Today I want to talk about one of my favorite series…ever, be it YA or adult, graphic novel or not. It incorporates everything that makes the YA graphic novel genre amazing – good story, great art, relatable characters, and enough intrigue to keep you coming back til the end. Today we’re going to take a look at Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin series.
I checked out the first volume on a whim ages ago, then found that my library didn’t have the rest. This freakin’ book haunted me for at least a couple of years, but I’d forgotten the title. Finally, when I happened upon it again, I went online and bought the whole series. It’s the only title I’ve ever done that for after a first volume, and I was not disappointed.
The basic plot is that Courtney and her yuppie, materialistic parents move in with their Uncle Aloysius. She has trouble fitting in with the richer kids at school and is, in general, a grumpy pre-teen who’s irritated at the life change. All that changes when a goblin eats the one friend she makes while they’re cutting through the forest on their way home from school. She slowly learns that her uncle is a warlock, and begins to develop an interest in her hobbies, herself.
The first book, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, can actually function as a standalone book, so if that’s all you want to do/can find, then by all means don’t feel like you need the rest. We get to see Courtney deal with the fallout from the aforementioned goblin attack, learn that using glamour isn’t always the best way to make friends and influence people, journey to Goblin Town to save a babysitting charge, and deal with a doppleganger that feeds on her own depression.
As the series progresses we get a bigger look at the witch and warlock side of the town she’s now living in, and meet characters both in the know and out of it, plus creatures of all sorts in the Faerie realm. This series is really great at looking at prejudice and power abuse of all types, whether it’s between classes in general, kids of different social standings/abilities, humans and nonhumans, etc. I also really like that Courtney isn’t the typical nice kid that stuff happens to. She gets herself in a whole lot of trouble, but actually tries to show that she’s learned from it. That being said, a lot of unfair things happen to her that she has to struggle to deal with. There are definitely likeable and unlikeable parts to her personality and I love her so much for that.
The world-building in this is phenomenal. It really shows that you don’t need a huge, long series of giant books to do a lot. Naifeh’s art sets an appropriately moody, slightly creepy atmosphere, but isn’t so dark that it squeezes out all the empathy shown between the characters, too. You truly feel for her and the creatures she befriends. Characters like Aloysius show how fine a line it is to walk between worlds. By the end I even grew to feel empathy for some of those that we’re clearly supposed to dislike or disregard in the first volume. I felt heartsick for some of the faerie characters, and there were definite points where I teared up. He captures the melancholic beauty of a really good faerie story exceptionally well. There are a couple points where the pacing feels a little off, but I really can’t put my finger on anything specifically negative, to be honest. If anything, I think I was a little surprised in the direction it went (full warlock society hiding in plain sight) vs the first volume, but I have no real complaints since it was very deftly handled.
The Verdict on Courtney Crumrin
Naifeh is an amazing storyteller. I loved his art in Good Neighbours and other things, but he really, truly shines when he can control the story and the art. That being said, if I had money I’d definitely have him illustrate all the walls in my living space because I want to live in Goblin Town and hang out with Butterworm now.
At 8 volumes (in hardback, anyway), this is a doable first series for growing graphic novel readers. Probably best for ages 10 on up (mindful of some of the creepy elements. There are no magic happy ever afters for some characters; this is more old school fairy tale in tone), though definitely suitable for the adult who loves a good story about goblins and faerie courts and witches and warlocks in the modern world.
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