OUT OF THE TOWER
For my first full blog presentation, here’s a fantasy comic that caught my interest from the very beginning and that I’ve been following enthusiastically ever since. PrinceLess debuted in October 2011, published by Action Lab Entertainment, written by Jeremy Whitley, and drawn by M. Goodwin. The artists come and go; this is primarily Whitley’s comic book. It has been on hiatus for a while, but the next installment is coming in June.
The very first page of the comic starts with a classic retelling of the old “princess locked in a tower is saved from the fiery dragon by a brave prince” cliché story, whereupon the heroine of the story, young princess Adrienne of Ashland, immediately dismiss the whole idea as “hogwash”. A rebellious princess is born, so rebellious that her parents end up drugging her food so that they can lock her into a tower guarded by a dragon where she will have to wait until a prince comes and rescues her according to tradition. Naturally, she’ll have none of that. She befriends the dragon that was set to guard her, and sets out to forge her own destiny.
…And help her sisters forge theirs, as the thread of the comic seems to be that Adrienne has six sisters, all of whom have also been left somewhere to be “rescued” by a prince. It woulds also appear that Adrienne’s group will grow a little for each storyline. Her first ally, besides her former guard dragon Sparky, is her whimsical, but crafty, half-dwarf squire Bedelia, an adventurous teenage girl like herself.
This comic has sometimes been described as a spoof of fairy tale clichés. And while it does that too, this is not a parody, but rather a humorous fantasy/adventure comic that stands up well enough of its own. The first volume (pictured on top) is setting up the story at a nice, even pace, taking its time to define the premise as well as the central characters. The second volume (pictured below) further expands on the world of Ashland, its secrets and its royal family. It’s an engaging story with a dark undertone to it, while it also consistently makes for a very fun read. The humor varies from pure slapstick to satire, both of them fitting naturally into the context.
The first volume is drawn by M. Goodwin, and the second volume by Emily Martin. Both artists do a fine job, and the characters and environment is easily recognizable from one to the another, but Goodwin is somewhat more detailed and has a sharper line, while Martin’s drawings are broader and rounder. All things considered, I think Martin’s more round and flexible style fits the comic better.
I first read PrinceLess in a digital format. The printed volumes, however, has a pretty obvious problem when it comes to the editing. I imagine that when people read comics in collection, they want the story to be as seamless as possible. The PrinceLess collections are anything but seamless, and the second volume is particularly bad; It reprints the comic exactly the way they looked in the single issue format, including the advertisements! At least the so-called Encore Edition of first volume is a little better, since it skips the ads and fills the space between the issues with sketches and pinups. I would’ve preferred to have those things in the back, though.
For all its qualities, and its feminist message, what makes PrinceLess stand out is of course that Adrienne is black, and that she come from a black family that for some reason rules a Medieval European-looking fantasy kingdom. One could argue that they are out of place, but like I said, this is a fantasy kingdom. In a world of dragons, dwarfs, and - apparently somewhere down the line – vampires, human skin colors shouldn’t be a big issue. We can always imagine that Ashland has been a major migration center. That would also explain why Ashland is so multi-racial in general.
Whitley makes a racial joke early in the comic, when a random prince calls Adrienne “fair maiden”, and Adrienne points out that “fair” actually mean “white”. There are also a few jokes about her tricky afro hair, but Whitley wisely chooses not to oversell the racial aspect.
Now, it would be easy to get a little cynical and read this comic as an exercise in politically correct atonement - As a well-meaning, liberal white man’s attempt to make up for women and black people being formerly underrepresented in comics, at least as positive role models. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Whitley is not black, but his wife is, and so is his sister-in-law, after whom Adrienne is named. He claims to have based the rebellious princess’ personality on these two women. Mr. and Mrs. Whitley also have a daughter. Being only three years old, she probably didn’t give him much inspiration for writing Adrienne, but he might have been hoping to create something that could become a positive role model for his little girl.