While most comics with female leads attempt to appeal to a male audience first, Princeless presents Adrienne, a black princess and an excellently strong and intelligent female character who can be a positive role model. Adrienne is out to save her sisters, even if it means faking her death. I sat down with Jeremy Whitley, the creator of Princeless, this week for an interview.
NWC: How would you describe Princeless for a parent who is looking to buy a comic for their child?
Whitley: Princeless is a book with a great message, especially for young girls that is designed to be fun for kids and parents alike. It’s about a princess who is locked away in a tower and decides to save herself instead of waiting around to be rescued. It’s also a comedy with lots of stuff that kids will find funny and plenty of stuff that will speak to the adults/parents in the audience.
NWC: I really love that it is a book for an all ages audience – there is something for everyone like The Princess Bride.
Whitley: The Princess Bride is one of my favorites and has always had a big influence on me. I know I’ve got at least one Princess Bride reference coming in volume 3
NWC: As I was typing that I realized how similar in a lot of the ways the stories are, as far as stand alone stories that address and critique the tropes, while also having really well developed characters.
Whitley: That’s really flattering. Princess Bride is far and away one of the best stories around, in my opinion. And as modern fairy tales go, it’s certainly in the company of Neil Gaiman’s work
NWC: Besides Princess Bride and Neil Gaiman, what other stories inspired Princeless?
Whitley: Well, Princeless is obviously a story that is to some extent, about other stories. A lot of those are viewed in a negative light in context, but I also certainly love the things I make fun of. In the first volume I take on the trope of the Disney princess, Xena, Wonder Woman, Red Sonya, and Sleeping Beauty but I also reference things like Lord of the Rings and Mario Brothers and a few other pop culture things here and there
NWC: Traditionally, a lot of fantasy has been geared towards male audiences with females as a pickup, but now we are starting to see more of a shift toward girls with shows like My Little Pony and films like Enchanted that cross over in reverse, and I’d include Princeless as well. Where do you think some of the drive for this comes from?
Whitley: I think that fantasy has had a large female following for years, but the medium is really just catching up. There has always been a demand for it, but people were not sure what the demand was. Something like My Little Pony certainly shows that it can be popular and Princeless is sort of a cross fantasy genre type story. We take a dash of the traditional Disney princess story, which is certainly geared toward a largely female audience, and we set it in a larger “high fantasy” type world.
NWC: Who are some of your favorite female characters in comics?
Whitley: I am a huge fan of Storm, Misty Knight, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Antonia Chu (of Chew), Buffy, Agent 355 from Y: The Last Man, and Cleopatra in Space!
NWC: Speaking of Storm, Misty Knight, Antonia Chu and Cleopatra, Adrienne, the main character in Princeless, is also a heroine of color. What was the impetus behind this choice?
Whitley: Despite my naming all of those, it really is a task to name a lot. Strong, well-developed female characters are a rarity in comics, one’s in lead roles more so, and one’s of color are nearly non-existent. Even in the one’s I named, all of the characters of color are either supporting characters of members of a team book. It’s one of the strange ironies of super hero comics especially that in a medium all about empowerment, representation is so hard to come by. I could name a dozen nerdy or ex-nerdy white guys right now that are in their own self-titled series, but women of color? It’s very close to zero.
My wife and my daughter are black and that’s not the kind of thing I want her to grow up with. I want to share my love of comics with her and I don’t want it to feel like something where she is on the outside looking in
NWC: I know when I worked in a comic shop, there were customers who were coming in with similar issues. Beyond Storm it was hard to find a positive black female character and I do love that the story addresses the issues of race in fantasy in a very real way. And the fact that Adrienne is a very empowered character who decides to fight for herself despite being a princess.
Whitley: Thanks, that’s the goal with this and man, when it works it’s an amazing feeling
I had a young black girl come up to me at a signing at Big Planet Comics in College Park, MD who pulled out a notebook to ask me questions that she had, having read the book so many times. Her mom kept telling me how much she loved the book and how engaged she was by it and I was just sitting there grinning like an idiot the whole time.
NWC: It is great being able give inspiration to readers, especially positive feelings about racial and gender identities.
Whitley: Absolutely. It’s a privilege! I think it’s an issue comics are trying (not quite hard enough yet, but trying) to address and that fantasy especially needs to address. My comic is very specifically set in a made up fantasy world in a medieval type time because my first thought after seeing The Princess and the Frog was “why does the black princess have to have a historical drama with voodoo?” Why can’t she live in a magical fairy tale as well? That’s bogus!
NWC: It is like in most fantasy if there are any non-white characters they are either non-human like orcs, or they are evil variations of a main race like drow. That is a difficult thing to deal with growing up.
Whitley: I know, right? And it’s so divisive too. People that grew up loving The Lord of the Rings have a really hard time admitting that there may be some things that are slightly off about it. But who can blame a person that reads it and only sees people of color being vilified and dehumanized and comes away feeling hurt or left out. In LOTR it’s a very hard and fast rule that the lighter someone’s skin is, the better they are. Even for someone that loves the books passionately like I do, I feel that’s a real problem.
NWC: Now the first volume of Princeless is out. When is the second volume going to be released?
Whitley: The second volume of issues is due in stores in February and set to run every month through May. In May we will also have a brand new story in our Free Comic Book Day offering, where our book is paired up with Jamal Igle’s upcoming Molly Danger
NWC: Thanks for your time, Jeremy. Hopefully, this interview will get our readers to share Princeless with their children.