Little girls love princesses.
Not all little girls, no. And not only little girls. But much to the constant perplexity of parents, this seems to be a near-universal truth. And it’s really not that hard to understand. Have you seen princesses? They’re beautiful and glamorous, and above all, they’re the most special girl in the whole kingdom. And really, who wouldn’t want to be glittery and revered?
As we grow up, though, we realize that some of the examples that princesses have set for us haven’t been the healthiest. There’s still a very special place in my heart for the Disney Princesses of my childhood, but the criticisms about Snow White mostly cleaning and sleeping and Ariel’s value to the Prince being based entirely on her appearance because she couldn’t speak… well, those are fair. That doesn’t mean I don’t still love the movies, or that I think girls shouldn’t watch them. But there are some really wonderful alternatives—not necessarily to replace your favorites, but to add to your collection.
There are numerous characters in traditional superhero books that have a “Princess spin,” which can cover a wide range of Princess-ness; Sheena, queen of the jungle, is royal in name only. Storm has royal blood, since her mother is a Kenyan princess, but it’s not the most prominent aspect of her personality. If you’re looking specifically for a Princess-y Princess, though, check out the following titles!
Princess Ugg is a new series from Oni Press following Ülga, daughter of King Thórgrim and Queen Friðrika. Among its strengths, the written dialogue captures the feeling of an older dialect, remains modern enough to be clearly understood, and doesn’t feel like a false affectation for a gimmick.
Ülga’s homeland of Grimmeria is harsh and cold, and has taught her mannerisms appropriate to that context. However, to keep a promise to her mother, Princess Ülga travels to Atraesca to attend Princess Academy among other young women with similar pedigrees- but royal parentage seems to be the only thing they have in common with Ülga.
In many ways Ülga feels she is superior to the frilly, girly, delicate, “traditional” princesses, and they openly mock some of her less polished habits, like her table manners. As the girls learn more about each other’s’ cultures, they’re also forced to face that each has advantages and disadvantages; Ugg, for instance, gets her nickname from her inability to properly spell her name. She comes to recognize that even though her culture has many strengths, literally, the world has more to offer than one perspective.
The way this narrative presents Ülga in contrast to the other princesses makes it clear that each faction believes itself to be superior, but that both have important contributions to society, and while issue one focuses on ridiculing a more traditional princess for frivolity and superficiality, issue two makes it clear that it’s still important to explore other perspectives and viewpoints. As this series continues, I hope that we will see Ülga benefit from Princess Academy and learn important skills, like writing and archery, without compromising her sense of self.
Princeless is an ongoing series from Action Lab Entertainment, available in two collected volumes, following Princess Adrienne, a strong-minded and willful princess who doesn’t buy into that whole sitting-in-a-tower trope. Placed in a tower guarded by a dragon, against her will, Adrienne finds a sword tucked under her bed and sets off to rescue her similarly-incarcerated sisters and to make her own destiny.
While the number of self-rescuing princess stories have increased over time, this one is unique in a few respects. First, this is a story about a family of color. People of color have been written out of fantasy narratives across media, to the extent that elves are more prevalent than people with dark skin. And it’s been demonstrated, time and time again, how important representation can be for people who have been traditionally marginalized. This narrative allows a little girl of color to have the same background as any traditional princess, without some lengthy explanation about her race or patronizing “African-esque” costume; and what’s more, this little girl chooses not to accept the gender roles that have been assigned to her by mainstream culture.
Additionally, as much as the story follows Adrienne’s quest to rescue her sisters, and as often as it examines the ludicrousness of the way gender roles impact women (the pages about armor bikinis, for instance), it also shows the detrimental effect that these same roles can have on boys that don’t conform to them. As much as Adrienne doesn’t like traditional princess things, and prefers swordfighting, so her twin brother Devin dislikes violence and likes reading poetry. Their father’s disappointment negatively affects both of them for their similar inability to fulfill his gender expectations.
To learn more about Princeless, and to hear yours truly discuss this book with the writer, listen to my interview on the topic.
Katy Rex is the founder and chief contributor at endoftheuniversecomics.com.