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Scary Godmother: Wild About Harry
Sirius paperback $9.95
review by Amy Harlib
Jill Thompson, renowned illustrator whose artistry graced memorable issues of Wonder Woman, The Sandman and The Invisibles comicbooks, garners most of her well-deserved popularity and recognition from her solo creation: the family-friendly Scary Godmother series, the bulk of which gets published in expensive full-colour hardcover. Scary Godmother: Wild About Harry (easily found via online booksellers), comes in an affordable 8 x 10-inch trade paperback format with black and white artwork equally wonderful in its own way when compared to Thompson's coloured renderings.
This volume, an excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with the Scary Godmother stories and a splendid addition to the canon for aficionados, collects a three-part miniseries that forms a delightful graphic novel. It centres on Harry, one of the more outrageous and fun characters that inhabit Thompson's invented parallel universe - The Fright Side - a warped and wacky place that selected denizens from our consensus reality can occasionally visit and where Halloween gets eternally celebrated and where comparisons with the twisted cosmos of the classic animated film A Nightmare Before Christmas would be quite apt.
The plot in question begins when, their card game interrupted for the umpteenth time, Irene, the resident gypsy-like fortuneteller, responding to the urging of her spooky friends, the witchy scary godmother, Skully Pettibone the skeleton, and Madame Zazie the black widow spider, at long last expells her lazy, demanding and unappreciative son, the eponymous Harry, a werewolf, from her caravan-style house. Typical of selfish personalities, Harry blames everything on his mother, unheeding of the fact that by trying to spite her, he only compounds his difficulties, unaware that his thoughtlessness could actually hurt others.
Harry tries freeloading off Max the vampire and his undead family: his wife Ruby and their son Orson - at their abode, Belfry Castle. When that proves disastrous, Harry begs sanctuary from scary godmother and her housemate Bug-a-Boo, a hairy, rotund, multi-horned, many-eyed entity that would be right at home in Monsters, Inc. and of a very friendly disposition despite his outre appearance. Even their tolerant hospitality gets strained to the limits by Harry's antics so that he eventually winds up roaming through the 'haunted' woods where our protagonist literally stumbles into getting himself a surprising job that gains him recognition and fame for simply doing what comes naturally.
Wild About Harry, like all of Thompson's Scary Godmother yarns, features the creator's eccentric, angular, cartoony yet richly detailed (in this particular case, black and white, inked) art and superb composition and layout that vibrates with whimsical energy while depicting a fully realised otherworld and its characters, human and non-human, the latter being very expressive sharing kindred emotions we can all understand.
The story abounds with visual treats and puns, often subtle and hidden to be revealed after repeated, enriching readings. Some of the best of the gags include Harry's shirt decorated with fluffy lambs (also adorning the borders of the book's cover), making the protagonist a wolf in sheep's clothing (!); the Ackerman Forest (a very esoteric joke for sci-fi cognoscenti); the name of the vampire family's castle; and the way certain appliances are named ("skelevision sets"", etc). Though a lot of the humour will go right over the heads of children to be appreciated by adults only, the zany action will more than adequately please youngsters.
Thompson also heightens the reader's involvement with her tales by directly addressing her audience when her characters share quite doable recipes that add to the fun, inviting us into the Fright Side with those little moments and through scary godmother's earthly friend, a pre-adolescent girl named Hannah who puts in a significant appearance in this book too.
Wild About Harry, like all Thompson's work, refreshes not only for its bizarre Addams Family and/ or The Munsters type appeal but for its refreshing subtexts that communicate such uplifting ideas that: it's okay to be who you are; you'll be loved despite your differences; couples will have problems but they can be resolved by cooperative effort; it's important to enjoy your friends and to celebrate parties and holidays with them; and individual quirks deserve to be appreciated and savoured instead of hidden. This surprisingly successful blend of warmth with weird and haunted settings and a diverse array of warped denizens means anyone can enjoy reading about and identifying with someone.
In Wild About Harry, specifically, Thompson refreshingly avoids clichés when Harry pointedly does not learn his lesson. Instead, he cons his friends and lapses into his demanding old ways with his mother without a moment's regard for her feelings. Harry represents all the appetites and desires and self-indulgences we regular folks suppress to get along and to be polite yet he gets away with everything we wish we could for in his world it's okay because mother Irene, it turns out, feels fulfilled, needed and wanted by taking care of her lupine offspring and that enables her to be happy.
Wild About Harry offers so much fun with its witty, wonderful artwork, wacky story, lovably creepy characters, clever concepts and thoughtful ideas that it is no wonder so many people are wild about the Scary Godmother series in general such that it justifiably won the 2001 Eisner Award for best title for a younger audience, while Jill Thompson won 'best painter'. Yes indeed, check out the colourful cover art depicting Harry in all his gluttonous glory while his Mom and all his friends observe in astonishment. Check out this opus and be pleasantly astonished too!
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