Eerie Tales From The School of Screams. Graham Annable. First Second Books. 2023. 368 pp. $22.99
Graham Annable is a magical artist who can conjure up little masterpieces seemingly by just a fast swirl of gestures. I’ve seen him at work and he’s devilishly good. And I’ve kept up with him, going back some twenty years. This is an artist who truly lives and breathes his work. So, when I stumbled upon a brand-new Annable collection, a collection of ghost stories no less, I had to see it and then share it with you!
Graham Annable’s training is in animation. It’s that background that landed him steady storyboard jobs and has kept his drawing chops, and precise timing, in tip top form. You see that professional polish throughout this book. In fact, as I gave myself over to this immersive read, the characters (and creatures) came to life for me over and over again. This book is intended for middle grade kids but the level of sophistication you find here makes it a delight for any age. I’m talking about the level of Tomi Ungerer. It’s definitely not generic stuff. It has a special heart and soul to it.
Once I read the first story, “The Village That Vanished,” I was hooked. The collection of stories here is framed around a classroom show-and-tell. Each kid is expected to go up to the front of the class and share their most eerie tale. And so it all begins with two characters overlooking a cliff, attempting to find a village that seems to have literally vanished. Before too long, the two surveyors, or whoever they are, stumble upon an old man in a cottage. And the old man proves to be quite an odd duck with a strange tale about fish people who live nearby. What unfolds is one of the strangest and most engaging bits of comics I’ve read in a long time.
Annable is a master of capturing just the right movement, gesture, and expression. His characters are lanky, languid long-lost relatives of Buster Keaton. They move in a certain way; stare back at you, and at each other, in a certain way. There are very pregnant pauses in Annable comics. And there are very melancholic and enigmatic moments too. Plus lots of silly surreal fun. You really can’t beat that. It’s perfect for this Halloween season or anytime of the year for that matter.
One last note here from the publisher: “From the director of the Oscar-nominated movie Boxtrolls comes a middle grade horror anthology that will leave you holding onto your blankets for dear life! Perfect for fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps!” Indeed, I could not have said it better! Ages 8-12 will definitely love this book and, as I say, there’s really something here for all ages, starting around, say, around age 8. Don’t want to get too spooky earlier than that. Anyway, as I suggest, this is more along the lines of thoughtful spooky. This is the good stuff of good nightmares.