We cannot stress enough how important it is for young girls to have role models other than the Disney princesses, and the DreamWorks damsels they’ve grown up with. Though children’s books and films have been doing better at straying from the traditional princess-needs-to-be-saved-by-a-prince story, the world could still use more strong female protagonist on every media platform.
The Princess Who Saved Herself fully understands this by providing young readers with a protagonist who is not only a young strong girl, challenging traditional female constraints, but also multi-racial, embracing her heritage and culture.
Written by Greg Pak and drawn by Japanese Canadian artist Takeshi Miyazawa, and Indonesian colorist Jessica Kholinne, expect The Princess Who Saved Herself to be the girl power fairytale you’d want your sisters and/or daughters to read.
Inspired by a song by Jonathan Coulton of the same name, TPWSH focuses on the power of music, as the protagonist princess Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara rewrites princess norms by rocking out with her pet snake and friends, playing rock music as opposed to the classic music she was brought up with.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that successfully led to a digital version of the book, the graphic novel is currently available digitally for backers of the project.
Fembot recently had a chance to catch-up with Pak, to discuss why it’s important for young girls to have strong relatable female characters at an early age, the song that started it all, and why childrens’ books needs to step it up by adding more diverse characters.
FEMBOT: Tell us a bit more about the Princess Who Saved Herself. We understand she uses the power of music to make a stance, is that correct?
PAK: The Princess Who Saved Herself is a children’s book based on the classic Jonathan Coulton song that tells the story of Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion, an awesome princess who lives with her pet snake and plays rock ‘n’ roll all day to the huge annoyance of the classical guitarist witch who lives down the road. Hijinks, conflicts, and a fun reconciliation ensue, all showcasing determination, bravery, and understanding. So yes, music plays a big role in the book. But the core of the story is really about an awesome kid learning how to make her way through the world.
FEMBOT: The Princess Who Saved Herself is a very bold name. Do you think the belief that girls should still be “saved” is still common today? If so, are modern princess movies to blame?
PAK: I wouldn’t lay all the blame on modern princess movies — there are a good number of proactive heroines among those characters, particularly in the most recent movies, and I’m sure we’ll see more and more of that in the future. But in the broader culture, there’s absolutely still a glorification of royalty and a fantasy image of princesses being saved that can get pretty boring. The good news is that there are many, many folks who have been getting stories out into the world that turn that idea around. Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless comic book is just one great example off the top of my head. FEMBOT: The protagonist is a multiracial young girl, something that might’ve been unheard of years back. Do you think protagonists such as these are a rarity in children’s books? Do you believe it’s important to have more diversity in children’s books?
PAK: People of color as protagonists are absolutely still a rarity in children’s books right now, and that’s a sad thing. When I was growing up, I had no problem identifying with white protagonists in books. But I got a huge thrill whenever I saw a person of color in a non-stereotypical role. Seeing Robbie Robertson, the African American managing editor of the Daily Bugle in Spider-man comics made a huge impression on me as a kid. Stories like that tell kids that they belong, that the stories are for them, and that the world is for them. We absolutely need more of that.
FEMBOT: We understand PWSH was inspired by a song by Jonathan Coulton. Was there any other factors that inspired the book, not just the story but maybe even the art also?
PAK: The beautiful thing about the song is that it fully establishes this amazing character and provides a tremendous story engine. Basically, the princess encounters challenges, deals with them in an eminently fearless and straightforward way, even if that requires kicking a dragon’s butt, but in the end, always turns to compassion to solve problems. That’s ridiculously simple, but actually really deep. So in writing the book, I got pretty much all the inspiration I needed right there from the heroine in the song — all I had to do was keep her spirit and the fundamental dynamic of her journey in mind and build the villains and conflicts accordingly.
Takeshi Miyazawa drew the book, and from looking his character designs, I think he immediately got the vibe of the princess as well. His princess is tough and determined, but also kind and hugely fun. We went back and forth on the dragon design a bit in a fun way to hit the right note of scary but not too scary!
Jessica Kholinne colored the book, and for inspiration we looked at a number of great children’s books, like The Gruffalo and some William Steig classics. We didn’t want the colors to be too slick, like a modern comic book — we wanted a more organic, handmade feel, so she came up with a more classic watercolor style that could be both bright and subtle when necessary. I love it.
We hope one day that books like TPWSH will flood the bookshelves, over-taking the out-dated yet still very common theme of princesses who need their prince to save them. The Princess Who Saved Herself is currently in the midst of a second campaign hoping to release physical copies which you can pledge for today.