Kittens, if you came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, you might remember a little series called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Ostensibly a children’s book, this series paired creepy folkloric tales and urban legends told by Alvin Schwartz with the amorphous phantasms of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. With simple charcoal images, Gammell created nightmares of wraiths with melting faces emerging from fog; unsettling churchyards and twisted, shadowy trees; ghastly surrealist arms that ate themselves. Small wonder that the series, first introduced in 1981, was noted by the American Library Association as one of the most frequently challenged pieces of children’s literature in the 1990’s.
Mr. Gammell, a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator of more than 60 stories, has been providing eldritch illustrations for children’s literature for nearly four decades, beginning with 1976’s Ghosts, part of The Eerie Series books by Georgess McHargue. While not all of his work has been for such sinister subjects, Stephen’s art consistently captures a surreal, dreamy quality, whether through shadowy, faceless images or looming organic shapes that seem to melt into themselves.
Although many of the books with Mr. Gammell’s original spine-tingling illustrations are sadly no longer in print, his art lives on in the hearts and dreams of a generation of children given an early indoctrination into the shivery delight of a good scare. In honor of this, here is a chilling gallery of twenty-five images from ten different works illustrated by Mr. Gammell. Enjoy!
To view more obscure illustrations from Stephen Gammell, visit Razorwire Picture’s “Stephen Gammell’s World Of Horror”