Graphic Novel Review: Princeless Vol. 1

This...this was me as a kid...
Where was this when I was a kid?

I was recently gifted two graphic novels from a good friend of mine. Darthtechnosage is a twitch streamer, a gentleman and a very intelligent and socially aware consumer. He thought I would get a kick out of them. He was right and boy did I ever want to share it. There will be another blog coming very soon about the other graphic novel in the near future.

But first, Princeless!

Written by Jeremy Whitley and Art and coloring by M. Goodwin, I was hopeful as soon as I saw the name.

Let me start off by staying Adrienne, the main character in this story is my hero and I honestly wish this existed when I was a child. Back when people asked me “Who’s your favorite princess?” I would look at them stupidly because, I never had one. The ‘princess’ thing never appealed to me, by and large and I think it’s because as a product of a single mother and being surrounded by a family of women (grandmother, aunts, great grand-aunts) the idea of NOT being able to do something for yourself was simply ludicrous. When the walls needed painting guess who did it? Us. We needed to tile a kitchen floor put up molding, heck even take out the trash. Guess who did it?

Us.

This is not a ‘Ra-Ra WOMEN-HOOD!’ statement, just facts.

We didn’t have the option to just ask someone so we made do. thus the idea of simply sitting around waiting for help/ being ineffectual when you need to do something your self (because you never had to before) simply wasn’t on my radar. You did it and got it right or you looked it up read, and then did it to get it right. I always preferred the Grimm versions because I could clearly see the purpose of the story (which was usually a cautionary tale, or a universal truth).

But the whole Disney Princess thing? Waiting for prince charming and dressing up pretty?

See this? This was me when you read those kinds of stories to me... Image courtesy of http://comicsalliance.com/
See this? This was me when you read those kinds of stories to me…
Image courtesy of http://comicsalliance.com/

Not so much

I mean I understood the allure of them in my head but they never spoke to me. I was far too logical  and practical due to living circumstances. This series looks at all the fairy tale tropes and turns it on its ear but in a way that should’ve been obvious decades ago. Some literary work have already done so but they where still geared towards adults.

This comic is geared towards all ages.

Which makes it all the more appealing to me. It’s simplicity is what makes it powerful.

However they don’t ‘water’ the idea down. It’s a fine balance that this graphic novel does very well.

The princess  who encourages her dragon to remove the princes’; who rescues herself and essentially rebels against the status quo because choice was being taken from her and frankly because she saw it as silly. The ‘prince charming’ who didn’t want to be a prince or charming and preferred to chase after frogs, another who loves poetry and acting, the female half dwarven armor smith…clean, sarcastic, wit, this graphic novel has it all.

Goodwin’s art is clean, brightly colored and clear. The colors are just a bit flat (no real dynamic shading) but that works with the ‘general audiences’ label. The character designs are unique and easy to visually read (a huge perk when picking out characters).

The main character is black and has curly hair, another huge plus for me as many times when a character of African decent is rendered with one of two choices: an Afro or relaxed/ weaved hair or one other rarer choice: locks/braids..

A conscious effort was made to show case that the ‘straight hair’ was largely a construct to fit into a mold of what is acceptable by society as ‘normal.’

Some of us do have straighter hair but it is rare. And most of our hair is NOT tightly curled enough to hold, what people think of as, the stereotypical afro, without flopping. Those people spent just as much time in the beauty salons of the 60’s to get one as to get straight hair, thank you (‘floppy fros’ are more accurate or ones with corkscrews).

And no picking it out doesn’t make it sit firmly up.

Usually it just damages the hair causing breakage as very curly hair is actually very fragile. Thus the need to wrap our hair before bed. The mother can be seen wrapping her daughter’s head, a typically, ethnic, but common practice to help protect her hair while sleeping. I still do this because…well cotton breaks hair off and dries it out. The artist  even rendered her hair in two ways: “Princess mode” which typically is straight when she’s older and “normal/natural’ when she’s being herself.  All of that back information isn’t commonly known unless you live with or are a person of ethnicity (and even some of us are kept ignorant of this sadly). So it’s very fun to see someone putting what we see as ‘mundane’ things in the comic that aren’t usually represented. Please note that “princess mode’ seems reluctant most of the time.

Subtle ‘show me’s’ are a powerful commentary in their own right without spelling it out for the reader.

I remember having my hair done before bed much the same way.
I remember having my hair done before bed much the same way.

They even make a reference to the ‘fair princess’ comment.

Harsh but true. The
Harsh but true. The “beautiful’ connotation came as a later definition.

However, the comic does not really come off as preachy, just as what would a little girl ask if she was similar to Adrienne and why? In fact I wanted to know more about the writer and found a interview about this thoughts on why he created this comic. One of the most powerful things he said was this:

I feel like there is a distinct shortage of books I would feel comfortable handing my daughter these days (at least before she turned 16 or so). Good heroines are few and far between. When you look for ones that are leading books, it narrows the scope more.  When you look for one that is appropriate for kids, it gets much narrower. When you talk about one with a lead female of color, the number drops to nearly zero (they exist, they are just very difficult to find).

My daughter is black and while I encourage her to look for role models of all colors, girls need to be able to see girls that are like themselves in media. They need it even more when it comes to seeing them portrayed with strength. And, unfortunately, I think that’s sort of a symptom of this exclusionary tendency in the self-professed nerd culture circles. I would love nothing more than to change that culture, but barring that, I’ll help create another one.”.

Well said, sir well said. This Graphic novel is easily going towards the top of my list of all time favorites and if the previews I’ve seen of the next issue continues to read anything like this:

Yeah...that's me and all my friends right here.
Yeah…that’s me and all my friends right here.

I will probably love it just as much if not more. I highly encourage anyone looking for a new take on the genre to check it out. Great writing, happy colors, clean art and main characters, I believe, that would endear themselves to anyone.

Up next: Rat Queens! 

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