Princeless, written by Jeremy Whitley, surprised just about everyone as it became a hit earlier this year. This independent comic about a princess who refuses to follow the path set out for her connected with readers with its combination of wit, action and powerful message. It’s even been honored with two Eisner nominations — for Best Single Issue (Princeless #3) and Best Publication for Kids (ages 8–12).
The collection of the first four issues should be out soon and Whitley was kind enough to answer a my questions via email.
Comicsgirl: Congratulations on the Eisner nominations. How much of a surprise was it? Anything you want to say about it?
Jeremy Whitley: It was a huge surprise! Action Lab has asked if I was okay with them sending it in for consideration, but I had never imagined that it was an actual possibility, especially not for the individual issue award. Obviously I believe in the book but there is a lot of great competition out there. I’m ecstatic about being nominated.
All I really have to say is thank you to those who believed in the book and please vote if you haven’t already.
CG: There’s a tendency to make action heroines nearly perfect — they’re strong and smart and without flaws. Adrienne is definitely smart and capable, but she’s also someone who doesn’t seem to quite know what she’s getting herself into. How did you make sure she was still a character to admire while still feeling real?
JW: I based her a lot on my wife and my sister-in-law (after whom she is named). She’s somebody who seized her freedom and overflows with determination, but the reality is that determination does not necessarily win the battle for you.
It’s very important to me that if she’s a character that girls are going to look up to, that they can also see themselves in her. It doesn’t do any good to have a role model if you can never live up to them.
CG: Adults have happily embraced this title, but we’re not necessarily the target audience. What has the reaction from children — girls as well as boys — been?
JW: Well, understandably not as many of them write Internet reviews and send me Facebook messages about how much they love it, but all the kids and parents I have talked to have said they loved it.
I met sci-fi author J.L. Hilton at a convention last year and sold her the first few. When she found me at another convention a few months later, she snatched up the other two issues saying “My daughters and I read the first two issues every night before bed. They love them. We NEED these other two.” I’ve actually had a couple reviews where the reviewers have mentioned handing them off to their kids or reading them with their kids. Those are some of my favorites.
CG: You touch on many social issues — race and racism, gender roles for both boys and girls — as well as media presentation of female characters. While one of my favorite scenes is Adrienne’s horrified reaction to the skimpy “armor” Bedelia initially presents to her and I think it does work in context, it’s still very self-aware in the statement its making. How do you balance the points you want to make while maintaining telling a good story?
JW: To be honest, when I wrote issue 3, I wasn’t sure that I had. I kept having people read it and asking “Is this too preachy?”
Thankfully, they mostly said that they didn’t think it was and I left it. That seems to be one of people’s favorite scenes too.
As far as race, I wanted it to be a part of the book, but in the way that it always is. As a fact that isn’t constantly talked about. Adrienne is black and that’s the way it is. Too often I think that people struggle when they spend their time pointing it out. In Adrienne’s land, however, she is one of the royal family. White girls can look at Cinderella and Belle and Sleeping Beauty and relate to them without constantly having to be reminded that they’re white. Black girls deserve that sort of comfort as well. I made a point of pointing it out in the first issue, gave her a chance to jump up and down and shout it, then I moved on.
As for the armor chapter, I wanted it to be both a bit of pointed satire and a kind of mission statement for the story. I want to tell and action story about girls that’s for girls and doesn’t feel it’s necessary to rely on some of the older tropes.
CG: Princeless: Save Yourself, which should be out soon, collects the first four issues of this series. What’s next? How much more of this story can we expect?
JW: Well, the original plan was to continue to produce mini-series until we finish the story of Adrienne saving her sisters, which should run about 25 issues.
In addition to that, we’re actually now working on a series of short comic stories about the characters and their world. These stories are being illustrated by a team of amazing female artists for a collection due out late this summer. I think fans of the book so far are really going to enjoy these.
Meanwhile, Volume 2 is well under construction and should be available this winter. I’ll be posting a lot of the progress on both the second volume and the short stories online at princelesscomic.tumblr.com and on my (@jrome58) and the Action Lab‘s Twitter accounts.
Whitley will be signing copies of the Princeless: Save Yourself that collects the first four issues (copies should be in stores soon) May 5 (Free Comic Book Day!) at Big Planet Comics in Vienna from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at the College Park store from 3 to 5 p.m. Jorge Aguirre, writer of Giants Beware! from First Second will also be signing copies of his book.
And yes, I know that the Vienna signing conflicts with watching The Legend of Korra (although these signings were scheduled before the airdate for Korra had been set so it’s forgivable), but I’ll just have to catch it later.