Peter Parker blushes creepypasta for thanos and army!
By 1992, once all three Scary Stories books had been published, right-wing groups like Concerned Women for America and People for the American Way were launching attacks on all sorts of objectionable literature, pressuring libraries across the country to pull books like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye from shelves. Schwartz’s books also landed on that list, both the Scary Stories trilogy and an even more anodyne book of ghost stories for younger readers, In a Dark Dark Room.
Alvin Schwartz passed away in 1992, just as the furor over his books was reaching a fever pitch. But he loved the challenge, gleefully mocking the terrified parents while also understanding that controversy was the absolute best thing for books like his. And, of course, the books kept selling and hooking new generations of kids.
Gammell’s drawings aren’t explicit. There’s barely a drop of blood on view. But something about their skewed perspectives and blown-out lighting brings you into an unsettling world. They dispense with realism to trade in a visual language that is very rare in children’s fiction, one of surreal exaggeration and deliberate obscurity. It’s often what you don’t see in the artwork that makes it scarier. There’s no doubt that the books wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without his contributions, and Schwartz agrees.
In 2011, after decades of parental complaints, HarperCollins released updated editions of the books with new drawings by Brett Helquist. While these weren’t bad by any means, they lacked the otherworldly madness of Gammell’s work and the fan base erupted in complaint. By 2017, the publisher had relented and republished all three volumes with the original art restored.
Death will come to us all, but it will come fast and furious to someone like me if I ever attempt any of the crazy stunts from the Fast & Furious franchise. Every single thing in these movies is too fast and too furious for me, but some would send me to an even quicker car-wrapped death than others.
A series with the name recognition of Scary Stories is catnip to Hollywood producers looking for an easy payday, but adapting the tone and content of Schwartz’s book to the screen is a challenging task. The closest thing we can think that has managed is the late, lamented Channel Zero, which took inspiration from Internet-based urban legends — “creepypasta” — to deliver four rapid-fire seasons of deeply unsettling supernatural fables. But those stories were typically both significantly longer and more open-ended, not like the short sharp shocks that the books deliver.