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Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things

Just when you all thought I was getting secret kickbacks from Oni Press, along comes Courtney Crumrin. Ted Naifeh, Indie comic favorite, both wrote and penciled this book and it's a shame it's such a boring collection of stories about an unsympathetic heroine, because I've heard good things about Naifeh. I wish this hadn't been my introduction to his work.

The basic premise is that Courtney and her vacuous parents, move into the Victorian style mansion of Professor Aloysius Crumrin (call him Uncle A). He's creepy and keeps to himself. The town around them is creepy too, which Naifeh isn't exactly subtle about it in his storytelling style: the first page introduction to the tale is told by a goblin. Very suspenseful Ted; I can barely choke back the terror.

Naturally, Courtney feels out of place in her new school, which is full of the stereotypes of high school fiction: rich bullies with baseline IQs, cruel follower children, and quivering outcasts.

As Courtney tries to survive her school, she realizes the town itself is chock full of mystical creepy-crawlies when her new friend from school is eaten by one of them. Courtney doesn't really seem to care that much, but she still has the drive to make the little goblin pay for his meal ("pay for his meal" - bad pun or just bad writing? Discuss!)

She sneaks into Uncle A's secret rooms and finds out the old coot is something of a magician, though he's more likely to sacrifice a dove then have it fly out of his sleeve. She steals a book or two, does some magic, and that's pretty much the set-up from here on out.

The book is broken up into four chapters, each of which is a short story about Courtney messing with magic or getting caught up with some type of demon or another, but they all blend together after you read them because they aren't very remarkable.

Nothing about the characters is interesting. Everyone is pretty much a one-dimensional cliché of something: Courtney is the bitter sarcastic youth who is smarter than the people who bully her, her parents are pseudo socialites who think it's always about who you know and what they can do for you, and the bullies are mean, tormenting people because they can. Sigh.

This is formula-driven writing with a mystical backdrop. But the formula usually works on some level (that's why it became a formula): SOCIAL OUTCAST FINDS OUT SHE HAS A SECRET THAT SETS HER APART FROM THE HERD.

We've seen it before in comics like Zero Girl (frighteningly better than this) and we've seen it done expertly on television by Joss Whedon in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe where Naifeh fails to capture what makes these concepts work is in the characterization of the lead: Courtney is a sarcastic and unsympathetic main character. I really don't care what happens to her, or what mess she gets herself into. It's like Naifeh created all these see-through evil characters to play Courtney off of, and then forgot to make Courtney likeable.

And yes, it says something that the female lead character is her own person, and strong, and doesn't care what people think (if I ever hear the insipid phrase "Girl Power" again, I'll have a hemorrhage, so quiet down in-the-closet-Spice-Girl fans), but if she isn't in some way admirable why read the book? There's a reason My Friend Dahmer isn't a national bestseller.

The artwork is terrible. Naifeh's style is sketchy at times and he can't seem to draw the same face twice, outside of Courtney's. Facial features, head shapes, and heights change from page to page and the faces he does produce are, well, ugly.

There's also the fact that he draws Courtney so obviously different from every other character in the book, to further point out her outcast status (another checkmark in the subtlety column, Ted). It's jarring and does accomplish what he was trying to do, but could we have given her a nose? The girl looks like a pancake with blonde hair.

Supposedly, this is a "Goth" comic that appeals to fans of Gloomcookie and Jonny The Homicidal Maniac. Goth in general seems like one of the funniest teen/rebellion phases I have ever seen, so if this is the type of comic this style of dress (it's not a culture, no matter how much black velvet you buy) has created, keep it away. It's not even worth the $11.95 you'll pay for it (but still, look at the price tag; my boys at Oni are friend to the poor comic buyer).

To members of the Goth Culture: please note that we appreciate the velvet. Really. And we listen to The Cure. A lot. We've never actually met Rob Sparling; he just sends us stuff. So if you are angry at him, please don't storm the Fanboy Planet offices. He's not here. -- editor

Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things

Robert Sparling

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