One of the most rewarding qualities of scary books aimed at younger kids is their potential to create life-long horror fans. Sometimes, all it takes is a particularly terrifying panel or a fear-inducing sequence with terrible things hovering in the background to leave a mark in the reader’s psyche, enough to create a need for more experiences of the same ilk. Graham Annable’s new book, Eerie Tales from the School of Screams, looks like it’ll be providing just that with each of the stories contained in it.


The book follows an anthology format not unlike that of Nickelodeon’s fan-favorite Are You Afraid of the Dark? but in a school setting. Davis and Emily are tasked with sharing horror stories with their class at school, and so five tales take form. Among them are “The Face in the Forest” and “The Village That Vanished,” stories that unravel with a sense of quiet that gets shattered in subtle ways whenever weird things start to happen.

Annable is a master of facial expressions, an ability that lends itself well to horror of any kind. Characters and creepy things both carry emotional and storytelling arcs on their faces alone. Fear is expressed intensely, adding to the tension of any particular story, while the beings from unknown places are allowed to be as scary as the story dictates they can be. There’s a fairy tale aspect to the tone and feel of School of Screams, but it doesn’t shy away from producing truly unnerving imagery.

Annable is a storied creator with comics, video games, and movies like The Boxtrolls to his name. The Beat corresponded with him to get a deeper sense of School of Screams and why his art can be so creepy.

RICARDO SERRANO:  Eerie Tales from The School of Screams doesn’t sacrifice weirdness or eeriness despite it being aimed at a younger audience. Instead, it goes for something that comes off as natural to the stories, not cut down for the purposes of meeting the age range. Is that something you think about when working on this type of horror?

GRAHAM ANNABLE: Honestly, no. I selfishly wrote this book for myself and it may be that I’m just permanently 12 years of age when it comes to the horror stories I like. I really was just trying to capture how I felt when I first saw the movie Gremlins or started down the path of reading Stephen King novels before I probably should have. It was just a lucky coincidence that the material ended up being a good fit for the middle school audience because I certainly didn’t censor or compromise the stories in any fashion to fit a certain marketing sector. This is the horror book I would have written regardless of the age group it was intended for. Hopefully that’s why you felt that the stories came off feeling natural. I think that’s a good thing!

SERRANO: It is a good thing! In fact, there’s an interesting contrast between horror imagery and your own cartooning style in your stories that makes them come off as somewhat disquieting, in a playful manner. It captures that classic sense of dark fairy tale storytelling that creators like Edward Gorey excelled at, where the creepiness factor is amplified by the cartoon approach. What about your work do you think lends so well to horror?

ANNABLE: It might be the simplicity. The images are so pared down that your brain tends to fill in the gaps. That can be a very powerful tool when it comes to horror and suspense. Also, the disarming look provides the opportunity to perhaps go to darker visual places where as if it were rendered realistically it wouldn’t maybe work as well. My style relies heavily on punctuated facial expressions of both extreme happiness and fear too. And I think that can assist in punching up the empathy for characters in terrifying situations. I really don’t know for sure except that this is my only way to express the stories I have to tell and I’m so happy that other people seem to enjoy the same juxtaposition of narrative and style as well. 

SERRANO Your work across different kinds of media gives you a lot more places to pull ideas from. From your humor work with the Hickee anthology to your video game work with Tell Tales on Puzzle Agent, and then to your work as a co-director for The Boxtrolls, what have you taken from each experience that found its way to The School of Screams?

ANNABLE: I think every piece of art you do presently benefits from where you were previously. Each of those past projects has certainly helped refine how this book came out. The Hickee comics allowed me to play with timing and humor in comic form, Puzzle Agent taught me a lot about world building and tone, and The Boxtrolls was a huge undertaking that really helped me grow on all fronts as both a person and an artist. It’s truly made me learn to appreciate the process of creating something and not just about getting to the end of an endeavor. 

SERRANO: You’ve had success with your YouTube channel (Grickle) in the past regarding your short animated videos. I was wondering whether you still view the platform as a good way to garner attention for your work and if The School of Screams will be getting short animations of their own there.

ANNABLE: YouTube has certainly changed and evolved from the early days of me posting my first Grickle animated shorts back in 2007. I honestly don’t use it in the same way I did before so I’m not sure I understand it as well as I once did. I think it’s still a good way to get animation out in the world but there are certainly so many other options elsewhere to display stuff across all social media. I did create a book trailer for The School of Screams and I had a lot of fun animating it! I’d love to do more!

SERRANO: Any new projects you can talk about that are lining up for the near future? What comes after The School of Screams?

ANNABLE: I’ve been working on a number of personal projects in both comics and animation that I can’t expound upon just yet, but I’m very excited about them! I’ve also been helping out with storyboards on numerous films and shows these days which has definitely kept me busy. If anyone wants to keep up with me feel free to check in daily on my Instagram account. I post single panel cartoons there all the time as well as any other pertinent news about me and my upcoming projects! 

Eerie Tales from the School of Screams is available in stores now.