And now. A distant memory came back today from many years ago. When I was a kid I had a copy of The three Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz and the crap-your-pants illustrations still blow me away. I’m not sure precisely when I became a horror obsessive, but I believe Stephen Gammell is partly responsible. Thank you, Sir. Only a few illustrators stand out in my world. Gammell, Kay Nielsen and Quentin Blake are fine examples. And me…I stand out…in my world.
So as the day went on, ideas went flat and creativity dwindled. I decided a massive pot of chili needed to happen with homemade tortillas (can’t find that shit on etsy) a few dozen cups of tea and I was back in action.
I searched for the Scary Stories trilogy on Amazon to see if I could find cheap used copies and I did, in fact, find the original publication for not the kind of cheap I had in mind. I also discovered that at some point, someone else decided they could do a better job illustrating *folklore.
(*regurgitated folklore, albeit, in an interesting way. Take cat up-chuck, have you not seen cat puke? Once there was a mouse, and there are elements of the same mouse still in it, just ..)
My heart broke a little bit. I couldn’t explain why, but I can only imagine this is how some people feel when a film is remade for the 10th time in 20 years, or a bad cover song is rendered from someone who only recently left the womb. I suppose this hits a nerve. I don’t blame people for wanting to ride the familiar tasting gravy train. That’s why nearly every pop single, despite the genre, seems to be going down the dance road and featuring David Guetta or Calvin Harris. When something works, it’s worked to death. Fair enough, but for the love of Christ, why replace THOSE illustrations? You cannot top them. They’re near enough to perfection. I’ve had a brief glance at Brett Helquist’s work, and while he clearly has talent and ability, I’m not sleeping with the lights on. All I can think of is that the publisher thought too many soccer moms were hesitant to let their delicate clones be exposed to something that might taint their minds (after filming those same children singing Nicki Mirage and posting it on youtube). Perhaps it is just business. I don’t really care.
I rarely opened those pages for the stories. They were stories I had heard a million times before around a campfire (hahahaha no, not a campfire, that’s silly..did you ever watch “are you afraid of the dark” though? ). Come to think of it, I can’t remember one story, but I recall my heart pounding when I saw this image.
I’d stay awake for hours, too frightened to move. I consciously ventured into this world of horror only when I knew there would be someone awake.
These have influenced me tremendously and I feel disheartened at the idea a generation of miniatures will miss the frightening, sleepless nights, peeing your pants because there’s no way in hell a foot touches the floor. I think a good scare is as healthy as a good sneeze, or a good night’s sleep (haha), a good meal and a good laugh. The art of Stephen Gammell works. His wispy ink lines, figures of an implied shape but without sharp definition or blatant gore, landscapes that float, electrified hair, and sunken eyes. It is an image of fear itself (not the not-so-impressive hour long tv program)
I’ve noticed that I am not alone in this heartbreak, though i’m late to find out. Many who have been touched by the Gammell Terror also speak up about those HarperCollins bastards. SEE?