Monday, January 30, 2012

Because You Can't Spell "Scary" Without "Gammell"

Growing up, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series was easily one of my favorites. Not only did it help fuel, and probably solidify, my love of horror, but sparked inside me an obsession with folklore and urban legends.

The writing alone isn’t simply why this series is a fave of mine, though. The artwork by Stephen Gammell is just as notable, if not more so. He had the ability to turn even the most mundane of images into something nightmarish…and I love him for it. His artwork managed to be eerie, moody, and atmospheric all at once, and to this day it can make me jump while glancing at some of it. As an artist, I’ve tried mimicking his style countless times, I admire his work for this series so much.

Unfortunately, future readers will have no flippin’ idea what I’m talking about, because although reprints of this series still contain Alvin Schwartz’s stories, they are completely devoid of the illustrations that have helped make it such a classic.

That’s right, you heard me correctly. Thanks to this article, I have been devastated to learn that creeptastic art like this…

…is now replaced with art like this:

Nothing against the new artist—his art is quite good—but seriously, between these two scarecrows, only one looks like he’s going to jump off the page to skin you alive, after doing something similar to one of the characters in the book, you know what I mean?

The unsettling nature of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations isn’t the only reason why they’re superior. As pointed out in the article I linked above, his pictures brought you into the story instead of simply depicted them. Horror is all the more horrific when you feel like you're a part of it, after all, and that’s something the original artwork accomplished in spades.

RIP, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. You shall live on in the hearts of fans, if not future editions of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.


  1. Wow! The original illustrations are stunning! The new ones are okay, I agree but the chilling ones have a depth the new ones don't.

    Thanks for posting the article! I scanning through it now!

    I never really read much horror as a kid apart from the point horror stuff. Some of the illustrations there are definitely creeptastic!

    Have they changed the art to make it more friendly to children or something? I can't think of why they'd get rid of such fantastic drawings!

    1. Oh, Point Horror. I have fond memories of that, too!

      They probably did change the art to be more kid-friendly. This book has been challenged for the utterly macabre nature of the illustrations/stories for thirty years. Still makes no sense to me, though, 'cause...come on. If the publisher was willing to stand their ground for three decades, why change the artwork now? Seems ridiculous to me. They could have at least left both editions in print so people could choose between the original version and the "safer" one.

    2. I still have some of the books but most of them belonged to my cousin's and they threw them away or something.

      Oh god that is so annoying! Children love creepy things! Especially boys! I think it may be that the parents lobby is larger now. A lot of publishing sales fall into the child and YA audience and it's a genre that has grown more within the last decade than any other. I know! We have that in the UK! Some children's books have a child cover and will have the adult cover and the adult version will be in the adult section.

    3. That's true about the parents lobby and the growing popularity of MG/YA. Still, such a shame. There are so many more important things to protect children from than some harmlessly creepy illustrations!

    4. I know. They send us to school severely sleep deprived to get bullied but refuse to let us see some creepy pics! Parents need to chill!

    5. Haha, I know right?! Creepy pics are so much cooler than sleep-deprivation and bullying. Parents shouldn't try to deny us that!

    6. Yeah! We should be allowed to stay home from school and read scary stories! And sleep a lot!