If you’re a reader of this blog, you probably don’t need me to tell you that the Scary Stories trilogy (Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones), a compilation of ghost stories, spooky folk tales, and urban legends collected and retold by author Alvin Schwartz, is a must-have for any respectable haunted library.
The surreal and unsettling black-and-white illustrations by Stephen Gammell (which have graced the cover and interior pages of each volume since first published) play no small part in the books’ appeal, and I’m guessing Gammell’s visualizations left their mark on many a young reader’s subconscious (Kindertrauma has the proof!)
Sadly, I’ve learned that after over 30 years of being in print (the original volume was released in 1981, the sequels following in 1984 and 1991), the publisher has decided to quietly replace Gammell’s original illustrations with brand new renderings by Lemony Snicket artist Brett Helquist.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Helquist’s style, which has a charm all its own (this article at Adventures In Poor Taste offers some sharp observations and page-by-page comparisons). The problem is, the new illustrations look like the labor of a competent and perfectly sane artist. Gammell’s, in contrast, appear to have seeped out of a fevered nightmare and manifested itself onto paper.
You just don’t see this kind of stuff in children’s books today (in fact, to find anything comparable I have to reach back to Franz Altschuler’s shadowy and ambiguously disturbing drawings for Ida Chittum’s Tales of Terror (1975).
In memoriam, I present a selection of scans from the Scary Stories Treasury (a 2002 hardcover compendium of all three volumes, complete and unabridged.) Meanwhile, if you’ve been putting off picking up an original copy of your own, better act fast. Prices on the used market are already starting to climb! (Hat tip to artist Daniel Danger… and if you aren’t familiar with his work, click this link and prepare to be captivated.)