It has been almost 40 years since author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell
released Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark and its sequels. That is 4 decades of kids giving
themselves the creeps with this compendium of legends and folktales from around the world.
Accompanying Schwartz’s retellings of these historical stories are the charcoal and ink
illustrations of Gammell. Grainy images of ghouls and spirits designed to look right into the eyes
of the reader, daring the imagination to dive deeper into a child’s fear.
The series spawned a slew of horror books for young adults, delighting millions and
stimulating controversy among parents and schools that lead to banning them in some libraries. It
was even listed as the most challenged series from the 90’s by the American Library Association
and remained in the top ten of the 00’s.
Nightmares and offended adults aside, the series developed a massive cult following and
served as a muse to darkly curious and creative children. John Squires of Bloody Disgusting
curated a collection of art influenced by Scary Stories in 2017 at a small gallery in San Antonio,
TX. Memories of the art exhibit can be found on social media with new digital additions of
photography, music, paintings, sculptures and more.
Jenna Dalgety, a Chicago writer, grew up reading Scary Stories and states that the series
made up a large part of her childhood. The tales and artwork left deep impressions on her as a
lover of horror and aficionado of comics. Dalgety met Sarah Benkin, a Chicago based illustrator,
at a comic book convention and discovered she too was also a big fan of the Scary Stories series.
Having previously worked on a few projects together, the two joined forces again in 2018 to
create a tribute to the Schwartz and Gammell cult favorite. Dalgety penned screenplay-like story
lines with precision, knowing exactly what she wanted to see in a graphic novel to extend that
undulating dread captured in the early 80s books. Benkin delivered every gritty panel with the
same shadowy grey-washed landscapes that Gammell made famous. During production, the pair
traveled to the abandoned City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana to be interviewed by Cody
Meirick for his highly anticipated documentary Scary Stories.
After months of tireless effort, Dalgety and Benkin’s collaboration It’s Coming Up the
Stairs was debuted on comiXology in December of 2019. The popular platform offered a more
unique experience of the graphic novel that could reach a larger audience, but Dalgety says there
may be a possibility to print a physical run in the future. It’s Coming up The Stairs offers 3
reimagined favorites from the original book. Updated tales to fit modern times of
hyperconnectivity and torture their characters in familiar Chicago-esque settings. The result
makes the suspense for any resident of the Chicagoland area a very real threat; whether
commuting home at night, paying a visit to spooky landmarks, or encountering the eccentric
characters of the city.
When asked if there were plans to continue with a modern and local feeling series,
Dalgety admitted that she and Benkin have previously discussed and expressed interest in more
projects down the road. You can find It’s Coming Up the Stairs and more of Dalgety and
Benkin’s work on comiXology.
Originally published in Haunted Emporium Magazine October 2020