Fuck this book.
Even the origins of the book creep me out because – I have no idea how it came into my possession, I can’t ever remember not having the book, it’s just always been there, it’s black spine mocking me from my bookshelves, that means that either it truly is a supernatural entity made out of pure fear or someone bought it for me when I was too young to remember such things, I can’t decide which is more unnerving – who buys this book for a three-year-old? My abiding memory is being about 6 years old and sitting in my fraternal grandparents’ front room gingerly flicking through it, so maybe they’re who buys this book for three-year-olds?
When I was wee I was mad on Garfield, I had tapes full of taped episodes of Garfield & Friends (and can still sing the theme tune word-for-word) and a whole shelf full of Garfield collections, Garfield magazines and various other Garfield books that weren’t by Jim Davis but come about due to Garfield being licenced for just about everything, including this one: Garfield’s Scary Tales. A hardback annual-style book published in 1990 by Chad Valley it was written by Jim Kraft and illustrated by some fucking sadist called Mike Fentz and seriously, fuck this book because it fucking terrified me as a child. Included are five text stories – The Midnight Stalker, Surprise Package, Terminal Terror, A Ghost Story and The Thing in the Cupboard – each accompanied by lovely airbrushed full/half-page illustrations by that Frentz arsehole. In case I’m not hinting strongly enough, the problem wasn’t really the stories, I often couldn’t stand to leave the book open long enough to read ‘em, it’s the fucking illustrations, the five that scared me as a child, one for each story (just to make sure I couldn’t enjoy any of book) are below, and we shall use them to work through the book, so are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
This is the one that really used to frighten me, take-your-breath-away-wide-eyes-tight-stomach-tighter-arse child fear, the image of it would linger a little afterwards and I’d be nervous of shadowy corners for a good few hours or so. What’s happening is Garfield is having a brief encounter with what could be the ‘beast’ that supposedly kills pets around the inn he, John and Odie are over-nighting in, the titular ‘Midnight Stalker’ from the first story. It’s heavily implied that whatever it is is really the Innkeeper’s pet cat Beezle (subtle) who’s whatever the cat-equivalent of a werewolf is (lycanpussy?) but Garfield never sees it properly, we never see it properly and it’s not clearly described and everyone knows if you imply something it becomes more interesting and giving the brain room to fill in the gaps makes the brain transform whatever it is into something far scarier than if you just showed it, it becomes an indefinably but definitely horrifying thing and you know that if it stepped out of the shadows it would be the thing that would terrify you the most, even though you know you don’t know what that actually is. I was not old enough to work out such things then though and was just scared by the half-seen thing lurking in the shadows of a location I could easily relate to (a kitchen) about to eat a beloved cartoon character, even today I think it’s far too sinister an image to be in a kid’s book but that could be because I haven’t forgiven it for making me scared of the shadows beneath coat-racks and the gaps between armchairs like the big fucking baby I was.
This spider used to really freak me out but looking at it now I’m not sure why that is – it’s no scarier than anything in The Real Ghostbusters and I watched that to death around the same time I used to shit myself over this book. I think it could be because as you flip through the book this comes after the Lycanpussy picture and thus I was usually already in a state of fear and thus everything becomes scarier (want to see this work in action? Go to fright night this Halloween, shit makeup, hardboard and chickwire will seem terrifying because you’re already on edge). It does however have really evil eyes, and looks a little like he’s rolling them back in orgasmic glee over the terror he about to be inflicting, that’s how I imagine Mike Frentz looked when illustrating this book. The spider is the Surprise Package from the second story, the poor postman who Garfield terrorizes is retiring and he’s brought it to get his own back on the fat shit that keeps shredding his socks and chewing his hat. The story’s the least unnerving of the five, Garfield feints and squashes the spider, a funny, clear-cut happy ending without any hint of supernatural, a welcome change after Midnight Stalker’s ambiguity.
‘Terminal Terror’ has a lightning storm bringing John’s new PC to life, and the PC wanting to drain Garfield’s mind – it all happens at night during a storm so it’s already a lot creepier than Surprise Package (which takes place in the morning sun) and Frentz goes all out with his airbrush and gives us some very atmospheric illustrations that are very realistic in terms of lighting and feel and all that jazz. This image though went too far for my child brain and used to unnerve me but as an adult looking at it as something that might be too scary for kids I don’t see any issue. I think the fear that comes from mysterious things glowing in dark rooms is very much a fear born from childhood, and I reckon comes from an association with late night TV, which is either the only thing playing when the scary things happen or shows young children images of things that scare them or that they don’t understand, often without any context, of course it could just be a fear of the unknown but just saying that wouldn’t have gotten me a long enough paragraph. Anyway the computer is blown up because Garfield tricks it into sucking on Odie’s brain and it over-exerts itself trying to find something to suck out, chucklesome stuff that leaves no lingering creeped-out feelings.
That’s Zeb, a local in the forest John, Odie and Garfield are camping in during ‘Ghost Story’ who scares the trio away with a made-up local legend so he can steal their food. BUT as a kid all I saw was the same thing from the Lycanpussy picture, I saw the same manic-eyed, sharp toothed fear-thing hiding in the shadows, of course as an adult I can realise that this is just the artist’s style making them look similar but then it was the picture that turned this from a book with one really scary picture of one scary thing in it to a book full of them, turning any page could bring up that shadow dweller without warning and just looking at the cover made me unnerved. In short, do one Zeb.
And then there was this. The Thing in the Cupboard, which is designed to keep kids scared after they’ve finished reading the book. The story had Odie freaking out about the cupboard in that way that dogs sometimes freak out over nothing (we can see); Garfield finally has enough and opens the cupboard and sees nothing, but turns back to Odie who is still terrified. The implication is supposed to be, I think, that he can see what’s in the picture but that thing is never addressed, the story does not say ‘but Odie could see the monster behind Garfield’ or anything like that, it just says that Odie is still scared, Garfield repeats his point about there not being anything there and the story ends. We don’t even know if Odie IS seeing that thing, and we don’t know happens afterward, does it claw Garfield to death and eat Odie? Kids never find out, they just close the book and go to sleep - now with confirmation from Garfield that there really IS something terrible in closets and wondering - wondering if Garfield saw it in time, wondering if it really was there, wondering what the monster was doing in that picture if Garfield said there was nothing there, wondering, wondering….
For me it was the monster having the same eyes and mouth as the other things lurking in the shadows (of course it did, it was drawn by the same man…) that did it for me, there it was AGAIN, that same scary image, this book was full of them.
As you may have surmised by now I didn’t read this book very often - but I kept it, I was determined that one day I wouldn’t be scared of it, that day came but the fact that I’d been so freaked out about it left it an important part of my childhood, too important to give to the charity shop. Today it’s the only Garfield book on my shelves, where it fits in nicely between the books on famous murderers, horror movie icons, Disney theme parks and strange rock bands. Occasionally I read through it, usually near Halloween, to feel that residual fear left over from when I was 6.
This post was going to be funny, I don’t know what happened really but I guarantee its Mike bloody Fentz’ fault.