Wow Chip!!! This second draft has so much energy to it. I also like how you’ve rounded out the witch/ghost’s face - it pulls the illustration more into a commercial space, while still touching on grunge/horror. I’m really responding to your proportions with this piece- I think you’re getting some really dynamic shapes with your characters that also feel sophisticated.
The background falls to the back enough to not fight for attention, and the back and forth between the witch and the birds are perfect - I also appreciate how her hair and ghost wisps frame the most important part of the scene.
If you’re still playing with value, maybe make the ghosts hair and the Birds and the main grave stone darker - the whole image is feeling grey. But if you’ve already flushed it out, it’s a night scene(?) and I think you could get away with it.
Lastly, I didn’t really know the prompt a week ago, but I think I might have led you astray. The guys seem to be huge sticklers about following the prompt to a T when they judge. “She overheard them talking about her.”
I don’t know if this piece really tells that story anymore. But I think the story that you’re telling here is very cohesive and hilarious and well illustrated and fits in beautifully with your body of work. I feel like the birds pooping could potentially nudge you out of the running, BUT would be killer in your portfolio! So I’m curious to see what you do and to see this puppy in color!