Thursday, August 27, 2009

The art that scared me just right, the fifth part.

The grandfather clock tolls a late hour.

Sounds like the wind is picking up out there, too. I'm glad we're in here, warm and mellow.

The firelight is dying, but not yet dead. Still enough light to peruse one more little tribute.

I think I've saved the best for last...

1981 saw the publication of the first of a droll and creepy series of books about urban legends and classic ghost and campfire stories. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was an immediate hit for younger readers, and not just for the creepy tales to be found there.
You see, it was dripping with some of the most twisted, tantalizing and disturbing illustrations to ever haunt the pages of any book, let alone one geared toward a youthful readership.
Feast your eyes on the singular, stunning and bizarre world of the art of Stephen Gammell (1943 -- ).
The Scary Stories series is perpetually among the most popular adolescent books, which tells me we've got a Hallowe'en-healthy couple of generations in this country. The series has also perpetually been in the top 100 Most-Challenged Books List for school and public libraries since its first publication.
All the more reason to love it.
I have decided to forego descriptions or captions for the following imagery. It's best to just soak in the weird. Just bear in mind, while you gaze on these nightmares:

Gammell is self-taught.

Oh, I did want to briefly discuss this last image (from The Haunted House).
First, holy craaaaaaaaaaaappp!
Second, for a few years I was certain that this was the spectre I'd encounter in the hallway when I needed the bathroom at 3 am.
Or she'd be in the mirror, lit only by our dim nightlight from below, before I had the chance to turn on the overhead light.
And so very very cool!

A lot of Gammell's work can be found online; the most cursory search will garner you hours of creepy viewing. Yet even with a Caldecott Medal and nearly three decades of delighted, creeped-out fans, Stephen Gammell is not a household name, not even among many people who loved those books when they were kids.

He probably likes it that way. A little shadowed, a little seen.

Well! I am so glad everyone was here (and stayed awake!) for my little discussion of these dark artists.
I do hear the wind picking up, as I suspected earlier. Please be safe as you make your way back to your cozy homes.
Stick to the road.
Don't linger in the dark too long. Don't go looking for the source of any strange noises you may hear -- the wind can confound our ears.
And if you do run into anything... odd... we can talk about it tomorrow night.

That's why the ol' Skull & Pumpkin's here.

Cheers, and pleasant dreams.

The art that scared me just right, the fourth part.

Ah, a few more guests! Please come in, make yourselves comfortable.
What can we get for you?

There you are, please sit, sit.

We've been lounging around the fire, discussing the art and artists from some of the scary fantasy books that we loved when we were kids.
YES Edward Gorey, I know, I know. We dealt with that already.

We're mostly dealing with the lesser-known (or at least less-celebrated) artists from those spooky books. Right, like the Hitchcock books, good call...

During the latter half of his life and career, Alfred Hitchcock invented, endorsed, loaned his name to (and wrote a lot of forwards for) many series of wonderful books for young readers. I imagine most of us had at least a few in our childhood libraries.

In my childhood home, there were two Hitchcock books that we read and reread, and whose images were the stuff of perfect nightmares... Ghostly Gallery (1962) and Haunted Houseful (1963)!

The ridiculously creepy and atmospheric images that graced these tomes was the work of the great Fred Banbery (1913 - 1999).

Inside cover leaf pages for Ghostly Gallery.

With Ghostly Gallery in particular, I'd just stare at the shadows for what felt like hours, wondering what was hiding there. The long, skinny, rubbery figure running to the right in the above picture creeped me out like you wouldn't believe! So did the quasi-human form in the doorway on the cover. Pure ghostly evil. Inhuman. And therefore I had to stare for days!

Let's Haunt A House.

The Red-headed League.

The Wastwych Secret.

The Mystery of Rabbit Run.

Inside cover leaf pages for Haunted Houseful.
That 'Water Ghost' woman and the white ghost in front of the old house were the killers for me. Wonderful!

The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.

The Mystery in Four-and-a-Half Street.

You can understand why they'd have an impact. Hiding as much as they show, filled with Charles Addams-esque humor, shivery and simply delightful.

When I was a little guy, anytime I heard a ghost story being told, or read a story which had no illustrations, the images in my mind were drawn by this fellow. The first time I heard 'Thump-Thump-Drag!' or 'Give Me Back My Liver!' or 'The Golden Arm', all those classic campfire tales, I saw it in monochromatic horror inked by Banbery. Oh the nightmares!

You wouldn't guess it looking at these images, but Fred Banbery also illustrated six of the world famous series of Paddington Bear books for children.

Banbery's work is known by many, but his name by few. Now, hopefully, a few more.

We'll get to the next artist soon. Perhaps later tonight; his work has its best bite after midnight.
But not right away. We have a few more visitors now, and everyone should stretch, mingle and have a bite, refresh your drinks.

Also, we all need to raise a glass and give a cheer to a fellow soldier in the Universal Monster Army, who goes by the name of Tom Smith Monsternut, for providing all the scans for this Banbery tribute. Thanks and Cheers, Tom!

Okay, mingle time. I'll put another log on the fire.

The art that scared me just right, the third part.

Everyone's still comfortable? Food and drink still worthy?

Any lover of dark fantasy, horror and related 'things' must have deep regard for the incredible Ray Bradbury.
I discovered Bradbury's singular kind of magic in a well-read (and well-worn!) paperback copy of The October Country when I was 10 or 11 years old.
Therefore, I have for just as long been enthralled with the highly-stylized work of the remarkable and unique Joseph Mugnaini (1912 – 1992).

The American hardcover first edition of The October Country (1955).

Detail. I LOVE that lizard thing.

His very distinct style graced numerous Bradbury publications since their meeting in 1952; the short story collection 'The Golden Apples Of The Sun' was their first collaborative work in early 1953.

I would stare at the lines and spaces, trace my finger along his winding streaks, once I finished the particular story it was illustrating, and find in my mind's eye things the artist did not intend nor even ink, but things living in the shadows he'd created. Things, I slowly realized, I had created.
It was inspiring and revelatory.

What else do you think lives in the shadows here, hidden from The Wind?

How many faces can you find? And do they all belong to The Dwarf?

The children fly in search of their lost best friend Pip in The Hallowe'en Tree (1972).The Hallowe'en Kite, derived from The Hallowe'en Tree, painted for a portfolio in the early Eighties.
"From the sides of autumn barns rip sections of old circus posters, shreds of tigers 'teeth, bits and pieces of shrieks and screams, glowers and grimaces - paste it all up on a frame, and go fly that kite, a wild bunch of boys for its tail!"

Modern Gothic, the Mugnaini lithograph which compelled Bradbury to meet with the artist back in 1952.

All of Mugnaini's works seem to whisper for you to come play in their shadows, to find what is hidden there.
I suggest you seek out as much Mugnaini and as much Bradbury as you can, and lose yourself in a little darkness.

Everyone stand up, take a breather, we have a few more to get through before the night is out.

What? You're never leaving? Good!

We can take our sweet time! Pubmaster, get me some more... oh, that's me!


The art that scared me just right, the second part.

Alrighty... everyone gather round the hearth, let me put up the lanterns a bit... there.
Everyone have a full glass? Oh alright, Fester, go refill! Always something with that guy.
Okay. Everyone ready now? Let's take a look at our first artist.

I thought I would go back to one of my earliest memories of being truly enthralled (and frightened!) by a great illustrator. It was in this book:

Just the image on the cover is intriguing, isn't it? The LIFE Treasury of American Folklore was one of those oft-read books in the incredible library at my Grandmother's house (yes, that one). When we were little kids, this book was indeed a treasure, and my first experiences with Pecos Bill, fur bearing trout, and gigantic blue oxen came from its pages.
And just about every one displayed the fine work of one James Lewicki (1917-1979).
Lewicki was a prolific artist for LIFE in the 50's and 60's. His work for LIFE's 'The World We Live In' (1952-'56) was roundly praised and influential in commercial illustration.
His work for this book (1960) is truly incredible.

The remains of Crow natives hang from the Skeleton Cliff of Montana.

Things are messy for Joe Hamelin & The Loup-Garou!

Another telling of the Ghostly Hitchhiker, The Girl In The Lavender Dress.

Early Native American lore tells of the role of the Water Spider in How Fire Came To Earth.

A vivid and nightmarish scene from Black Sam & The Haunted Treasure, a tale told by Washington Irving.

Detail from Black Sam & The Haunted Treasure.

I had to save the best for last, though... the story that most terrified us kids, the one most of us still talk about today, the picture that scared us so perfectly that we had to turn to it first, every time we dared take the book from the shelf, was
The story is that this poor fella unwittingly marries a witch who, while he is sleeping, spins her skin off to spend all night out doing witchy things. His suspicions are aroused, though, and one night he feigns sleep and while she is out, he fills her skin with salt and pepper. So when she tries to get back into her skin... yeah, it gets ugly.
Absolutely terrified us! And we begged for more!
I used to stare at it, stare at it, stare at it, trying to soak in every gory, creepy detail...
Just hideous!

James Lewicki's imaginative and vivid work in this classic book was one of my earliest inspirations to not only seek out frightening imagery but maybe try to make some myself.

Thank you, Mr. Lewicki. And you too, ye witchy boo-hag woman!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Yep, the 2000th page hit is, just like the 1000th, all mine!

Back with cool stuff later. Have another round on me until then.

Oh right, picture. Hhhmmm. Nah, you'll have plenty soon enough.

Cheers, you ol' Skull & Pumpkin, you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The art that scared me just right, the first part.

All of us who linger here at the Skull & Pumpkin are lovers of dark art. **

I would guess that we all have in common an admiration for certain artists whose work captured our imaginations, informed our nightmares, and decorated our inner Autumns from our youngest days. We delighted in dark art in any medium.
For most of us, television and film were the most extravagant media for scaring and thrilling us with their craft.
But I'd be willing to bet a Tom Swift and two Grey Ghosts that we all started knowing 'ghoulish delight' (to borrow a phrase), real, terrified, 'can't-look-away-in-the-daytime-can't-have-it-near-the-bed-at-night' ghoulish delight... with books!

Surely, the inimitable (though many try) Edward Gorey comes to mind:

I could do a trillion posts of a trillion illegally scanned works from Mr. Gorey, but he's well-known and beloved and I'd be preaching to the choir -- a twisted, sickly, poorly proportioned pen-and-ink choir of skull-headed girls and armless, featureless black dolls marching to their deaths upon rock walls -- but you already know who you are.

No, in this series, I thought I'd post some work from the lesser-known but no less unique and incredible artists who delighted and terrified my earliest reading days, and inspired the little artist in me to draw things which got me in trouble and made my teachers ask my folks about counseling.

I am working on a number of posts in this series, and it takes a little time. I'll be here with them soon, that's a promise.

**-(I believe one of us is actually a lover of Art. Different story altogether).


Just a bit more candy.

Not a DUMDUMSHREKPOP in the bunch!

I know, I only go there when I need stamps or a 'scrip of the latest 'you're old now, take this' medication.
But hey, Hallowe'en candy is Hallowe'en candy. And when they get their real Hallowe'en goodies... look out!

Autumn Mix. Hallowe'en joy.

Frankenpeanut says 'Melt in hand, baaaad. In mouth, not in hand, gooood!'

You must know that as a Universal Monster kid, I love this.

A Karloff 'Frankenstein Monster' for Hallowe'en. Excellent. Thank you Nestle!

And a few 'new classics':
Pumpkin and Ghost 'Peeps' weren't around when I was a kid ('Peeps' were strictly an Easter thing back in the Stone Age), but they have rapidly become a beloved, marshmallowy-sugary fixture on the modern Hallowe'en scene.

Another concept relatively new (for Hallowe'en treats at any rate), the Mini OREO. Dangerous, dangerous.

These last three images are just simple, pure Hallowe'en.

I don't really eat any of this stuff anymore; well, not much of it and usually only around Hallowe'en! Too much sugar and headachey nausea, but I can taste all of it so vividly. Half of Hallowe'en Day set-up is fueled by Reese's and Kit-Kat anyway!

Oh, and McDonald's. More on that later.

You deserve a break today-