First published in 1981, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series has since become a necessary staple of every elementary schooler’s intellectual development. Namely, it’s how they learn that books can make you shit your pants.

Not to detract from the late author Alvin Schwartz’s contributions to the three-book series; he had a knack for culling the most unsettling examples of folk lore and urban legendry from the collective unconscious and distilling them into a simplified narrative that appealed to the reading level of children whilst not losing an ounce of their spine-tingling effectiveness and grim brutality… but it isn’t the text that folks remember giving them nightmares until they turned thirty.

It was the chilling, phantasmic artwork by Stephen Gammell. And to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Scary Stories book series, publisher Harper Collins decided to eliminate all traces of Gammell’s presence, replacing the original illustrations with new ones by celebrated artist Brett Helquist. Yeah, Happy Anniversary, indeed.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones have been three of the most challenged pieces of children’s literature for their thirty years in publication due to the ghastly content of the tales collected and, more-so than that, the gruesome illustrations that have caused many a child to begin crying on the spot. Gammell’s skill at reaching into the darkest depths of his imagination and returning with vivid nightmares which he then captures in all their macabre detail through his paintings is, simply put, unmatched. Harper Collins has shown impressive resolve over the last three decades in standing their ground amidst all the bannings and controversy over the immensely popular book series; so why they finally waited until the 30th Anniversary to relent and remove the most objectionable quality of the books is beyond me.

In a way, it’s a matter of principle; they stood firm for so long, why finally fold after thirty years? But it’s also that, after so many, many years and being fondly remembered by so many generations of terrified children, Scary Stories has come to be defined by the art of Stephen Gammell; remove his contributions while leaving the text untouched and, well, it just isn’t Scary Stories anymore.

That’s not to say Brett Helquist isn’t a skilled artist of the creepy and the obscene. Helquist is perhaps best known for illustrating the books and the merchandise for the “Series of Unfortunate Events” children’s novels. He is extremely talented and respected… but he isn’t Stephen Gammell. His contributions to Scary Stories are admirable, and while they’d be superb when attached to any other collection of ghost stories for children, they have thirty years of an established visual presence to stack up against and there’s just no overcoming that.

So here are a few comparisons between Gammell’s original illustrations and Helquist’s substitutions.

The Title Page


Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

Right off the bat, when you open up Helquist’s edition, you can tell that you’re in for a far less elaborate experience.

This is just the *title page*; you haven’t even gotten to the content of the collection yet… And already Gammell’s version is firing on all cylinders with a dark and surreal backdrop. An old rural house floating in some weird dimension, an unoccupied rocking chair, the silhouette of a man who has hung himself… You haven’t even gotten through the title of the book and already you’re feeling wary. It’s like one of those sign posts outside a dark forest reading “Danger: Do Not Enter”. Frightening, yet alluring you to proceed with apprehension.

Meanwhile, Helquist drew a bird and a tombstone. Very creative.

There’s also the dedication page, “To Dinah”; Gammell draws a rusty, cobwebbed wheelchair while Helquist draws nothing. Before even getting to the stories themselves, Helquist’s editions are already a blander, less unsettling experience.

The Walk



This comparison illustrates one of the major differences between Gammell’s approach and Helquist’s. Gammell is more about conveying the notion of dread rather than capturing the minute details of the scene and the setting. Here in “The Walk”, there’s a fog-shrouded forest and two dark figures becoming separated in the mist; or perhaps they’re approaching you? You don’t know WHAT they are and, in a way, you can just look at this drawing without reading the accompanying story and come up with your own tale. It’s food for the eeriest part of your imagination.

Helquist, meanwhile, goes for interpreting the text explicitly. He captures the scenes as they’re described and what liberties he takes tend to revolve around setting the illustrations in a distinct period. This robs the story of its timeless quality; which Schwartz’s vague prose made certain to create. It’s not so scary when it’s happening to a pair of guys from the Victorian era; the reader is safely separated from the danger by a century or more and thus they become less engaged.

But black shadows in the woods after dark? That could happen to anyone at any time and that’s what makes it so much more effective.

The Haunted House



There she is, boys: The face that shat a thousand pants.

Gammell’s illustration for “The Haunted House” is without a doubt the most iconic image in the entire Scary Stories series; even becoming the cover of the Treasury edition that collects all three books in a single hardcover volume. No mystery as to why it’s so famous among people who grew up with the books: it is extremely effective.

As with “The Walk”, Gammell’s version succeeds in that it places the reader in the story. The ghost is looking at YOU. YOU are trapped in that creaky old house, staring down the empty, rotted eye sockets of some girl who was strangled by her lover. Many of Gammell’s illustrations take this approach, putting the “shot” of the piece in the POV of the reader. Rarely are multiple parties visible at the same time. Gammell places you in the story and that’s what makes nine year-olds want to drop the book and swear to never open it again. Gammell removes the neutrality of third party observations and puts YOU in danger.

Helquist, meanwhile, chooses to render the scene as depicted in the book. The ghost doesn’t notice you because you aren’t there. It’s just a picture in a book and the only one in danger is the priest. For what it’s attempting to do (illustrate the scene as described), it’s actually a rather nice piece and I suppose that’s something that’s getting away from me here as I work myself up; all of Helquist’s illustrations are excellent pieces of art. They’re very dynamic, and though they don’t match how I always imagined the story in my head over the past 20 or so years (and how could they?), they’re suitable depictions.

But they just aren’t scary. The neutrality of the audience makes them less engaging. Another good example is the illustrations for “The Thing”. Gammell once again opts for a frontal shot of the monster, staring directly at the reader, while Helquist takes the angle to behind the monster’s back as he menaces two children. The reader is in a perfectly “safe” position and the entire experience just loses an element of excitement.

Oh, Susannah!



I’m a bit on the fence about this one.

Gammell’s illustration is incredible; this utterly bizarre, incomprehensible universe of nightmares and you just can’t tell what the HELL is going on… but it has absolutely *nothing* to do with the story it is attached to. It’s just awesome.

Helquist’s earns points for actually relating to the story (about a girl being woken in the middle of the night by her roommate’s whistling, only to find her roommate beheaded in the morning along with the realization that the whistling belonged to the killer)… but for being scary or unnerving? Not so much.

The Red Spot




Helquist’s version: “Meh.”




Now here, I feel, it is entirely fair to compare the two versions against one another as it is a case where both Gammell and Helquist take the same approach to the material: “Scary-looking scarecrow staring at the reader”.

However, I don’t think there’s any doubt which incarnation of Harold is the more frightening. Gammell’s version could almost be a madman disguised as a scarecrow, but you’ll be damned if you’re going to get close enough to check.

Meanwhile, Helquist’s is definitely a dude made out of straw, but in a way, he almost looks “cute” which takes away from the horror. The fact that he looks so wispy and, yes, made of straw also makes him less threatening. Meanwhile, the hulking monstrosity of Gammell’s Harold leaves no doubt that he could kill you and tan your skin on the roof of the farmhouse.

In Closing

These are just six examples among scores and scores of them. Everything about the production of the 30th Anniversary edition of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is lacking in comparison to the originals. The illustrations are smaller and only accompany the stories-themselves; small graphics that could be confused for generic clip art accompany glossaries, dedication and title pages. Helquist’s drawings are expertly and professionally rendered for what they are, but they don’t approach the lavishness of Gammell’s sinister paintings.

While this would be a fantastic production of just about any other book of ghost stories, when compared to its predecessor, it’s simply a cheap and uninspired product.

The necessity of this edition completely eludes me. Why celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the book by changing its most notable feature? The Gammell editions remain in print, so it isn’t “replacing” them, either; the Helquist edition is simply here to coexist with the originals for reasons I cannot fathom.

I suppose it may have been done as a compromise to all the school boards and PTAs that have been picketing Harper Collins’ offices for three decades. Gammell’s original editions aren’t going away, but now a “less intense” version of the book has been published to appease outraged Helen Lovejoys the country over. Not a notion I can get behind, I must confess.

No child should ever have to grow up without Stephen Gammell’s artwork keeping them up at night. I don’t want to imagine a world like that. It’s just too… frightening.

UPDATE (1/3/12):

As it turns out, the original Stephen Gammell editions HAVE been taken out of print by the publisher! At least at the time of this update, anyway. Prices on new and used copies are already inflating on sites like in response to the altered art, too (a new copy of the Treasury edition from a 3rd party seller is going for $50 bucks at the cheapest).

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  • Bobby

    This story is badly written.

    • Called Out

      Nice try Brett Helquist.  Cheer up, you’re still a good artist.

      • Bobby

        The second paragraph is one sentence.

        • That is indeed a run-on sentence.  My bad!

          But I do not think that devalues the remainder of my article, nor the information and opinions it conveys. 

          And in the case of said run-on sentence, the flow is broken up by the use of semicolons and ellipsis.  So while it is indeed a run-on sentence (shame on me!), it is punctuated to guide the reader along and separate the information accordingly.

          And while in retrospect I see I have abused the semicolon elsewhere in this article, I feel justified in my observations and comparisons of the two artists and their approach to the same material.  Likewise, I feel I have articulated them competently.

          But sorry about the run-on, Bobby!

  • Janelle McKiernan

    I had no idea that they had re-done the “Scary Stories” trilogy, and my heart breaks a little.  Gammell’s artwork has been seared into my brain for decades.   The organic, chilling use of ink has always reminded me of dripping blood and the macabre, and those books helped shape my imagination.  I applaud your effort to fairly compare Helquist’s work, but truly, there is no comparison.

  • TheSouthernNerdett

    NO MEGUSTA! These books made me want to shit my pants and I loved them just as creepy and scary as ever. I’ll never forget the spiders….Ugh…many a nightmare. There is NO comparison and I wonder if enough angry parents or something got upset. Seriously? Whats wrong with a scary book for kids that’s been a round for 30 years! For real. You got me fucked up if you think I am buying the new variation. T^T I’d rather hunt down the old ones.

    • Amy

      You can find them easily on eBay, but just be sure to make sure it’s the right artist!

  • Catethulhu

    Thanks for the heads up. If anything like this happens, I like to know asap. Just bought the old anthology, before they disappear forever (I suspect they will be snatched quickly when people realize). I loved the originals. I can’t believe they thought this was a good idea. Helquist is a good illustrator and all, but no one can fill Gammell’s shoes.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Thank you for the article.  I can’t BELIEVE they are doing this!  Those versions of the stories and Gammell’s art are inseparable in my mind.  I’m glad I still have the originals I purchased in elementary school.  Thank Zod my uber-strict mother never censored my reading material.  

  • I pity future children.

    • Christina F

      Only if their parents don’t have the original version.

  • Jon

    At least the version with the original drawings is still in print.  Had they pulled a George Lucas, I’d be upset.

  • I made a hashtag for Twitter called #DontTouchTheArt in which I mention other works I feel that the art is an integral part of the experience.

  • FellOnEarth

    I remember when these stories first came out, such great illustrations! My older sister used to read me stories and really laid on the macabre. I think we may still have a copy buried away in some box if she didn’t take it for her own brood. Sad to see the original Gammell art go, they really helped flesh out the horror in the stories. 🙁

  • Monica

    I am so glad I’m not the only one upset by this.  Whenever my best friend mentions these books, 18 years after reading them, she STILL shudders about the illustrations–as a lifelong horror film junky!  I had been against purchasing the new ones for my library but when I discovered that the set I purchased 2 years ago has already vanished, I bit the bullet.  At least the new ones will probably stick around longer…

  • spiderberry

    70 dollars ? Really ? I could have bought that book for 12 dollars on sale at Borders before it closed here . Damn .

    • Luckily, prices from 3rd party sellers are always fluctuating, so there are a few on Amazon selling it for around $20, I see.  And I’m sure places like eBay and used book sites have them in excess for a better price.

      I also noticed the Treasury hardcovers clearanced at Borders and Barnes & Noble in late ’10, early ’11 and thought nothing of it at the time.  In retrospect, I realize they were clearing out their stock to make way for the Helquist editions coming in ’11.

      • Marynraven

         I know that’s when I picked up my treasury. I’m so glad I did now!!!

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  • not your mom

    I purchases and read the original versions to my children.  They were not “damaged” by them !  The “new” illustrations do not do justice to the stories. 
    If people don’t want their children to read or see these books they do not have to deprive the rest of society from them.  They just have to NOT BUY THEM ! 
    We don’t need to be protected.  The publisher made a bad call.

    • not your mom

      Sorry…. I “PURCHASED” ….

    • JL

      I’m glad you said that.  I was thinking the same thing.  This is like that damn Mary Whitehouse, who went on a censorship lobbying rampage in the UK.  Fucking fascism is what this is.  I read these stories and saw the original illustrations when I was six years old.  They gave me the creeps, but they didn’t traumatize me.  I went back to them over and over to look over all the creepy details.  I had been looking into buying the set for nostalgia, and i’m really pissed that this has happened.  The screwed up, self-righteous, stuffy parents/”activists” who convinced the publisher to do this should be ashamed of themselves.  It’s not right to spoil everyone’s fun for the sake of an oversensitive minority.  And that’s exactly what those books are: FUN.  They didn’t have to take the originals out of print.  Why couldn’t they print both versions?  We need a boycott of HarperCollins books or a petition.  If the only way to get the originals is to shell out an inflated $70, I just won’t buy them.

      • lawl

        But in the article, he said the Gammell edition is still being printed, there will just be two different editions. So its not all bad. It’s like a movie with two disks. One side has gore, the other is the same movie but without gore. Although I remember reading the books because I WANTED to get scared. Gammell did a great job with creeping me out. getting scared on purpose is kind of thrilling if done right

      • KDFell

        You *could* shell out $70… or you could check some local thrift/used book stores like I did and possibly make out with the Treasury Edition for $2.99

        • Lola Guin

          That’s what I just did. I just ordered the first 2 books on Amazon and since there’s no way to verify if they’re the originals or the new ones, I made sure to buy used and that there was a bit of wear on each copy. The newer ones won’t have any wear, most likely. I’d rather have slightly worn used copies than this new tripe.

    • Emily Hill

      As I said in my comment you wouldn’t know it was a book of ghost stories with this new art

  • Farthngdr

    Mark: A beautifully written analysis of the two versions of this book. The pictures indeed so terrified my daughter that she made me buy the book–she wanted me to share the terror with her. Amazing artwork–sheer genius.

  • Stephen Gammell is a master of his craft. The
    Scary Stories series has be so iconic for the past three decades, that it
    just doesn’t make sense 1) why the publisher would celebrate that by
    stripping away the most recognizable feature and 2) why Brett Helquist, as
    a respected illustrator, would invite the unfavorable comparison upon
    himself. I work at a bookstore and I remember when the first
    person came to pay for the new edition at the counter: I was shocked. I
    was completely dismayed that the publisher had recommissioned the art work and have since
    had many discussions with people about it. I’m a fan of Mr. Helquist’s work, but it just doesn’t suit this collection. Let’s face it, in retrospect, a lot of the stories were kind of hokey and somewhat clumsily written. What actually made these stories SCARY
    were the illustrations. I still have the paperback box set that I purchased at my primary
    school book fair and I’ve often looked to it for inspiration in my own art for how to set the mood and create an atmosphere (I’m also a freelance illustrator).Once this edition eventually sells out its print run, perhaps Harper Collins will bring back Mr. Gammell’s work. How else are we supposed to scare the shit out of unsuspecting children?

  • Blitzedcat

    whoever changed the art is stupid and i hate them.

  • lily

    They pussyfied it.

    • Buck Swoosh McLaundryman

      yeah wth?

    • lemmykins

      Fuck you asshole

  • I am so very glad I held on to my original copies from the Scholastic book fairs of elementary school.  It is truly disheartening to think that children will not get to enjoy the original art as my generation has.

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  • Jason

    Back in my grade school days the Scary Stories books were indeed the most popular thing in the library. I remember in 5th grade (1991-92 school year), it was a competition to be the one who checked them out. You had to be fast or someone else would get it. The stories were creepy as a kid, but while they’ve lost that aspect now that I’m an adult, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are just as awesome as they’ve always been, and can serve as nightmare fuel for just about anyone. That Harper-Collins would replace such classic and iconic artwork is beyond me, considering they hadn’t caved to pressure from moral guardians for the previous three decades. Any Gen X-ers who liked these books as kids and want them for nostalgia’s sake and/or to share with their own kids should not buy the 30th anniversary versions out of protest if they haven’t bought the older editions. Maybe market pressure will convince H-C to restore the old illustrations.


  • Gargus

    You know, I still think that Stephen Gammell is insane, and probably should have been fired for submitting that art back in the 80s…
    But honestly? When I heard about an update to the art, I was expecting something more along the lines of “The same, but less likely to be your nightmares for the next ten years”, not this boring art.

  • magz

    I used to read that stuff FOR THE ART as a kid. If anything I thought it was cool not scary. And when I read I was eight and liked my little ponies. So yeah..part of growing up is being scared. You want something really scary you should go read some original fairy tales. 

  • This makes me SO angry!  They’ve ruined them!

  • Steampunk105

    why would they do that the  original artists pictures   were way more epic  no offense to the  other artist   but its  true  i think ill go and  cry in the corner for a while *childhood ruined *   

  • Babys

    i dont hate the artist i hate whoever changed it.

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  • Boysnightout99

    So they changed the art so future generations will grow up to be cowards. Not knowimg what a good scare is. I mean when your young and ypur exposed to scary or frightening things you get over it and in my case you start to like it. His art was one of a kind. The new artist is very plain and boring in my opinion, it doesnt strike any emotion. Whereas the old art struck emotion immediatly and I was drawn to and couldnt take my eyes off the pictures.

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  • Ashram12

    The new artwork is terrible in my opinion.  First of all, the new illustrations are too gray and murky: where  is the contrast? When you’re doing an illustration in grayscale, you need to show a range of tone going from black to white. Here it just goes from dark gray to light gray, so nothing really pops.  Secondly, the style is too cartoony to be scary. Just because cartoon-style illustrations are the “in” thing in children’s publishing, doesn’t mean that style should be used everywhere.

  • Anonymous
    • SemisolidSnake

      Actually, the ALA advocates AGAINST censorship and banning. That’s just an informative list they’ve published. Many of the books on that list have been given the Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” BY the ALA itself.

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  • Yournightsurgeon

    Thanks for ruining my childhood book you censor loving idiots. I read those books as a very young child and they just made me happy, I loved the drawings more than the stories.

  • Thedodus

    The Gammell illustration for “Oh, Susannah!” actually DOES have to do with the story–I didn’t find this out myself until years and years later.

    In the original variation of the legend, the girl discovers her roommate beheaded while the killer is still in the room.  He’s sitting in a rocking chair, continuing to whistle, with the roommate’s head.  Guess what that is floating in the sky in Gammell’s illustration?  

    A little easter egg of You’re not sleeping tonight kids.

  • Ryan

    I remember and loved these books because of the art even more than the stories!  At 8 years old I remember being so scared I couldn’t sleep, so I just kept reading..  It was almost like a rite of passage for my group of friends.  I can say the new art does nothing whatsoever to evoke the feel of the book.  My assumption will be that once sales tank they’ll change it back.  Here’s to hoping.

  • linds

    The original art was so much more disturbing visually. I’m sad they would change it. This new art, not that it’s bad, just doesn’t scare me as much. It doesn’t draw out my imagination. Yes the new art work is appealing, but that is why I love the original art work. It’s twisted and non-traditional. I couldn’t look away. This new art work is not scary in the least nor will it scare any of today’s youths. They’re far too desensitized. The original illustrations, however, well they would scare anybody. 🙂

  • JL

    It’s comforting to see that so many people are upset about this.  I was really ticked off at first, but if enough people were to complain about what an atrocity this is, we could really turn this around.  There is no reason those originals should have gone out of print unless they just weren’t selling.  And I have a feeling they were.

  • Palliative

    I think most of us realized during our school years that very few schools reguarly buy new books. Especially books that aren’t textbooks.
    I bet the version with Gammell’s drawings will be in a majority of the classrooms for years to come.

  • Taksi96

    They have ruined it D: It ain’t as scary anymore, Loved the old illustrations

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  • I used to have nightmares that Harold was on my garage. this is bullshit! blasphemy! furious! D:

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  • What the hell kind of Harry Potter bullshit is this? They need to tone down toning things down…

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  • Hime

    As a little kid, the stories were bad enough, but those pictures scared me more than the stories!  I don’t think I ever finished a book all the way through, and I had all three.  I’d be freaked out from reading and turn the page and GAH!!!  So maybe this is a good thing for little chickens like me.  As a grown up, I can appreciate the original (Gammell’s) art, but I definitely didn’t as a little kid.

  • SubarashiProductions

    I’d be pretty embarrassed if I were Helquist.  He must not be familiar with the book or desperate for the job to turn in work that is so plainly inferior in concept and execution, compared to the original.  It’s like the recent editions of fantasy book covers that replace elaborate painting with photos bought online. (Thomas Covenant as an example) 

    • Nequam

      He may have had to draw the art with certain directives from the producers in mind. Notice that the art for “The Red Spot” no longer shows the horrible denouement but instead the moment that will lead up to the denouement (the illustration for “The Bride” from More Scary Stories… does the same thing, showing the woman innocently stepping into the chest instead of what was found later).

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  • opiate46

    Anyone else think that those pictures were added to give the book a “Harry Potter” look? I wonder if they are just trying to cater to the current crop of kids. 

    Either way, thanks for this article. I remember reading these when I was a kid, and the images were easily as creepy as the stories themselves if not more so. It’s a true shame that they changed them.

  • Nissi

    This is such distressing news. I checked these books out the library dozens of times. My sister got Scary Stories 3 for her birthday (her birthday is two days before halloween). It scared the crap out of her. Gave her nightmares even. And she would read that book over and over again. I think kids need good safe scares like these books provide them.

    Guess I’m going on a quest to find the first two.

  • Fallenknight73

    Hey Harper Collins how about meeting us halfway and bringing back the Gammell artwork versions for the young adult section and the Helquist version for the younger pre-teen readers then everyone has a choice and is happy.  Getting rid of “Scary Stories” with Gammell’s artwork is censorship and that is wrong.

  • Gavin

    Shame on the publishers! These books were so special to me as a child. Children will be very, very boring in years to come.

  • Emily Schonberg

    This is an abomination to the monstrous beauty that thrilled our little hearts and filled them with fear. Whoever decided to change out the illustrations should be fired on the grounds of “lamest possible decision making for a book, ever” If the illustrations were changed out for possibly being thought too frightening for a young one, then they’re idiots who over censor their children’s environment and teach them to binge on thoughts, words and habits later in life in an unhealthy way. If I was too frightened to pick this book up as a child, I didn’t. But when I found my adventurous streak I was rewarded by the fantastic sensory experience that the pairing of the words and drawings elicit. Shame on them for commercializing something so special.

  • Ricklucey

    Wow I must of gone to some lame schools as I never knew about these books till I saw this article and I am a huge horror fan myself. I have to say Gammell wins this hands down. Why they change things that worked in the first place is always beyond me. Yet it happens all the time. I still really like the Helquist work, but in the context he is not going to do it. 

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  • I like Helquist and I like Gammell! You guys need to understand that Gammell’s work may not sell in the 2010s. Right now, America is going through a phrase of excessive censorship. This is a cycle that’s been going on since the dawn of civilization. It’s a fundamental trait of civilization: leadership control versus lack of leadership control. What we need to be thankful for in the 21st century is that the cycle is now so short that we can benefit from the best of both cultures.

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  • Gtchrisb01

    OK…About 3 weeks ago I was on a dismounted patrol through an Afghan village that hates the US.  I saw a big white dog that barked at me and literally big bad combat medic here started singing “Lynchee kinchee collie mollie dingo dingo”.

    I got home a week ago, and I’m seriously more distraught at the recently learned fact that THEY CHANGED THE G*D*&ANMED ART WORK????!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!!!  than I am at the mortar rounds I took later that same night. 

    I fear for YOU fellow citizens….SMH.  Thankfully for you I’m on YOUR side. 

  • Soooo…just another way we’re coddling and sheltering and protecting prepubescents from things that go bump on the night. You know, as a human race, we SUCK at proper parenting across the freaking boards.

  • This is a true shame. I remember reading these books when I was younger, and though I don’t remember a thing about the stories I DO remember the pictures. Those imaginative, surreal, utterly terrifying pictures that haunted me for days. Changing the art in these books is a crime. The art was the best part!

  •  Hear that? That is the sound of a hundred thousand childhood memories getting buttraped inside out. The whole !@#$%^&*ING POINT of the book was those illustrations! WTFH!?

  • schumannhertz

    this entire article is hilarious – I also totally agree with you about the fact that the Gammell drawings are just so much more unsettling and freaky than the new version – I mean, for God’s sake, when I was a kid and checked these books out from the library, I kept each one separate from each other, sandwiched between other, ditzier and happier books because I thought if they were stacked together, the monsters would gain strength and come alive!  COME ON NOW! 

    I doubt the Helquist drawings, nice though they are, would’ve made 9 year-old me resort to such drastic actions.

  • well it’s a good thing i have the original! 😀 not that Helquist is a horrible illustrator, but he’s just not good for scary stories.

  • Andrethefaivre

    these new illustrations are bad and you should feel bad!

  • Josephine

    They’ve been Harry-Potter-ized, right down to the font.

  • yukinolove

    seriously WTF! Why would the do that, the artwork was part of the experience of reading those books.  Shame on them.

  • Amandamacabre

    Wow..sure glad I still have my originals stored away safely for my own next generation. This is an absolute outrage.  Are we really living in a society that can see soft core porn on the cover of a victoria’s secret billboard but not cultured by the darker sides of life? This is more horrifying than the new art itself. 

  • Goodweezy

    It looks like a total Harry Potterification of the artwork. I don’t know the timing of the release of this edition (I didn’t even read the article, that’s how lazy I am), so I can’t make any accusations — but damn — my first thought was: “Is this the guy that did Harry Potter? Does he get to pick the fuckin font too?!”

  • Ssantwan

    Gammell is ahead of the generation and there is no reason why this replacement is called for. Do publishers really think “dumbing down” the artwork in the book to more overused art styles that I could have drawn in the 5th grade is going to sell more to a younger crowd? The stories and the art go hand in hand are by far illustrations I will remember till I am old. Whoever thought this was a good idea picked the wrong industry to work in.

  • Jjezeski

    Thank god I have 2 of the 3 original Scary Stories books (1 & 2, missing 3 🙁 ). But yeah…why did they change the artwork? Did a bunch of rabid soccer moms threaten the publishers with death or something?

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  • Mack King

    fucking heresy! BLASPHEMY!! 

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  • Xdf

    This sucks. Totally!!!!!

  • Gave my little bro the old editions as a random gift
    he called them fake and gay
    then he called the police
    but they arrived to late to save him

  • Hey A Boat

    This is completely unconscionable.  Tantamount to replacing the illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book with something else to better suit “modern audiences.”  Ridiculous. 

  • Scrodwaffle

    You know that the parents who have challenged this book let their kids watch slasher flicks when they are in the third and fourth grade, right?

  • Shellshock32

    another idiot messing up my child hood memories, god just stop already 

  • J.

    The second I heard there was going to be a change in artists I knew the publisher was going to pull the original from print so I snatched them up for my daughter to enjoy.

    Glad I did. 

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  • Lgreenlee

    These were my favorite books growing up. I now have a 6 year old son. We went to his school’s book fair today and saw that they had the set for sale. I thought “Oh how I would love for my son to have these!” The cover was different but I hadn’t thought that the artwork inside was changed so I bought the set. I had told him there were pictures inside to look at. We opened the set up when we got home and he said “mommy, where are the pictures??” I found some and they were NOT the same pictures that I had grown up to… WTH!!! I am so mad that they changed the books. I will be looking on ebay, amazon, or barnes and noble to find the original books!!

  • Howtogrowgods

    Maybe it’s just a publicity stunt aimed at adults who haven’t thought about these books in years and now have disposable incomes to blow on childhood nostalgia. Buy the older version before it’s gone now, and then again when they release it in 10 years.

  • Telekinopticfire

    I can’t go on living. 

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  • We are wussy-fying the next generation.

  • Roach

    Sheltered children make for bad adults. So sad there are people out there who would try and dumb down and “protect” theyre precious offspring this way. Good thing ive got my copy! Ill make sure my kids grow up with some guts ;] maybe theyll take it to show & tell!

  • Stephen Gammell Strikes Back

  • Canine Diamond

    The illustrations for “Oh, Susannah” and “The Haunted House” specificall did serious damage to my eight-year-old mind . . . and for that I thank them.  Seriously.  The first two books (I’m old; the third one wasn’t out yet) are pretty much singlehandedly responsible for sending me down the path to a list of death-related interests that came to include folklore, cemeteries, paranormal research (and I’m a skeptic but I still find it fascinating), true crime, forensic science, and experiments in how much black you can wear in middle school before your English teacher gets nervous and sends you to the principal’s office. 

    Part of my childhood has died.

  • Kelsey

    I’m actually really upset by this. I only have two of the original books from when I bought them at a book fair in 2nd grade. I can’t wait to read them to my children to show them what 1) real art looks like and 2) that being scared is nothing to be scared of.

  • cass

    I love the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books but MAN, they’re effing with my childhood here. LEAVE IT BE.

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  • Lola Q.

    I have to say I enjoyed your crical analysis of the 2 versions almost as much as I enjoyed the original (and the creepy artwork of course). Very well done…you make an excellent argument(as if the artwork itself isn’t enough to convince anyone who appreciates the macabre). Oh and by the way, I laughed so hard that I literally couldn’t breath at the line “There is she boys; the face that shat a thousand pants”! I have to admit , I was included in that thousands!

  • I agree 1000% with your analysis.  When a child is confronted with something scary, there’s an assortment of defense mechanisms they want to reach for.  Familiar elements add comfort, like pop culture references and product placements thrown into modern horror movies.  Because the idea of a ghost or monster seems silly with a top 40 single playing in the background, or drinking Coca-cola, or tripping over your Star Wars Lego set.  These are things you know from your everyday life, and it makes the threat seem almost comically incongruous.  Likewise, period details accomplish this by placing the threat comfortably outside one’s experience.  Dashing Victorian gentlemen with monocles and capes have confronted the supernatural in so many films, books, and stories that it seems no more unsettling than a bushranger wrestling a croc, a caveman hunting a mammoth, or a Zulu warrior spearing a lion. 

    With Gammell’s illustrations, you have nothing on which to steady yourself psychologically.  It’s like a rotting, skeletal finger reaching through your ear and directly pressing the “fear” button in your brain.  Time and place, as well as the laws of physics, were of no comfort to you.  Rotting shacks floated in an aether or threatening mists, menacing, not quite human shadows could appear anywhere if you looked long enough, unsettling roots, mold, and veins sprouted from every surface, and amorphous blobs wrapped in human flesh with patches of hair and teeth floated throughout.  The Oh Susannah! illustration was one of my favorites, because though it didn’t depict the story’s events it seemed to convey the sense of improbable horror and helplessness the protagonist felt.  Your reaction to it is like looking at crime scene photos from Jeffrey Dahmer or Ed Gein, in that you’re not looking at dismembered bodies, blood, and guts so much as you’re staring directly into the depths of human depravity. 

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  • I had to wait for months to check these books out at my school’s library. Soooo worth the wait. One of my friends got me the set for my 8th birthday, and the haunted house picture made me cry. Totally worth it though. I will always love the originals. They have a special place in my heart.

  • Pack Man

    The pussification of America continues. We don’t want our children to be frightened by Halloween books, do we…

  • boo

    I think the most telling comparison here is in the artwork for “The Red Dot.” Where Gammell creates an image that is effectively unsettling, disturbing, and all around unpleasant to behold, Helquist drew a picture of a pretty girl with a spider on her face. How terrifying.

    • Buck Swoosh McLaundryman

      I never knew these books had such a following. I devoured them in a day when I was maybe 7 and after that I reread them over and over for the effect of the art. That art was one of a kind. It resonated in your mind with it’s madness, echoing in your psyche and giving you nightmares if you could even fall asleep. That was fun, though. I wasn’t scarred I was enlightened if anything, and the idea that future generations of young’uns won’t have the enjoyment of pooping their pants is really depressing.

      I loved those books and their sadistically scary art.

      • Lola Guin

        Your sentiments echo mine exactly. I checked these out from the school library over and over again, much to my mother’s dismay (she was always making me return them because she doesn’t like horror, lol). I would hide them in my room and sneak to read them at night. Then, I’d renew them and start the cycle all over again. I was the only kid at my school who was obsessed with these books. Surprisingly, my school was a private Catholic one. Looking back, I can’t believe they carried these books. haha. It’s very sad to hear that new generations won’t get to bask in this creativity. There’s so much imagination in Stephen Gammler’s art. Yes, it’s very dark, disturbing, and morbid, but I think that children need a bit of that to stretch their imaginations. That’s why all classic fairy tales have a dark element to them. They can familiarize children with darker concepts, without traumatizing them. It would be horrible to go through childhood being coddled and protected from the dark and then to suddenly realize that it exists all at once. Small steps are much healthier, in my opinion. “Scary Stories” provided that for me. Disney was the light in my life, “Scary Stories” was the darkness and I turned out pretty good being exposed to both at a young age.

  • Silla

    This has got to be the most stupidest thing I have ever heard. It’s was definitely the pictures that made the book. Without it, this is nothing but any other book if scary stories.

  • Valyriefaerie


  • Shane blake

    I actually have a piece of gammells art Tattooed on my arm. Its the one from “you may be the next…” for them to change it is just appalling on my childhood.

  • Angry

    Might as well change the title from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, to Normal Stories to Tell in a Well Lit Room

  • Destiny

    They’ve ruined the books that made my childhood.Fortunately,I have an old copy.Yeah.Be jealous.

  • Janay

    I think for the sake of a CHILDREN’S book, it was a good move. Those pictures frightened me far too much as a kid. They set me up to be afraid of the dark and scary movies. Save Gammell for adult horror. The new images are much more appropriate and the text itself still makes it scary.

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  • hackjack

    agh I just found out about this while I was trying to purchase a copy of these books and was wondering why some of them were so expensive. I am so disappointed that they changed the illustrations!!!!!

  • Vi

    I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to say I like Helquist’s better. Maybe I’m odd, but I was (and still am) terrified by the original art. Couldn’t sleep right for days after reading them, I only read each book once because I was too afraid to open them again. The only thing I disliked about them was the art, so I’d like to enjoy rereading the storys without the nightmares, thank you.

  • Linda Smith

    So bloody happy I bought all of these with my hard-earned allowance (I saved all year for the Scholastic Book Fairs!) when I was just a kid… The art was why I bought them in the first place. It was ethereal and lovely and just my speed, even as a six-year-old. I’m glad I still have them, I wouldn’t let my children read them without the original art if I could help it!

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  • Roro

    I know I’m completely late commenting on this article, but I have to say how disappointed I am! I remember how much I used to love to read these books over and over. Every time I went to the library I would at least get one of the three books.

    So, now it’s 10 years later and today I decided to take my 10 year old cousin (who is my age when I loved the books) to the bookstore to see if she liked them. I wanted to read her a few stories. To my horror, I saw that all the drawings are changed and even worse, the book held no fear for me any longer. It was the drawings all along that kept me up at night. They’re just not right any more. . . This article was spot on. The new illustrations are NICE. But they’re just nice. Not nightmare inducing creations which is where all the fun is at.

  • Rina

    That’s really stupid. Helquist did a great job on Series of Unfortunate Events…
    I’m just glad I have the originals.

  • Moonfang

    So fucking glad i have the originals. It’s true that they were the scariest things to me when i was young and sometimes it kept me up at night, but i loved them anyway. They were what got me into reading, writing, and art and they will always be my number one books.

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  • DarklingMagick

    Oh, God! it looks like Amazon doesn’t carry the original illustrations anymore! This isn’t right!


    They don’t even come CLOSE! I’m so offended! Lame-o

  • Michael

    Here’s the really amazing thing about Gammell: You keep referring to his work as “paintings”, but they’re not paintings. They’re rendered in charcoal. If you’ve never worked in charcoal, you should know that it is a uniquely punishing and unforgiving medium, one that requires the utmost skill and patience to master. That he should exhibit such a bizarre and inspired perspective through just such a medium only further proves his genius.

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  • Kat

    They’ve ruined it! I’m a seventh grader who has memorized numerous stories and doodle likenesses of the art on my schoolwork (my teachers think I’m demented!) and I can’t find the original book. This is coming from a child and her 10 year old and 6 year old brothers and sisters: give us our gammell back!

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  • Starquest

    Stephen Gammell has done some other interesting work too. I’ve recently read to my daughter “My Friend, the Starfinder” and “Hey Pancakes!” Both have great illustrations. Starfinder, in particular, is gorgeously drawn.

    It looks like he also illustrated a Holocaust book by Eve Bunting. Check out the cover art and tell me it’s not just as unsettling as ANYTHING in the Scary Stories books:

  • Sarah

    My personal opinion as an illustrator is that if you have to draw monsters and stories as gruesomely and blatantly as Gammell then it defies the point of a scary story… most of the really scary stuff should be left to the imagination, and I feel that Helquist does this much better. They are much more pleasing to look at and leave a little of the fear to the imagination and let the writing do the talking.

  • Sarah

    Also there are no pictures on here of the book covers, which are infinitely more stunning than Gammel’s. The originals are more horrifying and scary but Helquist’s are beautiful to look at, and updated too. Just depends what you want out of a book.

    • Nathan Justice

      oh shut up

  • Emily Hill


  • TheKingJAK

    I’m so glad that I was able to experience childhood when I did, and I feel that as a kid of the late 80s/90s we were among the last to experience true fun.

    • Nathan Justice

      Exactly. Everything is watered down and so controlled.

  • TheVeR

    Oh, wow. I think I know the artist style they changed the art too, he’s done other spooky genre story illustrations. But damn, fuck over the guy that made the iconic art for memorable books from our childhood. The stories contained were so simple and direct, but they needed the horror fest those pictures brought, they were unique and excellent. Maybe too surreal for the age group the books were meant for, but we appreciated the art, we loved the creepy vibe. We didn’t understand what exactly we were looking at, as per your usual book with a picture associated, but it made us think, it made us work our minds and strive to make sense of the surreal dreamscape image. But the new images, it’s kind of along the lines of “Here, let me blindfold you and tell you what to see.” Gonna have to preserve our old scary stories in an airtight vault.

  • A Touch of Insanity

    I bought The Treasury for my niece and she loved it! Especially how her mom immediately became creeped out by the cover art. Eventually, she covered the book, but she still has it and she reads it all the time and hasn’t gotten terrified by it yet!

  • Nathan Justice

    This still infuriates me that they did this! Luckily I still have my copy from 25 years ago.

  • enterprisie

    I’m so torn between my nostalgia for the original illustrations and my utter adoration for all of Helquist’swork! :((

  • Seismic Ghost

    To be fair, I actually like Helquist’s art. He’s talented and he’s got his own style.
    It’s just too bad that he’s the poor sucker that got stuck with redoing Scary Stories, because aside from being ICONIC, Steven Gammell’s art is deeply unnerving and entirely original.

    You look at Helquist’s book and think ‘Oh neat a book of scary stories for kids. neat art.’

    You look at Gammell’s book and think ‘OH MAH GOD I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. It’s making me squirm. Urrrrrrrgh I don’t wanna touch the pages to turn them, but I have to read these stories now.’

    Nothing against Helquist, but changing the art really unmakes these books as a classic.

  • Ariel

    This is so terrible!! These books inspired me to be a surrealist painter, they literally helped dictate a part of my career from when I was a kid. UGH! TERRIBLE CHOICE by someone who obviously knows NOTHING about literature, art, or horror. Whoever did this should be fired. HEAR ME HARPER COLLINS? POOR DECISION MAKING!!

  • Joshua Taylor

    Let’s be frank: most of the people who are complaining about the art change are the ones who grew up with the book and are letting their nostalgia run rampant. People buy books like this to read them, illustrations are just a bonus. You want Gammell’s original illustrations? Just look them up online

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  • Dustin

    i personally think brett might have ruined his carreer over this move. i mean honestly who does he think he is just going out there and then destroy what we loved for me i loved the whole series since i was a kid in the 90s i used to check them out at the library in my elementry school. they were my favorite because of the illustrations mostly. but i am also glad to glad to have the treasury along with the smaller books with the original art on the covers which was why i really bought them. i also have one of the holographics. but yes i think it is a very bad move that he made because he has really destroyed the series with the future prints and i am not too happy with him. he should have known better.

  • effie

    The creepiest part about Harold? The belly button.

    You stop and think about why a scarecrow would have a belly button.

  • Dimitri Paichadze

    i think old ones are more creepy and sinister to strengthen the horror aspects but the new ones are more artistic and cuter and nicer to look
    the old version works to horrify you but the new one helps to tell a story and both are nice (in its own way in case of the orriginal

  • social.thoughts

    I love your post. As a fan of the series growing up, your line “There she is, boys: The face that shat a thousand pants” made me laugh so hard that I cried. Your writing is brilliant.

  • stellabystarlite

    Gammell’s haunting, grotesquely, beautifully disturbing images are the perfect complement to these simple but effective horror stories. Helquist’s are a joke. They look goofy, even sweet. I’m tempted to say “Screw you, Helquist!” but I’m sure it’s the publishing company who commissioned it, deciding they needed to “modernize” it, meaning make it tame, mild, inoffensive. Staying up hypervigilant because you’re afraid the Haunted House Lady on page 30 will get you is a rite of passage. Even the font change on the title page—the new font says “not realllly scary. Just ha-ha scary.”

  • Aden

    lmao I read those books with the original art multiple times in elementary school. I found the art to be just eerie enough to make the stories even more disturbing and I admired the style i wasn’t ‘scarred’ by it. We’re turning kids these days into pussies.

  • HelloThere777

    Protect the children? Haha! Protect their asses more like it. I discussed a similar subject just a few weeks ago. If these pearl clutchers think THIS stuff was too much for us delicate kids to handle, then the **** we had to deal with in our REAL lives would make their hair fall out. Reality is infinitely worse and more terrifying than anything in fiction. Even as a toddler before anything seriously traumatic happened in my life, I instinctively understood that.

  • The original art inspired my much younger roster members — it’s not the same but the new artwork might work with Darkened Horizons: Issue 3 or Chimeraworld. I think the original artwork should stay because it gave the series its demented charm.