Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was a wonderful nightmare from my childhood. I remember going to the library every
week for an entire semester hoping that it was finally my turn to have the librarian hand me this dark book. On a cold and blistery winter day, she did.
The Alvin Schwartz classic was originally published in 1981. The stories were frightening, but many were derivative tales based upon urban legends or popular folk stories. The first book included The Hook (lunatic escapes, couple parking hears scratching on car door, gruesome discovery), The Big Toe (boy scout story involving a child finding a big toe in a field, mom cooks it for dinner), and, of course, The Hearse Song. My personal favorite was The Wendigo. The Wendigo starred a demon I had never heard of, and it was terrifyingly awesome. Schwartz followed up this successful classic with 2 more books in 1984 and 1991.
Of course, I can’t remember Scary Stories without visualizing the hellish visions Stephen Gammell added to the series. Consisting of ghostly charcoal renderings, Gammell captured the stories’ horrifying monsters and gave them a face (and it was beautiful!). His pictures were so horrifying that Scary Stories became one of the most banned books in America. In fact, after being out of print for a few years, the books were re-released in 2011 with new artwork to very negative reviews.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark inspired a generation of horror fans, and it still does today. That’s why I was very excited to stumble onto a Kickstarter project where artist Ryan Sheffield completed an entire Tarot Card Deck that was inspired from the art inside it. Here are my personal favorites from the deck:
Sheffield does a wonderful job capturing the essence of what made Grammell’s original pictures so horrifying. Devoid of color, the gore is left more to imagination. The faces are horrifying, yet terrified. And, as I look at each of these cards, I want more of a story to go along with each one (especially the lover card. Is that a the edge of the painting, or has her lover’s arm been ripped from the socket?).
When I stumbled across this project yesterday, it had 3 backers after an hour. As I’m writing this article, it is over 50% funded and going strong. The Kickstarter supports the printing of these decks, and the project has some wonderful perks to it. For $35, you can have a 78 card deck of your own. For $50, you get an 8.5” x 11” print of your choice with the deck ($125 for the original print). For $250, you can commission a custom drawing in this same style (along with all the previous perks as well).
“Gammell’s deeply unsettling charcoal and ink drawings are some of the most haunting images I’ve ever seen, and I have yet to meet another person my age who doesn’t have them permanently etched into the darkest recesses of their nostalgia-ridden minds. The drawings are so frightening, they caused a parental uproar that resulted in the ‘Scary Stories’ series becoming some of the most banned books ever in school libraries.” Sheffield wrote in a 2013 article on Huffington Press.
He continues, “But it seems to me like there’s this sanitization of kids’ horror these days that I find strange and utterly disappointing. As a child (and now a man-child) I spent all year looking forward to Halloween– dressing up in scary costumes, taking turns telling spooky tales at sleepovers with my friends, and just genuinely enjoying that short time every year when we all got a chance to step into the shadows with our tongues planted firmly in our cheeks. In that nostalgia-heavy childhood of mine, Halloween and horror were about having fun while we scared ourselves silly”.
You can contribute to Ryan Sheffield’s Ritual Abuse Tarot Deck on Kickstarter.com, and you can follow Ryan on Twitter (@RYANxSHEFFIELD) or on his site www.ryansheffieldart.com. The Kickstarter ends on June 25, 2014.