Edith’s deceased mother is shrouded and emerging from a cloud of black butterflies as she does in the film, holding up a skeletonized hand in warning. Her face is reminiscent of the Mexican Day of the Dead icon La Calavera Catrina. With her refined Victorian elegance corrupted by death, she is at once less and more terrifying than the ghost conjured by CGI magic in the film.
Did I mention you can get prints, and T-shirts, and even mugs of this art? There are even button and sticker sets, as if the Hot Topic I remember, the one with creepy tees and coffin perfume and fellow misfits to commiserate with (not that store at the mall that now vaguely passes for Hot Topic), grew up with me.