With Halloween around the bend, I have been experiencing nostalgia for a beloved, yet utterly terrifying series of books I grew up reading as a child. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, by Alvin Schwartz most likely strikes a chord with many of you reading this. The stories were truly disturbing, and as I recall reading them I realize that this was my first experience with the genre of horror. The crisp and clear prose of Schwartz’s plots left shivers down my spine, but perhaps the most provocative element of the series was the gut-wrenching illustrations adorning the chapters. Stephen Gammel’s visceral drawings combined the terrorizing plots of Schwartz with a style so repulsive that it produced sheer, unadulterated horror in my child mind.
Macabre ghouls seeping out from the earth, eyeballs melting from skulls, surrealistic strands of flesh unfurling from bodies. For 8-year-old me, this was absolute nightmare fuel. Gammel had a penchant for entering swiftly into the uncanny valley, diverging sharply away from human emotional connection and into the realm of the grotesquely “near human”.
The monstrosities he conjured were not alien enough to distance myself from their realistic implications. Take for instance a severed human arm forking out a meatball from its own flesh in the chapter A Wonderful Sausage. That’s the type of imagery that sticks with you, even after you forget the original plotlines of the stories that haunted you long ago.
Gammel (born 1943) is a self taught children’s book illustrator from Iowa, USA. Starting his career freelancing commercial projects, the artist transitioned into inking picture books in the early 1970s, and since has illustrated nearly 60 works. In 1989, he was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal for American picture book illustration for his work in Sarah Ackerman’s Song and Dance Man (1988), and is the recipient of two more Caldecott honors. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he continues his artistic practice. But certainly, the illustrations he created for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark can be considered cult classics.
This classic children’s horror series will be a feature film in November of 2019! Directed by André Øvredal and written/produced by none other than surrealist legend Guillermo del Toro, it’s sure to send shivers down your spine.
See more of Stephen Gammel’s amazingly spooky work in our gallery, if you dare…
Article by Cheyenne Cunning