By Christopher Borrelli
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Jill Thompson, one of the first (and few) female artists to become a brand name in the traditionally malecentric comic-book industry.
A dead bird lay on the front stoop of Jill Thompson’s home in Chicago. It wasn’t mangled or decaying or missing anything but life. It looked as if it had a heart attack in midflap, then fell. Its legs, somewhat comically, stood straight up; its claws hung open.
Thompson answered her front door and, “EE! OH!”
Her head jerked back. She took a moment to process. Then continued her day.
She would bury it in the backyard later. But the truth is, that dead bird, it kind of worked. Aesthetically, it suited the milieu. Inside her bungalow were taxidermied black birds. Skeletons, stylized, Day of the Dead-like bags of bones, occupied the mantels and bookshelves. There was a jack-o’-lantern or two. A werewolf doll, a Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was, on the porch at the feet of the dead bird, a hunched gargoyle.
The bird was fitting.
And not just because of the playfully ghoulish surroundings. There was the compelling prosaicness of the corpse itself, the way an ordinary dead bird, on a spring morning, as lilacs swayed in the breeze, as other birds chirped, could become unexpectedly touching.
It wouldn’t be out of place in a Jill Thompson comic book.
The Forest Park, Ill., native, one of the first (and few) female artists to become a brand name in the traditionally malecentric comic-book industry, has been humanizing the morbid and unusual for more than 30 years now, distinguishing herself with a style pitched somewhere between storybook and matter-of-fact, with a whiff of the elegance of midcentury commercial illustration.
While other comic artists prefer ink, she tends toward the vaporous wash of watercolors. Her characters are a gallery of freaks made relatable: Swamp Things and X-Men, Invisibles, the talking dogs of “Beasts of Burden.” Since 1997, her signature has been the “Scary Godmother” children’s books, which tell the story of a witch who is gnarled and shrouded, and the reason for her home’s Halloween trappings.