Sunday , June 16 2024

Courtney Crumrin And The Night Things

The big-eyed heroine of Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (Oni Press) looks like she wouldn’t be out of place in Edward Gorey’s fog-shrouded neighborhood. A newcomer to Hillsborough Junior High, Courtney & her worthless parents have moved in to sponge off her Uncle Aloysius, a cadaverous Victorian looking gentleman who has been subject of neighborhood gossip for decades. Uncle Al lives in a creepy old mansion where things always seem to be scampering just out of peripheral vision, while the upper crust suburb of Hillsborough also has its share of creepy denizens, most notably a rapacious goblin named Butterworm. Courtney’s self-absorbed folks (who rival Daria Morgendorffer’s in the almost-too-dense-to-breathe division) don’t notice anything untoward. But our heroine has her big black eyes open.
Reprinting the first four issues of Naifeh’s grimly charming (or is that charmingly grim?) black-and-white comic, Courtney Crumrin is a work that shows adolescence’s threshold as a world filled w./ exclusionary cliques & monsters in the woods. It’s a familiar enough children’s lit trope, but one the writer-artist presents briskly. Our sardonic heroine may share Wednesday Addams’ clothes sense, but not her flat affect. Confronted by a shape-shifting creature that’s attempted to steal her identity, Courtney proudly asserts her individuality: “I’m rude, bad-tempered and basically, I don’t like people. Maybe that makes me a jerk,” she continues – but it sure beats being a phony.
Naifeh’s art is full of thin-lined shading and detail, lots of effectively placed blacks: just right for the kiddie gothic setting that’s Hillsborough. In one episode, our heroine, babysitting for one of the neighborhood’s old money families, has to recover an infant stolen by goblins. She follows the thieves into a nearby goblin market (the Rosettis would be proud), which Naifeh renders in gleeful stone-bridge detail. I kept expecting Bowie’s Goblin King to pop up in the background.
Outside of Courtney (whose round head occasionally looks more ungainly than I suspect even the artist means it) & her uncle, Naifeh lavishes more attention on his monsters than he does his people: the rest of the human inhabitants (w./ one exception: a doomed child name Axel, who doesn’t survive the first chapter) of this privileged community come across vacuously pretty and to a certain degree indistinguishable. I know: the rich are different from you or me. In one chapter, Courtney digs into her uncle’s murky tomes and comes up w./ a glamour spell that gets everyone in town eager to be her new best friend. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be more a burden than a pleasure – considering the soulless bourgeoisie who comprise the rest of the community, you can see why.
For all its filigreed trappings, Courtney Crumrin knows about modern pre-adolescence well enough to keep grounded in good ol’ middle school insolence. At one point, Uncle Aloysius explains why he’s allowed Courtney & parents to live in his house. “I’ve drawn more than my share of attention from the general public over the years,” he states. “I invited your parents to live here to provide myself with some anonymity.” Courtney’s response: “Okay, I get it now. The last place anyone would be curious about is Casa de Dumbass.” The girl’s rude alright.
But clearly not a phony.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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