Goosebumps: Say Cheese and Die! by RL Stine & the art of Kenny Chapman
  Book Reviews    October 28, 2015     Kathryn McGee


Every midnight in October: a great work of horror and a conversation with an artist. All works are on display in The Last Bookstore. Don’t forget to pick up a map when you get to the store, so you don’t miss anything, or take a peek here.


Now here’s a camera you wouldn’t dare mount to a selfie stick. Not unless you want to see a photo of your face with a monster in the background, or with your lips twisted into a wicked smile—one you didn’t make. That’s what the evil camera in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book Say Cheese and Die! does. It adds things. Deathly things. A group of kids steals the camera from the basement of the decrepit Coffman house, not knowing the risks. The machine spits out images of tragedies that soon come true. The kids discover they can tear up photos and be done with the demons, but the incidents raise concerns. Are the photos prophetic, or is it the camera that’s evil? Stine questions whether we can control fate, master our destinies. The implications linger in our minds.

Say Cheese and Die! was written in 1992, before we all had digital cameras, before we started routinely posting photos in every corner of the internet. How closely did we look at all those images before we sent them out? What might have been lurking in the background? What might be around the next corner now? Stine wraps things up in a neat package, explaining that the camera was invented by an evil scientist and can’t be destroyed. We wonder if the kids can keep an object powerful enough to destroy humanity hidden. The fact that there are two sequels to Say Cheese and Die! suggests the answer is no.

Stine’s book uses the power of a small cursed object to effectively prompt larger questions that will and should keep us up at night. What ability do we have to control what we become? Can we really say cheese … and die? Can a photo steal our soul?


Good Artist, Bad Camera:

An Interview with Kenny Chapman

"Inst-grim" is in the Thing Under Your Bed section of A Horror Story Art Show

“Insta-grim” is in the Thing Under Your Bed section of A Horror Story Art Show

It was, as you might guess, childhood infatuation with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series that got Kenny Chapman interested in making art inspired by Say Cheese and Die!

Kenny explains, “Those were the books I got into reading, and just really creepy stories. Each one was different, each one was creepy in different ways; they weren’t all the same.”

In many of the books, cursed objects serve as plot devices. There’s an evil mask (The Haunted Mask), that can of glowing green goo (Monster Blood), and a camera that predicts or causes disaster (Say Cheese and Die!). This made Kenny want to, “take an object, one of these creepy objects, and do something to just focus on that.”

That’s what he’s done.

His digital illustration showcases the cursed camera, making it the focal point of the work. The object’s inherent evil is strongly implied with a bloody eyeball and the suggestion of a smile below. This is no ordinary point-and-shoot. This one’s alive!


Kenny emphasizes that our ability to imagine the Goosebumps stories is in part thanks to the iconic imagery associated with original cover art by artist Tim Jacobus. “Most people who think about the series can see the cover art. That’s probably the first thing that comes to mind. That was kind of a challenge to the project. You have to compete with pre-existing art that’s already associated with it.”

Jacobus’ covers feature bright colors, and ghastly, yet humorous, imagery. The original cover for Say Cheese and Die! shows a skeleton family having a bar-b-cue—and this piece is one of Kenny’s favorites. “I feel like [Jacobus’] illustrations for the books had a huge influence on me, as far as an early interest in art, design, stuff like that.”

When asked how he solved the problem of making his piece distinct, Kenny notes, “I knew if I tried to match the original artist’s style, it wouldn’t have worked, or recreating it wouldn’t have looked good. It wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

His illustration has unique appeal, with clean, minimalist lines and strong use of color. The work was made digitally on a tablet and the file was printed on high-quality fine art paper and framed. It’s been carefully designed for viewing at multiple distances. “I tried to fit cool little details that you might not notice right away, standing really far back. So there’s a lot of good close-up detail that I tried to include.”

But all this serious discussion about Kenny’s artwork is really just a warm-up for more important lines of inquiry.

Is Kenny now fearful of cameras or photography?

Does he worry that a photo can steal his soul?

He escapes these questions with the simple answer of “no,” comments about the potential for haunted iPhones and photo filters, and a joke. “That’s the problem with Instagram,” he says. “It’s stealing our souls.” But when asked if he has ever encountered a cursed object, he pauses. He has to think. He ultimately says, “I don’t think so,” but it’s those long, quiet seconds that make you wonder.


Luckily those seconds are also occupied by thoughts of Ryan Gosling. And here comes that voice that says, Hey, girl, I’ve read Goosebumps too! A young Gosling appeared in the old televised version of Say Cheese and Die! (1996), and Kenny proposes what he calls a “Ryan Gosling offer.” He’ll give a print of his original artwork to the actor, should he reach out and want a copy.

Ryan Gosling, if you, or anyone else, would like to reach Kenny regarding his graphic design work, he has contact information online at

Finally, here is top-secret insight on how you can appeal to Kenny’s taste in horror. He says, “I don’t like the super gory, ultra-violent stuff, but I like the ones that make you jump, or are just really creepy.”

Sounds like cursed objects are a safe bet. We’ll see what happens when you take a photo on your own device. That new phone of yours is supposed to take shots that are hauntingly beautiful…
How could anything go wrong?



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