Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
In the midst of a comic book world that feature the dark, grim alleys of Gotham and the ever-growing list of Hulks, Princeless is a brightly-colored and often hilarious four-issue mini that follows the adventures of Princess Adrienne and her trusty pet dragon, Sparky. And boy–do they have adventures.
Whitley (writer) and Goodwin (artist)’s Princeless offers a fresh and literally bright view of the young, female heroine of color and her struggle to create her own sense of agency in a world where princesses wait for princes to rescue them. Princeless comments on the various issues facing women in comic books today, from impractical outfits juxtaposed by slapstick humor and jokes that entertain all ages.
Princeless is a fast read, not only because of its target audience of young girls, but also because of its exciting pacing and plot. Adrienne, trapped in her own castle, breaks free and decides to rescue all her other sisters from the clutches of tower guardians. She develops her own sense of her world, through her eyes, while questioning the old traditions that play out over and over again in comic books and popular media, such as, “Why do girls have to be rescued by men?” and “Why should a woman’s armor have to show cleavage or stomach?”
Adrienne’s story is not hers alone, however. Like any hero in a story, she is joined by a large cast of family and friends, including the half-dwarf, half-human, Bedelia; her brother, Devin, who is more interested in poetry and plays than he is in swords and combat; and her trusty animal sidekick, the dragon Sparky. Whitley crafts a good story in that each of these characters struggles against the norms that are set out from them, with Adrienne’s strong personality at the forefront of the story.
Mia Goodwin’s wonderful art also enhances the story, adding layers of depth and nuance to each of the characters. There is never a repetitive or boring panel; each one pops off the page with the same vibrancy and light that the dialogue and thought-boxes offer. While the art is cartoon in nature, it highlights Adrienne’s adventure as a young girl: optimistic and bright, filled with wonderful friends and faces.
With its excellent writing and stellar art, Princeless is a must-read. It’s no surprise that Princeless is up for several comic book awards this year, including the 2012 Eisner Awards and the 2012 Glyph Comics Awards.
As a special treat, Racebending.com not only has a review of Princeless, but an interview with its writer, Jeremy Whitley, as well. He spoke to us about the many layers and depths of Princeless, offering insight into his writing style and the background behind Adrienne’s compelling story and her future in comic book stores.
(Contains some spoilers!)
RACEBENDING.COM: How did you come up with the idea of Princeless?
WHITLEY: It’s a combination of things. Probably the biggest one is that when my wife and I were talking about having kids. I had always wanted to have a daughter, and one of the things I wanted to share with my daughter was comic books, which I love. I wanted to be able to have something that I could share with her as a child that wouldn’t make me nervous about what she’d take it from and wasn’t uncomfortable showing her. Not to mention, I’m a little wary of the sorts of the things out there that are aimed at girls … the whole “princess culture.” It’s really iffy to teach girls that the people they ought to look up to ones who are helpless, hopeless, and that they wouldn’t have a chance if it weren’t for the big, strong, handsome prince that comes and rescues them at some point.
I wanted to be able to have something that I could share with her as a child that wouldn’t make me nervous about what she’d take it from and wasn’t uncomfortable showing her.
RACEBENDING.COM: Is there a real life inspiration for Adrienne?
WHITLEY: A couple, actually. Adrienne is specifically named after my sister-in-law, who is a lot like Adrienne. She has always been, particularly among her sisters, a weird kid. She likes what she likes and doesn’t really care what people think about it, which I think is an admirable quality. That’s sort of where Adrienne starts off. She’s a kid who doesn’t buy into the myth of what she’s supposed to do as a princess: waiting around to be rescued. Not to mention, she’s largely inspired as well by my wife, who, much like the first scene in Princeless, questions everything. She’s always full of questions, always want to know why things are the way they are, and isn’t satisfied by just about any answer she can get. So I wanted this character to be this girl who wants to know why things are the way they are and is unhappy with the answers and sort of decides to make her own.
RACEBENDING.COM: So are there any challenges writing Adrienne since she’s a woman of color?
WHITLEY: To some extent… It’s something I’m pretty careful with. Obviously, being a white man myself, and having a wife who is black, I recognize and see fairly often representations and interpretations of black women that are put out there. I see first-hand the damage it does and it gives me the edge of seeing the wrong way to do things. As I’m thinking about it, there are things I think about that I wouldn’t necessarily key in on as being a problem, but if I run it by by my wife Alicia, she can say, “Oh, well, that may not be the way to say it.” Like, she’s not particularly happy with the fact that in a number of reviews of Princeless, Adrienne is referred to as being “sassy.” People mean well when they write it, and I wouldn’t chastise people about it myself, but applying the word “sassy” is problematic.
RACEBENDING.COM: How did you create and conceptualize Adrienne’s armor? Did you have a strict idea of what you wanted it to look like, or did you collaborate with Mia Goodwin?
WHITLEY: I gave Mia an idea of what I was looking for like with classic pictures. One of the big things I showed her was Joan of Arc in full armor, which is always sort of shining, silvery-white. I wanted Adrienne to have real, serious business armor, like she’s actually planning to fight somebody, as opposed to say, Red Sonja. I wanted something that was going to look good and dynamic on the page. I didn’t want people to look at her and go, “Oh, that’s a girl in armor,” so I wanted to keep that ambiguity with the armor, but still give her cool, dynamic armor. Mia drew four or five sketches, and I was like, “This one is good, and I like the set-up on this one… I don’t like the grooves on this one…” So eventually she ended up coming up with and I think it’s a great design.
RACEBENDING.COM: What was the inspiration for Bedelia, since she is mixed race?
WHITLEY: In the beginning, I had very slowly written her in as the blacksmith’s daughter. She half-dwarf, and that was all there was… She’s sort of goofy and eccentric. I found that I use a little bit of some of my other in-laws. My wife’s dad is remarried to a white woman—so all her younger siblings on that side are mixed race. I take a little bit of them from the times I’ve talked to them and got to know them better with issues they have. It’s also just trying to make Bedelia an honest a character as possibly as I can.
RACEBENDING.COM: What was it like working with the racial differences between Adrienne and Bedelia?
WHITLEY: Well, I guess it’s a strange thing because in the world I’ve sort of written it, Bedelia—to the eye, the white character—is sort of the minority in the character because she’s half-dwarf. Dwarfs are not particularly looked upon well, generally in fantasy and especially in Princeless. Her father is a bit gruff and she is a bit isolated… They both share this sense of isolation—Adrienne in being a princess, and Bedelia in being sort of the opposite of that, because she’s a daughter of a smith, generally poor, and doesn’t particularly have a lot of friends.
I guess in a sense, it’s turned on its head because it’s not normally the dynamic you would expect between a Black character and a White character in a Disney story. I feel like it’s important in this fantasy setting to have that skin color be something that’s present, but for me to separate myself from history and American history in particular… It shouldn’t have a bearing on the fantasy setting. So I wanted there to be touchstones, but I have had to remind people a couple of times, but Adrienne’s not actually African-American. She is Black, but she doesn’t have that history in this world.
RACEBENDING.COM: What about the inspiration for Devin as a character? He’s different too, since he subverts the trope of being the typical male heir of the throne.
WHITLEY: Adrienne is Devin’s twin sister, and I wanted them to have sort of a different but still a sibling dynamic. Adrienne is sort of the “go-getter,” and Devin is more artistically inclined. He’s used to being less of what his dad expects from him. Adrienne is sort of the same in that she’s the opposite of what her dad wants from her. It’s nice to have a character who is what he is. He likes what he likes, and he really does want to live up with his dad’s expectations, but it’s not “him.” When he’s not in direct contact with his dad, he tends to go for what he likes, and it’s a shame, but he feels kind of bad about that some time.
I feel like, having been a guy who grew up in the South, there are a lot of parents—dads in particular—who are football dads or baseball dads who expect certain things from their boys, and they don’t necessarily get that. I’ve always been a big fan of dads who show up at plays and dances and rehearsals for their son, who like things that they don’t necessarily understand, but they understand that their sons like it. Devin is not in that situation.
RACEBENDING.COM: How did you go about making Princeless accessible not only for kids and adults?
WHITLEY: My theory on that has been to—and this has been my theory a lot over time—is not to talk down to kids. Don’t assume that kids won’t get something and they won’t understand it. Obviously there are some jokes that are going to go over kids’ heads in this book. But having been a kid who was a big fan of Disney movies in the late ’90′s, you had Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, which all had lots of strong vocabulary in them. But you didn’t have to worry about kids not understanding what they’re saying.
I think kids have a BS detector to some extent that they know when you’re treating them badly and they also can understand things that are controversial. Like, for us, the issue with women’s armor… I think kids can actually see that and say, “Well, a bikini doesn’t make sense to fight in, that won’t work very well.” Whereas I know comic book fans that will defend it to their death.
Like, for us, the issue with women’s armor… I think kids can actually see that and say, “Well, a bikini doesn’t make sense to fight in, that won’t work very well.”
So just generally not talking down to kids and aiming for that common ground. I think a lot of it is having an idea and knowing your characters pretty well, and putting them out there… I think the parents pick up on a lot of higher things—the armor stuff, the inside joke about pop culture and comic books and stuff, whereas it’s really enjoyable having a story with a character that they like and who they relate to who kicks butt. That was my aim was to have a character who was a good character and a kick-butt character.
RACEBENDING.COM: How have the scenes where you pick fun at the armor been received by younger readers?
WHITLEY: They seem to have been pretty warmly-received. That particular issue I hear a lot more about from parents or older readers—people who are around my age, or a little bit older, or a little bit younger–who generally see that first and foremost. A lot of the girls I talk to are a bit secondhand about it and have been much more excited about just there being a princess with a sword. They like the idea that of a Princeless being an adventure comic about and for girls rather than being a “girls comics,” which are often old romance comics, or have something to do with fashion for some reason…
They like the idea that of a Princeless being an adventure comic about and for girls rather than being a “girls comics,” which are often old romance comics, or have something to do with fashion for some reason…
RACEBENDING.COM: There will be more issues after #4, right? You left us off on quite a cliffhanger.
WHITLEY: Yes. Number four is just the first mini-series. From this point on, it’s going to go four issue mini-series out from here. Hopefully, the second one will start sometime later this year. We may put out some short stories in between there… Basically, we’re going to be doing more four-issue mini-series. Each one will work around one of the princesses, since Adrienne is setting off to save her sisters. So each series is going to go round rescuing one of the other sisters, each of which will present unique challenges because—to no surprise—Adrienne’s sisters don’t always have the same ideas about being rescued and being free as she does. There will definitely more Princeless, more Adrienne… Bedelia is in it for the long haul as well, and Devin will take much more of a secondary hero kind of role. He’s going to have some of his own story lines, some of his own things going on. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
The next mini is completely written and been edited—possibly too many times at this point. My wife and I have been going through it again, cleaning up the dialogue and getting everything ready to go to the artist. Everything is set on that one, and I’m most of the way through the next mini after that. The plan is with this first story is to at least go to twenty-four, twenty-five issues, and then that will hopefully wrap up the story here. From there, I’m definitely open to doing more stuff if there’s more people reading at that point still, I’d be glad to be keep writing it. I really love the characters and I really love writing it. It’s been my baby for a while now.
RACEBENDING.COM: How can readers ensure that their local comic book stores will have Princeless on the shelves?
WHITLEY: The direct market is a little strange, just because things are solicited two months before they come out. The local comic book shops know to order Spider-Man, they know to order X-Men, but they don’t know what to do with indie comics. They don’t know who’s going to show up and who’s going to buy it. I recognize that they all for the most part are in a rough financial strain, so the biggest thing you can do to encourage them to buy it is to let them know you want it and you’ll show up for it, especially since the first trade of Princeless, containing the first four issues, is out at the end of this month.
RACEBENDING.COM: Can you tell us a little bit about the Princeless trade, and a bit more about your other work?
WHITLEY: A couple things we’re plugging right now is the trade for Princeless is not only going to have the first four issues, but it will also have a crossover with Image comics,Skullkickers. Skullkickers is another good—but not necessarily all-ages—but fun fantasy comic which I’ve really enjoyed. It will also be in the upcoming individual issues forSkullkickers. A lot of my stuff, if you want more, is on the Firetower Studios website, where you can find out about some of the upcoming stuff we’ve got going this summer as well as where we’re going to be doing conventions and things like. We also have daily webcomics, everything from I do from a comic I do with my friend called Werewolf D.A., which is about a werewolf who’s a D.A. Or a D.A. Who’s a werewolf, whatever area that you put that in, to a journal comic with my wife called, Hot Interracial Marriage, which is about a variety of things, from our marriage, to our baby, to day-to-day stuff about us.
RACEBENDING.COM: In waiting for future issues of Princeless, do you have any recommendations that can help fill the void of not having Adrienne?
WHITLEY: I have been working on trying to find new recommendations. I really like a couple of things coming out of Th3rd World Studios. They do The Stuff of Legend and a new series called The Intrepid Escapegoat, both of which are all ages stories and fun and strange and enjoyable. Stuff of Legend follows a boy who is kidnapped by the Boogeyman in his closet. His toys set out to save him and once they cross into the Boogeyman’s territory, they go from being toys to being actual versions of their toy selves. They have an epic adventure trying to find the boy. It’s a little bit dark and it’s a good sort of fun, kid’s story.
The Intrepid Escapegoat is a little weird, it’s almost impossible to explain. It’s about a goat who’s an escape artist, who stumbles on mysteries with his sidekick who is a several thousand year old magical Egyptian princess. It’s a really strange concept for a book, but I picked the first one at Free Comic Book Day, and it was fantastic. They’ve released a couple since then, and it’s really an enjoyable book.
On the more slightly adult side of things, Chew is a fantastic book that’s incredibly gross if you don’t have a strong stomach. For anyone who doesn’t know, Chew is about a character named Tony Chu, who has a job with the FDA. In this sort-of post-apocalyptic world we’re in, there’s this been an outbreak of the avian flu caused by chickens, so chicken has been outlawed. Tony’s job is to find and uncover these underground chicken operations. He has this special power, that is when he tastes things, he’s cibopathic, meaning he knows everything about that thing by tasting it: where it came from, what happened to it… He can sense it all just by tasting it. Which leads to some pretty gross cases down the line…
RACEBENDING.COM: These books sound great, and we’ll definitely check them out in the mean time.
For more information about Jeremy Whitley and his work, along with convention appearances, check out his independent label here at Firetower Studios.
The trade of the first collection of Princeless issues will be available April 25 through Comic Retailers everywhere.
Racebending.com would like to thank Jeremy Whitley for this interview!