Reader Beware: The Art of Goosebumps is a Nostalgic Retrospective for Former Young Ghouls

From Bob to Jacobus to Curly and Slappy—the whole Goosebumps gang is here. So gather around as we peek between the pages of The Art of Goosebumps by Sarah Rodriguez, Rachel Deering, and Mark McNabb, which is more fun (and frightening) than a day trip to Horrorland!

Today, it’s nearly impossible to browse the children’s department of a bookstore or library without stumbling across a scary story for readers ages 8-12. The current children’s literature landscape is vastly different from the one I grew up in. As a kid who was deeply invested in horror, there weren’t many options that were specifically aimed at children. An example? I learned about Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend from the Scholastic catalog. This wasn’t a bad thing. But with the steep incline in thrilling new children’s horror, it’s unlikely there would be space for Matheson’s classic novel in current Scholastic catalogs. And that is a great thing!

But back to the ‘90s. At that time, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps was the undisputed middle grade horror king. Those colorful little books with their gooey cover text were currency for kids, and their reach extended far beyond classrooms and playgrounds. The Goosebumps brand invaded toy stores and TVs and children’s bedrooms. I remember begging for Goosebumps bedding. I guess I figured if the monsters were on my bed, I would be less afraid to look under the bed. 

Whenever I wanted to read something scary and gross, Goosebumps books were always there to fill the void. I wrote about my Goosebumps-loving childhood for the Night Worms blog, so I won’t bore you with the details here, but I still harbor a deep affection for the series, which is why I screamed out loud when I first learned about The Art of Goosebumps.

As we do with all books in the series, let’s start by judging The Art of Goosebumps by its cover. With furry beasts, evil eyes, and slimy, lolling tongues, the cover is a fusion of some of our favorite fearsome monsters from the series, though it’s the Dead House—the OG Goosebumps book—that beckons us inside with its open door and ominous orange glow. But before you even notice the big bads, you’ll probably be hypnotized by the cover’s iconic green border and text treatment. You know the color—that verdant shade that screams “Slime!” or “Stay out of the basement!” The only thing the cover is missing is a cheesy, sardonic one-liner, like Paint the town read!

[An aside: If I worked at a certain crayon company, I would get promoted to VP of something by pitching a Halloween-themed box of crayons with colors like Goosebumps green, Ghost Beach blue, Barking Ghost black, Jellyjam purple, Vampire Breath brown, etc. But I don’t work at said crayon company. ::shrugs::]

After opening the cover of The Art of Goosebumps, Curly is there to greet us in a gnarly full-page illustration. With his signature buzzcut and piercing eyes, he welcomes readers old(er) and young with a thumbs up and a wink that reminds us that Goosebumps still rules!

If the timeless phrase “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare” were an image, then it would be the double-spread that follows Curly’s introduction. From Slappy to the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, the creeps from our childhood nightmares are all present. As they huddle together in a theater with their popcorn and drinks—their frames backlit by the light of a projector—you’ll almost believe that they’re inviting you join them for a frightful show.

After we settle in with the Goosebumps gang, we get to indulge in interviews, a half-page history of the series, and an account of the search for “the chosen one,” also known as Tim Jacobus—the illustrator who would eventually team up with R.L. Stine to scare kids silly for more than a decade. It’s not long before readers are whisked back to those nostalgic days of 1990-something with double-page spreads dedicated to each book in the series. Each spread includes the book’s title, release date, mockup art, final cover, and factoids served up by Stine, Curly, and Slappy on big gobs of Goosebumps goo.

Visually, the spreads are stunning and left me poring over them for long stretches of time. However, the coverage for some books is better than others. Each spread analyzes Jacobus’s cover art, but some abstracts don’t offer any supplemental details about the artwork or the book and effectively just take up space. I do think these spreads could have given readers a bit more information about Goosebumps’ history and cultural influence. I understand that this is a book about the art of the series, but it seems like there was more than enough space to celebrate Jacobus’s work while giving readers more historical information.

The Art of Goosebumps creeps along, covering the books in series one, two, three, and 2000. I admit that I was too much of a Goosebumps snob (snot?) to even consider looking at the series 2000 books in my youth, because they weren’t the original covers I’d grown up with. But I’ve developed a new appreciation for these grisly covers and their gory details. I was even inspired to purchase some of the Series 2000 books. Jacobus’s Werewolf in the Living Room cover will make you swoon. Or scream. Or both.

As the book showcases the later Goosebumps series, there are passing mentions of contract cancellations and legal issues. The publishing nerd in me wanted to know the dirt on those scenarios. I wanted secrets and skeletons to fall out of closets. Maybe I’m alone in this desire, but I do think readers would have liked more details about Goosebumps Gold. What is it? We don’t really know—we just know that it was cancelled after Jacobus created the cover art for The Haunted Mask Lives and Happy Holidays from Dead House.

Maybe someday Stine will write the scariest story of all: a tell-all about publishing and the Goosebumps franchise. However, I must evaluate The Art of Goosebumps based on what it is, and it IS a vibrant and striking book dedicated to the beloved art of Tim Jacobus. The deep appreciation for Jacobus’s work is evident in every spread, and seeing the covers on a larger scale while the artist reminisces about his long history with the series is enough to make any fan of the series ache with nostalgia.

The book concludes with a brief mention of Goosebumps Live on Stage and the 2015 Goosebumps movie starring Jack Black. Look. Yes, this is a review of The Art of Goosebumps, but I feel compelled to tell you that Jack Black excels as the irascible (but loveable) R.L. Stine in both films, and in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Slappy has more bite than the werewolf of Fever Swamp and delivers more burns than the Masked Mutant.

But perhaps my absolute favorite detail about The Art of Goosebumps is that it remembers that the Goosebumps books are first and foremost a horror entry point for young ghouls. Therefore, the book works hard to satisfy its true audience with bold colors, big text, a whole lot of slime, and reproductions of Jacobus’s pencil sketches—which will undoubtedly help kids hone their art skills. And who among us hasn’t tried their hand at drawing a Goosebumps cover?

Why do some of the original Goosebumps covers look so different? Why didn’t the covers ever show red blood? Who influenced Tim Jacobus’s craft and which cover is his favorite? It’s all there in The Art of Goosebumps—a worthy and worthwhile addition to any horror reader’s shelf. You just have to be brave enough to crack the spine.

Now, what is your favorite Goosebumps cover, and why is it Werewolf Skin? OK, fine: I’ll let you choose a second favorite, as long as it’s The Curse of Camp Cold Lake.

Thanks to Vincent and the team at Dynamite Comics for providing a free copy of The Art of Goosebumps in exchange for an honest review. 


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