What if Scooby-Doo villains were actually scary?

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Part of the fun of the old Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! cartoons lay in those ridiculous and fun villains, even though it almost always turned out it was just some guy just trying to make a quick buck off a hasty scare (and who totally would have gotten away with it, if not for those meddling kids — and their dog).

While costumed creeps like Charlie the Robot (above), Elias Kingston and Captain Cutler’s Ghost may have been truly scary to youngsters eating cereal in their pajamas, they don’t really hold up into adulthood for chills, despite their iconic design.

American artist Nial Spencer took a crack at unlocking these sociopaths’ potential for more potency — and I think he captures the characters’ menace while, at the same time, enhancing it.

Nial Spencer's take on Scooby-Doo's Phantom Shadow
Nial Spencer’s take on Scooby-Doo’s Phantom Shadow

After I found his work on DeviantArt while going down a Reddit rabbit hole one day, I reached out to Spencer to ask him a few questions about the illustrations and to get his permission to share a few of them here. (Head here to see more of his work, including but not limited to the sinister Scooby scourges.) It turns out these pieces are part of the Utah illustrator and designer’s earlier work while he was in school and now he’s working on a virtual reality game, which is a project you can follow on Instagram and YouTube. But he was still more than willing to talk about the earlier cartoon character homages.

He said they stemmed from the “nostalgic creepiness” of that first 1969 season of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! TV show.

“As a child, I really thought that there was some creepy supernatural stuff going on but I am going to admit that as the series went on it became more about the humor and less about the eerie creepy nature of the cartoon,” Spencer said.

I asked him if he had a favorite creep.

Nial Spencer's take on Scooby-Doo's Space Kook
Nial Spencer’s take on Scooby-Doo’s Space Kook

“Dad grew up when the original series aired back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the only way that I got to enjoy them as a child was staying up a little later than I should have with my dad and watched them on Boomerang,” Spencer said. “And my dad loved the episode ‘A Night of Fright Is No Delight’ … this episode showcased the very creepy Phantom Shadow.”

But the Phantom Shadow isn’t the top terror for Spencer:

“I’d have to say that the episode that I personally was always waiting for was, ‘Spooky Space Kook.’ This one I always thought was really creepy because it combined the idea of aliens and ghosts, so an alien-ghost, which just blew my mind,” he said. “I always figured that you were either a werewolf, or a witch, or a vampire and that you couldn’t be a witch-vampire, so this concept just creeped me out even more.”

I think Spencer’s “Space Kook” was the first illustration of his that caught my eye, so I’d have to agree — this alien-ghost combo is an enduring and iconic cartoon creep, but his take on the undead astronaut is on a whole new plane of terror.

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