“COURTNEY CRUMRIN: THE WITCH NEXT DOOR” (Comic Review)
Despite the current success of young reader titles such as ITTY BITTY HELLBOY and KISS KIDS, it felt for a long time there were very few comics not aimed at adult audiences. Even fewer of those were horror. Fortunately, there were works such as COURTNEY CRUMRIN to help pick up the slack. Since first hitting shelves in 2002, the once “limited” series has expanded to four volumes, with a fifth collection, COURTNEY CRUMRIN: THE WITCH NEXT DOOR now hitting shelves (and a sixth on the way). Centered on a grumpy teen who finds herself imbued with magic thanks to her eccentric uncle, the series is a delightfully gothic work that dives deep into dark folklore and explores the hidden depths of the unseen world.
Volume Five immediately follows the events of Volume Four (…AND THE MONSTROUS HOLIDAY SPECIAL EDITION), so it might be in the reader’s favor to read the previous books. This particular story bounces back-and-forth between Courtney’s Uncle Aloysius’ battle with his mortality and Courtney’s blossoming friendship with her new neighbor, a young girl named Holly Hatchet. Though others attempt to warn her to stay away from “that girl,” Holly takes it in stride and she and Courtney soon become fast friends. In fact, Courtney is so excited to have a buddy, that she doesn’t think twice when she shows Holly her spell books. Unfortunately, Holly takes advantage of such and quickly finds herself deeper and deeper in the world of fairies and monsters. With only Courtney to turn to, could she possibly get out of their world alive, especially when the only person who can help you is hiding some deep secrets of her own?
COURTNEY CRUMRIN is the type of book that is truly all-ages. Unlike plenty of titles that feature children as their protagonists, this work is not limited to a younger audience, but is something that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. It has the same kind of appeal as Jeff Smith’s BONE or even ENDER’S GAME. It doesn’t limit its vocabulary or tell overly goofy jokes, but treats the reader to a well-thought out story that just happens to have a young main character (and, well, some goofy jokes). It’s thanks to this approach that the COURTNEY CRUMRIN series has managed to survive as long as it has. It retains this beautiful sense of wonder, from the dark creatures to the underground cities, while still taking itself as an all-ages, dark fantasy read seriously. It’s a fantastic start for young fans to get into comics and a great reminder for older fans about why they did.
The artist/writer behind this spooky tale of the grim and macabre is Ted Naifeh, a long time player in the underground comic scene. His earliest work, GLOOMCOOKIE, quickly established him as a purveyor of all things “doom and gloom,” easily translating it to CRUMRIN. The story flows like a fairytale, while each twist and turn beckons the reader to go further down the rabbit hole. The characters, in both design and story, are meticulously realized, each capable of existing separately yet manage to work brilliantly with each other. The art is unique to Naifeh as well, with clean angles and expressive faces having been honed from years of working outside of mainstream comics.
If you dig wayward stories of weird kids doing weird things, this is your book. It’s funny, heartfelt and full of magical, dastardly deeds that make you believe in monsters under your bed again.