Princeless and Beyond: An Interview with Jeremy Whitley

FEB120706_1We’ve read Princeless Volume 1: Save Yourself almost every day since I picked it up at the beginning of the month, so when I told my daughters that I’d be interviewing the creator, Jeremy Whitley, they demanded participation. Izzy (4) was eager to learn about Jeremy’s daughter and proudly show off her hair, which is “poofy” just like Princess Adrienne’s. Ivy (7) cut right to the chase and asked Jeremy why he wrote Princeless.

“I wanted to write a book about a girl that was strong, smart and independent – like I want my daughter to be when she grows up.”

Sixteen year old Princess Adrienne Ashe is definitely all that and more. As a princess locked in a dragon-guarded tower, she decides to take her fate into her own hands and save herself rather than wait for some prince to do it for her. Having a strong female person of colour as the main protagonist is certainly a refreshing change, but I hadn’t expected Princeless to cover so many other issues common to the comic book industry, such as sexism and gender stereotyping. These problems were presented in a way that my girls could easily understand and discuss with me, which is exactly what Jeremy was aiming for. “I wanted to put it out there to get adults and kids talking.”  The pervasive sexism and, to a slightly lesser extent, racism are issues that have always troubled Jeremy since he began collecting comics. He felt these were significant issues that Adrienne needed to talk about within the context of the story. Some critics complained that the commentary was inappropriate for a younger audience but Jeremy argues that kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Obviously the Eisner Awards agreed, nominating Princeless in the Best Publication for Kids category. Issue #3, the one featuring the call to armor regarding sexism in the industry was nominated in the Best Single Issue category. Not that Jeremy intends for Princeless to be preachy. He promises that volume two of the series, illustrated by Emily C. Martin and available now, will lay off the commentary to allow more focus on the action, characters and story. Well, mostly, he says, sheepishly pointing out the parody cover of issue #2.

Jeremy has a lot in store for us with Princess Adrienne as she and her friends, Bedilia the blacksmith and Sparky the dragon continue their quest to rescue other princesses.  It’s an all girls adventure that passes the Bechdel Test, even if he hadn’t purposely put together this female cast with the test in mind. “I didn’t want to create a book about girls with only one girl who may fall into the trap of still having to be rescued.” He cites the current incarnation of Wonder Woman as an example of this problem. Wonder Woman is mainly surrounded by males who’s focus is moving the plot forward instead of the female lead.

fcbd raven
Illustrations by Emily C. Martin

Colours by Soojin Paek

On Free Comic Book Day (May 4, 2013), we’ll meet Asian princess Raven Xingtao in a Princeless story called “Girls Who Fight Boys,” along side Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger. Like the other princesses, Raven is trapped in a tower awaiting rescue. Her tower is guarded by one of the knights hired to hunt for Adrienne’s “killer” who has no interest in fighting girls. While there are similarities in their plight, Raven offers a different perspective that will give Adrienne something to think about. “Adrienne doesn’t have a feel for the fact that not everyone wants what she does,” which tends to be an issue for headstrong people, Jeremy points out.

Jeremy hopes to do a story arc featuring Raven and Adrienne, but in the mean time, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Adrienne’s sisters in the main story, as well as in Tales of the Family Ashe This one-shot will show “what makes them tick and give them a chance to shine.”  It will also give some insight into the young King Ashe. Turns out he wasn’t always so curmudgeonly.

While Princeless is very much about breaking the gender stereotype for girls, it also touches on the problems boys have to deal with. Volume 1 features a short story on Prince Charm school and Adrienne happens to have a twin brother named Devin who is constantly reminded of his unkingly ways by his father.

“Devin is a smart kid with a lot of talent, it’s just not a talent his father is at all interested in. Devin is a poet, a designer, a thinker, a creator, and an excellent speaker. All of these would be excellent qualities for a king to have, but his father is interested in having someone that he knows can ride into battle and lead his troops.” [X]

Devin does not feature in Tales of the Family Ashe, but hopefully we will see much more of him some time in the future. Perhaps even in a Princeless cartoon…?

Jeremy recently put out feelers about the possibility of putting together a Kickstarter for a Princeless animated pilot. He would love to see this happen, not for the sake of vanity, but for the same reason he created the comic in the first place. Unfortunately, research and chatting with those who have gone through the process indicate that putting together a Kickstarter is a full time job that requires a “good chef to handle so many ingredients,” which puts the prospect a lot further into the future than Jeremy would like it to be.

 Jeremy and Jason are also working on Skip. A 6ish issue work in progress, they are hoping to find a publisher interested in a super hero story about an administrative assistant to an industrialist “Lex Luthor-type character who unintentionally finds himself on the wrong side of the super heroes and takes it personally.” His assistant cares about him and is caught in between, recognizing that her boss isn’t necessarily an evil guy. Top off her troubles with her sudden development of uncontrollable time travel powers…Not that Jeremy doesn’t have a million other things to work on! His advise to those who want to create comics is to just do it; “make the comics you want to read.” That’s exactly what Jeremy has been doing, using his creative writing degree from the University of North Carolina and script writing courses, taking advantage of the many creator owned opportunities that companies like Action Lab Comics are providing. When he saw a painting of Titania by Jason Strutz and presented the artist with a script he’d been working on, The Order of Dagonet was born. Issues #1-3 are available now, but the fun little comic about modern day knights summoned to defend Britain from magical creatures is on hold for the moment due to quiet sales, but Jeremy and Jason have more up their sleeve.

Jeremy explains that he has always been fascinated by Lex Luthor and the two personas that have been presented over the years. There’s the Gene Hackman version “who is a crazy smart guy that does things sometimes for profit, sometimes just to be evil.” Then there is the Lex Luthor best portrayed in the animated series, voiced by Clancy Brown where he “may be evil, but is mainly a genius who doesn’t take well to guidance. He’s a self-made man who is irritated by the concept and existence of Superman.”

snow cover
A Bibliosanctum exclusive! Cover concept

for Snow Illustrated by Jessi Sheron

Jeremy’s worked with Action Lab Comics on an NFL Rush book and GlobWorld and is working with artist Jessi Sheron on a dark fantasy children’s book tentatively titled Snow. The main character is a normal young girl who wakes up to find everyone in her house gone and mythical, magical creatures have taken over. Her sister is some how significant to these creatures and the girl goes on a quest to find her.

It’s a pity that Jeremy hasn’t been approached by either of the “big two” publishers in the industry — yet. He is a huge Storm fan and would love to write a book where she features far more prominently than she current does. (We’re pretty big fans of Storm at The BiblioSanctum so excuse me while I put together a politely worded proposal to Marvel…)

And then there’s a secret script that he’s been passionately writing for some time that has yet to see the light of day…

Be sure to visit Jeremy’s Tumblr or follow him on Twitter where he’s always happy to chat.

3 Comments on “Princeless and Beyond: An Interview with Jeremy Whitley”

  1. Pingback: Of Pirates and Self-Rescuing Princesses

  2. Pingback: Raised and Raising Geek: Romona and Wendy Talk Geek Parenting

  3. Pingback: Comic Stack 04/01/15 – 5 Graphic Novel Recommendations | The BiblioSanctum

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