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Searching for Scary Godmother

Here, in a nutshell, is one of the problems with the comic book business: You can’t find Jill Thompson’s books in Borders.

ScaryGodmother_small.jpg (34593 bytes)No, I’m not saying we should abolish the direct market. The direct market saved comics in the ’70s, and I still think that not only is there a lot of life left in it, but I think it could resurge. Though this is heresy, I think one route out of the poor sales slump is through mainstream bookstore sales.

Consider the music industry for a moment. Imagine someone heard Psycho Circus, the latest album by KISS, decided they liked it enough to want to hear some of the older albums. No problem. Even though they might have bought Psycho Circus in a huge chain like K-Mart, Caldor, Target or Wal-Mart, they can easily find a music store (most malls today have more than one) and since most music stores today are clean, well lit and organized by musical genre, finding a copy of Alive, Destroyer or another older KISS album shouldn’t be a problem.

Unfortunately, that bears little resemblance to many comic book buyers’ experiences. Even if someone browsing a Borders decides to buy a Sandman or Bone trade paperback, their attempts to find similar books by other authors is likely to be frustrating. I can’t blame the big chains for only carrying the biggest sellers — that’s what big chains are for — but the search for a comic book store alone can be frustrating. Then add in strangely organized stores with unhelpful employees, and it’s no wonder that we often drive away a reader as quickly as we gain one.

An equally bad problem is the distribution system itself. Trying to get conventional bookstores, direct market comic book stores and distributors to work together is like trying to empty the ocean. I’ve heard retailers grumble that comic books shouldn’t be sold in bookstores even though when prodded, they will often admit to having regular customers who started out by picking up graphic novels in B. Dalton or Waldenbooks or Barnes & Noble. Bookstores often look down on anything comic book derived and distributors often seem to consider any new way of making money to be just a headache.

Even though I know all of this, I still get frustrated when I wander through a Borders, as I did this week, and see a huge display of Halloween-related books that does not contain Thompson’s Scary Godmother or her latest, Scary Godmother: The Revenge of Jimmy. They’re both hands-down two of the best Halloween books I’ve ever read.

SG_RevengeJimmy_small.jpg (33813 bytes)The new hardcover, illustrated story is just as gorgeous as last year’s, which was Thompson’s first Scary Godmother story. The new story picks up shortly before Halloween one year after Hannah met her Scary Godmother and with her help, turned the tables on her cousin Jimmy’s nasty trick.

Over the past year, Hannah has had a grand time hanging out with Scary Godmother and the friendly monsters of Fright Side, as shown in the Scary Godmother: Bloody Valentine one-shot as well as "Tea for Orson," Thompson’s contribution to the 1998 Trilogy Tour Book. Unfortunately, Hannah never told Jimmy that the Fright Side creatures weren’t really out to get him last Halloween. Instead, they were helping Hannah get back at Jimmy for trying to scare her away from trick or treating with him.

Jimmy is terrified that this Halloween the monsters really will get him. To stop this, he gets the idea that if there’s no Halloween, then the monsters can’t show up. As each of his plans are foiled, Jimmy becomes more and more obsessed with destroying Halloween. There’s a happy ending, of course, and Jimmy learns a lesson, but the magic is in Thompson’s story telling and art. Writing a story that enchants both children and adults is a harder task than most people realize, but Thompson’s enthusiasm for and love of her characters shines through every page. Both Scary Godmother books make for perfect reads for after trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, we need Scary Godmother’s magic to make them easier to find.

Note: In the time since this column originally ran, Scary Godmother was picked up by independent book distributor Ingram, which distributes to both independent book stores and chains like Walden Books, B. Dalton, Borders and Barnes & Noble. However, many other graphic novels are still in limbo.


Review 1998 Beth Hannan Rimmels.  Scary Godmother 1997-1998 Jill Thompson.