I have known Jill Thompson for thirty years. As a want-to-be comic book artist, Jill and I used to see one another once a month at these mini-comic conventions that were held at the Americana Congress Hotel back in the 80's. For fledgling artists like myself and Ms. Thompson, this was an opportunity to meet with artists, writers and editors who were big names in the comic industry and have them see your work, give critiques and so on, with the ever present hope of landing a job. Every month I would see Jill and she and I would trade our pencil artwork to ink for one another. This was a way to keep improving our skills.
Our paths eventually went different ways and while I continued to do art and theatre while working lots of different jobs, Jill went on to become a hugely successful comic artist. She became a big star in the male dominated world of comics which led to her creating several of her own book series. One of the series she became most famous for is Scary Godmother. When CST's Artistic Committee began looking for a small family show to put in our Edith B. Wood Studio during the Halloween Season, I immediately thought of Jill and learned that her first book had been done as a play back in 2001 with Heath Corson and Runamuck Theatre in Chicago.
This past April I sought Jill out at the C2E2 comic convention in Chicago and approached her about getting rights for Chicago Street to do the show. After months of corresponding with her and co-author Heath Corson, everything finally resulted with the show that we are presenting through November 1. This now flash forwards (to use a comic term) us to this past Sunday when Chicago Street Theatre's production of Scary Godmother had a very special guest in the audience for its noon performance- Jill Thompson. Jill created the popular series nearly twenty years ago and said that she got the idea when her brother was about to have his first child. Thompson said, "I was hoping that I could be a godparent and thought, 'Wow. Actually I'd make a pretty scary Godmother' and so the character was born." The initial creation of Scary, who is based on Thompson's appearance, led the artist to create a whole world for other monstrous characters that she called, "The Frightside."
Scary Godmother tells the story of a little girl named Hannah who gets left in a spooky old house on Halloween by her devilish cousin, Jimmy. Jimmy's prank backfires when the girl discovers that she has a Scary Godmother with lots of frightfully fun friends like Skully Pettibone a skeleton, a vampire family, a werewolf named Harry with a voracious appetite, and Bug-A-Boo who works as a monster under the bed. Thompson created her books while working as a professional comic artist for titles such as DC Comics' Wonder Woman and Black Orchid as well as the Sandman, Fables, The Little Endless Storybook and Dead Boy Detectives for the company's imprint Vertigo.
The artist is also the creator of the Magic Trixie book series for Harper Collins Children's Books. Thompson says that she's had fun developing these characters over the years but that she is probably most recognized for Scary Godmother when she attends signings and comic conventions. The series of books led to a comic book series with Dark Horse Comics and two computer animated TV Specials: Scary Godmother: Halloween Spook-tacular and Scary Godmother: The Revenge of Jimmy. The popularity of Scary Godmother allowed the author to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign last year to create dolls and merchandise associated with the books.
Thompson said that this is the first time that the show has been produced since its original run in September and October of 2001 when she and Runamuck Theatre's Artistic Director, Heath Corson collaborated on adapting her book for the stage. The play was presented for 26 sold out performances that Fall at The Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago. "We didn't know how well the show would do," she said, "because the show went into previews just a few days after 9/11. Surprisingly, I think people came to our show in part to escape all the stuff that they were seeing on TV about the tragedy."
During her visit Jill said that she enjoyed seeing the way in which Chicago Street Theatre directors, Dona Henry, Kelly Hite and Jonni Pera staged the play. "There were some similarities to ours but I really loved how the cast was comprised of young actors performing the roles of the kids in the show," said the artist, "When we did it, it was all adults playing the roles."
Director, Dona Henry said that her cast was "Beside themselves with excitement that Jill was able to see their show." She added, "It's always a great thing when you can have the author at the show and Jill was so tremendously gracious with taking time with each and everyone of the cast members with photos and autographs."
Co-director Kelly Hite said that everyone of the kids in their cast was familiar with the video specials and were extremely excited to play these parts. "She was adorable and it's so awesome that Jill could be here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our children's educational programming with us.
After her visit my daughter and I took Jill to lunch where we discussed future projects she has coming up and the possibility of Chicago Street Theatre collaborating on future play adaptations of her work. The cast was very excited about the possibility of returning next Halloween to do The Revenge of Jimmy.
The cast features: Brittany Brice (Valparaiso) as Scary; Hailey Stemple (Valparaiso) as Hannah; Jakob Innes (Valparaiso) as Jimmy; Connor Phutawon (Crown Point) as Bert; Eden Roberts (Valparaiso) as Katie; Michael Thomas (Michigan City) as Daryl; Laney Roberts (Valparaiso) as Boozle; Lee Anne Bettenhausen and Patricia Schulz (Valparaiso) as Bug-A-Boo; Rodney Thornton (Lake Station) and Jeff Schulz (Valparaiso) as Count Max; Mary Bird (Chesterton) as Ruby; Xavier Roberts (Valparaiso) as Orson; Matthew Klemm (Valparaiso) as Harry the Werewolf and Elli Bezotte (Valparaiso) as Skully Pettibone.
Jill Thompson's books are available through Amazon and Trade Paperbacks of the comic book series are available through Dark Horse Comics.