Axel was born in Hamburg, Germany. At school he was good at art, but didn't think of a career in illustration until he won a cuddly purple cow in a drawing competition. He moved to England in 1982 to learn English and study illustration at the Bath Academy of Art and then set up home in London. Axel illustrated a number of books for various publishers, and in 1993 Kate Wilson suggested him as the illustrator for Julia Donaldson's first picture book text, A Squash and a Squeeze. This was the start of a hugely successful partnership: their bestselling modern classic, The Gruffalo, has sold over three-and-a-half million copies worldwide, and the TV animation was broadcast on Christmas day 2009. Axel has illustrated a number of other highly successful books, including Muddle Farm, and his books have been translated into 42 languages. Axel lives in London with his partner and young daughter.