Some Crazy-Good Art on a Tuesday: Jeremy Holmes

h1 January 12th, 2010 by jules

“THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A SPIDER that wriggled and wiggled and tiggled inside her. SHE SWALLOWED THE SPIDER TO CATCH THE FLY. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. PERHAPS SHE’LL DIE.”
(Click to enlarge image.)

If I didn’t have the above image caption, would you even guess for one second that this illustration from the German-born yet U.S.-raised designer and illustrator Jeremy Holmes comes from the mother of all cumulative children’s folk songs, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”? Yup, it’s one of my favorite creepiest picture book adaptations of the story/song, released in August of ’09 by Chronicle Books.

Well, you could say “book” or you could say—as Drawn! did in October of last year—book-as-objet-d’art. And that’s because this book is … well, let me just show you. It goes a little something like this:

Here you see the old lady, as envisioned by Holmes in quite the unusual format. The bottom part is a slip cover, which comes off (as slip covers tend to do).

Then, she looks a little something like this. (Thank goodness I have these images, or I’d be stuttering and taking up way too much of your time in trying to explain it.)

That’s the slip cover on the right, and her middle portion is the actual book. When you turn the final page—in which she dies from swallowing that horse, of course—her eyes close up there on her bespectacled head. How about that?

So, yeah. Neat design. But the illustrations? Julie Just at the New York Times wrote in October of last year, a “mysteriously popular subject for picture books, ‘the old lady who swallowed a fly’ has never looked creepier or more inviting than in this striking book shaped like a slim tie-box.” Humor and cleverness abound: In the opening illustration, the fly is a gallant explorer with a world map, out to conquer. The bird is the sheriff. The dog is a magician, who has captured the cat in one of those boxes that splits a creature in two. (Indeed, each creature the lady swallows has consumed the animal who appears on the previous page.) The cow (like no cow you’ve ever seen before) appears on a fold-out page. And—after the horse is swallowed, the old lady’s eyes close, and she’s resting in peace—we see her arms folded, as if in her final resting place, yet she’s still holding a fly swatter. (My favorite part might be the shoe fly pie recipe on the back cover.) Check out the cat, about to dine on the bird:

(Click to enlarge.)

Holmes’ mixed-media work is striking, almost macabre in its dark-humored—yet accessible—tone. You can see more of his work here; perhaps he can stop by 7-Imp one day. I see that his illustrations for this title garnered him a Society of Illustrators: Original Children’s Art award from the 2009 New York Book Show. To see the fly and the dog (being swallowed by the snake), go here and click on the “4” you see there next to “Views.”

Or, there’s always this, which I just found, to give you a sense of Holmes’ style. Clever book trailer with a soundtrack I very much like — and animation from one Paul Berkbigler:

* * * * * * *

There is a lot more art from other titles/projects featured at Holmes’ galleries there at his site for you to enjoy, if you’re so inclined.

{THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Jeremy Holmes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.}

10 comments to “Some Crazy-Good Art on a Tuesday: Jeremy Holmes”

  1. “One of the most insatiable nursery rhymes of all time” (at about 32 seconds into the trailer): doubled over laughing here. And of course I just HAD to hunt down an image of the cow after that teasing line about a cow like no other, and found a desktop wallpaper that’s still cracking me up.

    The style of the book very much reminds me of certain Central European animators from 50-60 years ago. (Sorry, I don’t know any of their names — just their eerie work.) I love kids’ books like this, big old folding/sliding/not-quite-pop-up puzzles.

    And yeah, that trailer’s soundtrack is LOVELY. Now I’ve got to find out more about Tin Hat, who/whatever it/they is/are.

  2. MUST HAVE THIS for my Old Lady Who Swallowed… collection!

  3. The Tin Hat Trio is a band from Seattle (
    Good stuff!

  4. Thanks, Rob! Like John, I had meant to look up more about them.

    John, I saw that wallpaper, too. Love that funky winged cow.

    Mary Lee, I found out my kindergartener’s teacher also collects Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly books. Huh. Didn’t know there were such collectors in the world. You’ve got your work cut out for you, I’d think, since there are seven skerjillion adaptations out in the world, right?

  5. Oh! I’ve developed a sudden craving for flies.
    Gulp. Crazycoolwonderful.

  6. Oh, this book just thrills me. “Books as art” are my favorite kind, and this is one of the best and quirkiest I’ve seen, not to mention how much I adore Jeremy’s collage and mixed media. I’m frustrated because I had a book as a kid that had panels kind of like this — not really a “flip book” per se, but the kind where you could mix and match the heads, feet and torsos of the characters. For my own sanity, I really need to remember what that book was called, but I digress…

    Everything about this book is unique and fun, and I want it. And now I’m really hungry for Jeremy’s favorite food: mozzarella fries with ketchup. Yum!

  7. Oh my mercy. This is just altogether too much. Lust-o-rama…

  8. That was grand. The animation reminded me a bit of the animation in the end credits of the Series of Unfortunate Events film. LOVED those credits.

    Now I’m off to investigate Tin Hat… though I think I’ve come across them somewhere before.

  9. Wow, that is just crazy-beautiful. Also, Tin Hat Trio and Willie Nelson did a cover of “Willow, Weep for Me” that is possibly my favorite version of the song. They’re amazing.

  10. […] pleased to welcome illustrator Jeremy Holmes to 7-Imp this morning for breakfast. Back in 2010, I wrote about Jeremy’s delightfully creepy and beautifully bizarre adaptation of the mother of all […]

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