Jill Thompson’s festive hardcover collection, Scary Godmother, arrives just in time for spooky autumnal celebrations. It follows young Hannah Marie, who, in the first of five separate stories, looks forward to her first Halloween with the “big kids.” Unfortunately, the older kids aren’t as enthusiastic about babysitting while they trick-or-treat. They grumble and slouch, while Hannah is oblivious and wide-eyed in her princess costume. As she hustles to keep up with them, the big kids hatch a plot to send her into the creepiest house in town. Inside, she finally realizes their betrayal and falls apart. And that is when the Scary Godmother shows up, orange hair frazzled under a witch’s hat, purple and green stockings underneath a dusty black tutu, and bat wings sprouting from her back. But she isn’t interested in frightening the young girl any further--her cheery grin and green-tinged cheeks put Hannah Marie at ease--and she has a houseful of Halloween pals who are eager to meet a new friend on their favorite day.
“Monsters? Ha ha! Why, some of my best friends are monsters,” exclaims Scary Godmother. Soon, the cast includes a ghost cat named Boozle, a trio of bats who promise not to get tangled in Hannah Marie’s hair, and my favorite: Skully Pettibone, a dancing skeleton who is introduced thusly:
It was Skully Pettibone, a friend of Scary Godmother’s! He worked in the closets of all the old houses, keeping their secrets and occasionally rattling around.
He’s lanky--his joints and bones always at odd angles--and Skully is full of song. Naturally, there is also a terrifying monster supposedly lurking in the basement, but Hannah Marie is a charmer and bears a peace offering in her plastic orange pumpkin bucket. It’s a sweet and full-of-sweets Halloween tale, and the big kids’ comeuppance is dished with good humor. And there are four more stories and a grab bag of Scary Godmother miscellany to be had once all the candy is unwrapped. No tricks!
Jill Thompson takes care to craft these stories for all ages without losing any bite. She avoids obvious gags and heavy-handed messages in favor of intelligent characters and creatures full of heart and presence. Her designs can recall Edward Gorey, especially the vampires who appear in a later story, but her fully painted pages compete with her playful, spritely prose for the biggest treat. At the turn of a page, sea monsters have every chance of cropping up alongside mad scientists. Thompson’s imagination runs at full speed, yet her illustrations give enough reason to pause, and the good news is that there are plenty of stories to peruse in between pumpkin carvings or apple bobbing.
Once finished, readers with a higher fright tolerance would do well to explore Beasts of Burden, another recently released hardcover from Dark Horse that features Thompson's painted scares. This time, the focus is a pack of domestic animals who solve supernatural mysteries. It's a companion piece for slightly older readers or for small kids who have a big kid to tuck them in at night.