Shiny Shelf


Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics

By Mark Clapham on 04 October 2003

Having lain waste to prose fiction, kidlit is moving into the comics arena. Even more so than the ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘His Dark Materials’ books, ‘Courtney Crumrin’ is more likely to be read by nostalgic adults than actual kids. However, regardless of the actual age of the readership, this is a great all-ages book. Like Philip Pullman’s work (and very much unlike JK Rowling’s), ‘Crumrin’ actually has something to offer the over tens. Writer/artist Ted Naifeh has created a beguiling heroine, and put her in a world of terrors and excitements both mystical and mundane.

In Naifeh’s previous series, ‘Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things’, young Courtney and her dumb, opportunistic parents moved in with Courtney’s rich, eccentric Uncle Aloysius, ostensibly to look after him in his old age. Courtney soon discovered that her family were just there as a cover, to conceal Aloysius’ failure to age properly. A bond soon forms between the young girl and her magician uncle, and before long Courtney is doing spells and getting into scrapes with the ‘night things’, the mystical creatures that are all around, unnoticed by normal people. At the same time, Courtney has to cope with being a geeky outcast at high school, having problems with boys, bullies and the other problems of adolescence.

While ‘Night Things’ contained mostly standalone stories, ‘Coven of Mystics’ has a much clearer narrative running through it. Someone within the local Coven is conjuring up bad things, and Courtney and Aloysius try to get to the bottom of the mystery and protect an innocent subject, the silent, mysterious Skarrow. Aloysius’ old pupil, Ms Crisp, is a teacher at Courtney’s school, and begins to force Courtney to do her work the old fashioned way, rather than using magical shortcuts.

‘Coven of Mystics’ is an almost textbook example of how to do a sequel right, building on the world introduced in the first series, expanding the cast of characters and creating an ongoing storyline. The mixture of familiarity and novelty is just about right, showing no sign of burnout.

Ted Naifeh is definitely a talent to watch, and could easily match the ubiquity of Oni Press stablemate Chynna Clugston-Major. (Indeed, this second trade paperback switches to the smaller, ‘Blue Monday’ format, which is annoying for those shelving it with the previous, larger book, but makes for a nicer looking tome.) Expect him to guest-draw a Bendis book any day soon. Courtney is a delightfully distinctive character design, with no visible nose and almond shaped eyes, a balance between manga cuteness and gothic oddity, which sums up the character pretty well – Courtney is a cute and likeable lead, but she’s a spiky character, a wilful loner. The stories tread a similar path; endearing, wonderful, nasty and dangerous. Naifeh’s distinctive linework may be stark black and white, but his writing isn’t.

‘Courtney Crumrin’ rises above the post-Potter pack of all-ages fantasy titles, and a delight for anyone who likes funny, scary, imaginative fiction.

Amazon¬†will happily sell you a copy of the first volume, ‘Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things’ or ‘Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics’.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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