Naifeh, Ted

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Ted Naifeh

Born June 20, 1971 (Houston, Texas)
American author, illustrator

Ted Naifeh was barely a teenager when he began to ponder the question of fitting in. Around the same age, he discovered comic books, a medium often devoted to telling stories about society's outcasts. It was no wonder that the imaginative, artistic young man should be drawn to express himself through comic art. In the years that followed, Naifeh began to create his own graphic stories, and in those stories he continued to explore the questions of who feels a part of social groups, who feels that they do not belong, and why. In the process, he has also created several memorable and original comic heroines, powerful female protagonists who learn that expressing who they truly are is more important than fitting in.

Ted Naifeh was born in Houston, Texas, on June 20, 1971, and raised in the California town of San Mateo, in the San Francisco Bay area. His father, Sam, was a psychiatrist and his mother, Karen, was a psychologist. They worried a bit when their son did not enjoy school or seem to fit into the academic structure of classes, sports, and social groups. However, Naifeh did show an interest in art from an early age, and his parents supported his talent by arranging art lessons with a private tutor when he was six. Art continued to be an important form of expression throughout Naifeh's childhood, and as a teenager he would return to his tutor for further lessons.

"They say that every comic book artist produces at least one hundred and fifty bad pages before any good ones. I suspect I had about a thousand."

Lessons about fitting in

Naifeh attended public school in San Mateo for his elementary education and for high school. However, when he was thirteen and fourteen, he spent his junior high school years twenty miles north in San Francisco at a small private school with an enrollment of only sixty students. In this intimate setting, Naifeh felt for the first time that he was a part of the school community. This wouldn't last long, however; when high school began, Naifeh returned to public school where he once again felt like an outcast, an artistic boy who was not included or accepted into the other students' social groups. This experience did not make Naifeh bitter or angry so much as curious and confused. He knew that he was the same person he had always been, and he wondered a great deal about why he fit in so easily in one place and not the other.

Naifeh's friends at the private school had introduced him to comic books. The mid-1980s, when Naifeh was a junior high school student, marked a new age of comic book art, one that comic historian Jamie Coville calls the "Grim and Gritty Age." Comic artists began to show the human side of superheroes, creating characters who were flawed and often brooding or tortured. Teenage readers like Naifeh were drawn to the realism of these imperfect heroes who expressed an all too familiar pain at being separate from the society of "normal" people. As Naifeh became an avid reader of such comics as Matt Wagner's Mage, and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Watchmen, he also began to draw in their darkly elegant comic style.

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

(With John Arcudi) Machine (1994).

(With Serena Valentino) Gloom Cookie: Volume I (2001).

(With Dan Brereton) The Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom (2001).

(With Ron Marz) Star Wars: Zam Wesell (2002).

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (2003).

Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics (2003).

Courtney Crumrin: In the Twilight Kingdom (2004).

(With Elmer Damaso) Unearthly (2005).

(With Gary Whitta) Death, Jr (2005).

Naifeh's comic artistry was also heavily influenced by Japanese anime (animated manga). Even as a toddler, he loved to watch UltraMan, a 1960s-era Japanese live-action television program about a giant, robotic superhero. Later, he watched Starblazers, one of the first anime science fiction cartoons, which originally aired in the United States in the late 1970s. Around the age of thirteen, as more anime became available on American television, Ted Naifeh began to incorporate the graceful, expressive Japanese style into his own art.

Becomes an artist

In 1987, when he was sixteen years old, Naifeh got permission from his parents to quit high school. He had never been comfortable within the school system, and he had begun to feel that he was wasting his time there. A quick and intelligent student, he easily passed the General Educational Development (GED) test, giving him the equivalent of a high school degree. Naifeh's parents provided him with a home and meals, but did not give him money or a car. This decision provided their son with security, but also with motivation to earn money. He took a job at a comic book store and began to show his work at comic conventions, looking for work as a comic artist.

By the time Naifeh was nineteen he had begun to support himself as a comic book illustrator. He got his first job at Innovation Comics, an independent comic publisher. Innovation hired Naifeh to draw the panels for Shadow of the Torturer, a comic book adaptation of a science fiction novel by Gene Wolfe. Though Innovation had planned the adaptation to run as a six-issue comic series, it did not sell as well as hoped and was cancelled after three issues.

Over the next several years, Naifeh moved into his own apartment in San Francisco and continued to seek out comic art jobs. Some of his most notable publications were Nicki Shadow, a cyber-punk, or computer-based science fiction comic, written and self-published by Eric Burnham; The Machine, published by Dark Horse; and "The Grease Trap," a short comic story written by Joe R. Lansdale and published in several comic anthologies.

Designs video games

Though Naifeh's work was becoming better known, it was hard to survive on the income of a freelance illustrator. In addition to this, the comic industry, which had enjoyed a boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, suffered a sharp decline during the late 1990s. In 1997, as work on comic books became harder to find, Naifeh took a job at Accolade, a video game company. He started out drawing illustrations for games, and then began learning to do both two-dimensional and three-dimensional computer graphics. He would bring these computer skills back to his later work in comics.

Naifeh did the artwork for many games, including a fantasy role playing game, a motorcycle racing game, and a video game adaptation of the film Terminator. Many computer games are developed and yet never published and released, and of all the games Naifeh worked on, only one was published, Slave Zero, a futuristic science fiction game involving giant battling robots.

Though Naifeh enjoyed his work at Accolade, he missed working in comics, and, after a year at the video game company, he once again set his sights on comic book art. He began to talk with friend and comic writer Serena Valentino about creating a book together. Valentino wrote a comic story that explored the eerie fantasy world of the Goth subculture, and Naifeh drew the illustrations. Goths, who take their name from the dark and mystical eighteenth-century gothic literature style, are rebellious youth who combine a strict, traditional romanticism with a modern alienation from the mainstream of society.

Naifeh himself had a bit of the Goth fascination with the dark and mystical side of life, and his clear, expressive style was perfect for Valentino's quirky characters. The resulting comic, Gloom Cookie, first published in 1998 by Slave Labor Graphics, surprised its creators by becoming an almost instant hit, selling especially well among young Goths who were pleased to see their world both satirized and honored in comic form. Sweet, funny, and a bit scary, Gloom Cookie (Goth slang for girl) tells the adventures of Goth girl Lex and her friends and monsters.

After drawing six episodes and a collected volume of Gloom Cookie, Naifeh began to feel a strong desire to tell his own comic stories. Energized by the success of Gloom Cookie, he left the series after the first collected volume was published and devoted himself to creating his own comic series. He developed his ideas and created mini-comics to take to local comic conventions to try to find a publisher.

Writes "an EVIL children's book"

After several tries, he finally succeeded in 2002, when Oni Press agreed to publish Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, the story of an eleven-year-old social misfit who goes to live with her uncle Aloysius, a reserved old gentleman who happens to be a warlock, a type of demon. Under his stern but tender guidance, Courtney begins to learn about witchcraft, magic, and the creatures of the night.

"What you should know about Courtney Crumrin is that it's a children's book, but an EVIL children's book," Naifeh told Mia McHatton in an interview on the Sequential Tart Web site. Courtney is not a "good witch," but a hostile outcast who is filled with rage at those who exclude her. As her story progresses through the three collected volumes, Courtney's relationship with her uncle deepens and she begins to grow beyond her identity as an angry outcast to learn where and how she fits into the world.

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things was followed by Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics (2003) and Courtney Crumrin: In the Twilight Kingdom (2004), becoming more popular with each publication. Oni placed the comics in bookstores, where they were bought not only by the boys who usually buy comic books, but also by large numbers of girls, and even by teachers and parents. Girls have been drawn to Courtney because she is one of very few female comic heroes, and Naifeh chose to write about her for just that reason.

Goth: The Attitude Behind Lex and Courtney

In 1818, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was published, becoming the model for a type of literature called "gothic." Gothic novels are filled with gloom, mystery, and a romantic fascination with the supernatural.

During the 1980s, as rebellious young people tried to separate themselves from what they saw as the artificial and materialistic views of mainstream society, they began to take on the dark, brooding tone associated with nineteenth century gothic novels. Goths usually dress in black, often imitating Victorian or medieval styles. They may wear heavy eye makeup and dye their hair black in order to attain their antisocial look.

However, true Goth represents much more than a fashion to its followers. It is a subculture that values mysticism and promotes tolerance, creativity, and challenging traditional gender roles.

Many Goths place great importance on artistic expression, and that expression often reflects an interest in the mystical and supernatural. Vampire stories and fairy stories are both part of Goth culture. This attraction to magic and the dark side of life has sometimes led those outside of the Goth world to label Goths as violent, weird, and obsessive. However, most Goths value gentleness and nonviolence far more than aggression and anger.

Naifeh felt that one of the reasons that the comic industry did not grow was that most comic writers and publishers ignored their female audience. He believed that more girls would read comics if there were more interesting and realistic comic heroines. Traditionally, comics have been directed at a male audience, and the few female comic characters that were introduced were mainly drawn to emphasize their sexual nature. By making Courtney only eleven, Naifeh wished to create a strong female lead character that was not sexualized in any way. Male and female readers alike can identify with Courtney, and many have eagerly followed her adventures. In 2005, Fox 2000 bought the rights to make a film version of Courtney Crumrin.

Naifeh continues to explore innovative ideas for comic series and graphic novels, always seeking a different angle from which to explore the role of the misfit in society. A flexible and skilled artist, he has illustrated for other writers, written and illustrated his own work, and, in a Seven Seas publication titled Unearthly, he has written the story to be drawn by another artist. In an as-yet-unpublished new series, he tells the story of another girl hero, this time a well-adjusted adolescent who goes to bed in her conventional boarding school and wakes as the captain of a pirate ship. Polly and the Pirates tells of the voyages of this reluctant adventurer, who, unlike most of Naifeh's heroes, must leave her comfortable life and learn how to be an outcast.

For More Information


"Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things: Review." Publishers Weekly (October 20, 2003): p. 19.

Web Sites

Coville, Jamie. "The History of Comic Books." (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Epstein, Daniel Robert. "Illustrator/Author Ted Naifeh." Suicide Girls. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

McHatton, Mia. "Things That Go Bump in the Night: Ted Naifeh." Sequential Tart. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Ted Naifeh Comics. (accessed on May 3, 2006).


Information for this profile was also obtained through an interview with Ted Naifeh on September 30, 2005.