In Review: Goosebumps: Slappy’s Tales of Horror

You'll have to buy readers a flashlight to go along with this book because they'll pour over it long after they've been told to go to sleep.

Goosebumps: Slappy’s Tales of Horror by R.L. Stine, Dave Roman, Gabriel Hernandez, Ted Naifeh, and Jamie Tolagson

Published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, August 25, 2015. Hardcover and paperback (released simultaneously) of 176 pages at $24.99 (HC) and $12.99 (PB). Ebook available for $12.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication. For example, my preview copy only has the first sixteen pages colored by Jose Garibaldi. I really liked what he did, but I can’t give a grade for his work because I don’t know what the other 156 pages look like.

The cover: The book’s title is in lime green against a crimson background, set atop an intense close-up of the maniacal ventriloquist dummy Slappy, whose eyes are red swirls and his mouth wide open in a hysterical laughter. Great eye catching cover by Dave Roman that will have children using ever ounce of courage to pick this book up and look at its contents. They’ll love it! Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Goosebumps is back to chill you to the bone! Slappy, the evil talking dummy, introduces four terrifying tales from the master of horror, R.L. Stine. In “A Shocker on Shock Street,” Jamie Tolagson captures the thrills, chills, and deadly spills of a brother and sister doing their dream job: testing rides in a movie studio theme park, where the special effects are REALLY special. With his shadowy illustrations, Gabriel Hernandez creates the perfect atmosphere in “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp,” a spooky story about a boy and his dog who go sniffing around a lonely swamp…and wish they hadn’t. Ted Naifeh is at his creepy best in “Ghost Beach,” a scary story about a brother and sister who investigate a local legend and discover a terrible secret about their family. Finally, Dave Roman draws the horrifying pictures for “Night of the Living Dummy,” the origin about that most evil of all ventriloquist dummies, Slappy!” I never read any of the original R.L. Stine books, but my daughters are more than familiar with them, and I’ve had countless students over the years who remembered the stories, sharing how they enjoyed the scares they produced. I’ve very interested to see if these visual retellings of Stine’s original tales will still hold some punch. Overall grade: A- 

“A Shocker on Shock Street”: Erin and Josh are best friends at a sneak preview of the horror film Shocker V. Erin’s father got them the tickets because he’s designing a theme park for Shock Studios based on their horror films. The girl brags that her father’s “robots will do anything!” Going upstairs in the theater, the two find her father who asks if they’d like to test out the theme park he’s been working on  for the last four years. The pair jump at the chance and soon they’re on their way and things don’t go as they planned. Every horror movie trope is in this tale adapted by Jamie Tolagson. The artwork is fantastic. The detail reminds me of the work done on the classic EC Comics of the 1950s. My preview edition of this book is not fully in color, so I got to see Tolagson’s work in black and white and it’s beautiful. Coloring only improves it. He does some stunning work on a group of gigantic insects and co-riders, but the highlight is the malevolent figure on Page 38 which induces more scares than the monsters. The only downfall of this story is the lettering, which has odd spacing at times. This is a slight nick in this story, which remains my favorite of the four. Overall grade: A

“The Werewolf of Fever Swamp”: A family has moved to the swamp for a science experiment and young Grady is looking to explore. With his older sister Emily as a reluctant companion the two go into the swamp and discover a house whose occupant frightens them. Thankfully, there’s a boy next door that’s Grady age and the two become friends. Grady even discovers a lost dog that he takes in, though his parents think the animal may be part wolf. Things go south when howls at night and animal deaths imply that the dog is culpable. The artwork by Gabriel Hernandez is beautiful. This is better than some of the comic books I read. His figure work is stylized but I was utterly taken by it. What he does with the hermit is exceptional. His animal work is really well done, too. As with the previous story, the lettering needs work — more so than “A Shocker on Shock Street.” It’s not well centered and took me out of the story every time I had to read something. Overall grade: A-

“Ghost Beach”: Terri and Jerry Sadler are staying for the summer with their older, ancient cousin Sadler and his wife Agatha at their beach house. Exploring on their own, the discover a cave in some cliffs that overlook the water. Before they can enter they encounter Sam, Louisa, and Nat, who are also Sadlers. The pair ask if the trio have ever gone into the cave and they are quickly told never to go in there because a ghost resides within. With the evening coming, they go their separate ways, meeting the next day to learn more about ghosts. This was a good story, but I didn’t like the art by Ted Naifeh until Page 110. I’m not a fan of manga-ish characters without noses and that’s done often to the leads. It’s a choice and not one that I cared for. As a side note, I showed my 16 year old daughter this story’s art and she liked it, so it’s obviously a matter of preference. I really liked Page 120, but, visually, it was too little too late. The ending was also too quick and a bit unclear. Overall grade: C+

“Night of the Living Dummy”: Lindy and Kris are twin sisters playing in their neighborhood and enter a house under construction. Looking in a refuse bin, Lindy pulls out a ventriloquist dummy which she names Slappy. She takes the dummy to school where Kris gets jealous of all the attention it brings to Lindy. Plus, she thinks that Slappy is mean. Soon she wants a doll of her own, her mother gets her one, and then things go wrong. I remember this story being one that all my students talked about and I can see why: this is one creepy story. If anyone has ever felt a little put off by ventriloquist dummies, this will push them over the edge. Dave Roman is absolutely the right artist for this tale because his art is very cartoony, giving the story a much softer edge, but even his version of Slappy can’t keep this doll from being creepy — Page 40 freaked me out! And 161 though 171 has some really terrific squeamish moments. This was really good! Overall grade: A

The final line: With the exception of one story’s art, which is a style that I don’t care for, this book is great! It’s the perfect book for those who want a good scare without the gruesomeness associated with horror. Four distinct styles give strong looks to these tales by Stine. You’ll have to buy young readers a flashlight to go along with this book because they’ll pour over every page long after they’ve been told to go to sleep. Recommended. Overall grade: A-

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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