“There’s nothing to be afraid of!” a father tells his son, a boy who’s slowly been driven mad by the notion that their toilet is haunted. “This toilet has been in our family for generations.” This blasé statement (and the following carnage) is a great example of what makes Dave Scheidt and Jess Smart Smiley’s all-ages Spooky Sleepover such a goofball delight.
The 85-page collection of scary stories was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, but nothing about the book feels like a DIY project or an experiment in self-publishing. The printing and design are wonderful: the colours pop, the pages feel great, and the Kickstarter backer extras (postcards, stickers and a button) are treasures my wife and I are already fighting over.
As with his other projects, Scheidt’s writing here is consistently great, capturing the timeless energy of “kid crews in peril” stories like The Goonies and Monster House. The three spooky tales are wrapped in a framing story that feels much more natural than the hokey campfire nonsense of Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and it’s all presented with sincerity and a sense of fairness that never becomes maudlin. The Monster Squad reboot may have died, but if it’s ever resurrected, I hope Scheidt’s in charge of the screenplay.
This was my first experience with Smiley’s art, and I was immediately hooked. His style is loose but never rushed, perfectly describing the dangers and gross-outs of Spooky Sleepover without getting too cartoony or too grim. The often complicated wordless sequences of each story were easy to follow thanks to smart composition, and Smiley’s use of limited colour palettes is inspired, particularly in the middle story, “Ghost Bike”.
And what about the werewolf story? “Dinner and a Werewolf” is the highlight of the book for me, even without my obvious bias. Smiley’s character designs and expressions shine (check out Aaron’s face when Mom orders the pizza), and Scheidt’s story gives more depth to three cartoon characters in 14 pages than I saw in 105 minutes of Big Hero Six. Oh, and yes, the werewolf is awesome (and we have the same favourite food).
If you missed the Kickstarter campaign, don’t worry: Spooky Sleepover Volume One is now available for purchase through Doctor Worm Comics. It’s a beautifully-crafted book that will entertain kids and delight adults, and it celebrates the reason I started this site in the first place: sharing spooky rad stuff with my friends.