This beautiful hardcover is perfectly timed. As fall creeps over the country, there’s nothing better than relaxing with some lightly scary (but also funny), impressively illustrated stories about monsters. The strong sense of family, whether natural or assembled from close friends, is a comforting underlay, as is Jill Thompson’s tangible portrayal of the season.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that, in addition to the original four storybooks — The Scary Godmother, The Revenge of Jimmy, The Mystery Date, The Boo Flu — Scary Godmother contains “Tea for Orson”, previously printed in the 1998 Trilogy Tour II anthology, as well as an annotated art section with sketches and promotional pieces, most of which are completely illustrated and colored.
The book opens by introducing us to Hannah Marie, eager to go trick-or-treating for the first time without her parents. The painted panels are full with signs of the season — crisp fall leaves, autumn decorations, cloudy moon, always a hint of a breeze in the “cinnamon wind”. Like many children, Hannah is both excited and anxious. She’s afraid of monsters, and her cousin Jimmy plays up that fear to get rid of what he sees as an annoyance. He’s greedy and frustrated by her slowness, but when he leaves her in a haunted house, she’s rescued by her Scary Godmother, the Ambassador of Spooky.
The format is unique. The stories are narrated with text outside the panels, although the art frequently includes word or thought balloons, and there are multiple illustrations per page. It’s comics, but a particularly easy-to-read variant, wonderful for sharing between young and old. The situations have plenty of suspense, but aimed and paced in such a way that the young aren’t left behind.
Scary Godmother’s friends include Skully Pettibone, a skeleton; Boozle, her ghostly pet Scaredy Cat; and Bug-a-Boo, the big, blue, furry monster under the bed and in the closet. By seeing the unusual and talked-about beings in new light, by meeting them for herself instead of relying on what others told her about them, Hannah learns to see them as friends. There’s a message of tolerance in there that more could learn from. But whether or not you take in the lessons, anyone can marvel at the gorgeous art, wonderfully painted and so imaginative.
Of course, Jimmy gets the tables turned on him and has his own punishment for treating Hannah Marie badly. She’s learned to appreciate and enjoy the scary horrors, while he gains a followup story. In The Revenge of Jimmy, he’s still traumatized from the Halloween events of last year, so he decides to prevent the holiday — and the monsters — from returning. His pranks break the connection between Hannah’s world and Scary Godmother’s Fright Side, until others work to put things right in a story about having a creative instead of store-bought holiday.
The next story, The Mystery Date, takes Hannah to the Fright Side, where she invites all the monsters to her Halloween party, and we meet the boy vampire Orson. In The Boo Flu, Scary Godmother is sick, and everyone has to figure out how to have Halloween without her making it happen. While there’s been poetry in previous stories, this one is all in rhyme! Fun to read out loud, accompanied by mostly full-page panels in this chapter, all full of wild ideas about decorating for the holiday. “Tea for Orson” is more traditionally comic, with Orson and annoying geek werewolf Harry trying to crash a ladies’ tea party. And I loved finding out the ideas behind some of the characters in the end art gallery section, much of which comes from preparation for the animated special.
The book is sturdy and substantial, well-suited to reading over and over. My favorite touch is that, as with the original releases, the front endpaper has a bookplate designed into it, reading “This Book Belongs to” with space for a name. It’s a lovely detail that encourages young readers to feel a sense of ownership over their book. Reading and re-reading Scary Godmother should become part of Halloween holiday traditions for every family. Dark Horse has posted a short preview. (The publisher provided a review copy.)