When most people see that iconic shot of the face hugger from Alien, the one where the hermit-crab-esque nightmare is suctioned to John Hurt’s mouth, it’s pretty safe to say their first thought probably isn’t: How do I make this kid-friendly? But such a question has been the driving force behind the work of Joey Spiotto, an L.A.-based artist who takes iconic characters and scenes from pop culture and illustrates them using the cheery style of illustration made famous by The Poky Little Puppy, Scruffy the Tuggboat, and other such children’s books included in The Little Golden Books series. The end result is bright-eyed, colorful versions of Walter White, Jason Voorhees, Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake all smiling back from the cover of children’s books.
“I’ve always been drawn to this idea of how do you make something that’s not kid-friendly totally kid-friendly,” says Spiotto. “And I like that juxtaposition. Pulp Fiction is clearly not for children, but it’s funny if you can make it for children, but how do you do that? That’s a fun challenge.”
Spiotto, 36, has been transforming his favorite characters from film, television, comic books, and video games into adorable, kid-friendly faux covers in the style of classic for five years.The father of a 2-year-old boy, whose wife is pregnant with a second, he’s now created nearly 200 original pieces, which he calls, Storytime. In 2017, he released his first book, Storytime: A Little Art Book, which was backed on Kickstarter and features 140 illustrations.
After studying illustration at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, Spiotto landed a job as a concept artist in Hollywood in 2002. He worked on some films, including The Polar Express, but he made the move to gaming. In 2004, he worked as a freelance artist for a start-up, Telltale Games, and eventually moved to video game powerhouse Electronic Arts. There Spiotto created character design on the popular franchise Dead Space.
“I had research photos on my desktop of slaughterhouses, and emergency room photos—it was not pleasant,” he says. “It was pretty gross.”
After working on various games, including The Sims, Spiotto was burned out by the countless video game projects that never saw the light of day and decided to leave the industry in 2009. Thanks to a friend, Spiotto was introduced to an L.A. art gallery themed around pop culture originals, Nineteen Eighty-Eight.
“I’ve always been a fan of TV, movies, video games, and comic books,” Spiotto says. “I had never seen art before like Nineteen Eighty-Eight. Artists were making art based on the stuff they love, and I thought it was cool and I wanted to be a part of it.”
The gallery invited Spiotto to join the group exhibitions and he sold nothing for a year. Then, in 2010, he created a faux 1960s Disney music record cover featuring the cast his favorite TV show, Firefly. The piece sold out and went viral, as it tapped in on three things the internet loves: nostalgia, mainstream pop culture, and, well, cuteness. “I was contacted by Summer Glau from the series,” says Spiotto. “She wanted to know where she could get one.”
After the success of that project, Spiotto jumped on the chance to create something new when the gallery had a night dedicated to director Edgar Wright. He thought Wright’s Cornetto trilogy — the films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End — could translate to picture book covers. “I gravitate towards kid-friendly, animation style,” he says. “It’s my comfort zone, it’s what I like doing, it’s what I like seeing.”
Called the Storytime series, the project was a major success. The next day, the gallery offered Spiotto his first solo show, encouraging him to do more of the same Storytime style. Since his first gallery show in 2011, Spiotto’s hosted three solo exhibitions and the response has been unfailingly positive.
When it comes to his audience, Spiotto says, it’s a varied group.
“I get both ends of the spectrum,” says Spiotto. “I get parents, but I get those people who don’t have kids and they buy my artwork because it reminds them of their childhood.”
Spiotto says that, often, parents send him pictures where they use his art to decorate their kid’s room. One parent, he says, had Walter White and my Pulp Fiction piece over the crib. “I thought: that’s awesome,” he says, “but also it’s kind of weird.”
You can purchase Spiotto’s work at his personal website, here