Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Ted Naifeh, and the issue is Courtney Crumrin #9, which was published by Oni and is cover dated January 2013. These scans are from Courtney Crumrin volume 6: The Final Spell, which was published in 2014. PLUS: There are some examples from Batman '66, the digital version of which was published in October 2013 and the print version of which is cover dated February 2014. Enjoy!
Courtney Crumrin is probably Naifeh's most famous creation, and over a decade or so, he told a nifty, long story about the witch-girl and her adventures in and around a weird town where her uncle lives. I didn't show the earlier stuff for a few reasons. One, I had other things to show that give a good indication of his style when he began the story, and two, I own the series in the nice hardcovers Oni put out, which were colored later by Warren Wucinich, as the early stuff was in black and white. As I've noted, I want to keep the art as close to the way it was originally presented as possible, and by the time Naifeh ended his story with a 10-issue series, it was being published in color from the beginning, so the collected edition, I assume, looks like the way it did in single issues. So there you have it!
Naifeh's style has matured well, as we can see some of the tics that we've seen for years with Naifeh but we also see some nice evolution. Aloysius's face is angular, as many of Naifeh's faces are, but the goblins are a bit rounder. However, the goblins have the Naifeh noses that we saw with Polly and the Pirates, as they're large and bulbous to a degree, but also long and hooked. Naifeh continues to do wonderful work with details and line work, as the goblins are etched and hard, while their clothes straddle a fine line between fancy and seedy. Naifeh is using spot blacks very well these days, as the shading on Aloysius's face isn't quite as stark as we've seen in other comics, but Naifeh is making it just a bit more subtle. It contrasts well with the harder blacks on the goblins, as they appear to be more sinister than Aloysius. Wucinich, we see, does a very nice job with the hazy blue contrasting with the murkier hues he uses for the rest of the page. Courtney Crumrin is often colored a bit paler than a lot of comics, but it's all part of Wucinich's plan, as the comic exists in a strange half-world that's a bit out of step with reality.
I haven't shown a lot of Naifeh's action scenes, because the art I own by him doesn't have a lot of action - it's not like he's been doing a bunch of superhero comics over the years, so his action scenes are a bit more spaced out. But when Aloysius comes to get Courtney from the fairy queen, we get a few pages of pretty good stuff, including this one with the big cats. Naifeh is able to shift from his hard, angular line to a smoother line easily, as he's become a very versatile artist, so we get silky panthers with some hard edges moving around the page like cats would. He uses the blacks and the slightly rough inking to make their fur smooth in Panel 1 but rougher in Panel 4, which is a nice trick. Naifeh is back to giving his characters four pointy fingers, as we see here. It won't be the last time we see it!
Here's another nice action scene, as Aloysius's brother is attacked by the goblins, which reverts him to his human state. Naifeh draws a majestic cat, mouth wide open and teeth bared, with blood flying from the incisors, while the army brings him down. The details on the soldiers are tremendous, as Naifeh uses bold lines to create their muscles and body hair but doesn't overdo it, while the rocky arms reaching from the floor are lined to make them craggier. When Wilberforce turns human again, Naifeh uses those jagged lines to make the fur embrace him, and again he doesn't need to use too many lines, as just the edged outline is enough. The fairy queen's face in Panel 3 is well done, as Naifeh turns it downward, marring her arch beauty with tears, but he also doesn't forget to make her teeth sharp, as she's still a bit of a predator even though at this moment she's mourning. He humanizes her a bit while still making us aware of her alienness.
Courtney's look evolved a bit over the years, but not too much. Naifeh never gave the poor girl a nose, for instance, which might be why the other kids picked on her at school. Her eyes were always quite large, in the grand tradition of Naifeh heroines for the past 15 years, but they seem less severe than Lex's from GloomCookie, for instance, which makes Courtney more of a sympathetic character. Over the years, Courtney's face rounded a bit more, and Naifeh changed her hair just a little, as she often wore it pinned back from her forehead a lot, while in later stories, she let the bangs fall a bit more, as we see here. It ages her just a little, which I have to think is deliberate. It's a nice, subtle touch by Naifeh. Once again, we see the four-fingered pointy hands. Those things look dangerous!
I wonder what the black and white Courtney Crumrin comics look like, because shading works really well in this series. As Naifeh zooms in on Courtney (with a clip back in her hair, right after I noted she's often not wearing one in the later stages of the story!), he uses grays really well to show the spell working on his heroine. The eerie green light from the staff illuminates her in Panel 3, shading part of her face and even clouding her eye. Naifeh's precise line work makes her lashes stand out as the spell begins to work, and then we get the extreme close-up on the eye, where we get more shading, which is tinged with more eerie green. This just works so well with different shades and slight hues that I wonder if the early black and white was shaded like this, as we saw yesterday that Naifeh wasn't daunted by grayscaling. The colors in this book aren't overwhelming, but they do add good nuances to the story, which is pretty keen.
Naifeh drew some of Jeff Parker's Batman '66 comics, and I wanted to show some examples because it's colored much more brightly (by Tony Aviña) and because Naifeh once again shows his versatility. I won't spend too much time with it, but come on - it's Batman fighting the Queen of Cossacks!
Yeah, I did just want to show Naifeh's sexy rendition of Barbara Gordon, but I also wanted to point out that his stereotypical style of drawing females tends to be reserved for his own creations (I'm waiting for the trade of his latest comic, Princess Ugg, but she does seem to fit that style). Barbara, for instance, is a proportionately drawn woman (as is Olga, as we'll see), and while we can tell that Naifeh brings some of his drawing style in - she and Mr. Vinton have five fingers, but they do look a bit sharper than we might expect - he's perfectly capable of drawing "regular" folk. I'm still a bit peeved that none of the librarians I knew growing up looked like that, but I guess I'll have to get over it!
You'll find many people who claim that the best current Batman comic is that torture porn that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing in the "real" DCnU. I submit to those people a question: Have Snyder and Capullo done any stories where Batman and Robin ride bears? No? CASE CLOSED, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!
Naifeh, as we can see, can do some nice action when he's called to do it. He moves us around the page well, with Olga's sword in Panel 2 leading us to Panel 3, where Robin blocks the slash with a candle holder, while Batman moves us from the right to the left in Panel 4 and the flow takes us down to the left of Panel 5, where Bats leads us back to the right. Naifeh isn't using as bold a line as we've seen him do on other projects, unless Aviña's coloring "softens" his lines a bit, but his use of blacks is still very nice, especially in Panel 4 with the smashed Cossack. His figure work is more fluid than we've seen in the past, and he puts some nice facial expressions on his characters - Olga looks a bit crazed in Panel 2, Robin is struggling to hold back the sword in Panel 3, and Batman is resolute in Panel 4. Naifeh, I imagine, is very happy doing his own thing, but there's nothing wrong with doing some work for the Big Two every once in a while, especially if he gets to draw Batman and Robin riding bears.
As I noted, I don't have Naifeh's most current work, because Princess Ugg isn't out in trade yet. But he's a very good creator, and it's nice to see him continuing to evolve as a storyteller. Go get some of his work!
For tomorrow, I have two different choices! Yes, it's exciting. I already have the next five days of an artist done, but I also just finished my top secret edition of Year of the Artist, and I'm just waiting for one thing to see if I'm going to post it tomorrow or next week. It's a mystery! Join me for the fun, and remember the open invitation to trawl through the archives!