Exclusive: Ted Naifeh's <i>Courtney Crumrin</i> ongoing starts in April

Add another comic to the list of ongoing series starring awesome female characters. Starting in April, Oni Press will publish a full-color Courtney Crumrin monthly series by creator Ted Naifeh. The continuing adventures of Naifeh's girl monster-hunter is in addition, by the way, to next month's Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2, written by Naifeh with art by Robbi Rodriguez, so 2012 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for young heroines.

I got to talk to Naifeh a little about Courtney Crumrin and his plans for the series:

Michael May: Thanks for talking with me, Ted. Let’s start with you. What scared you as a kid?

Ted Naifeh: Just about everything. Around the time I was Courtney Crumrin’s age, I was going to summer camp, and they told us some of the lamest fireside ghost stories you could imagine. I think they deliberately stuck with silly, half-baked stories. Or maybe they were chosen because they were local. Seriously, one was a frontier nurse whose hand was crushed in a mine accident, and so they sewed on the hand of a dead miner who apparently turned out to be a mad strangler. That was about the caliber. But damn if they didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me. That nurse followed me home and kept me scared for a year. A few years later, the first half hour of the movie Basket Case freaked me out so bad I didn’t sleep all night. I never did see the rest.

Now I realize I was just a super anxious kid and the scary stories were what my anxieties found to latch onto. Growing out of that phase really felt like a triumph, like I had, in a way, traversed a monster-infested underworld and come out the other side. Years later, I found myself relating so deeply to the kid in Sixth Sense it was astonishing. Like him, I learned to make friends with the monsters.

May: Which monsters are your favorites?

Naifeh: I like certain monsters for their design, like H. R. Geiger’s extremely sensuous Alien, or Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead. But most monsters from monster movies bore me to tears. The kinds of monsters I tend to prefer are the ones that best represent the darkness of the human psyche. I don’t mean that I watch the movie and think, “This guy clearly represents such and such, so I’m sufficiently scared.” I just find that certain kinds of monster resonate with me, and when I think long enough about why, I find that it’s because they remind me of my own darkness. In a way, all monsters do this. But there are particular ones that work for me.

The Dementors in Harry Potter are possibly the most terrifying thing I can imagine. Their presence takes away all capacity for happiness. And they can suck out your soul in an act called the Dementor’s Kiss. In the books, they guard the wizard prison, which sounds like a living hell. I found myself wondering how much of my soul would be left after ten years without a single, happy thought?

I loved Hannibal Lecter, not simply because he can eat your face, but because he can dig into your mind and find your most vulnerable thoughts. The most harrowing part of that story was watching Clarice let him into her head.

I liked Chris and Jonah Nolan’s Joker for the same reason. The Joker of the comics is this hideous murdering freak lurking out there. I never found him all that original or scary. But the Joker in The Dark Knight is the hideous murdering freak lurking inside all of us. He doesn’t just perpetrate atrocity, he makes us do it for him, turns us all into monsters like himself. Inside the guy sitting next to you on the bus, or your grumpy neighbor, or the cop that pulls you over, there’s this capacity for evil. The Joker is the person we could all become if we had a bad enough day and decided to burn the world, consequences be damned. That’s a scary monster.

May: Tell me about the creation of Courtney Crumrin. Where did she come from?

Naifeh: Courtney started with something that happened to me in the middle of the night, when I woke up and there was something sitting on my bed. It skittered away, and when I’d got the light on, there was nothing in the room. It’s really unnerving when you wake up but your dreams are still hanging around.

Anyway, that moment became the first scene in Courtney, and the whole rest of the story evolved from there. In developing her character, I wanted to tell a traditional story of a miserable, neglected kid who suddenly gets a big wish fulfilled. But I wanted to explore the damage caused by neglect, which doesn’t simply go away the instant you get super-powers. I wanted a grumpy, alienated heroine that doesn’t have any friends, that has a hard time trusting anyone. There are enough plucky, cheerful adventurers in children’s books. My memories of childhood are full of sadness and anger. I wanted a character that your average isolated nerd kid could relate to; the kind of kid I was.

May: You’re known for writing stories about young, female protagonists like Courtney and Polly. And one of your recent, high-profile gigs was drawing Holly Black’s Good Neighbors trilogy, which also featured a young, female hero. What is about these characters that draws you to them?

Naifeh: There aren’t a lot of female protagonists in the comics world, at least, not a lot that are really fleshed out. There are plenty of boobs, of course. But once you filter out the characters that are basically guys with tits (Miller’s Electra comes to mind) or flawless fantasy women who bear little or no resemblance to real humans (Catwoman, I’m looking at you) there’s not a huge selection. So basically, to answer your question, it’s largely because it was unexplored territory, which made it easy for me to make a mark.

Also, having grown up a good feminist boy, it’s not always easy for me to tap into male power fantasies without feeling like a tool. I never had many positive paradigms of masculinity as a kid. In the eighties, self-worship seemed to be the highest masculine ideal. We had the likes of David Lee Roth, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Donald Trump representing various forms of male perfection. Even now, I feel like too many comics heroes are basically manifested ‘roid-rage. I have ideas for stories with male protagonists and masculine themes, but I’m still coming to terms with the dysfunction left by those specters of douchebaggery I grew up with.

May: What makes this an especially good time to launch a Courtney Crumrin ongoing?

Naifeh: It’s the tenth anniversary. That seems significant, that the books have been around for ten years and still seem to resonate. They sell steadily. I’ve done lots of work for hire, from Death Junior to Good Neighbors, but somehow I feel like Courtney and Polly have made a deeper, more lasting impression on readers. My editors at Oni felt it was time I devoted myself to the Courtney Crumrin series full time, and see what would happen if it came out on a reliable schedule. Who knows? It might build momentum and reach a much wider audience.

May: What’s the format going to be for each issue?

Naifeh: 22 pages.

May: And how much are you involved? Is anyone else helping you with either writing or art?

Naifeh: It’s the same as before. I’m writing drawing, and lettering, and Warren Wicinich is coloring. Have you seen his work yet? It’s great! [Oni helpfully provided us with the samples in this post so we could see how great. -MM]

May: Does the storyline of the ongoing continue straight out of the previous books?

Naifeh: More or less. The whole thing is one continuously unfolding story. It will start with Courtney living comfortably in Hillsborough, not looking to shake her life up too much. She has no idea that a series of hammers are going to fall.

May: Are you going to be able to do anything in the ongoing that you weren’t in the first series?

Naifeh: To some extent. I want to sink my teeth into some real continuity. On the other hand, I prefer a series to stop sometimes and let new readers climb on. I can’t even read DC or Marvel comics anymore, because it seems as though every number one issue refers extensively to something that happened in a previous series or event that I have no intention of tracking down. The first two issues of the new Courtney series will recap her story in an interesting way. Also, I want to mark places that chop off the series history, and simplify it to events in Courtney’s past that can be explained in a sentence. Of course, I don’t intend on forgetting what’s come before, and much of Courtney’s story will come back to haunt her in the coming issues, but I hope that folks will be able to jump on at issue 1, or issue 5, or whenever, and only have to pick up a few back issues to understand what’s going on and get a complete tale.

Thanks so much again to Ted for talking with me, and to Oni for the announcement and the artwork. Be sure to watch for Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2 next month and Courtney Crumrin #1 in April.

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