March 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Children’s Book Illustrator Dirk Zimmer Dies at 64

Dirk Zimmer, who illustrated some 40 children’s books between 1978 and 2008, died on September 26 at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY, after being struck by a car five days earlier. He was 64.

Known for his detailed etched paintings and drawings, Zimmer was best known for illustrating In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories (HarperCollins, 1984)by Alvin Schwartz, Bony-Legs (S &S, 1984) by Joanna Cole, and The One That Got Away (Clarion, 1992) by Percival Everett. The New York Times hailed Zimmer’s tongue-in-cheek Halloween adventure Trick or Treat Trap (HarperCollins, 1982), which he wrote and illustrated, as “wonderfully wicked” and “as good [a spooker] as any we are likely to get for the season.”

Zimmer’s serious work as a children’s book illustrator began after he moved to New York City in 1977, when he collaborated on several books with the children’s book author Larry Bograd. Their book, Felix in the Attic (Harvey House, 1978), won the Irma Simonton Black Award from Bank Street College.

Zimmer’s offbeat, sometimes grotesque, but always gentle humor made him one of the most sought-after illustrators for “scary” picture books, two of which were selected as American Library Association Notable Children’s books.

In 1991, he was one of a small group of illustrators—including Maurice Sendak, Marc Simont and Barbara Cooney—whose work was featured in The Big Book of Peace (Dutton, 1990), an anthology of 34 artists and writers.

Zimmer was born in Goslar, Germany, on October 2, 1943 and grew up mostly in Hamburg, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. He had a brief career as a painter during the German avant-garde movement and then turned to filmmaking, which he eventually dropped in the late 1970s to work as an illustrator for such publications as Crawdaddy, the New York Times, and New York magazine. Over the years, both his paintings and illustrations were shown in private galleries in New York, Switzerland, Germany, and France.

Zimmer moved to Barrytown, NY in the early 1980s, and later lived in the Rondout area of Kingston. For the past 11 years, he was a contributor and collaborator at the northern Dutchess quarterly AboutTown. A few years ago, he moved to Tivoli, NY, and it was there, on a walk to the river on the afternoon of September 21, that he was struck by an automobile. He is survived by two sisters who live in Germany.

At the time of his death Zimmer was working on a sequel to his book Egon (Macmillan, 1980). Egon, Dirk’s adventurous, furry alter ego, leaves the following note at the end of the book: “I am having a good time. I will be home some day but not until the show ends. Maybe soon.”