A Tribute To Stephen Gammell


Sure there is a lot of attention to the author of the Scary Stories books, Alvin Schwartz, but I think the illustrator Stephen Gammell deserves his time in the light too. I have spent countless hours staring at his visions of the macabre. I mean they are really disturbing when you look at the way they are drawn!

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There have been countless hours spent just staring at the bizarre world Steve Gammell has created for Schwartz. His expressive and haunting strokes give me the creeps, even 17 years later. I have tried many times to pass these books off for book reporting material but to no avail. It doesn’t matter because I am sure the report would just be filled with pointless statements like “This dead chick looks scary on page 57.”

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Jesus! See what I mean? How scary looking is that? It’s for kids too! I don’t know what goes on in Gammell’s head but he needs to hang out with Rob Zombie. Can you imagine having a beer with this dude? I can. I would ask him what is his motivation for drawing such macabre images. I think Gammell should also work in a tattoo parlor. I’d get another if he designed it.

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What do you think….head in a jar? That is what I think. There is one thing for sure. Gammell’s art really put a dent in my reading level because I have no idea what the stories are about. I do know that my imagination stirs after spending an hour staring at these pictures. I begin to think of them later on at night. I wonder if I have the gift to draw nightmares?

Nope! That’s my head in a jar and the only thing that is confirms is that I suck. I doubt Alvin Schwartz will be calling me for an artistic touch to his scary tales. Oh well.

Oh my God! What the hell is that? I can guarantee you that The Ring was less scary to me because freaky chicks have been burned in my brain since the day I saw this. Thanks Stephen. Taken off guard while flipping pages, this made me choke on forbidden candy during mandatory reading time in homeroom many years ago. I didn’t die but I received a demerit for eating candy in class. Insult to injury.

I don’t mean to “paint the picture” that all Stephen Gammell’s art work is dead chicks and clowns. He illustrates other books like the poem book, The Burger and the Hot Dog. I love this book. I know, I’m 29 and a 29 year old dude shouldn’t like such things but here is a line and you’ll see what I am talking about.

A burger and a hot dog
One day had a nasty spat.
The burger got insulted
‘Cause the hot dog called him flat…

Priceless.

Well, thank you Mr. Gammell. Thanks for sharing your talent and for giving me the creeps, even at school. I can’t believe it has been almost 20 years and believe it or not, I don’t think I have even read a single story from Scary Stories 1, 2, or 35. Sorry Alvin. But mission accomplished Stephen! I will leave you all with this. Good night. Try not to read these in the dark.

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56 Comments

  1. Great article, I totally remember Scary Stories. Pretty corny how they almost always ended in a (now get up and do random shit to scare your friend). That one picture with the spiders coming out of the ladies cheek always used to freak me out, though.

  2. Nice “I heart Retro Junk” image their Billy :D

    I had a scary book once I think I got it from the book fair I loved it for a while then I let my Grandma give it away I wish I had it longer. It had the story about the sewer rat the guy thought was a dog, and the woman that found out she had spiders in her head.

  3. I do heart Retro Junk! I just read the article that guy wrote about Scary Stories. It was very well written.

  4. oh that’s good to know. I thought you were linking the picture off of their server and they were preventing that and I was letting you know.

  5. I loved scary stories…as a kid, I used to scare my brother with the picture of “The Woman with No Eyes” (it frightened him so much that it earned it’s own title). I recently emailed him a scan of the woman from the original book (this being ten years later), and he almost crapped his pants. The “head in a jar” is actually a ghost in mirror, I believe.

  6. Alex: I believe you. Like I said, I never really read the stories. I was too wrapped up in the world of Gammell. He is a true artist in every sense of the word. I have been transported to other worlds just from long gazes at his work.

  7. I had just skimmed this one. I just don’t do scary much But I love the hot dog hamburger picture, it’s teriffic.
    Oh, and so is yours:)

  8. Thanks Kristiane. That means a lot coming from you.

  9. you can find a book with all 3 stories at borders (and of course all the stephen gammell art) . i was reading the stories and i realized i don’t even remember reading them. does anyone kno where to find these pictures online?

  10. I stumbled on this article via Wikipedia and thought it was really entertaining. I’ve been a fan of the Scary Stories series since before I could even read, and I can relate to the whole idea of picturebooks stealing time I should’ve spent reading real books. Last year I ordered all 3 of the scary stories book in hardback for a total of about $5. I put them out on my coffee table for Halloween…almost everybody remembers them when they see them.

    I’ve actually been looking for a website that might sell large prints of Gammel’s art that I could matte & frame…? Anybody know of any?

  11. Hey Jonathan! I wish I did know a site with larger prints. I wen to photobucket.com and google image for these but I am sure there is something out there. You may have more luck searching for Alvin Schwartz. Thanks for reading!

  12. I couldn’t get the books out of my head for almost two decades, either – I remember trying to imitate the faces in the pictures and making my best friend cry (and she was the bravest girl I knew). The stories are brilliant as well – I remember the books being banned in our school. I ordered all three off Ebay so my kids (eventually) won’t have to miss out.

  13. I have fond memories of reading the Scary Stories books when I was a kid. I kept them checked out of the school library for as long as I could. I own the whole set of three books to this day. Stephen’s art in those books was so amazingly disturbing that it would send my imagination soaring. He really captured the mood of those stories and poems. Without his work, the books might have been overlooked and not become the classics they are today. Thank you Alvin and thank you Stephen. I could only wish for another volume.

  14. STEPHEN GAMMELL MUST MAKE AN ANIMATED FILM OF SCARY STORIES!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I really liked this entry, probably because of how I used to fight with my 5th grade classmates over these books. I’ve actually had the privilege of corresponding with Mr. Gammell, and after discussing his career as an illustrator, I’ve found that he is every bit as interesting a person as his crazy-intense drawings would have you believe. Ironically, his “Scary Stories” drawings were something he did largely with a sense of humor, and didn’t intend for them to be taken as seriously frightening as they were–which only impresses me even more, because how does someone create something so incredibly creepy without even meaning to make it as frightening as it was?

    Awesome review on a guy who has made a HUGE impact on my life (and dreams of poor kids everywhere!).

  16. Hey Katie! Thanks for commenting. That’s so interesting his intentions for those illustrations were not to scary. I had no idea. That almost makes it more creepy.

  17. Even though its been a year since you wrote this i couldnt help but share my appreciation. i was in books a million and went crazy trying to figure who wrote and ilustrated these books because i knew my fiance would appreciate the work that was but into these kids books. have you had any luck on figuring out if anyone sells prints of his art? thanks and muy <3

  18. Hey, thanks Towey! I haven’t figured that out but I had a friend who swears she saw prints for sale in San Fran but she can’t remember the gallery. She said when she goes back in a week she’ll stop there again.

  19. [...] Tribute To Richard Condie I have been meaning to do this one for quite some time. After my tribute to the artist Stephen Gammell, there has been so many hits on it I figured I should branch out to other artists I really like. So [...]

  20. Great article man! I’ve loved Stephen Gammell’s work for the scary stories series since grade school – I really don’t think I could overestimate the impact that his work (as well as Edward Gorey’s) has had on the way my mind works. I think there’s just something magical and raw about great self-taught artists that stretches your mind the way well-schooled artists rarely can. I decided to post on this site not simply to praise his work, but also to see if anyone can identify the medium (media?) of his “drawings”! I always thought they were water colors, but the book calls them ‘drawings’, and some of the lines look too start for watercolor. I have pretty much no artistic background, so I need some help here!
    As a side note, I think it’s funny – though not surprising in the least – that Stephen lives in St. Paul. Know what I mean?

  21. You know, I’m not sure Sean. I think the best person to ask would be Katy Shutt, who commented above. Thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment! I hope this helps, as you can see I am not schooled in art what so ever.

  22. I love Gammell’s work as well. I have fond memories of checking the original Scary Stories book out of my local library, taking it home and scaring myself and my friend half to death. It was one of the high points of my childhood. I’m glad to see someone shares my passion for the horrifying illustrations.

  23. Wow that picture of the girl with no eyes still gives me chills!
    I was creeped out at age 6 and seeing it again on this page as an adult.
    He should really do album art for heavy metal bands i think.

  24. i can tell u that ive been afraid of stephen gammells artwork for decades now
    and just recently i built up the courage to look him up on google
    that man is amazing
    i went from terrifyed to a huge fan of his
    he makes the ring look like a comedy
    the one ‘head in a jar’ pic is supposed to be
    bloody mary
    u kno say it 3x in the mirror and she appears
    if that thing showed up in the mirror id die of fright
    that pic in particular is what gave me nightmares since i was 9
    and of course it was the 1st thing that popped up in google images

  25. where can i find some stephen gammell art

  26. I just recently bought the Scary Stories collection. Still cannot believe these books were meant for kids (I’m a big fan of the macabre, but when I have kids I definitely will wait to let them read these!)

    My favorite one was for the story “Oh, Susannah!” It was one of those girl finds her roommate dead stories, but the artwork for that was amazing! It had some woman (older) in a rocking chair floating in air with something weird on a leash. And above her is some weird looking skeleton creature. I cannot figure out what it has to do with the story, but the image haunted me forever! Oh, and that winged cat creature in the second books. What the heck is that?!

    It’s too bad he hasn’t done anything for a while, he is so talented. Plus today I found out he was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, where I live! DSM represent!

    • Oh good God the Oh, Susannah story and illustration haunted me to no end my whole life (26 now). I think they’re the reason I’m more terrified of serial killers/psycho movies than supernatural ones. Probably going to have nightmares tonight since I decided to look them up.

  27. Stephen Gammell is my idol!

  28. The art work of Stephen Gammell is mesmerizing!
    But the man is invisible…I can’t find a personal blog or site by him anywhere.
    I would really like the opportunity to see his originals and scrutinize the graphite and/or charcoal line work…perhaps even buy one if I can afford it.
    I have a collection of children’s books he illustrated (mainly library discards) next to my collection of Alan Lee (another good pencil man but with a different style) as well as the Halloween and Scary books.
    Do you have any links to a Gammell blog or site you could provide?

    • I really don’t. I am sorry. I am linked to his Wiki page and I believe there are some there as well as the Facebook page.

      I have seen some of his prints online but they are not the macabre images in the Scary Story books.

  29. the photos in these books were way scarier than the stories themselves, and i always secretly adored staring at them and the nightmares that would ensue after. i think his artwork has shaped a big part of who i am as a person really,from my goth phase in high school to my love of things that disturb people! i realize its been a long time since you posted this but thank you for giving him the credit he deserves!

  30. oh and i believe the head in a jar was a ghost in the mirror,but i could be wrong,..ooh i should find a copy and brush up…sounds fun!

    • I think you are right. I actually looked at that one in a bookstore last week.

  31. Do you have any info like email address or anything that i could use to get a hold of Stephen Gammell? I’m in a band and want to ask him if he would be interested in making a album cover for us.

  32. I love scary stories. I am 7 years old and mostly like scary stories treasury. and scary stories to tell in the dark. also dead lady picture is the one I like the most

  33. Gammel is one of my favorite illustrators, but I don’t think I’d ever want to meet him. My friend used to nanny for him, and she told him one day that I was a huge fan, and that I loved his work on the Scary Stories series. He said, “So, he hasn’t grown up yet, huh?”

    Whatta bummer that our heroes all turn out to be human.

    • What? That’s crazy! I’m sorry, man. Don’t you hate it when you find out heroes are total dicks?

  34. the stories had their charm.

  35. I love his books I nearly crapped my self when i saw the woman without eyes but that was years ago but now i scare my brother with it. good article by the way.

  36. […] Comment by Katie Shutt on April 14, 2008  I’ve actually had the privilege of corresponding with Mr. Gammell, and after discussing his career as an illustrator, I’ve found that he is every bit as interesting a person as his crazy-intense drawings would have you believe. Ironically, his “Scary Stories” drawings were something he did largely with a sense of humor, and didn’t intend for them to be taken as seriously frightening as they were–which only impresses me even more, because how does someone create something so incredibly creepy without even meaning to make it as frightening as it was? […]

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