May 3, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #5 (Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Princeless is a series that has been in my peripheral vision for quite some time. It’s sold as an alternate, inverted take on the classic “Princess in a Castle” narrative, taking all of the classic archetypes and locking them away in the towers that they love so much. Adrienne has grown up questioning everything that she sees, but has taken particular issue with the need for her to spend years of her life waiting for a prince to come and rescue her. From the offset, this is an unconventional story that deconstructs those famous negative tropes with the aim of creating a protagonist that everyone, not only young girls, can relate to.

There’s a certain self-referential nature from the very first page that sells the astuteness of this series to an older audience. Princess Adrienne casually, but emphatically, points out all of the plot holes and inherent issues with locking someone away in a tall tower that everyone can easily see. However, it’s important to note that it’s not done in an over-the-top and derisive manner, but is instead presented in the way that it should be: nobody should be forced into gender and class roles that they don’t wish to be in.

Adrienne is gutsy and outspoken, but doesn’t cross that line into grating in the way that so many characters aimed at a younger audience can. Back in All-Ages or Small-Ages #2, I said that I couldn’t form a significant connection with a point-of-view character so much younger than me; after reading this volume, I've realised that could not be further from the truth. At times, we all wish we could decide to throw away our expectations and live the life that we truly wish we could. Not only does our protagonist decide to take the initiative in her own life, she does so in a way that allows the greatest amount of empathetic catharsis. It’s wish fulfillment in its purest form and everybody can get on board.

For the most part, Adrienne exists in vacuum. We get flashes around to parallel pieces of narrative, but they only tangentially tie in. Eventually though, characters start to appear more regularly and she develops a supporting cast; what a supporting cast it is. While she has members of her family to both antagonise and ally with, the person that I want to talk about is the blacksmith’s daughter, Bedelia. Her energy comes from a similar source of breaking from the mould, but there’s a contagious enthusiasm to her that you can’t help but catch, even as an adult. Helped in part by the luminescence of the art, she’s sure to be a fan-favourite going forward.

Goodwin has a style that could be classified as cartoon-adjacent due to its dynamic positioning and exaggeration of facial expressions. However, there’s also a certain realism to it that helps connect to these otherwise fantastical characters. The attention to detail on the design of all of the armour and backdrops is laudable and it allows you to pinpoint specific components of a character that you adore. One particular favourite of mine is the design of the dragon, Sparky; there’s a dichotomous practicality and silliness to the design of the armour that works extraordinarily well. Bringing it all together with bright and colourful clothing, Goodwin has created a world that feels not only lived-in, but well-worn.


Part of the styling of the work that allows it to feel so kinetic is the dramatic positioning of the panel camera. Goodwin skews perspective to support the narrative in a shrewd way that drives certain members of the cast into certain roles in the reader’s mind. The younger portion of the audience can fear the apperances of the king and applaud when the dragon flies in, but the way that the layouts are used to drive this home is something that everyone can appreciate. Whenever the king is demonstrating his power, the camera tilts upwards and places his magnificent stature into full view. He’s unquestionably both the antagonist and the villain of this series and I appreciate that the art presents this to you in a way other than shrowding him in mysterious shadow.

With all of the fantastic things that I’ve heard about this series, I had very little doubt that it wasn’t going to come up as a overall positive. Breaking down all of those old stories that young girls love, telling them that they don’t need to fall into those defined roles, is both admirable and downright clever. However, that’s definitely not where the appeal ends. These are stories that can serve as hyperbolic representations of events that everyone faces in their everyday lives and I, for one, couldn’t label this series as anything other than “All-Ages”. I may be late to the party with this one, but I can’t wait to discover what else Action Lab have in this repertoire.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!