“When I was asked to work on Sandman, I was a fan of Sandman,” explains Thompson enthusiastically. It’s Tuesday afternoon and we’re on a connect-call between Melbourne and Chicago, where ‘#Chiberia’ and ‘#snowpocalypse’ have been trending for the past 24 hours on Twitter. “I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the books Game of Thrones, but I really know what it’s like to live beyond The Wall. When they said ‘winter is coming’, I know that it will last many years because it is actually like that [there]. Even Michigan has been freezing really far out, so [that] sometimes coyotes have been coming [down] from further North and running along the lakes and coming into the cities.”
Despite the threat of wild coyotes appearing on her doorstep in the middle of the night, Thompson has an easy-going manner that enraptures you whenever she talks. It’s something that she has translated skilfully into her writings and art, garnering attention through her Scary Godmother books and earning awards for her artistic contributions to The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (2003) and The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft (2004) anthologies. However, it hasn’t always been so easy.
Jill Thompson was born on November 20, 1966. Raised in Michigan, the Chicago-based writer and illustrator was destined to become an success within the comic book industry, not because of her affability, but because of her determination and comic book knowledge instilled through years of experience.
“I told my mom that when I grew up I was going to draw Snoopy,” relates the red-head playfully, “and my mother had to tell me: ‘Jill, the reason you get to see Snoopy is because somebody else draws him. So if you want to draw something like Snoopy, you’ll have to draw your own character.’ Then I proceeded to draw very Snoopy-like characters,” finishes Thompson with a laugh. “I moved from Snoopy to Archie comics, from Archie comics to Marvel comics like Spiderman—then it was X-Men, and then I feel in love with superheroes and X-Men. As I got older, I just kept finding different styles of comics that I like; but once I realised that I loved Archie comics, I decided that this was what I was gonna do when I grew up: I was gonna write and draw stories.”
So Thompson completed high school and then enrolled at The American Academy of Art in Chicago, graduating with a degree in 1987 that majored in Illustration and Watercolour. Not long after, the redhead was hired by DC Comics to work on Wonder Woman, one of the earliest woman artists to do so at the time; which takes us back to Thompson’s Sandman story.
“I had been working on Wonder Woman for DC Comics and then I had a change of editors. My new editor called me up to her room and one of the first things she said to me was: ‘Jill, did you know that Neil Gaiman has been calling you? Has been calling this office for the last four months? [He’s] trying to see if you’re available to work on Sandman’,” explains Thompson, detailing how she had flushed vermillion and had broken into a sweat. “I was like: ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that!’ and she [said]: ‘Your other editors kept telling [him] you were under contract and that you couldn’t work on that, and he just kept waiting and calling back for you,” akin to the way that Gaiman snagged his current wife Amanda Palmer. “’You only have a couple months left on this contract and I’m going to see if I [can] get it pushed over laterally and step[ped] into Sandman as part of this agreement, because I think that you would be much better suited to doing this from some of the things that you’ve shown me,’ and I said: ‘I would love to do that!’”
This agreement scored Thompson not only the chance to work with a writer that she adored and admired, but also an opportunity to further establish herself within the comic book sphere. “I realised that [Sandman] was something big after the second issue I had done came out,” confesses the Scary Godmother writer. “I was walking through the San Diego Comic Convention, which is now called Comic Con, and as I walked by I heard people whisper to each other: ‘That’s Jill Thompson. She draws Sandman.’ It was pretty shocking to me [and] it was pretty flattering, and I was extremely glad of it, but I didn’t realise that Sandman was such a big deal then, [and] now it’s just this gigantic thing.”
BY AVRILLE BYLOK-COLLARD