In this first in a series of graphic novels, young Courtney Crumin moves to the suburbs with her vapid parents to stay with their wealthy elderly uncle, Professor Aloysius Crumrin. His house is a rambling old Victorian mansion, the creepiest house in town that everyone tells all kinds of dark, speculative stories about. Her uncle is a cold, unfriendly man who makes it perfectly clear that he wishes to be left alone.
Courtney's parents are delighted, because they feel the move is a huge improvement to their social status. Courtney, on the other hand, is not at all pleased. She is an outcast at her new school, where not only is she hopeless as far as finding a group to fit in with, but she's immediately set upon by a group of bullies on her way home on the very first day - and when she runs into the woods to escape them, she finds even worse things lurking there. To top things off, she doesn't even feel safe in her new home - there are dark creatures roaming its halls at night. Her parents don't seem to notice them - but her uncle does.
Courtney "borrows" a book about magical creatures that she finds in her uncle's off-limits study, and she begins to use her new-found knowledge to her advantage - although not without risks and ill effects. She is surprised to discover an unlikely ally in her uncle, which is a lucky thing when she finds herself well in over her head. Courtney comes up against all kinds of night things (and unpleasant human day things, too), tricky faeries, obnoxious changelings, inscrutable black cats - even her own dark side. She is not a sweet, nice little girl - she is headstrong and sometimes unkind, but she does try to do the right thing (by her lights, at any rate), and in the end she is an admirable, feisty, strong and thoroughly likable young heroine. She is very much alone in many ways, but she comes to terms with that in a satisfying way that readers are sure to identify with. The excellent artwork fits the dark stories perfectly, adding touches of whimsy and humor to some of the spookier moments and lending wonderful expression to the characters' faces.
I disagree, however, with the publisher's rating of "Y" (ages 7 and up) for this series. This is a dark series, with disturbing and violent events (in the first story, one of her classmates, a fellow bully victim, is devoured by a goblin in the woods, for example), and where older readers would be more likely to see the dark humor in the stories, some younger children might find it an altogether different experience. My library shelves this in the teen section, and I agree with that decision (not that it might not be the perfect fit for some younger readers). I would recommend this for ages twelve and up.
I am looking forward to reading the further adventures of Courtney in the next volume in this engaging graphic novel series.
Books in the Courtney Crumrin series:
1. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
2. Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
3. Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom
4. Courtney Crumin's Monstrous Holiday
Courtney Crumrin Tales: Portrait of the Warlock as a Young Man
Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere
Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, Vol. 1 by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2002)
Also reviewed at:
Comics Worth Reading: "Whether getting the school bullies to leave her alone, learning the benefits of anonymity, or discovering that the neighborhood demon child is really a changeling, Courtney is a modern-day heroine, winning the day in a challenging world."
The Entropy Pump: "Her sometimes gruff behavior and the few moments of genuine emotional reaction show a kid who's coming to grips with certain facets of growing up as an outsider, but who at times also embraces who she is, warts and everything included."
Let's Fall Asleep: "Naifeh’s artwork achieves a great balance of cartoon and detail work. The settings are always carefully balanced and fully imagined (his cross-hatching technique is really solid) while the characters have very simple faces that really show Naifeh’s talent for conveying complex expression."