Stuff We Love: The radioactive horror of Goosebumps book covers

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Oct 16, 2017

In the ‘90s, there was one thing that could scare you bloodless and make you want to wallpaper your room with it at the same time.

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books weren’t just suburban legends that made preteens think summer camp was going to turn into a massacre or the lawn gnomes in the neighbor's yard were suddenly going to come alive. They were also crawling with amazing cover monsters that spawned from the brains of artist Tim Jacobus.

 In a radioactive spectrum of neons that was only outdone by the brightness of monster blood, Jacobus’ unreal covers were haunted by everything from glowing green masks to purple raptors in a phone booth to a skeleton lounging in a kiddie pool on a summer vacation from his coffin. Slappy the ventriloquist dummy glared at you with glowing eyes. Whenever someone unearthed a new Goosebumps book at recess, everyone wanted to put an eyeball on the cover before finding out who the dummy or the mummy or the mask’s next victim was.

Did I mention that the Goosebumps on each cover was textured to give you the creeps?

I had a respectable stack of these books with the can’t-miss covers (which are mostly blacklight-reactive) myself. Somehow Stine and Jacobus were on the same weird wavelength to create something whose terror on the page was only amplified by an outrageous visual. My favorite Goosebumps, Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, convinced me those things would come to life after dark, and the cover image of two nefarious gnome-thugs under a gazing ball, flanked by two acid-pink flamingoes, added special effects.  

Jacobus used both paint and airbrushing to achieve a glossy look that convinced you those gnomes—or anything else grinning or leering at you from these covers—were going to jump out at you the moment you turned the lights off. He often used a warped perspective, like that on the cover of Bad Hare Day, to mess with your head. Which is exactly why we all kept masochistically coming back for more scares.

While the vintage Goosebumps covers haven’t morphed into poster form yet, if they do, I will wallpaper my room with them and gladly wake up screaming in the middle of the night.