Writer-artist Ted Naifeh is hardly a stranger to the adventures of pint-sized girl heroines, and by apperances, this coming July's Princess Ugg is no different, but that's on appearances only. Being born of a warrior's lineage, Princess Ulga, nicknamed Ugg, is quite different than anything he's done in his career and is being presented as such with some pages featuring traditional watercolor art done by Naifeh himself. Naifeh also teams up once again with colorist Warren Wucinich to digitally color the rest of the book with the watercolor scenes representing flashbacks.
While Naifeh's stories usually feature a tween hero, but Ugg is a little older-in her teens-and the story has more adult-themed elements. Newsarama recently sat down with Naifeh about his evolution as an artist and storyteller, the influences of the names and environment of these characters, and what he'd like to tackle next. He even included some exclusive art to share.
Newsarama: Ted, you've mentioned Princess Ugg in previous interviews and hinted things on your website for years now. How does it feel to finally be able to talk about it?
Ted Naifeh: Incredibly relieving. I've been wanting to get on this for ages, but I had projects like Good Neighbors to attend to. I was going to start it last year, but James Lucas Jones at Oni decided he would rather I do two back to back final volumes of Courtney, which then evolved into the ongoing we did. I don't know if you've ever worked with JLJ, but you don't say no to that guy. He's a dangerous man when roused.
So I took the time to say what I ultimately wanted to say with Courtney, and cleared my plate for Ugg. Of course now, I have a half-dozen new projects I want to get off the ground. I guess that's how it's always going to be. Whenever I'm working on something, I'm dreaming of the next thing.
Nrama: So you have Courtney Crumrin, a witch, Polly Pringle, a pirate, but Princess Ugg is more than just a "princess". Can you tell us more about her character?
Naifeh: Her name is Ülga. She's a princess, but of a remote mountain kingdom called Grimmeria, where princesses are more interested in battle-axes than tiaras. So when she comes down the mountain to the disney fairy tale kingdom of Atraesca to go to Princess Finishing School, she really, really doesn't fit in with the other girls, who're all extremely conscious of this social construct called "princess." To them, she may as well be a cave woman. Thus, the nickname Princess Ugg.
Nrama: You actually did something different here with your coloring techniques, is that right?
Naifeh: Well, I'd love to say I'm watercoloring the whole book, but it looks like I'll only be doing certain pages in watercolor. Each chapter has flashbacks to Ülga's youth, as well as her people's history, which plays a vital role, essentially painting her personal myth. I thought that hand-painted color would do wonders to capture the mythic quality of her motivating back-story.
Nrama: Courtney had Aloysius, Polly had her mentors, who is helping Ugg along her journey?
Naifeh: She has several, actually. The story begins with her mother, Queen Friðrika, teaching her the secret of facing fear. But once Ülga finds herself in the Princess Finishing School, she finds a new mentor, one who understands what it is she's looking for. But I shouldn't spoil the plot this early. I'll just say that she hasn't met any handsome princes, and she has no interest in learning how to be a "Proper Princess."
Nrama: You had Courtney Crumrin wrap up last year, so does it feel weird moving on to something new or have you been ready for a while to tell Ugg's story?
Naifeh: I thought I was ready, but it takes some time to settle into a new art style, a new set of environs, essentially becoming a new kind of artist. Us comics guys tend to get really good at the things we draw a lot. I'm good at creepy old forests, victorian houses, underground goblin cities, and beautiful but creepy fairies. But now I have to switch gears entirely, and learn fairy-tale castles, Princess fashions, ponies and all that jazz, not to mention barbarians and snowy mountaintops. It's taking more time than I thought. Some folks seem to switch gears effortlessly, but I took most of the first issue to really settle into this new approach. But I think I got a handle on it now.
Nrama: Going back to you watercoloring select pages, you have a background in painting with having done Magic The Gathering cards and other CCGs, was it difficult trying to find the right palette you wanted to show off here?
Naifeh: Not at all. Color comes very easy to me. And watercolors have a particular tendency to stay grounded, unlike digital color. I find that digital color wants to go wild, to lose control and be as bright and loud as possible. With watercolor, it's the opposite. It's harder to get bright, vivid colors when you need them. But that's okay, I prefer it that way. I think there's too much saturated color in comics, thanks to digital color techniques. If it's harder to make colors vivid, that forces me to use vivid color more sparingly.
Nrama: Now for the rest of the book, it'll be digitally colored, right?
Naifeh: Yes, with Warren Wicinich, my colorist on Courtney [ongoing and reissued trades]. He's going to be my right hand man on this book, coloring and lettering. I'm really lucky to get a colorist of his skill, who isn't afraid to use understated or monochromatic palettes. Courtney's colors couldn't have been better. Though for Ugg, he asked what kind of approach I wanted, and when I said "Sunny," he looked puzzled. Maybe he just didn't expect that answer coming from me.
Nrama: What are the other princesses like at the school? Do you take any sort of influence from Disney or such?
Naifeh: Well, in the simplest, most reductionist terms, there's an African princess, an Asian Princess, a Gothic princess, and a classic "Disney" princess. For the purposes of the story, they're just the mainstream princess community, designed to contrast Ülga. Her main antagonist is Julifer, the "Disney" princess, her roommate. if the first arc is successful, the next story will be about the Gothic princess, Desdemona, and her kingdom. I want each of the girls to get their turn as a central character in the story.
Nrama: You mentioned on your twitter that you just finished the second chapter, how long will this series go on for? Will it be released as a series of single issues or more of the OGN style?
Naifeh: Each arc will have eight chapters. I ultimately plan to do four arcs, one for each princess and no, I'll be releasing each chapter as a monthly book, at 22-24 pages per issue. The first one is out in July.
Nrama: Julifer? That's...quite a name. What were some of your influences when naming characters? Ulga's mother for example.
Naifeh: Well, Julifer is just a cross between Julie and Jennifer. I'd heard the name around before, but I can't remember where. It just seemed... right. The kind of name that makes you throw up in your mouth a little.
Friðrika is just a strong Nordic/Icelandic name. I wanted the Gimmerians to be a bit like Icelanders; half Viking, half Irish. So they have Nordic names, but Irish accents and ginger hair. I want to give this world a sense of history without going into exhaustive detail, so I used little real-world parallels like that as a sort of world-building shortcut. I can build onto the lineage of Ülga's people as it becomes necessary, and it'll have a familiar resonance. It sure beats throwing a bunch of random letters together. "Greetings, Gomac, I am Balgon, Lord of the Quagularion Empire! Praise Flort!"
Nrama: Now usually you do more of a tween age character. Is Ulga a bit older here or around the same age?
Naifeh: Courtney started around 11 and finished up around 13. Though now reviewing it, no one asks an 11 year-old to babysit a toddler, so that was a little sloppy. She's a pretty grown-up 13. Polly was supposed to be about 15, and then 16 in the second volume. Ülga is around the same age, 16. Polly seems younger because the book itself is for tweens. But she's actually older than Courtney. Princess Ugg will actually be more of a young adult book, dealing with slightly more adult themes. It's got a little body-image stuff, but only as it pertains to the princess-image issue. Ülga is, of course, a pile of muscle, leading the other girls to wonder how a girl could look like that. More teen stuff than tween stuff.
Nrama: Do you think you're doing this book in the same artistic wheelhouse style wise as your previous works or are do you feel the need to change it up a bit?
Naifeh: I want it to be a bit less cartoony, a bit more classical fantasy comics. I dug up some old John Buscema Conan comics. Can, when Alfredo Alcala was inking, that was some of the most beautiful black and white comic art ever published. The stories are good too, though early 70s comics based on Conan is a festival of sexist, racist stereotypes. Introduce a beautiful topless temple priestess in danger, see how many pages it takes for her to turn out to be a two-faced she-demon. And the black cannibals straight out of a KKK pamphlet are just delightful as well. But man, do those pages look good.
Anyway, it's nice to flex new artistic muscles once in a while. Finding a style that combines Disney fantasy with swords-and-sorcery is kind of a challenge, but a fun one. I may be veering to much into the Frazetta fantasy zone, but I'm trying to center it a little more. Anyway, I find the barbarian elements usually get the short shrift.
Nrama: So within your creator owned series, you've done horror, action adventure, and now fantasy. What's a genre you'd want to cover next?
Naifeh: Sci-fi would be nice. But I have a lot of projects in the pipeline; superheroes, giant robots, you name it. I'll have to see which one bobs to the surface.