Monday, June 25, 2012

Bullshit Revisionism

  Yep, I'm on my high horse again, with a simple message:


  Why so angry? Why so sweary? Because I just learned (a little late, mind you) that one of my most treasured childhood books has been creatively neutered by its publisher.
  The book in question is Alvin Schwartz's "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." This was a fantastic book of truly horrifying tales that hit shelves back in 1981. I remember discovering it on the shelves of my elementary school library and going crazy over it. The stories were gruesome, yes, but even more so the illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Their sinewy, drippy, stringy inks are something I can still vividly picture. Gammell absolutely mastered the feel of this book, and made it something that, to quote the folks at, made kids "learn that books can make you shit your pants."
  Well, the publishers, to celebrate the book's 30th anniversary last year (told ya I'm late to this) released all three volumes of Scary Stories in one big book. Awesome, but they also removed Gammell's masterwork and replaced it with crappy, cartoony illustrations from Brett Helquist. Helquist, who did the illustrations for "A Series of Unfortunate Events," completely misses the mark here and effectively ruins what was a fantastic trip into the macabre. Yes, Helquist is a fine artist, but not for this particular volume. Here are just a couple of examples (click to enlarge):

  You can clearly see why that face would launch a thousand nightmares. I remember turning to that particular page over and over and being amazed at how blood-freezing it was.
   Why the publishers did this switcheroo probably has to do with pressure from whiney parent groups. They've been trying to get this book banned from libraries for years due to its absolutely violent and frightening nature. Duh, parents. It's called SCARY Stories. It's a horror book. You won't find any unicorns in it, or talking chipmunks, or Disney princesses. You will find murder, talking rotten corpses, cannibalism, and a scarecrow that skins somebody alive (Harold, above). I agree, the material is a little heavy for the age range, but guess what? The world is full of scary things. Being frightened and dealing with it is a part of life, and it's a part of growing up. I could write a whole other blog about the wimpification (to put it nicely) of our society, but this is about revisionism of creative works.
  I've been very upset for the last few years at this trend of revisionism. George Lucas is, of course, the biggest offender, if you look at what he's done to Star Wars. Endless, ridiculous tinkering has also ruined what used to be a decent set of films. I used to love a quote from Lucas, which went something like: "An artist never completes anything. He only abandons it." Well, changing and rechanging your work is not abandoning, and it wrecks the experience for the rest of us. Spielberg was also infamously guilty of this with his re-work of E.T. a few years back, but has since realized the error of his ways and claims he will never again alter one of his films. E.T. will now be released in its original cut on Blu-Ray this year. Good on you, Steve. Maybe now you can undo the CGI you added to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  Bottom line, people, it's art. It should stand for what it was at the time. You will never please everybody with something you create. If you're unhappy with it, make something new. But for the love of all things holy, leave the old works alone.
  Oh, and parent groups- SHUT. UP. Nobody is forcing your child to read this book. If you don't want them to read it, don't let them check it out of the library. Leave the freedom of choice alone for the rest of us who arent frightened by a drawing on a page.

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