Hans Arnold: Timeless and Daunting Bedtime Stories

Once upon a time an illustrator by the name of Hans Arnold (22 April 1925 – 25 October 2010) bewildered and frightened the kids of the late 60’s Swedish-hippie generation. A pioneer of his time, he introduced the spooky horror-art to kids in childrens’ book. In the mist of all predictable “goodie-two-shoes” — fairytale illustrations, there was the work of Hans Arnold. Bedtime stories were no longer the same. Originally from Switzerland he moved to Sweden during the 1940‘s, bringing a mind full of unexplored imagery with him. He soon began to work as an illustrator and cartoonist.

As a kid I remember indulging myself in the classic monster enthusiasts bible-Monster land (1964-Arviniusförlag), which is a story about a girl’s journey through a place filled of ghosts, monsters, bloodsuckers, etc.

Hans Arnold Monster 1
Monster land, 1964, Hans Arnold / Arvinius Förlag

The nightmarish imagery confused me because I always considered that the ventured and creepy illustrations were meant for adults only, hence why the book became so intriguing and somewhat temptingly forbidden. The pictures did it for me. They transgressed what was considered suitable for kids — anti-simple, multi-dimensional and challenging the previous accepted norm. Arnold’s illustrations did the opposite — the depth they depicted, the angst, the dark-sided characters, were very much vivid and real. As a reader you were ambivalent as to know how to approach them, they were after all very scary at the same time as they were charming and likeable.

Hans Arnold Monster 3
Monster land, 1964, Hans Arnold / Arvinius Förlag

There’s no doubt that Arnold was a horror-romantic at heart, with a peculiar appreciation for his harmful monsters. The work of Hans Arnold is considered kitschy, emphasizing and referring to a nostalgic Swedish hippie-era. Today his work represents a symbol for childhood nemesis. Depicting childrens’ inner fears. I sure remember fearing monsters under my bed. I still do. But in Arnold’s imagery, the monster under your bed aren’t necessarily “dead-evil” for a change, only somewhat scary and pleasant.

Throughout Arnold lifetime his work continuously exposed readers to a world filled of spooky, yet charming characters. The various characters have a humoristic quirkiness, portraying timeless figures. All illustrations depict psychedelic and surrealistic qualities, embodying and referring to the Swedish music movement- progg- progressive rock of the 1960’s — 70’s. The style and aesthetics of his work brings thoughts to the work of Maurice Sendak-Where the wild things are, which similarly are intimidating yet intriguing characters.

Hans Arnold Monster 2
Monster land, 1964, Hans Arnold / Arvinius Förlag

So basically I’m now mourning the loss of a pioneer. I’m guessing he somehow coined the phenomenon and paranoia of literally having a “monster under the bed”.