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Interview: Ted Naifeh and the Magic of Courtney Crumrin

Written by Outhouse Staff on Wednesday, May 09 2012 and posted in Features

Ted Naifeh stops by the Outhouse to discuss his series Courtney Crumrin.

Ted Naifeh is the writer/artist of the Eisner-nominated Courtney Crumrin series, which just began a new ongoing series last month.  The Outhouse sat down with Mr. Naifeh to discuss the series and its development.

OH: Let's start at the beginning:  how did you first come up with Courtney Crumrin?  Was there a particular burst of inspiration or was it a long-gestating idea?

Ted Naifeh: Courtney was one of those ideas that just seems to pop up out of nowhere. More and more I'm realizing that, for me at least, forcing an idea into shape rarely works. It comes or it doesn't. If it does, it comes quickly and easily.

Courtney came in the middle of a sleepless night, where my mind had hours and hours to wander. It started with something that had happened to me years earlier, where I woke up one night and thought there was something sitting on my bed. It dashed away, and it wasn't till I'd turned the light on that I realized it was just a sort of leftover bit of dream state. I get that sometimes. I'm a champion sleeper.

But that moment was so unnerving that it came back to me that sleepless night, and became the inciting incident of the first Courtney story. The rest; Courtney's attitude, the Alistair Crowley-type old uncle, the faerie-infested forest, the bullying, all fell into place after that. By morning, I had the entire first issue in my head. The rest were just built upon that one. 

cc1OH: What do you think is the most appealing thing about Courtney?  Why have you kept coming back to writing her over the last decade?

TN: I can only speak for myself. To me, the best part is the wish fulfillment moments. Not just the power fantasies, where she's able to take revenge on her tormentors, and show off to her classmates, although those are shameless fun as well. But the fantasy of a little kid who feels all alone suddenly finding, bit by bit, that she's loved and understood, that's a fantasy worth coming back for.

I think most humans are emotional vampires in one way or another. We crave certain experiences, and we can never quite get enough. Whether it be the desperate desire of a narcissist to be worshiped, or just the daily need of a wife to be valued by her husband, or the little pat on the head an artist wants from his editors, I think there are few people that don't need the occasional affirmation. I suspect what stories like this do is give us the quiet joy of that affirmation, so that we don't become howling, desperate narcissists trying to fill a bottomless pit of need. 

OH: How has Courtney changed since you first started writing her?  How much has the character grown since the beginning of Courtney Crumrin and The Night Things?

TN: Well, to begin with, she was a lot more reactive, and a little less thoughtful about what she did. She tended to lash out without thinking. Lately, she's starting to move toward something vaguely resembling a moral awareness, though it's still pretty selective. The series has an overall trajectory, following Courtney's growth into self-awareness.

It's a little sad to see some of her wickeder moments recede into the past. She'll probably never send a goblin to torment a schoolyard bully again, since she's just about aware of how overkill that is. And that was part of the initial charm of the story. But the story went where it went, and who am I to question?

OH: Speaking of Night Things, I recently came across one of the original trade paperbacks of Night Things in a used bookstore.  What's it like to see the Courtney Crumrin series reprinted and colored in new editions?  

TN: I cried a little when I got my first copy. It was kind of the culmination of everything I'd ever hoped for with this book; that it be bound in a format that someone could really treasure.

It's a little harder to treasure a paperback, not if you don't want to ruin it. I have the complete collection of Miracle Man on my bookshelf, and I treasure the contents, but the books themselves are fuzzy and dog-eared, slowly becoming mulch.  But a hardcover gives the contents a richness and sense of occasion. And the gorgeous, soft colors add so much.

In the words of Chip Kidd, a handsomely designed hardcover gives the contents a certain "thingy-ness", which you can't get with a kindle. With a kindle, the contents becoming divorced from the means of conveying them. A beautiful hardcover book gives its contents a sense of occasion. It may not be the prettiest girl at the prom, but it has an amazing dress. Also, eggplant is my favorite color.

OH: Moving on to the ongoing series, what made you decide to change from the miniseries format to ongoing series?  

A couple of things. For one, retailers don't tend to buy mini-series. They buy the first issue, and then wait for the trade. But it's harder to make quality trades where you get to linger a bit on the art when you aren't going to see royalties till you're done. It's an impossible equation for everyone. But for some reason, ongoing series bypass that dynamic.

More importantly, My editors felt, and I agreed with them, it's time for me to commit to Courtney. I'd been doing it for years, and always loved it much more than anything else I do (except maybe Polly) so it was time to devote myself to it full time. The response had been great, too. When you commit to a book, so , apparently, do your readers.

cc2OH: How does your creative process for Courtney Crumrin work?  Has it changed at all now that you're doing a monthly series instead of a single story arc?

TN: I'm allowed to take as long as wont to tell story-arcs, instead of squeezing them into four issues. And I can put in more stand-alone stories. But I'd always treated Courtney to some extent, like an ongoing series, just with frequent, long hiatuses. The first volume is all stand-alone stories. The second has an arc, but the first two chapters stand alone, even while they're setting up the rest of the book. And the third has a stand-alone chapter at the beginning. I'd grown up reading Swamp-Thing and Sandman, which were both monthly books, and I always saw Courtney in the same format. 

OH: So what's the basic jist of the new ongoing series?  Are you still planning on exploring self-contained stories or will you be widening Courtney Crumrin's world?

TN: The world is going to widen out tremendously. There's going to be a big arc-plot, which I really don't want to give away. But I intend to give folks a place or two to jump on. Heck, you can jump in with issue 2 if you want.  

OH: In the first issue, you introduced Holly as a new foil for Courtney.  She seemed to pick up magic even more quickly than Courtney did and seemed to know a lot about Courtney's past with magic.  Is there more to Holly than meets the eye?

TN: Yes and no. I often enjoy the Occam's  razor method of story-telling, because it's so easy. Folks will bend over backward looking for complex answers to story mysteries when the simple answers are right in front of them. 

OH: What's the thing that's excited you the most about the new series?   

This may sound silly, but getting to design Holly was a real treat. I've been stuck drawing Courtney for ten years, and her little outfit, while fine for an 11 year old, is getting boring. It's nice to have a new character come along and introduce a little style.  

OH: Final question: if you had to convince readers to pick up Courtney Crumrin in 50 words or less, what would you tell them?

TN: Jeez, I suck at selling. And Courtney really doesn't have a simple log-line.

Okay, here goes:Courtney Crumrin moves into the creepy old house of her great uncle Aloysius, and discovers that he's a powerful warlock. But instead of being terrified, she forms an unlikely friendship and quickly learns to use magic against her snobby classmates, as well as the monsters that lurk in the neighborhood.

Courtney Crumrin #2 hits shelves today, May 9th.

Written or Contributed by: Outhouse Staff

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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