Courtney Crumrin, Goth Girl
Ted Naifeh (bestselling author-artist)
Friends of Emily the Strange: meet Courtney Crumrin. Created by New York Times bestselling author and artist Ted Naifeh, the Eisner Award-nominated series follows a sassy goth outcast who stumbles unprepared into the land of Faerie. The comics have a slightly chaotic publication history, but were eventually released as beautiful full-color graphic novels. So far, a complete collection includes 8 volumes (with a 9th one slated for publication in September of this year). This series is a personal favorite, and I'm super looking forward to the new installment.
But wait, there's more! His latest graphic novel was released August 24th: Witch for Hire introduces a mystery solving teen witch named Faye Faulkner in a 'gothic whodunnit about resilience, magic, and the power of friendship.' Just in time for Halloween...
Ted was kind enough to carve some time out of his schedule for me to answer a few questions (and we spent, I kid you not, six weeks deciding what questions to ask him, so I really hope you like them).
Q and A with Ted
Q. What time of day / night is your best creative time?
Morning for writing (when my creative brain is fresh) and night for art (when there are no distractions.)
Q. Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, I always wanted to make art that told stories. Back in the 80s, I would buy these great sci-fi or fantasy illustration books, and I wanted to know who these weeping robot angels were, or what the story was behind that six legged dragon, or whatever. The image itself was never enough. And of course, much of the time, those kinds of stories were very plot or backstory driven, and never particularly powerful to me. So I started dreaming of my own.
Q. What's your ideal creative environment?
Unfortunately, the perfect environment was eight months of Pandemic, in which I knocked out my last two graphic novels. But it wasn't sustainable. Eventually, I need the world. But I do love to have a week or so to myself from time to time, to do nothing, worry about nothing, but the project in front of me.
Q. Which comes first to you: the characters or the stories?
That's a great question, and my answer is that they're the same thing.
Character isn't characterization. Courtney Crumrin isn't about her grumpiness, her sass, or even her ruthlessness. It's about her isolation, and the specific journey her isolation takes her on, which is very different from the kind of adventure a Harry Potter type character would go on. Like Harry, isolation is Courtney's starting point. But Harry and tween adventurers like him usually shed their isolation immediately, because it was just a circumstance. But for Courtney, it's the circumstance that defines her. So her various adventures aren't an escape from it, allowing her to be more like everyone else. Instead, they express the how she comes to accept and take ownership of it as something that comes with being herself. Her other character traits, the grumpiness, the refusal to filter her sass, the willingness to go hard in defense of herself and her loved ones, are all in service of that story.
So as I came up with traits for Courtney, those traits suggested stories, and as I thought of new stories, they suggested new character traits. Because the story is the character defining herself through the choices she makes in adversity.
Q. Do you do any pre-planning when you write or is it free flowing thought?
I write rambling outlines, and then try to boil them down into tight outlines. This sharpens up the story beats from rounded sets of events to hard turns. Rambling gets the brain going, but stripping away plot clutter tells me the core story, the simplest truth. That's what matters.
Q. One of the things that stands out to me personally about your work is the fact that you’re the author and the artist (most of the time), which isn’t something I see often in graphic novels (presumably because of publishing logistics?). Is that a deliberate choice that you make, to retain control of both the art and the story?
It's definitely a choice I prefer. Writing and drawing are two very different disciplines, and expertise in either takes a lifetime of focused energy. I can't really say I know anyone who's a virtuoso at both. But I find the best comic book moments are when the two disciplines combine into a seamless whole. That's my aim, not to be a great writer or a great artist, but to tell a great story in this medium. I conceive my books as visual expressions of story ideas. Each step is in service of that. Even color adds to the narrative.
This was never something I thought much about, but recently, I was reading an interview with Andrzej Sapkowski about his thoughts on the Witcher games and TV show, and he commented that he never really thought much about how it all looked, beyond a few impressions. He was more focused in the ideas. That seemed so alien to me, but it makes sense. Novels are a medium of ideas and feelings. Physical descriptions are best conveyed through impression and emotion rather than detail. But in the visual medium, images convey story by implying meaning through details. A haircut, an architectural style, a slice of pink in a gray sky, these things create impressions that the reader assembles into meaning. I like that part of storytelling just as much as plot structure or character arcs. In the end, it's all part of the same thing.
Q. When you were a baby bat, first discovering that you were going to write / do art for a living, was there anyone who particularly encouraged (or discouraged) you?
I was never going to be good at anything else. I was a daydreamer who could never focus on anything I wasn't passionate about. I'm lucky that my passion for stories and visual storytelling has never wavered, because I could never have been, say, an accountant. When I failed out of high school, my folks actually worried I was never going to leave home. I think there's a lot of moral baggage attached to the notion of doing stuff you don't want to do, which really weighs down on people like me, who struggle with what the kids are calling "executive function."
I had a great art teacher, Carol Garcia, who taught me how to relate to art, how to draw pleasure out of it while being disciplined about it. That's one thing I really liked about art school too. The good teachers understood that the point is to be happy with what you did, and enjoy doing it. The "right" way is the path to creative satisfaction.
When I was seriously dreaming of being a writer, there was one or two people who looked at me sideways, like "How could YOU be a writer? Can you even read?" There's a lot of assumption about artists who want to write, that we don't understand what makes a story work, or that we think the art is the main point. And let's be fair, plenty of artists have written comics that proved these assumptions true. When I wrote the first Courtney Crumrin, it was for Slave Labor Graphics, but they were quite skeptical about my pitch. I think they thought I was a cocky artist getting bit too big for his britches, which I absolutely was. But I also had a story worth telling, and I'm glad it found a home.
Q. One of the things we're really big on here at Sandman Books is recommended reading (helping readers select books that are just right for them, based on their own tastes and interests). Are there any books (art books, novels, comics, whatever) that you really love and would recommend? Alternatively, if you prefer to keep your own taste secret, are there any authors you'd recommend for readers who loved your books, but have already devoured them and need more to read?
I mean, there's way more going on in comics than I can keep up with, and since the Pandemic, I've fallen completely out of the loop. Last few things I had a ball with were Jeremy Whitley's work on Unstoppable Wasp, and Dan Schkade's Lavender Jack web series. I don't know if that's been collected, but if it has, I'd say it's worth picking up. My last comic artist obsession was Becky Cloonan, though I've failed to keep up with her output lately. As for novels, I'm still mourning Sir Terry Pratchett, everyone's wickedly hilarious nerd uncle, who could make history funny and fascinating, and was surprisingly thoughtful about things I never would have expected, like gender presentation.
My favorite TV show of the last several years was Russian Doll, and my favorite film of the year is (obviously) Everything Everywhere All At Once. It's surprising for an old Batman fan like me to finally get the Batman film I dreamed of from when I was a teenager, and be like, "That's nice, but Michelle Yeoh, yo!"
Q. Are you right or left handed?
Q. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Why or why not?
I defer to my girlfriend Hannah on this one, as she's an opinionated chef and a food anthropologist. She says hamburgers and hot dogs are sandwiches. They meet all the criteria. There's nothing that defines what a sandwich is which they are missing, nor is there anything unique about them that no other sandwich features. I'm sure someone might come along and claim that the hot dog refers to the wiener, with or without the bun, but I call that a bad-faith argument.
Q. Is there a question that you wish you would be asked in interviews?
I sometimes give good karaoke.
Q. Do you have any anecdotes of heartwarming or weird fan moments you'd like to share?
When Serena Valentino and I first went to Comic-Con in '98 with our little GloomCookie ashcan, we passed it around to everyone, from publishers to creators we liked. We even bumped into Crispin Glover, and gave him a copy. I later designed young Aloysius Crumrin after him. But when we got home, we had received a lovely email from Neil Gaiman about having found it in his bag of goodies on the way home, and really enjoyed it. What a gentleman.
The Night Things (2002)
"Courtney Crumrin grumbles about everything, but now she's really got something to grumble over. Having run out of credit cards, her parents are moving to the wealthy suburb of Hillsborough, to live rent-free with their creepy old uncle Aloysius. Courtney is now an outcast among her rich, snobby classmates. And if that weren't bad enough, the musty, decrepit old mansion that she now calls home is occupied by stranger creatures than just her parents or Uncle Aloysius. They crawl about the house, just out of sight. They crunch bones in the corner. They climb up on the bed and watch Courtney while she sleeps. Mom and Dad don't notice them, but Uncle Aloysius calls them the Night Things."
" Courtney Crumrin has learned a lot about magic after moving in with her great uncle Aloysius, and her education is far from over. Enter the Coven of Mystics, Hillsborough's mystical council, who ensure witches and wizards don't abuse their powers. Though sometimes things fall out of their jurisdiction... and when a night creature is blamed for crimes against the community, they'll do everything in their power to see justice done. Only one problem―the creature is innocent. But can Courtney find the real culprit before the Coven intervenes?"
"Courtney Crumrin's magical education has begun in full under the tutelage of Calpurnia Crisp. But Courtney isn't her only pupil, and she quickly realizes her classmates don't know nearly as much about the dangers of magic as she does. When they turn the youngest student into a night creature, Courtney reluctantly agrees to help—and immediately regrets it when the students storm the Twilight Kingdom with disastrous results. But Courtney's got bigger problems to deal with—a man named Templeton, who suspects Courtney's involvement in the death of a certain warlock. Can Courtney save a bunch of arrogant kids while evading the lawkeeper? Maybe if they were in the human world. But as Courtney knows, the Twilight Kingdom is as unpredictable as it is dangerous—and it can quickly turn deadly."
Monstrous Holiday (2007-2008)
"Budding witch Courtney Crumrin could use a break from Hillsborough's stifling magical society, and her uncle Aloysius has just the ticket—a relaxing trip across Europe. However, Courtney quickly learns that the forests of Romania and the streets of old Germany are teeming with magic, and she can't help wanting to learn more. Of course Uncle A tells her to mind her own business, but Courtney's never played by the rules, and neither, it seems, do the people she meets on her journey. But the most important lesson Courtney will learn is that love, trust, and loyalty are their own kind of magic—and they're more powerful than anything Courtney's seen yet."
The Witch Next Door (2012)
"Courtney Crumrin doesn't have many friends, and she prefers to keep it that way. But new girl Holly Hart is on her way to discovering the magical side of Hillsborough almost exactly like Courtney did—face-first and woefully unprepared. So Courtney takes the opportunity to show Holly the ropes—just like Uncle Aloysius did for her. But it turns out Holly doesn't want her help, because she knows the real Courtney Crumrin. The one the Night Things whisper about. The one the other kids are afraid of. Will Courtney be able to convince her that she's not the vengeful witch she appears to be? Or will Holly take matters—and magic—into her own hands?"
The Final Spell (2012)
"On the run from the Coven with her former teacher Calpurnia, Courtney Crumrin is quickly learning just how sinister the witches and warlocks of Hillsborough can be—but she never thought she’d see the day when Uncle Aloysius turned on her as well. It’s a lot harder to fight a battle when the only family you care about is against you, and Courtney’s only salvation may lie in the Twilight Kingdom—and away from the mortal world. But Aloysius won’t give up his niece so easily, even if he has to fight the night creatures to do it!"
Tales of A Warlock (2021)
"Aloysius Crumrin may be a warlock, but that doesn't mean he's sympathetic to others of his kind—especially when they step outside the bounds of Ravenna's Law and take their magic to dangerous heights. Working for lawyer and magic connoisseur Horace Crisp gives Aloysius the chance to track down these rogue witches and warlocks and strip them of their power. He just needs to keep his own magical ancestry—and powers—to himself. But he doesn't count on Alice Crisp, Horace's tenacious daughter, accompanying him on missions, or on trusting her with his secret. And he doesn't count on falling in love... which proves more dangerous than anything when Horace gets his own taste of the power magic wields."
The Crumrin Chronicles
"In this new spin-off from the New York Times bestselling Courtney Crumrin series the powerful young sorceress Courtney Crumrin has battled against all manner of evil forces, but helping her little brother Will navigate high school might be the death of her."
"To help Will Crumrin adapt to the mortal world after a hundred years in the twilight realm of faeries, sis big sister Courtney makes him a glamor charm that renders him the most popular kid in school. But he eventually finds popularity a prison, in which he's surrounded by people who neither know nor care about the real him. When football star Ross, jealous of Will's friendship with outcast Tucker, bullies her relentlessly, Will decides to turn him in, give up the false popularity of the charm. But Ross retaliates against Will, prompting Courtney to take revenge using magic. But her activity draws the attention of Emil Gorka, an ancient, powerful vampire."
"Imagine waking up one morning and realizing that fifty years have gone by and you hardly noticed, let alone aged. That’s what happens to Calpurnia Crisp, a humble schoolteacher from Hillsborough. Agent Odell of Homeland Security is convinced Calpurnia was the victim of magic, and wants her to join him in his crusade against what he sees as a conspiracy undermining the country. Odell recruits her as an undercover asset to infiltrate the world of Courtney Crumrin, the mysterious teenager who left a trail of unexplained horrors in Hillsborough, and Courtney’s younger brother Will, the strange boy who appeared out of nowhere. But as she penetrates the world of the Crumrins, Calpurnia begins to suspect the gap in her memories is due to her magic being erased. She must ultimately decide between the world of magic or helping the reactionary agent determined to eradicate it. "
As seen on