October’s Dark Lady
On a sunny day in late August, Lady Sara Richard and I met at a café in Nashua to talk about death.
While neither hers, nor mine, appears imminent, just the day before, I was lucky to escape with my life after a driver on a two-lane, two-way street in Manchester passed the vehicle in front of him and came barreling down the road to face me head-on.
I had just enough room to swerve to the right. (Just enough can mean the difference between life and death.)
It’s not something we like to talk about much, this thing called death. Richard wrote a book about it. “The Dead Hand Book: Stories from Gravesend Cemetery” is as much a primer for the living — be careful what path you follow should you visit a graveyard at night — as it is for lost souls whose final destination has yet to be determined, due perhaps to an unexpected violent end.
The New Hampshire native wrote and illustrated the collection of two-page tales while she was living in Salem, Mass., where she shares ancestry with Margaret Scott, a victim of the Salem witch trials.
While Richard dresses in goth-style black, her warm, engaging personality shone as brightly as the sun beaming through the windows of Pressed Café. I knew interviewing her would be fun based on our brief meeting a few weeks before. My colleague Amanda Andrews let me tag along to meet Richard — one of her favorite artists — at Double Midnight Comics in Manchester. I bought a copy of “The Dead Hand Book” and asked Richard to sign it for me.
When I decided I’d rather ponder October’s somber side than celebrate leaf-peeping season, I knew where to turn.
“I’ve always really liked darker illustrations. Edward Gorey and ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ (illustrated collections of folklore retold by Alvin Schwartz) were always some of my favorite books growing up,” Richard said. “I really like the way that he would use what people would call ‘the macabre.’ He hated that word apparently. He was like, ‘I’m just drawing what I want to draw. It’s not supposed to be dark. It’s just what you people are putting onto my art.’”
Gorey captured the halfway point between spooky and sweet, Richard says. Her work doesn’t quite strike that balance, but she models her stories after Gorey’s work, leaving readers to fill in the gaps with their own fears and anxieties.
“I feel like I push the sweetness a little bit more than he ever did,” said Richard, who plans a sequel to the 2021 book. “But his stories were always so wonderful and open-ended, and I would find that I would be kind of making up the endings a little bit. I love vignette stories like that where you’re never going to scare somebody as much as their own mind will scare them.”