PRINCELESS: Indie Comic Turns Princess Stories on Their Head
PRINCELESS: A New Take on Princesses
Adrienne is a princess. Adrienne hates being a princess. Adrienne specifically hates that as a princess, she’s required to wait in a tower guarded by a dragon for a prince to rescue her. Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands. With her dragon and her considerable wits by her side, she rescues herself and sets out to turn the kingdom on its head.
That’s the premise for Princeless, an all-ages series from Action Lab Entertainment that’s been building acclaim since its debut late last year, and will feature its first collection in April. We spoke with writer Jeremy Whitley about how he created this new series, and turning the princess myth on its head.
Jeremy Whitley: I've loved comics my whole life, but I don't feel like they've done a solid and consistent job of appealing to a larger audience. When I talk to my wife's sisters, for the most part they've never picked up a comic book.
Who can blame them? As young black women there was nothing there that represented or spoke to them. I want my daughter to be able to share the love of comics I've had, and I think I'm not the only parent who feels that way.
Nrama: That is something notable in the book, though not directly commented upon, Adrienne and her family being black – fantasy is often a lily-white field of storytelling.
Whitley: Well, Adrienne has always been black from the first pages of this book I wrote. I wanted a character who represented a group of women who are very rarely represented in comics or fantasy stories.
When I saw The Princess and the Frog, it bothered me that Disney felt the need to place this story in the real world. When Thor came out, it bothered me that so many people reacted negatively to Idris Elba being Heimdall.
Why on Earth is it we feel like black people can't be part of a fantasy world? If the story takes place in a magical kingdom, black people have just as much right to be in the story as white people or Asian people or Hispanic people.
Whitley: Adrienne is based largely on one of my sisters in law. I wanted a character who was ambitious and strong-willed, and by the estimation of some of her sisters and friends a little weird.
Weird people, people who have their own ideas about how to live their lives, are always the kind I love. If I'm being honest, I think it takes a bit more credit to do that as a girl, because there are so many people who seem to have ideas about what and how you should be.
Nrama: For that matter, Sparky the dragon is one of my favorite characters in this -- how'd you conceive her?
Whitley: Sparky is one of my favorites as well. The idea behind her was that so many dragons are just conceived as mean soulless beasts. If they were put in the situation of guarding a girl in a tower, why wouldn't they eat her?
Sparky doesn't, because in her estimation she is not guarding Adrienne but protecting her. She cares so much about Adrienne that she hasn't even stopped to wonder why it's her job to fight off potential rescuers.
Nrama: Why do you feel there's such a rush in popular culture nowadays to retell/take a revisionist look at classic fairy tales?
Whitley: I think classic fairy tales largely represent a time in our history where this romantic idea of being whisked off by a prince was the best some women could hope for. Even more so, it was what their parents wanted for them.
We live in a time now where some of the strongest and most influential people in the world are women. Not only are they capable of saving themselves, but they can be the ones doing the saving.
It doesn't jive well with me to feed my daughter the princess culture when I want so much more for her. I want my daughter to have an epic life, and to know if she wants to save the world that she is just as capable as anyone else.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite fantasy stories, fairy tales or otherwise?
Whitley: Well, I've been a fan of The Lord of the Rings since I read the series in sixth grade. I guess it says something that with all the heroes in that story, Eowyn has always been my favorite.
I'd also say that Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Bill WIllingham's Fables are among my current favorites. I'm also a huge fan of Arthurian legend and Shakespeare. As many times as we go back to those wells, I think there are still huge deposits of potential for more stories there.
Nrama: Tell us about your collaborators on the book, and how your collaborative process works.
Whitley: Well, all of my collaborators have been a pleasure to work with. My creative director Dave Dwonch and my editor Shawn Gabbourin are always working on the next thing and striving to keep our book ahead of the curve. The rest of the Action Lab guys, especially ALE President Shawn Pryor have been incredibly helpful.
Of course, the best thing is working with a great artist who I can count on to find things in my script that I didn't know were there. From the first time Dave showed me (M.) Goodwin's Deviant Art site I've been in love with the style. I couldn't gush enough about Goodwin.
You will also see a bit of work in issue #1 by Jung-Ha Kim, our letterer, and D.E. Belton, the artist on our backup story. To be honest I've never met either of them, they were both Goodwin's contacts, but I could not be more pleased by the work they put in to make this book really shine.
Whitley: Brian Smith's The Intrepid EscapeGoat has been a very good time. Also, Brian Smith, Mike Raicht, and Charles Paul Wilson III's The Stuff of Legend has been a favorite of mine every time I've found it on the shelf. John Layman and Rob Guillory's Chew is brilliant, because as many comics as I've read, they always deliver something new.
Probably my two favorite mainstream books right now are Batwoman and Wonder Woman. It's great to see two strong, intelligent, and for the most part dressed superheroines who are as fully developed as characters like Batman and Superman. Not to mention,J.H. Williams III and Cliff Chiang are two of the best artists working today.
Other books I'm reading right now include: Birds of Prey, The Infinite Horizon, DMZ, Scalped, Wolverine and the X-Men, Uncanny X-Force, Atomic Robo, Morning Glories, and Fables.
Nrama: Has there been any talk of a Princeless movie or TV series at this point?
Whitley: I would love to do a TV series. I don't think I'd turn down a movie, but I'd really like the chance to have an adventure cartoon for girls. We've had a couple of people ask about rights, but nothing solid to report so far.
Nrama: Do you see yourself doing more with these characters after the miniseries ends?
Whitley: Well, this mini is just the first of several that make up the story I have set up for Adrienne, Sparky, Bedelia, and Adrienne's family. Right now we're set to fun about 24 issues broken up into these four -issue minis. That would wrap up the story as I have it written so far, but I'd be ecstatic to be able to keep telling Princeless stories for years to come.
Whitley: Currently, I have daily webcomics running at www.firetowerstudios.com with a number of local artists including: Jason Strutz, Charlie Harper, Rich Lombardi and my wife Alicia Whitley. They deal with everything from werewolves to fairies to interracial marriage.
Beyond that, Jason Strutz and I are working on putting out our sixth issue of our self published series The Order of Dagonet which follows the exploits of a group of modern-day celebrity knights as they are forced to face down an invasion from the world of Faerie.
Also, Rich and I are working on a superheroic miniseries called Skip about a new recruit superheroine who finds herself caught in a the middle of a plot to eliminate an entire league of super heroes. Charlie and I are working on sci-fi story called Illegal about the future of illegal immigration.
Also, Jason and I are currently in the middle of our run of shot comics for Durham SF magazine Bull Spec Also, I worked on Action Lab's project Globworld for the Globworld website. The first two issues are actually available free on graphicly and the third is up for 1.99. You can expect to see two more of those as well.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Jason and I also have children's book called Monsters of Rock that we are trying to get produced. It follows a group of young monsters who form a rock band in order to compete in the battle of the bands. We're not sure yet if and by who it will be picked up, but we really want it to see the light of day.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Whitley: I'd just like to encourage people who enjoy Princeless to seek out and support other independent comic books. Princeless has had to be really lucky to make it to this point, even with the great support it's had.
If people don't continue to buy it and other small press books that deliver the types of original stories and unique characters that they want to see, then we won't be able to continue making them. I'm not saying everyone has to buy my book, but they should put at least one indy book on their monthly pull list. I think you'll find if you support good books there will suddenly be more of them.
Princeless’ first collection comes out in April. The Diamond Order Code is STK461904. For more on the book, including a preview, visit www.actionlabcomics.com.