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Jill Thompson:

A Walk On The Fright Side

So how do you tell which witch is witch? Aside from say Marvel’s Scarlet Witch or Enchantress, comic book witches have tended to come in two broad categories, as either sinister horror hostesses, from EC’s Old Witch to The Witching Hour’s toil-and-trouble trio, or as cute comediennes, from Casper’s friend Wendy to teenage Sabrina. What sets Scary Godmother apart is that she is neither a witch nor a fairy godmother; she’s the best of both.

She’s the creation of Jill Thompson, and looks a lot like her, a tall, striking redhead with lots of curls and charisma. Before Jill had drawn her first sketch, she had already made and modelled a Scary Godmother outfit, complete with tutu, stripy stockings, pointy hat and tiny batwings. Talk about getting into character. On the side, she has also posed for photo references for friend and fellow comic artist, Craig Russell.

Scary Godmother

A graduate from Chicago’s American Academy of Art, Jill Thompson proved a versatile, realistic illustrator and rose to prominence at Vertigo drawing Black Orchid and especially collaborating with Neil Gaiman on Sandman. Graduating to fully painted artwork, she won praise and awards for her subtle watercolouring. Another breakthrough was the overlooked Finals, an offbeat campus satire for Vertigo written by Will Pfeiffer.

But the biggest revelation came in 1997, when Thompson first went flying solo on her broomstick and both wrote and drew the first 40-page story of her ‘Queen of Halloween’. In a brave departure from their typical comic book pamphlets and Goth angst, publishers Sirius Comics showcased her shimmering colour washes in a hardcover children’s book, pricey at $19.95, but a beautiful package with dustjacket, endpapers and stylish blocking on the front cover, and a totally charming fantasy for all ages inside. Jill and Scary Godmother worked their magic and crafted three sequels, published each year in time for Halloween.

In the best tradition of children’s stories, a youngster escapes everyday reality and enters a secret world, not down a rabbit hole, on a tornado or through a wardrobe, but simply by getting up on the ‘fright side’ of the bed and stepping through a door. With a child’s wide-eyed wonder, little Hannah Marie is our guide, as she explores Scary Godmother’s realm where every day is Halloween. She meets every manner of creature of the night: the vampire family Count Max, Ruby and their son Orson; the monster under the bed Bug-A-Boo; the fashion-conscious skeleton in the closet, Mr Skully Pettibone; Mr. Toad the teacher; Boozle the ghost cat.

It’s the sort of spooky monster fun popularised by The Addams Family, Roald Dahl, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Gorey, even Monsters Inc. and Harry Potter, but with Thompson’s distinctive twists. In The Mystery Date, every eligible monster around competes to go out with Scary Godmother, popping out of the oven, toaster, mailbox and bubblebath. When she succumbs to The Boo Flu, the fourth book, all the Halloween preparations are taken on by Hannah, who has to crochet cobwebs, conduct a full moon chorus and vacuum the arches in cats.

Scary Godmother

It’s in her black and white comic books that Jill has expanded her storytelling range, in seasonal one-shots Bloody Valentine, a touching vampire romance, and the festive Holiday Spooktacular (affordable samplers to try her work), and two mini-series collected into graphic novels. Wild About Harry stars her lazy, eternally hungry teenage werewolf Harry in his sheep-pattern pyjamas, driving his gypsy mother to distraction.

In her longest, funniest story yet, Ghouls Out For Summer, Jill ships off her cast to assorted haunts, cleverly interweaving their hijinks and enriching their characterisations. Scary is a guest at a witches conference, Hannah goes to her first summer camp, Orson has extra tuition and Bug-A-Boo has to prove his mettle on the Mythic Monsters tour. New characters include envious Tinkaree, ever fearful Chicken Little and Jack, of Beanstalk fame, running his ‘Giantkillers’ pub,  now that property developers have bought out the giant’s castle and converted it into condos.

She also reveals more about Scary’s schooling at Grimoire’s Academy, a sort of girls-only Hogwarts, where she eventually makes a few friends, despite being too sweet to be a witch and too weird to be a fairy godmother, for example when she conjures up a Big Daddy Roth-style pumpkin coach. Jill’s crisp, sinuous linework, her shadows and silhouettes, her writing and ideas, crackle with invention, down to her bubbly balloons for the aquatic Aloysius and her inspired use of photocopying to bleach out a repeated panel of Pettibone sunbathing in the desert. To top it off, she throws in recipes for tasty, easy treats.

Adapted already as a hit play, coming soon to a TV near you in 3D CGI animation, don’t wait till next Halloween to fall under Scary Godmother‘s spell.

Scary God Mother

Posted: April 9, 2006

The original version of this article appeared in 2002 in the pages of Comics International, the UK’s leading magazine about comics.


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My Books

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Featured Books


Scary Godmother
Vol 1:
Scary Godmother

Revenge Of Jimmy
Vol 2:
The Revenge Of Jimmy

The Mystery Date
Vol 3:
The Mystery Date

The Boo Flu
Vol 4:
The Boo Flu

Spooktakular Stories
Vol 5:
Spooktacular Stories