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 Iwas 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.
There’s nothing like a good old fashioned ghost story on a cool summer night. It’s a time-honored tradition to tell spooky ghost tales by the campfire — macabre stories of things that go bump in the night. It takes us right back to our childhood. Be it Bloody Mary or vengeful spirits, a great scary story is sure to leave a mark… hopefully only figuratively and not literally…
Asked to link my ample fascination with anything supernatural, I can trace it back to one man: Uncle Jimmy. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s when he lived with us, he was full of energy and full of life. On many weekend nights we camped out in our backyard. Uncle Jimmy pulled out three lawn chairs that folded out like makeshift beds. Along with my brother Kevin, the three of us would lay back and take in the nice warm summer night air, admiring the stars blinking in the night sky. Uncle Jimmy wove grandiose tales ranging from random anecdotes, fables, and my personal fave, his infamous stories of the supernatural. No one told ghost stories quite like Uncle Jimmy. Hey we’re talking about the same guy here who introduced me to John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN when I was only six years old! For at least a solid hour, if not two, we hung onto every last word that came out of his mouth. You can never get those serene and idyllic summer nights back, no matter how much you want to…
Uncle Jimmy’s twisted ghost tales never ceased to scare the heebie jeebies out of me. Long before creepy ladies with long flowing hair became a staple in the horror movie genre, Uncle Jimmy was king of that domain. Almost all of his stories featured a creepy lady. It’s no wonder one of my recurring nightmares as a young child involved a decrepit old woman always stalking me. The scary thing — my brother had the same nightmares of the very same hag. Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat — the nightmare always ending right as the old lady had my arm in a vice-like grip. I turned on the light, only to find a mark on my arm. (Of course, I slept on my arm, but I was too young to know any better). You would think I’d tell Uncle Jimmy to stop telling us his spooky stories, but it was an addiction. Eventually, the old lady disappeared from my nightmares for good. I guess I was finally able to beat the beast. My brother and I randomly talk about the old lady in our nightmares once in a blue moon to this day. The description of her and the scenarios we found ourselves in in the nightmares always frighteningly mirrored each other. Freddy Krueger? Please. Freddy can’t hold a candle to the hag that often haunted the nightmares of my youth. Hmmm, come to think of it, she was a lot like the creepy old woman from Insidious 2. I’m getting goosebumps now, so let us move on…
Imagine my sheer joy when Are You Afraid of the Dark? debuted on Nickelodeon on a summer night of 1992. Uncle Jimmy moved out in the Spring of ’92, so I was missing my weekly supernatural supplement. This show did more than well to fill that void. In fact, and don’t tell my dear ole uncle Jimmy this, between you and me, at times it was even better. Sure, it’s fun to use your imagination to form pictures in your head as a storyteller weaves his or her tale, but you know, sometimes, you just can’t beat the effectiveness of picture and sound. Are You Afraid of the Dark? became a hit show among young viewers. It became an instant hit cult classic overnight in my small little town. Everyone was raving about it, and anyone who was anyone watched it religiously. Yes folks, before Nickelodeon became crap, it was once legendary. And shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? were among the main reasons why.
You remember the unsettling intro, don’t cha? The swish-swoosh of a single abandoned rowboat against a soft eerie glow… with that infamous theme creeping into your living room…
Oh yeah, the show spooked more than just a few kids. And that’s why we loved it so much. For a kid show, they sure could have fooled us! Many a sleepless nights came courtesy of this little gem of a show. Each week there was a new half hour spooky episode to sink your teeth into. From phantoms to Nosferatu, the show did not discriminate against any vengeful spirit of the occult family.
I’m not ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion, the show absolutely scared the crap out of me. For a kid show, some of the visuals, like that screaming girl being swallowed underneath her bed, sent unspeakable shivers down your spine and left a lasting image in your head. I still remember to this day my bro and I screaming when this floating specter appeared in the window. That night we slept in our parents’ room! No shame at all, hey, we were kids!
And the show could have just been simple ghost stories each week but no. It was more than that. It featured a cast of young teenagers (teenagers you could find on any block in America) who met up once a week in an undisclosed location deep in the woods to swap ghostly tales by the crackling of a campfire. They were called the Midnight Society, and each week a different member shared their story. Amazingly, for the little air time they received, each character managed to carve out a distinguishable personality for viewers to pick their favorites. They even had story themes that were somewhat unique to their style. There was your tall and tough guy, the geeky ring leader that was the “glue” of the group, the tomboy, the “princess” girl, and so on.
I love the way they opened up each episode, talking up their story dramatically before fading to the really good stuff. There were even subplots to the Midnight Society characters; crushes and pseudo rivalries, just like any dynamic you would find with any group of teenagers. The show made you feel like you were sitting by the campfire as well. It just had a personable touch to it that grabbed you and didn’t let go — even long after it went off the air. Tonight, I’m proud to bring you one of my favorite episodes from the Dark vault. It’s the third episode, originally aired on August 29, 1992… it’s called… The Tale of the Lonely Ghost.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“DAVID! Don’t do that!”
“Sorry, I just wanted to catch you before the meeting… to uh, UH –“
“David, how did you know my birthday’s next week? I don’t know what to say — thank you. Um, we’re late, I’ll open it after the meeting OK?”
“JERK! I could have choked!”
“Go ahead, take your best shot.”
“Come on guys, lighten up.”
“Sorry I’m late.”
“My story’s got to do with… two kids… who don’t get along, because they’re so different from each other. And a love… that is SO strong, it can survive anything… even DEATH.”
“Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story…”
It was the beginning of summer vacation, and every kid in town was psyched. Every kid, except Amanda Cameron that is.
Her mom and dad were some kind of scientists, who had to travel up north to study Inuit stone carvings. So, Amanda was shipped off to her Aunt Dottie’s place for the summer.
“We’re here, everybody out!”
“Oh shoot. Sweetie, what in the world did your mother put in here?”
“Books? Feels like you’ve got a whole set of encyclopedias!”
“Beth! Beth lovely! Your cousin Amanda is here! Could you give us a hand?”
“She must be on the phone again. We’ll just do this ourselves.”
Unfortunately for Amanda, spending a whole summer with Cousin Beth was going to be even LESS fun than staring at a bunch of old rocks with her mom and dad for two months.
“What was that?!”
“What was what?”
“That banging, coming from OVER THERE!”
“Ohhh, not that place sweetie, no one’s been in there for years. I should know, I’m the real estate agent. I can’t even get people to look at the place. I just wish it would…”
“Sometimes I think this house just doesn’t want to be SOLD! Come on, let’s get you inside and unpacked.”
“You should see what she’s wearing. My mom better not expect me to babysit that dweeb all summer.”
“She’s here, I gotta go.”
“Look who’s here, honey. Come on in Mandy.”
“You’ll be sharing Beth’s room so the two of you can stay up all night giggling and talking. This is where Nanny used to sleep when Beth was little. Well, I’ll leave you two alone to get reacquainted. Have fun!”
*Aunt Dottie leaves*
“I suppose she told you we’re going to do all sorts of fun stuff together.”
“WROOONG! If you think I’m gonna hang with you all summer, yer NUTS.”
“I don’t think she means for you to hang with JUST me; we could do stuff with your friends.”
“They can get to know me.”
“Why? It’s not like just ANYONE can hang with us. You have to prove you’re not a zeeb.”
“How does one prove that they’re not a zeeb?”
“OK look, you wanna hang with us? You gotta follow the rules.”
“OK, first off, I don’t even wanna know that you’re here. That means putting all of my animal collection back every day in the exact right places. IN FACT, I don’t feel like having my room look like a disaster all day, SO DO IT NOW. And you can’t go crying to mom or Nanny EVER, no matter what happens. Got it?”
“Fine, I’ll put every thing back in the right order every day and I won’t snitch. Easy!”
“OH YEAH. Anyone who wants to hang out with us… has to spend the night alone… in the place next door… it’sHAUNTED.”
“Dear Mom and Dad, I hope you’re having a good time. I am, too.”
“NOOOO! If you touch her contaminated wrinkly old hand I’ll never let you touch my things again!”
“Who is she?”
“My nanny, and I want her gone!”
“Because I’m TOO old for a nanny, and she’s SO weird — I hate how she’s ALWAYS watching me!”
“She’s crazy, REALLY crazy. I know for a fact there’s something funny with her and the haunted place next door. I heard my parents talking once. I think she must have been driven insane by the ghost… which reminds me, there’s a pool party at Sally’s on Saturday, I suppose you wanna come.”
“Don’t get too excited, you can’t come unless you go through the initiation.”
“The night in the haunted house?”
“Is that Beth’s laundry?”
“Oh that’s OK, it won’t take me long.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“SHE’S SO WEIRD, and I’m too old for a nanny. Why doesn’t she just leave?“
“I’m not gonna argue. I told you before. She has nowhere to go, I wish she did but she doesn’t.”
“There you are honey! Sleeping in? Now Beth, I don’t want to hear any more rudeness. See you girls later.”
*Aunt Dottie exits*
“I’m going roller skating. DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF… oh, and don’t forget… tonight’s the night.”
*fade to commercial*
Time for a quick word from our sponsors…
“They DON’T THINK it’s haunted, they KNOW it’s haunted… and this is why. A long long time ago, there was a little girl who lived there. All the kids made fun of her, because she couldn’t talk.”
“Why couldn’t she talk?”
“… I dunno. She just… couldn’t.”
“Maybe she was deaf?”
“It doesn’t matter, JUST LISTEN!”
“Anyway, one day… her mom got a letter… from her dad… who was away in the war… had gotten sick. So she sent the little girl to go stay with her grandmother while she went away to take care of him. Only the little girl didn’t make it to her grandmother’s… because on the way, some mean kids surrounded her, and teased her.”
“She ran back home to get away from them, and they followed her… followed her RIGHT into her very own home. They locked the little girl in her bedroom…”
“No one knew she was there. Her mother didn’t come back for weeks, and her grandmother didn’t even know she was coming. When they found her, she was DEAD.”
“Won’t Aunt Dottie miss them?”
“No way… no one ever calls to see the place… it’s just… TOO scary…”
“You… COULD turn chicken… if you rather spend the whole summer alone… reading.”
“No… I’m going in. I don’t believe in ghosts anyway.”
“Neither did we… until we spent the night in there…”
“What a dweeb! She really thinks we all did this!”
*The girls run off giggling*
“I know that’s just you t-trying to s-scare me…”
“Beth went to Sally’s for the whole night. Aunt Dottie was working late.”
“She should have stayed with the ghost. Now she’s alone with a LUNATIC.”
“Nanny isn’t a lunatic. Beth just told Amanda that to scare her, but you PROBABLY didn’t get that… did you?”
“Guys, come on. So what happened, Dave?”
“When Aunt Dottie came home, Amanda told her everything that happened.”
“I’m VERY disappointed in you girls. I don’t know who did the writing on the wall.”
“And I don’t want to know. You two girls are gonna go over there and scrub it off before I get back.”
“Will you come with us?”
“I will not. I have two open houses today and also a closing at six. If you two girls went over there last night then surely you can go over there now.”
“Oh PLEASE! You can do better than that. Now come on, let’s go.”
*The girls head next door*
“This is ALL YOUR FAULT. You’re such a chicken!”
“I’m not, and I don’t want to be in your lame ole group any more.”
“And you’re a snitch too. You’re a chicken AND a snitch. I COULDN’T STAND BEING YOU.”
*Amanda hesitates to go upstairs*
“Gimme a break! It’s not even dark. You CAN’Tbe scared now!”
“One thing’s for sure, I’m never inviting you to do anything with my friends ever again… HELL-LOOOO?!“
“… Wow, no wonder mom was so mad. You did this just to get me in trouble didn’t you?”
“I didn’t do it… it wasn’t like this last night…”
“Yeah right! Well if you think I’m gonna clean up the mess that YOU made…”
“Woooow, look at all the dolls and stuffed animals. What an AWESOME collection, it’s even bigger than mine…”
“Help me? Help you? I- I can help you, yes, please open the door and I can help you. I’ll get her, I will.”
*door creeps open*
“Thank you… I’ll get her.”
“NO DON’T GO AMANDA! HELP ME! I’M STUCK IN THE MIRROR! AMANDA CAN’T YOU SEE ME?!?! HOW AM I GONNA GET OUTTA HERE!?! AMANDAAAAA!”
“NANNY WAIT! Please don’t go! You have to come with me!”
“What? What are you saying?”
“Over there, come on!”
“No, I’m not going THERE, too many bad memories. You girls can go play your jokes on someone else.”
“No it’s not a joke, please!”
“No, I’m leaving. I’m not wanted here anymore.”
“YES YOU ARE!”
“My baby! My poor baby… I didn’t know you were here, all this time. Nothing bad will ever happen to you again.”
*points to mirror*
“Yes, yes! I’ll go with you!”
*Beth’s friends enter room*
“Amanda, where’s Beth? Your aunt said that you guys were both over here.”
“Are you gonna stop bossing me around?”
“Are you gonna stop bossing your friends around?”
“Well, OK, I’ll let you out.”
*opens door, Beth tumbles out*
“You know Beth, I think we’re gonna have to make some changes in this group…”
*Beth’s friends giggle*
“Amanda had a great summer. She even let Beth hang with the group.”
“Good story, Dave. I now declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Until next week, everyone.”
“Ow ow ow OW.”
“Aren’t you going to — ?”
“Oh the present! Oh I’m sorry Dave, your story was so good.”
“You like it?”
“I love it, it’s beautiful but… you shouldn’t have gotten this.”
“Perfect… I knew it would be.”
The Lonely Ghost episode epitomizes what the show was all about: spooks and thrills, yes, but also with plenty of heart. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a small but special ingredient during my childhood years. Every week I joined in at the campfire and it made me feel like Uncle Jimmy never left. The haunting images and stories from the show resonates with a part of my being. They are forever etched in my memory bank.
The old lady in my recurring nightmares as a lad actually looks a lot like Nanny does here. That whole scene gave me the chills! I remember when I first saw this episode in ’92, I thought,“It’s the old lady from my nightmares!” However, Nanny proved to be harmless… and I don’t know if that had any lingering subconscious effects on me or not, but soon thereafter I stopped having those recurring nightmares of the hag stalking me everywhere in the dream world. Then again, maybe it had to do more with the fact that Uncle Jimmy recently moved out and was no longer available to tell me ghost stories involving old, twisted, demented ladies. Nothing creeps me out quite like old ladies dressed in black with frizzy hair who meanders around in an unorthodox manner. Good work, Nanny. It was one of the best scenes from the Are You Afraid of the Dark? legacy! Well done, Sheena Larkin. I still get goosebumps whenever I think about that scene…
There are things from our childhood that we cherish and reminisce fondly upon. Sometimes, they don’t quite hold up. But Are Your Afraid of the Dark? definitely does, and I hope to one day share this classic series with my own children. I have so many fond memories of watching this show at night with my brother over 20 years ago. The show was well written and executed and still holds up to this day.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Now 37, Laura is still involved in the acting world. She is also an instructor at Biz Studio where she teaches kids and teens about TV acting. Looking good, Laura! And way to give back to the youth
Her mean cousin Beth, played by Laura Levin, is now a professor of theatre and performance arts, where she passes the joy of acting to a new generation. In 2005, Laura Levin was named one of 200 “everyday heroes” who had enriched undergraduates’ lives. The theatre professor was completing her doctoral studies at the time and had taught courses in acting and performance and directed several undergraduate student theatre productions.
“Laura Levin is really the best thing that has happened to me in my college career,” said the anonymous student who singled out Levin on the undergraduate experience survey. “As cliché as it sounds, she believes in me,” wrote Levin’s admirer. “That is honestly what every student needs. They need primarily to believe in themselves and their abilities. But, to also have someone who will fight with you just to affirm that they believe in you, can be enough to inspire a student to move forward.”
“It meant a lot to me to read this student comment,” said Levin, who received news of her citation near the end of her first teaching term. “In the midst of end-of-first-year-junior-professor-exhaustion, it’s nice to know that my teaching can make a difference.”
It’s always lovely to see people from your childhood, whether you knew them personally or not, doing well in the game of life.
As for Nanny and the Ghost, to this day still they reside happily together in the mirror.