Like Something Strange, Undreamt-of: The Nightmare Illustrations of Stephen Gammell

Stephen Gammell Art for Halloween Poems, Holiday House 1989, via Razorwire Pictures

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”

Related Posts:

A Man, Tall and Thin, and Ghastly Pale: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The Lips of a Strange Woman: The Pulp Art of Margaret Brundage

Here is My New Mouth, Chiseled with Care: The Art of Kris Kuksi

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Categories: Art & Inspiration

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28 replies

  1. I just became a fan of Stephen Gammell’s!

  2. I actually still own a box set of these books. I’d forgotten how creepy the illustrations were! There was one story about a scarecrow named Harold that came to life and walked around on the roof. That one gave me nightmares!

  3. They used to read the books to us in elementary school.

  4. Those are fantastic. Though I’m ashamed to admit I’m not already familiar with his work, especially since I am a child of the 80’s and I loved reading spooky stories as a youngster. I missed out! :(

  5. Oooh… now I have to look around when I get home to see if I still have my copies from when I was a kid. I loved those, and the wonderfully creepy illustrations!

  6. Creepy, but in a familiar, comfortable way

  7. Creepy and surreal! I love it!

  8. Ooh, I will make it an ambition to find an original copy…

  9. That was a quick ambition, just got it for a couple of quid on amazon! Very exciting…

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