Friday, June 1, 2012

Stephen Gammell's World Of Horror

When I was in second grade, I was in a Barnes and Noble glancing through the children's books, when  something caught my eye. It was Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, a collection of folklore retold by Alvin Schwartz with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The stories themselves were classic campfire fluff, but what made them so creepy was the intense and disturbing artwork by Gammell. Needless to say I begged my parents to buy them for me. My friends and I were obsessed with these books and brought them to sleepovers, where we read them until the pages started to fall out. We even made our own ripoff versions, that we wrote and illustrated ourselves, photocopied, and then tried to sell to our classmates for a quarter a piece.
Since 1990 the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom has received an enormous amount of complaints by parental groups and schools regarding The Scary Stories trilogy, which has made it the most challenged series of  children's books in the ALA's history. Parental groups succeeded in making sure that the Garbage Pail Kids TV show never aired in America, so why not go after a popular book series that they felt was too scary for kids.
So on the 30th anniversary of the original book's release, publisher Harper Collins finally caved in to the decades of complaints, and tried to tone down the classic series by replacing the frightening illustrations created by Gammell, with the dull and timid drawings of hack artist Brett Helquist. Now a generation of children, will never feel the full impact of these books, and another classic has been destroyed by politically correct lunatics.
                                                                 Gammell VS. Helguist:
So to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Scary Stories books, I thought it would be a good idea to pay my respect to the amazing artwork of Stephen Gammell. Since we're all so familiar with the Scary Stories drawings, I thought it would be cool to show off some of Gammell's lesser known horror-based artwork from some of his rare and out of print books that I've been collecting over the years.
 1. Ghosts by Seymour Simon (The Eerie Series) published in 1976 by J.B. Lippencott

6. Meet the Werewolf (The Eerie Series) by Georgess McHargue published in 1976
 3. Meet the Vampire (The Eerie Series) by Georgess McHargue published in 1979 by J.B. Lippencott
4. Leo Possessed by Dilys Owen, published in 1979 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.
5. The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway by Ellen Harvey published in 1978 by Four Winds Press
 6. Halloween Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston, published in 1989 by Holiday House.
 Even some of Stephen Gammell's "normal" children's books have that persona of surrealistic nightmares:
Gammell continues to illustrate children's books in  St.Paul. Minnesota, where he lives with his wife, Linda. His more recent works are in color and are much more playful than the illustrations from his black and white vine charcoal days.
Hopefully Harper Collins will re-release the original versions of the Scary Stories books, so that future generations of children can grow up with the same fantasy and intrigue that stimulated our imaginations when we were kids.
A Facebook page dedicated to that mission can be found here: BringBackTheScaryArt

There are a few other disturbingly ghoulish children's books that have (so far) remained untouched by censors - Check these out as well:

 If you're a fan of  Stephen Gammell's artwork, here are some other amazing books well worth checking out:
  • 1975 Thunder at Gettysburg
  • 1979 Stonewall
  • 1982 Where the Buffaloes Begin - Caldecott Honor
  • 1982 Wake Up, Bear...It's Christmas!
  • 1982 The Story of Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar
  • 1983 Git Along, Old Scudder
  • 1984 Once Upon McDonald's Farm
  • 1985 Thanksgiving Poems
  • 1987 Old Henry
  • 1988 Song and Dance Man -Caldecott Award
  • 1989 Airmail to the Moon
  • 1989 Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust
  • 1989 Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth
  • 1993 Monster Mama
  • 2000 Twig boy
  • 2008 My Friend, the Starfinder


  1. i happen to like brett helquist.
    not for this book. not at all. the original drawings gave me nightmares as a child but in such a beautiful way. they still bring back those chills. i love them. they should stay. but i think it's a little unfair to call helquist a hack. he's just doing what he's paid to do--it's not like he suggested the change.
    anyway thanks for the beautiful scans. im so glad he has more work available.

  2. I myself don't care for the work of Helquist, nothing personal. But Stephen Gammell is such an artistic genius, master of ink and pen. THANK YOU so so much for printing these illustrations from books I'm not sure if I can get my hands on. There isn't an official site or prints available of Gammell's work unfortunately at least that I've found so I must subsist on other admirer's efforts.

    I CANNOT believe that anyone would have the audacity to desecrate a book as it was meant to be, the nightmarish sights that haunt people to this day, ingrained in their memories and immortalized not only Gammell but the great Folk Writer Alvin Schwartz.

    I am going to contact the publisher and start a movement if necessary ... as an artist and as a fan ... I believe I have ranted on enough.

    Thank you once again

  3. It's sad they replaced Gammell. I've wanted a print or original piece by him for years. I grew up with the books Scary Stories (which were awful writing by the way). The books were only good because of him.

  4. Do you know of a place where prints of any of the artwork from the original Scary Stories books can be purchased?

  5. Lol...the only reason children were interested in these books were Gammell's illustrations. The stories were okay, but the covers and the art inside sold them, end of story. It's like taking the wheels off a car to make it safer...

  6. I had the honor of being on the same NDLA program with Mr. Gammell in 1983. I illustrated The Dragon and the Mouse children's book series by Dr. Stephen Timm.

  7. Thank you for the suggestions and the pictures!

  8. Hopefully the publishers will realize the error of listening to those parents and use Stephen Gammell's artwork again. But at least we know his work will not vanish. With people like you posting his art from the Scary Stories trilogy and other books on the internet, future generations will still have to opportunity to enjoy them.