Ted Naifeh Talks 'Good Neighbors'

Cartoonist Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin) has joined forces with prose author Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) to create a new graphic novel series that goes to familiar ground for both authors while creating something new and unique. The series is The Good Neighbors, and its about a young girl named Rue who's left reeling after her mother disappearances and her father is blamed for the disappearance – and apparent murder. If you're saying 'murder mystery' you spoke to soon, as there's more to it than that.

Rue's mother is a faerie. That means Rue is too. And her mother has been taken back to her faerie homeland, and only Rue can save her. This urban fantasy mixes fairie dust with true-life dirt to show a book about faeries can get down and dirty.

We talked with Ted Naifeh earlier this month about the forthcoming new volume of Courtney Crumrin, and now we talk about the recently released first book in the Good Neighbors trilogy, Kin.

Newsarama: It's good to talk to you, again Ted. So how would you describe the book, Ted?

Ted Naifeh: It's an Urban Fantasy book. Urban Fantasy is a subgenre pretty much designed for teenagers. It's pretty twee, but I adore it. I've been trying to come up with an Urban Fantasy comic ever since I'd read the Nancy Collins Sonja Blue series years ago. Basically, Urban Fantasy means D&D in New York. Ordinary people have no idea that they share the world with fantastic, supernatural creatures. It can't just be vampires or werewolves, it has to be a whole continuum of fantastic beings, with their own society within society. And generally, the protagonist must be forced into this world, and journey on the other side of the mirror, where ordinary folks can't go.

In The Good Neighbors, Holly uses the premise that the faerie folk are still around, and want to take the world back from mortals. It's a simple device that allows any number of supernatural creatures, from ogres to mermaids, to exist in our world, just beyond our awareness.

NRAMA: The book centers on a young girl named Rue Silver, so what's she like?

TN: She's a typical teenager. She has no idea yet who she is or where she stands in the world. She's in the process of awakening, becoming conscious to the way the world works, and where she stands in it. Essentially, she's like Hamlet, running the gamut of emotions while trying to figure out how she feels about life, death, society, rules, good and evil, etc. In the circumstances of the book, she works out that her mother, who, though beautiful, has always been a complete kook, is actually a faerie princess. Suddenly, Rue isn't who she thought she was, and she has to re-evaluate the way she sees just about everything, even the nature of right and wrong. Especially when she learns that her grandfather, the faerie king, is plotting against the human world.

NRAMA: You wouldn't think so, but this book is based on a true story. What do you know about that?

TN: That story is actually retold in the book. I don't want to give too much away about it. Holly does a lot of research into the history of faerie lore, from old Irish folk tales to early American superstitious beliefs.

NRAMA: Your drawing style here is a bit different than Courtney Crumrin – a little more mature, like How Loathsome. Can you tell us how you decided on the style to take with this book?

TN: I'm trying to capture a cross between the sketchy style of How Loathsome and the swirly, scribbly lines of Arthur Rackham. I think it works, though the print came out a bit darker than I expected. My fault, really. But I didn't think the smooth line-work of Courtney would be right. I wanted it swirly but jagged, ethereal but harsh, like the story. Also, I wanted the people to look like people, not cartoons. I think it works pretty well. The characters are a bit grotesque, especially the humans, but that's just how I draw. I like characters with character, not just pretty faces. Anyway, I think people can be both grotesque and beautiful at the same time. Look at Mick Jagger in the seventies. Look at Angelina Jolie.

NRAMA: This book features a lot of supernatural pieces, such as a faeries. How did you come about the designs for the faerie and their world?

TN: Most of them are pretty traditional, borrowing from Arthur Rackham. Some are inspired by Yoshitaka Amano, who's one of the most amazing artists of our time. My main desire was to depict faeries not as noble Lord of the Rings elves, but as wild creatures, with tufts on their ears, long sharp nails, etc. I want them to look savage, like animals that have human intelligence, and live among humans, but are not domesticated. Perhaps they randomly put together stolen clothing, accidentally creating a perfect look. I haven't had too much chance to explore this yet, but I want them to look almost like homeless harajuku kids.

NRAMA: From Mick Jagger to harajuku kids – you're pulling influence from everywhere!

This book is the first in a three-book trilogy. Have you already started on the second one?

TN: Oh, yes. The second book is going to be twice as fun as the first.

NRAMA: So how did this collaboration with Holly Black come about?

Ted Naifeh: That's a fun little story. My girlfriend, Kelly, knew Cassandra Claire from her online writing, and Cassie knew Holly. Kelly had sent some of my books to Cassie, who was already familiar with Gloomcookie, and formed an acquaintance. Then, when Cassie heard that Holly was looking for an artist, she passed on my book How Loathsome. Holly loved the style, and contacted me through the publishers. So basically, we're all interconnected through fan fic.

NRAMA: Were you familiar with Holly's books before you were approached to do the series?

TN: I'd heard of the Spiderwick Chronicles, but hadn't read it. But it was her young adult series, rather than her children's books, that I was interested in for this project. So I immediately ran out and bought a copy of Tithe and Valiant, and plowed through them in few days. It's amazing work, really capturing the teen point of view. I was sucked straight back to my own teenage years of hanging around in malls with no money, wishing and dreaming that magic was around the corner. Existential limbo is what I call it, where you're full of a hundred conflicting feelings, and you have no names for any of them. That's what Holly evokes in her stories. The protagonist learns something huge, earth-shattering, life-changing about herself, and she has absolutely no idea how to feel about it. The world is moving around her, she has to act, and she has no clue which way to go. Complete uncertainty on an epic level, that's what being a teenager is all about, at least in my experience. The only things I thought I was certain about were dead wrong. I remember dreaming of writing stories at the time to capture that feeling. Holly's work reminds me of the stories I wanted to write, but hadn't the skills to even begin.

NRAMA: This book is probably your most high-profile book to date, with the publisher and working with Holly Black. Career-wise, what are your thoughts on that?

TN: I did take that into consideration before accepting the project, but I wouldn't have taken it if I wasn't really into the story. Content-wise, it's right up my alley. I'm quite comfortable with the subject matter, but I could try new line styles that I haven't experimented with before.

I hope the book puts my name on the map in ways that Courtney Crumrin hasn't, but I also hope it attracts people to Courtney and my other books.

Twitter activity