One might think the best place to find a detective would be a crime noir story, but you’d be wrong.
This week, Kaboom! debuts its next all-ages mini-series, Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson and Brianne Drouhard. When the youngest royal prince goes missing, it’s not a mysterious and brooding detective that gets the case but his older sister Maxine and her trusty jerk pony Justine!
Although Thompson is no stranger to writing comic bookss with a broad-reaching appeal for readers of all sorts - between Marvel's A-Force, IDW Publishing's Jem and The Holograms, and BOOM! Studios' Power Rangers: Pink - but Mega Princess represents what might be considered her closest entry into a truer sense of the all-ages market.
In the run up to this Wednesday’s debut, Newsarama spoke with Thompson about her work with Drouhard on this series, some of the challenges in writing for an all-ages market, and what she sees in this series that will appeal to older readers.
Newsarama: Kelly, let’s look at this book compared to the rest of your comic book work. How do you see it comparing to other titles you’ve done? Was it drastically different to write or did you find the experience to be fairly comparable?
Kelly Thompson: I’d say Jem and The Holograms and Mega Princess are comparable but sorta the inverse of one another? Like on Jem, it’s a story geared a bit older but I try to keep it accessible for younger readers (especially since we know they’re loving it!) and on Mega Princess the story is geared younger, but I try to keep it interesting for older readers with some of the humor and sassiness and in subverting some of the tropes we’re all so familiar with in media.
Nrama: Too often, we see the label “All-Ages” bandied back and forth; however, it’s typically used to refer to what traditional publishers identify as “MG” or “Middle Grade” audience (ages 8-12). Is that where you see this book landing? Are there separate guidelines for what you can and can’t do, compared to A-Force or Jem?
Thompson: Yeah, it is funny that All-Ages should mean “for everyone” but it really does seem to be a code word for Middle Grade. I guess I prefer All-Ages in the sense that I don’t want to pigeonhole books to just younger readers - especially as I’m writing in a way that I hope is accessible to a lot of readers. As I said above, I think Mega Princess does fall more in the “Middle Grade” grouping with our story and themes and our approach to the ideas and to the action. Something like Jem deals with a lot of more adult relationships for example (though in a pretty non-aggressive way that’s mostly appropriate for younger readers) and A-Force has a lot more aggressive violence whereas in Mega Princess our action is kept more cartoonish and appropriate for younger readers. At the same time, we try to be smart and engaging in a way that I hope will easily entertain older readers. I love it when media can operate on one level so that kids can fully enjoy it and also be operating on another higher level that adults can appreciate it too (The Simpsons comes to mind as a pretty famous example of doing that well, though I feel like The Simpsons has gotten more mature and more FOR older viewers as it’s aged).
Nrama: This is also your first time working with Brianne, correct? How did you two come together?
Thompson: I had Brianne on a short list of phenomenal artists that I wanted to work with and thought would be a good fit for Mega Princess, and my editor on Heart In A Box, Brendan Wright, reached out to her for me and it was obvious right away she was going to bring so much to the table. We were also very lucky to get my Jem colorist M. Victoria Robado to join us for the book.
Nrama: Can you talk about some of the creative choices you both made in terms of the art? It does seem like it carries a bit of a My Little Pony vibe to it.
Thompson: Maybe…or maybe just because it has a pony in it you’re connecting them? [Laughs] I think Brianne has a really lovely and fun style that brings a ton of energy and emotion to the table, and she’s an incredibly talented character designer – I’m sure largely thanks to all her work in animation - so I really just let her do her thing when it came to Mega Princess. We went back and forth over initial designs, but once we settled in with the style for Max and Justine, that sort of drove the design aesthetic and everything else fell into place pretty naturally and without a lot of back and forth.
There’s a great mini-story here about me learning to be more open as a writer, because as Brianne was designing a lot of the world and characters for issue #2 she came up with this character that I dubbed Tiny Sock Baby (it literally wears a baby’s discarded sock). Brianne had these funny notes for the character like “loves to scream” and I just FELL IN LOVE with the idea of this character. So I went in and did a quick re-draft of issue 2, to write him specifically into the script and give him some lines. He shows up again in issue 4…and I hope he’ll keep popping up because he’s just a great hilarious little gem of a character. I think it just goes to show how much richer the story and world-building was thanks to close creator collaboration and being open to the ideas of others. It was one of those moments that makes you very glad to have the co-creator you have and to know you picked the right partner.
Nrama: You’ve also made no bones about being someone who writes with a social conscience. In reading this comic, there are some subtle choices that appear to be made that underscore your personal interests, in particular the push back against traditional “Princess Culture,” as well as including a diverse cast of characters and relationships from the beginning.
How did you find this helped serve the overall story? Was it something you were consciously thinking about or did it just come about naturally between Brianne and yourself?
Thompson: I actually think there’s a really fine line here. I am naturally just drawn to stories with more diversity, stories about women, stories that upset the apple cart a little bit, but nobody likes to be preached to and feeling a writer’s personal soap box in a story is a huge turn off to me as a reader. So I think my stories are pretty organically about certain things and certain characters, but I never try to force that into the narrative, or onto the characters, or the reader. I’m a very non-princess-y type of woman, and I was a reasonably non-princess-y type of girl, so I tend to seek out and be interested in stories that expand the world of women beyond what we’ve typically been force-fed. There’s absolutely “activism” in that, but it’s not for activism’s sake, it’s just because it’s the kind of stuff I enjoy, and because I believe that giving people (and especially kids) a lot of variety to choose from helps them make decisions earlier and more powerfully about who they are and who they want to be.
For example: You like princesses? No big deal. You like detectives? Also no big deal. But girls aren’t often shown “Detectives” as being “for them” and I think that’s short sighted and, well…wrong. Girls should have just as many options as boys. And while we’re on the subject I’ll add that I think the way boys are shamed out of liking “girl things” is just as wrong. People, including children, should be allowed to choose what they like, and given the full range of options.
Nrama: We’re even seeing some of the standard fantasy tropes being subverted, such as the princess being the one to save the prince with Maxine; however, her mother still seems to conform to the typical conventions for a royal matriarch. Do you think there’s a space for the traditional princess and the tomboy to meet in the middle or should they?
Thompson: Yeah, I mean, part of making Max and her mother so different is just to further illustrate that there are all kinds of women in the world. Max’s way isn’t “the right way” to be and neither is her mother’s way. There’s no “right” way to be a woman…or more broadly to be a person. It’s also obviously great to give Max and her mother something to push against – a way for each of them to grow and change into more complex and well-rounded people. They both have a lot to teach one another I think.
Nrama: Speaking of conscious decisions, I couldn’t help but notice the number of geek references embedded within - or should I say, embiggening, Ms. Khan? [Laughs]
Thompson: Yeah, it’s pretty hard to let go of being a geek. [Laughs] Although I guess I think specifically of “embiggening” being a reference to the Internet in general more than Ms. Marvel, but it’s certainly taken on a wonderful new meaning thanks to the wondrousness that is Kamala Khan. I definitely wanted Mega Princess to have a modern sensibility where the world Max lives in is not limited to just “Fairy Tales” hence the presence of references to The Wizard of Oz and Agatha Christie and such. Not everyone enjoys stories that have a slightly meta edge to them, but I tend to be a fan of that kind of thing, so they sneak in.
Nrama: As I was reading this, there was a part of me that couldn’t help but recall I Hate Fairyland from Scottie Young - but, you know, appropriate for younger readers. You do seem to have a little fun poking at the fantasy genre a bit here, no?
Thompson: You know, I’ve only read the first issue of I Hate Fairyland, but visually I can totally see it, and Young is basically a comics genius, so I’ll be happy to have the comparison! But yes, I love to poke at genres and conventions and tropes. I think it’s basically impossible not use these things in fiction at this point - they’re so deeply rooted into our stories and cultures - so rather than try to avoid them, I like to embrace them and then subvert them in fun ways and make them new again. One of the fun things of Mega Princess of course is mixing the Detective Noir genre with a traditional Fantasy/Princess genre. I haven’t seen that a lot and I think it’s a really fun combination. I hope we’ll get a chance to do more stories after this first arc, at which point I’d like to push the Detective Noir stuff even more.
Nrama: Last question: For readers who aren’t parents, why is this a book they should still consider picking up? And for those who are parents, what makes Mega Princess a must-read?
Thompson: I think it will make almost any reader smile. It’s filled with hope and enthusiasm and lots of sassy jokes, without being saccharine or talking down to anyone. For parents specifically I think it’s got a lot of great messages and fun ideas to explore with very creative world building. It subverts a lot of genre ideas and I believe very strongly it’s for all kids, not just girls. I know the word princess in the title can be a stumbling block for some parents who have clear ideas of what boys should read, but Max is a detective on a great adventure that should appeal to all kids, and her dealing with the fact that she’s also a princess – when she’d rather be a detective – is pretty relatable for us all. Who among us hasn’t had to deal with being/doing something we don’t want to be/do… or people making assumptions about us?