It’s hard to write about Princeless and not sound like a broken record.
Countless others have been heaping praise on this series for years. Strong girls and women driving the story, LGBTQ representation, parody of gender roles in society and the important representation it provides in comics are all reason so many sing its praises. These are all valid and important reasons to love both the original Princeless series as well as the hit follow up, Princeless: Raven The Pirate Princess.
For me, Princeless and its spinoffs are comics I’m comfortable handing to my children, while still providing broad representation and critical views of the world and relationships.
Parenting with Princeless
Princeless writer, Jeremy Whitley, has spoken on numerous occasions about how the original story grew from his desire to provide his own daughter with representation in comics.
It’s the story of a princess who decides to rescue herself.
Her original predicament is built from a old-fashioned father. He is obsessed with his daughters playing their traditional roles as “damsels in distress.” So, he locks them all away in towers.
However, Adrienne sets off, with the dragon meant to guard her tower, to rescue her other sisters. Along the way she picks up her own support crew, meets other girls who want to control their own fate, and has many adventures.
Girl power is often center stage of the story. However, another ongoing story explores the effect of society’s toxic masculinity and how it is pushing down on Adrienne’s brother.
It was this side story that lead me to make a point to have my (then) six-year-old son try out the all-ages Princeless. My son wasn’t a traditional sports kid. Despite being raised in one of the most football-crazed regions of America, his interests were not always center of what most deemed normal. His interests — while not completely in line with those of Adrienne’s brother — were similar enough for him to find a character that he could relate to.
It also opened my eyes, because my son loved Adrienne herself, and her fearless nature.
When I first discovered Princeless, there was a lot of hype about big publishers relaunching their lines. However, there were still just not a ton of books with strong girls who were not sexualized. It was something that Princeless unceremoniously called out within its story, with lots of humor. It’s also a part of the story where Adrienne gains trusty sidekick, Bedelia.
A Common Language
If I had been an ideal parent I should have wanted to put Princeless in my son’s hands to help him be a more well-rounded person. To let him know that it was okay to cheer for heroes who were girls. While it wasn’t my original intention for having him try out Princeless, he showed me that “girls could be heroes too” was a big lesson he was taking away from the story.
Each volume pushes back even harder against the unrealistic expectations of women who are heroes. As with any work, the representations are not always perfect and can tread into stereotypical fantasy tropes. However, the continued sprinkling of strength and reasoning, family and helping others, lifts up the characters in each issue.
The focus of the main series really challenged me as a parent. I don’t like to think that I hold my children up to stereotypical cultural norms. But that doesn’t mean that habits I developed from how I was raised do not slip through. It continues to remind me as a parent to question my expectations I have for my kids.
When my kids read Princeless, it gives them a vocabulary, voice, and metaphorical reference to talk about serious issues as gender roles, roles in families, healthy relationships, and even domestic violence. The latter topic is handled in a rather kid-appropriate fashion in the fourth volume of Princeless, while taking a dig at the ultimate in romanticized abusive boyfriends: vampires.
Reading a book like Princeless has provided me and my children with a common language to discuss difficult topics that can sometimes be difficult across generations.
Heart Stolen by the Pirate Princess
There is a divergence in the series with Volume 3: The Pirate Princess. It takes a temporary break away, from the story of Adrienne rescuing her sisters, and focuses on another princess locked away, one whom she is not related to.
With a different art team, pacing, and change-up in focus — and no backstories from Adrienne’s other family members — Raven Xingtao takes full stage. She is the daughter of a famous pirate captain, and therefore, in a roundabout way, a pirate princess. Adrienne and Bedelia step in, as they had with the sisters, and help Raven to get herself out of her tower and embrace her destiny.
Bedelia is immediately smitten with Raven. Adrienne is willing to admit that even she needs support and rescuing at times. The volume itself hints and prods at themes. However, they are not fully explored until the official spinoff series of Raven: The Pirate Princess.
My oldest son is now 11 and my daughter is eight. Raven is a series that feels more like it was built for them, in this busy and ever increasingly paced pre-teen years.
For the record, this series is rated for ages 9+ within Action Lab’s ratings system. However, depending on how you converse with your own children, their maturity level and your own judgment, some younger kids may understand and enjoy this series.
It’s a series that has representations of healthy relationships between women (whether you get along or not), normalized romantic queer relationships, dealing with bullies, as well as more hand-to-hand combat, action, and adventure than previously found in Princeless. The series even has its own version of punching someone being racist (lots of discussion within the family about this topic!).
The levels of representation are not just with race, but also women of size, deafness, femme identity, various religions … the list goes on. These “sisters” as they see themselves have such varying background, and their stories each moved along, despite such a large cast. Raven’s name and story might drive things along, but it’s more of an ensemble story that leads from issue to issue.
It’s yet another aspect that makes me grateful for this series. Children, and even adults, have such a hard time seeing things from a different perspective or point of view. All they know is what they have experienced or seen with their own eyes. Having such an adventurous story that casts such a natural — yet broad — focus of people allows them to see scenes from many points of view.
It’s these various points of view and people wanting different things that has me torn about this week’s issue of Raven: The Pirate Princess Year Two #1. Love and jealousy are rearing their heads and will no doubt create drama and heartache. But it’s yet another part of growing up that teens eventually experience.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the creative team resolves the story set into motion. I’m also looking forward to the discussion that it will generate with my own kids. I imagine confusion, annoyance, and heartache will all be topics of discussion.
I also hope it can lead to bigger discussions about drama, storytelling, and understanding that people sometimes act in their own selfish interests, and how we handle those emotions. Once again, Raven: The Pirate Princess is looking to blur expectations of just what makes “children’s comics” and “adult comics.”
In the end, it leads to excellent reading for all.
Raven: The Pirate Princess Year Two #1 is shipping to comic stores in November. Princeless is releasing its sixth volume, Make Yourself Part 2, in collected form first on November 8, 2017.