The Good Neighbors

25 11 2008


The Good Neighbors is written by Holly Black and illustrated by Ted Naifeh. Both are from the United States. Holly Black has written a number of fantasy novels for young adults including the very popular Spiderwick Chronicles – this is her first graphic novel. Ted Naifeh both writes and illustrates a number of comic series for people of varying ages but tends to focus more on works for a teen audience. (His comic Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things has also been included in this bibliography.)

The Good Neighbors is published by Scholastic Press under the Graphix imprint and is rated 14+.

Naifeh’s art of this book is an effective balance of stylization and representation. He knows when to contribute and withhold detail so the page have a complex moodiness without being too brimming with visual content. There is a great use of ink washes and textural line work that suits the narrative which also strives to balance realistic and fantastic elements. It does succeed in being a modernist invocation of Arthur Rackham’s – perhaps the unequivocal master of fairie illustration – intricate and compelling line work, and ability to synthesize the beautiful and gruesome. (Just after writing this I found an interview with Naifeh where he talks about this exact same thing – check it.)


Black conveys an interesting sense of creepy ennui and the pacing has a sporadic quality that still manages to feel engaging. If anything it feels very reminiscent of real life – if in real life the local coffee shop had both human and goblin clientele. Both the writer and artist are very comfortable with this type of material and their collaboration has the seamless, happy feeling of an auspicious creative confluence.

The urban fantasy tone of the art and the narrative take the fairie trope to a new level of maturity and complexity without losing the sense of eiriness of the genre. It’s much more reminiscent of the thematic and psychological complexity of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market then other popular fantasy for young women which makes this an exciting book for girls who have always had that feeling that they don’t quite fit in…

Black, Holly (w) and Ted Naifeh (i). The Good Neighbors Book One: Kin (2008), Graphix. ISBN-10: 0439855624

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things

25 11 2008


Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things is a comic series written and illustrated by Ted Naifeh.

The ongoing series is published by Oni Press and is rated Y: Youth (7+) Y – Youth (7+) “Bring the kids! This title is entirely appropriate for your little ones. No sex, no profanity, no disturbing themes. And while there may be action, there’s no violence. (Think ‘G’ or ‘PG’.)”

Courtney can be a bit of a caustic personality – she’s the kind of girl who keeps her composure and wit intact in the most trying circumstances. An adventure story can always benefit from a strong and charismatic personality at its center and as an iconoclast who questions authority and takes responsibility for her own actions Courtney is a role model for the skeptical and disenfranchised.

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. Considering the lack of actual detail used to draw Courtney’s face she can convey an amusing and very intelligible array of expressions.

The stories themselves balance a lot of narrative elements. Courtney’s relationships with adults are explored quite subtly and gradually over the course of the narratives – both her difficulty with her benighted parents and her growing trust and affection for her Uncle Aloysius and Calpurnia Crisp, the mentor he assigns to watch over her. Courtney’s connections with other children create much of the complexity in the stories. Her growing experience with magic may create the framework but there are always some social or emotional dynamics being negotiated.

courtnet-panelThe age rating of this title seems a bit skewed. Courtney’s adventure’s are bloodless only in terms of representation – people really do come to bad ends in this series. By volume two the moral ambivalence of both other children and adults has become an established motif. And Tommy Rawhead and Bloody Bones? That goblin isn’t just sort of scary – he’s REALLY scary. Seems better for a mid teen audience, 12+ at least.

Another good interview with Ted Naifeh…

Naifeh, Ted. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things v1(2003), Oni Press Inc. ISBN-10:1929998600