Jill Thompson Interview

In her career in comics, Jill Thompson has drawn DC’s Wonder Woman, DC/Vertigo’s Sandman, Invisibles and Finals, and more. A few years back, Sirius published her first creator-owned project, Scary Godmother, who has now appeared in 4 hardcovers, 3 specials, and one mini-series. This month, Jill returns to Sirius to tell her longest Scary Godmother story to date. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Jill about this new mini-series.

Westfield: For those who aren’t familiar with the world of Scary Godmother, how would you describe the book and who are the major characters?

Jill Thompson: Scary Godmother is like your fairy godmother, but for Halloween. There’s really nothing scary about the Scary Godmother. She’s fun and macabre; reminiscent of childhood with a little bit of social commentary mixed in. The major players in Scary Godmother are Scary Godmother herself; Hannah Marie, the little girl who she is the scary godmother of; Mr. Pettibone, the skeleton in the closet that lives with Scary Godmother in her house on the Fright Side; Bug-a-Boo, the monster under the bed who also lives in Scary Godmother’s house. He lives in the basement. There’s the vampire family, Max, Ruby and their son, Orson, who live down the road from Scary Godmother in Belfry Manor. Max is a traditional, old-timey, bald-headed, long black cloak-wearing vampire, and his wife is kind of like a 1950s monster movie hostess in her style. She’s a bit more modern in her tradition and her ways. Their son Orson is a bespectacled little vampire boy who kind of combines the best features of both of his parents. He is Hannah’s playmate. There’s also Harry the werewolf who lives with his fortune-telling mother in a cave in the forest. He’s rather a fanboy. He’s a loveable, mischief-makin’, selfish little guy. Well, not too little.

Westfield: Will people need to be familiar with the previous Scary Godmother books to understand the new mini-series?

Thompson: No. What I try to do in all the Scary Godmother books and comics is make sure that you don’t have to have read what came before it to enjoy what’s coming out. The fact that this is going to be a mini-series will mean that, if you pick up #2, you probably should pick up #1 [laughter]. But you don’t have to pick up any of the other comics to know what’s going on because I try and make sure the first time you see the characters, they’re fairly well explained as far as their names and relationships to each other.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the new mini-series?

Thompson: The new mini-series is a little bit of a departure from the way Scary Godmother comics or books usually go. It’s 6 issues instead of one. The longest story I’ve told so far has been a three-issue mini-series. It’s got a bit more drama in it than the other comics have had. They’ve been more humor based. There hasn’t been much soap opera involved. This time, we’re going to learn a lot about where Scary Godmother came from and how she became the Scary Godmother. Some people from her past will come into play. We’re going to have Orson going to summer-ghoul and Hannah going off to camp. Both of which can be pretty scary experiences.

Basically, we have a running thread where Scary Godmother is invited to a witch’s convention. In going to the convention, you learn about where she grew up, where she went to school, who her classmates were, why she has the job she has, and how she met some of the other monsters that are part of the regular cast. Hannah finds that she can’t rely on the Scary Godmother as much as she thought she could. And we’ll find out why. Everybody has to do a little bit of soul searching and growing and dealing with, heaven forbid, responsibility. [laughter] Except Harry. [laughter] He never will have to deal with responsibility. Harry does make some appearances in the mini-series, but because it would be very easy to write almost every story where Harry starts everything, or complicates everything, I’ve kept him in the background in this story because he just had a mini-series. There actually are repercussions from that mini-series amongst the other monsters in the Fright Side as far as their jobs are concerned.

Westfield: Are there any new characters who’ll be showing up that you’d like to mention in particular?

Thompson: Just the people from Scary Godmother’s past, the people that she went to school with. There are two headmistresses of the school that she attended, and a lot of her little classmates: witches and fairies who are training to be fairy godmothers. But I don’t want to give out their names yet.

Westfield: Why set a book with such a Halloween theme during the summer?

Thompson: Because it’s convention season and because I like that kind of stuff all year round, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s Halloween. I’ve wanted to do a story that’s a lot more in-depth that I couldn’t tell in one of the Scary Godmother books and it was a lot more complicated than just telling it in a special. I wanted the episodic nature of it. I wanted to have a convention issue coming out during the convention season to play up the things we all love and hate about conventions. Everything that I work on in the regular Scary Godmother books, I work January through the summer for it to come out in the Fall. I’m always asked why don’t I have anything out in the summertime. It’s because I’m working through the summer. It’s easier to produce a comic that I can have come out while I’m still working on it than a book that is a lot more labor intensive as far as production and printing and getting it all set up and ready to go.

Westfield: Scary Godmother, especially the hardcovers, is very young reader friendly. Do any children’s authors influence you?

Thompson: Oh yeah. I wish I had tons of money so I could buy not only copies of all my favorite books for each of my seven nieces, but also an extra copy for me. I’ve always like Charles Adams, which I wouldn’t say is a children’s author. I’m a big fan of what I was read to by Captain Kangaroo on TV, so one of my very favorites are the Francis books by Russell and Lilian Hoban. I still pick up children’s books because I love the illustrations and the stories. I like Holly Hobbie. That’s actually the name of the woman who created Holly Hobbie, the little kind of prairie doll character. I’m also a big fan of her Toot and Puddle books, which are these two little pigs that live in a place called Woodcock Pocket. She’s an amazing watercolor artist. She has a freshness and design I really admire. I do have lots of children’s books lying around for reference and inspiration. Because I am really steeped in comic books, I’ll pull out a book and re-read it just to get the flavor of single-page illustration. I like all the J. Otto Siebold and Vivian Walsh books like Monkey Business. Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg is one of my favorites. William Joyce, Rosemary Wells. There’s a really great children’s book by Piotr & Jozef Wilkon called The Brave Little Kittens. It’s some of the best illustrations of these three little kittens going out and doing cat things like jumping at a bug, running through the grass. The expressions on these almost primitive looking drawings are so dead on it’s really delightful. That’s the problem. I can walk into a children’s bookstore or even a big Barnes & Noble or Borders and realize I could easily walk out with $500 worth of books and go back tomorrow and get some more. But I try to pick up some like at Halloween. Unfortunately, in many years past, there’s nothing that’s caught my fancy. Which is one of the reasons I started Scary Godmother.

Westfield: So it was your intention to make Scary Godmother young reader friendly?

Thompson: Oh yeah. I wanted it to be something that I personally would enjoy and people in their 20s or 30s wouldn’t feel stupid reading it, especially if they had children and they wanted to read it to them over and over again. I wanted something that bridged the gap between children’s books and comic books because a lot of the comics I remember from my childhood were all ages friendly. Comics are so segregated now. It’s hard to go into a comic book store and find a good amount of books that are good for all ages; books that I could read and have and good time but then I wouldn’t feel creepy passing them on to a kid. I think that the fact that there aren’t many comics for kids just makes our industry dwindle. People always try and make comics specifically for kids, but I’ve found that when I would look at those, I would never have picked them up if I was a kid. They were fairly insulting and really insipid. I wanted something that might be good for everybody and that’s what I’m actually trying to do. I really enjoy when little kids come up to me or when I get letters from kids saying how much they like the Scary Godmother. The best thing is that lately I’ve been getting letters for the Scary Godmother, which is really cool. At first, it was “Dear Jill Thompson, I like the Scary Godmother. I think she’s cool.” And now it’s “Dear Scary Godmother, I think Bug-a-Boo is neat. He can live under my bed. It’s stinky under there, but he might like the stinky part.” My day is made when I get a letter for Scary Godmother herself. It’s pretty cool.

Westfield: Are there any plans for more Scary Godmother-related merchandise on the horizon?

Thompson: Not that I know of. With Scary Godmother being optioned for animation, a good deal of that kind of stuff is tied up in the option agreement. There’s stuff that we can do, but because there are so many things that are just almost going to happen that we don’t want to kill their license. I’ve been really caught up in getting the mini-series put together and doing some other stuff at the same time.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you’re working on you’d like to mention?

Thompson: I’m working on a Little Endless storybook for Vertigo. That’ll be out in the summer. I’m writing and painting that. I’m working on a 12-page Dazzler story for Marvel. I’m probably going to be doing a couple pages of a Transmetropolitian story. And I’ve been working on a series of children’s books with a friend of mine, but that’s all the info I can tell you about it because it’s one of those things where nothing’s hashed out with the companies that are dealing with it.

Westfield: Do you have any closing comments you’d like to make?

Thompson: If you’ve never picked up Scary Godmother before, this might be a good place to start. It’s going to be very multi-faceted compared to what you might expect it is. Hopefully you’ll pick it up.