I’m ashamed to admit that my experience with Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin begins with the ongoing series he and Oni Press launched this year. I’ve bought some of the graphic novels – and am also buying the new, color editions – but my graphic-novel reading pile is a giant mess and I’ve simply never gotten around to Courtney, regardless of how much I think I’ll enjoy her adventures. It’s easier to squeeze in a single issue here and there, so I’m all caught up on the new series and yeah … I’ve bumped the first graphic novel toward the top of its stack.
Two things initially attracted me to Courtney Crumrin: The concept of a little girl fighting supernatural creatures is right in my wheelhouse, but even more than that is Naifeh’s very clean, expressive artistic style. In Courtney Crumrin, Polly and the Pirates and the Good Neighbors series he did with Holly Black, Naifeh creates imaginative, fully formed worlds that call out for exploration. What’s wonderful is that as a storyteller chronicling adventures in these worlds, he’s fearless. He doesn’t restrain himself, afraid of revealing too much and not leaving anything for later. Instead, he dives into the deep end and shows us what’s lurking there, confident that he’ll never run out of new characters, beasts, and magic to share.
He introduces new readers to Courtney Crumrin through the eyes of Courtney’s new neighbor and schoolmate, a girl named Holly Hart. Like Courtney, Holly is a little gothy and strange, so the two become quick, if tentative friends. Courtney’s not quite ready to believe that anyone in school actually likes her – she’s far more used to being feared and shunned – while Holly struggles to ignore the warnings of the other students about how dangerous Courtney is. For those who don’t know, Courtney is a witch, and quite a smart and powerful one. Her classmates – especially the bullies among them – have reason to fear her.
Without spoiling the opening story, I’ll simply say that it tests the friendship Courtney and Holly create in the first issue and that there’s betrayal. There are also goblins, faeries, ghosts, magic potions, a tragic murderer and talking wolves. I’d be thrilled with just the monsters and magic, but Naifeh also explores relationships in an affecting way that will keep me coming back much longer than any creature-of-the-month battle would. Not just Courtney and Holly either, but also Courtney’s relationship with her powerful, but dying, uncle. And others too spoilery to reveal.
There are several characters and plots that I’m assuming have carried over from the graphic novels. Important events are referred to that haven’t taken place in the current series, creating all the more reason to go back and visit the original stories. Doing that’s not absolutely necessary though. While I’ll love reading the graphic novels to see details fleshed out about some of Courtney’s previous adventures, enough is explained in the ongoing – without long exposition – to keep new readers up to speed and the story moving. I want to read the graphic novels, but not because I’m lost and need the information. It’s just because it’s a long wait until next month and I’m impatient for more.