Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Courtney Crumrin Vols. 1-3 by Ted Naifeh

The Courtney Crumrin books were one of this year's serendipitous finds. I stopped by the library one day and, scanning the shelves, saw a handsome dark blue hardcover book of just the right size to slip into a bag or prop up at the table. Of course, I checked it out and found myself in the world of Courtney, a young teen forced to move from her inner city house to a grand house in a wealthy neighborhood owned by her aloof and somewhat scary Uncle Aloysius Crumrin. This uncle, it turns out, has a library full of books on magic. This comes in handy when Courtney finds that the neighborhood woods is full of goblins and is near the entrance to Goblin Town, a dangerous place for mortals.

Being independent and inquisitive, Courtney soon figures out how to use the spells, and quickly starts exploring the goblin haunted woods, eventually venturing into the Twilight Kingdom where the Faerie folk live. She also experiments a bit with using them to help out in daily life, with somewhat mixed results.

I liked Courtney precisely because she is prickly and aloof or, as she says, "I'm rude, bad-tempered, and basically, I don't like people." She is uncertain and vulnerable in both worlds, and determined to protect herself. Her parents are would-be social climbers who pay more attention to the daughter they want to have than the daughter they do, and Courtney's background makes her unable to reach out to her wealthy and snobbish classmates. She alternates between not caring and wondering what is wrong with her. She's also never quite willing to give up her independence in order to fit in, but she does, gradually begin to trust some of those around her and to gain their trust in return.

I appreciate Naifeh's portrayal of someone who is gifted at magic but also still a young teen. Courtney does some powerful magic, but she also makes some big mistakes as she's learning, and they cost. Neither the human world nor the Faerie world is particularly forgiving, though the Faerie rules are, perhaps, easier to understand in the end.

Naifeh's angular artwork is very well suited to the Fairie folk and their town. The black and white is minimalistic and understated. I admire the line work. In the hardcover versions, color has been added to add atmosphere and lighting more than for detail purposes. The effectiveness of the addition varies: On the one hand, color! On the other, I really liked the understated black and white and don't find that the color always adds as much to the new versions as it could.

By the way, anyone who pays attention to the cover colors will notice that I picked up the third book first. It read quite well as a stand-alone. I went back and read it in its proper order after getting books one and two out, but if you'd rather start later in the series--or can only start later--things should work well!

I find myself in a bit of a bind in terms of copies. I now own two of them in paperback and I like the cleanness of the black and white and the line work. I also like the size: They're small, easy to carry, and light. However, Oni is reissuing the books in hardcover, and, as I mentioned earlier, the books are beautiful with jewel-toned covers, ribbon book marks, and color. They're a nice size, too, not the huge spread of the usual hardcover graphic novel but a nice, well-balanced book that sits nicely in the hand(1). Do I go for a matched set or try for mixed? Neither bookshelf nor wallet supports multiple copies, so no answers of "both" please!

And, for your enjoyment and enlightenment: Here is a spread, both colored and uncolored. My thanks to Oni Press for the use of it!

I have not read Courtney Crumrin and the Monstrous Holiday yet, but the hardcover just came out this month.

(1) My library system is awesome; they have both versions of volumes 1-3, and I was able to compare them side by side!
(2) Many thanks to Oni for sending me good-quality versions of the same page in color and in black and white. This way, you can compare!

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