Browsing my local Barnes and Noble one random day this past November, I spotted a new graphic novel on the shelf that immediately caught my eye. From the simple title to the creepy art cover, I knew it was right up my alley. I got back into reading books in 2019, and only in the past year or so have become enthralled with the graphic novel medium. Man, if only these bad boys were around back in 1993 when I was 10 years old! Sure we had comic books but nothing like the high quality today’s graphic novels pack, in terms of color and page quality. But I digress. Speaking of 1993, that’s the year The Sleepover takes place, and Michael Regina was not shy about early-mid ’90s references. But unlike some other entities, he didn’t go overboard so it wasn’t super in your face, which I appreciate because some of these throwback nostalgic stories can be too much when it comes to that sort of fan service.
The story focuses on Matt Russo and his younger sister, Judy. For years their nanny, Ruby, has taken good care of them while their mom toils away at work. One day Ruby dies. The mom scrambles to find a new nanny. Miss Swan is sus to say the very least. Matt is stricken with emotional grief as he laments the loss of his nanny, whom he shared a close bond with. His friends come over for a sleepover in an effort to cheer him up and fuel his mind with horror movies and video games galore, while fueling his stomach with pizza and soda. Sounds like an epic sleepover from the ’90s eh? I know I sure had my share of those!
But of course, what good is a story if there’s no conflict? The boys’ plan to have the perfect sleepover is soon thwarted when they come face to face with a local urban legend that is beyond anything they have ever encountered before…
I really like the art. It’s clean, simple and pleasant to look at. The Sleepover opens up with Matt and his 3 friends watching The X-Files. The first episode aired on September 10, 1993, which is perfect since this story takes place in the fall of ’93. I remember reading this first page at Barnes and Noble and thinking, “Oh yeah, this is an instant buy.” Thank God for their 20% off teacher discount!
Matt and Judy’s nanny, Ruby, is introduced early on, and throughout the story we get occasional flashbacks to see through Matt’s eyes why Ruby means so much to him and his family. It’s a wild and crazy stormy night, making it perfect for a ghost story to be told…
One of Matt’s friends regales the group with a local urban legend of a horrible witch that lives in the woods nearby. Judy, being a lot younger, seeks Ruby’s reassurance. You can tell that Matt’s got the heebie-jeebies!
You keep saying that, four eyes. You keep saying that.
Every group in the ’90s had a kid like this. The one always sprouting off about ghouls and ghosts, trying to convince everyone else that something sinister is afoot…
Hell, maybe YOU were that kid. Hmm, maybe I was in mine…
I love the full page chapter breaks! There is something so simple yet alluring about a classic nice little house set clearly somewhere in the suburbs. Probably because that’s where I grew up and had all of my childhood memories. Whether it was my house or one of my friends’ giant two story homes, they were always the backdrop of a fun Saturday night staying up late watching scary movies and playing SNES games until the cows came home.
Sadly, Ruby the nanny passes away. The Russos attend her funeral, but life marches on. As soon as they get back home, the mom has to go back to work and she needs to find a new nanny pronto. No rest for the weary, eh?
The help wanted ad dubiously finds it way into the woods. No harm no foul though, right? Sure.
Ah, it plays out like a classic scene from a thriller or horror movie. The bad guy (or gal) is introduced with an ominous back of the head shot. To make matters worse, the parent has already met them and is none the wiser! Looks like the poor kids will have to fend for themselves…
Whoa, major creep vibes! Ms. Russo approved of this nutjob?! Talk about not winning the Mother of the Year award.
Cheese and rice, man. Miss Swan is so unsettling.
I love how all those parents approved of their kid to have a sleepover with a random new nanny that they haven’t met yet. But I suppose they trust Ms. Russo’s judgment. Ha! Little do they know.
Scary movies and a sleepover. As timeless a combination as any other imaginable 1-2 combo.
The ’90s stylized S in “Best Sleepover” popped me. Hard. My wife teases me that I used to write my name Steve with that S back in the ’90s. Hey, we really thought it was cool back then! Major props to Regina for that subtle nostalgic callback.
What else made for an epic sleepover back in the ’90s? Why, chugging, of course.
Ah, the prank call. When you were 10, and with your friends, these unethical acts were undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. I can still hear the stifled laughter to this day.
Whether it was Halloween, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play or even Leprechaun, horror movies were a staple of my childhood sleepovers. I like how Regina threw in Vampire Hunter D. I’ll never forget the first anime my old best friend Nelson and I ever watched: Devil Hunter. The unexpected (and excessive) nudity, to my 10 year old eyes back then, was wild.
But the definite MVP of my childhood sleepovers: video games. Just being in a room with 3 (or 10) friends all cheering and yelling, playing late into the early mornings… those were some badass times. Love the nods to Mortal Kombat here.
Last (and possibly least), the random talks we had about girls and crushes. These were always fun 10 minute breaks but I always wanted to get back to my slasher movies and 16-bit video games!
Miss Swan’s evil eyes jump off the page with a very otherworldly glow…
Have I mentioned how much I love the simple effectiveness of these full page chapter breaks?
We come to find out more about the witch’s backstory in a flashback and some exposition.
Love this scene! Plays like how it would in a horror movie. Very cinematic.
Miss Swan’s true form is creepy and demonic. She would be a badass horror movie villain.
Gotta appreciate the Super Soaker shoutout! If you grew up in the early-mid ’90s, you know all about that Super Soaker life!
MORE SHOUT OUTS
So I won’t reveal more of the story — you’ll have to read the rest to find out what happens. But I can’t resist sharing this callback. Gamers from the ’90s will know those infamous four words: “RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”
I remember seeing Altered Beast for the first time circa 1989 at my friend’s house. Tommy and Denny were those two brothers who always got the coolest and latest games first in your gaming group. I was blown away by the graphics and sound.
“POWER UP!” Two of the most iconic words in gaming history.
Michael Regina did an excellent job capturing what being a 10 year old boy in 1993 was like. Absolutely nailed it.
In a YouTube video he posted, Michael Regina shares some background info on his graphic novel, The Sleepover. It’s an interesting watch for anyone intrigued by the book.
Regina based a lot of his graphic novel off his very own childhood. They grew up with a nanny also named Ruby who took care of him growing up. Ruby was a huge part of the family.
The Sleepover is dedicated to Ruby. Pretty cool how much of his own childhood experiences were incorporated in the book.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The Sleepover has garnered some high praise, and deservedly so!
Looking for a spooky middle grade graphic novel? Look no further. The premise is simple and straight forward. A group of 10 year old boys face off with a witch demon in an American suburb. They’ll need to rely on their wits, and each other, to survive the night(mare). Michael Regina knocked it out of the park with this one! While a little basic (don’t expect any crazy twists or plot development), it’s just a fun ride from beginning to end, with some genuinely creepy moments sprinkled here and there. If The Sleepover came out when I was 10, I probably would have read it 50 times. I could easily see this being adapted into a NetFlix movie one day. It’s got that sweet early-mid ’90s vibe going for it, as well as being rather Stranger Things-esque. Hard to go wrong with this sucker. I’ll never look at a raven the same way ever again.