The Christmas ghost story is a literary tradition long past its heyday, but ardent fans still remain. Last year, Biblioasis released the first two instalments in a reissue series of mainly out-of-print Victorian holiday ghost stories, and this fall, the Windsor, Ontario, press added three more tales to that collection, including little-seen works by Edith Wharton, Marjorie Bowen, and M.R. James. Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells was initially inspired by a similar series launched in the U.K. by author Eloise Millar’s Galley Beggar Press. “I thought it was a brilliant idea, and was jealous,” Wells says. “[Millar] said, ‘Steal it.’ So we did.”
Another fan of the genre is the cartoonist Seth, whom Wells approached to illustrate the series. “I didn’t think Seth would be interested, but we’ve a long-standing relationship with him, so thought I’d try him out first,” says Wells.
Seth, the author of books such as George Sprott (1894–1975) and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, says he “had been planning something like this for years. … I love classic-era ghost stories. They were once a huge genre but have essentially fallen into obscurity, existing mostly as a subset of the horror genre. I do not care for horror writing in the least. It has none of the simple charms that the ghost story possesses.”
It’s immediately apparent to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Seth’s style that most of the illustrations decorating the series are his work, though some, such as the cover for James’s The Diary of Mr. Poynter are less obvious. “I’m trying not to ruin the ghosts by showing too much of them,” Seth says. “For this purpose I have also made my artwork as ‘diagramatic’ as possible. Sharp clear lines – bold shapes – not a lot of my usual brushwork. … I am trying to keep my natural ‘cartoony’ drawing style in the background.”