A long time ago, in a magical fairytale land, it was decided -- probably by old white dudes -- that princesses needed saving. It's a tale as old as time, and it's in serious need of an update.
Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton and comics writer Greg Pak have teamed up to create "The Princess Who Saved Herself," a children’s book based on Coulton's popular song of the same name. The beautifully illustrated book redefines what it means to be a princess -- no prince necessary.
"That came from me wanting to create a character who was totally independent," Coulton told MTV News. "At that time, my daughter was in this phase where she really did think she could do everything herself. So it was me playing into her fantasy -- she lives in a castle that is pink and purple, she just eats cake and never wears socks. These are all things that my daughter wished were true."
Pak, a longtime comic book writer, was instantly inspired to bring to life a modern-day princess who played rock 'n' roll and lived by her own rules.
"The first time I heard the song, I really felt like it could be a book," Pak told us. "It's about a kid who is just awesome and goes through her life doing what she wants to do. And when it comes to jerks or problems, she deals with everything in a very straight-forward way. She'll kick a dragon's butt if she has to, but she always manages to find the compassionate way to deal with the problem."
Coulton and Pak, together with artist Takeshi Miyazawa and colorist Jessica Kholinne, brought the lyrics to life. And Princess Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara and her fantastical world were born. The project even has the seal of approval from its inspiration, Coulton's daughter.
"It's been years since I wrote the song, and my daughter is now fine with wearing socks," Coulton said. "And she's not so into pink and purple anymore. Those were meant to be little inside jokes to her, and I don't think she even gets them anymore. But she loves the story, and she thinks it's pretty cool."
However, some things never change, especially when your daughter is as strong and independent as the character she inspired. "There's a little spoken word section in the middle of the song where the princess receives several phone calls from a prince she doesn't want to talk to," he added. "And I keep trying to get her to do that little spoken word section with me when I perform it somewhere, but she refuses." (Hey, a 21st century princess doesn't have to do what she doesn't want to do.)
So how do we ensure that kickass young girls and boys have more diverse, strong-willed rolemodels like Gloria? For starters, we need more fearless storytellers. Here are a few defining characteristics for modern-day princesses:
Princesses should be diverse.Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Colors: Jessica Kholinne
With a name like Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion, this princess isn't your average, cookie-cutter protagonist. She's multiracial, a decision that was made by comics writer Greg Pak.
"She's not actually named in the original song, but I did it for a few reasons," Pak told MTV News. "Every couple of weeks, a new study will come out, and it's just sadly true that protagonists of children's books are overwhelmingly white and male -- and whatever, to a certain extent that's fine. I'm a half-Korean kid who grew up having no trouble identifying with Spider-Man. Anybody can identify with any well-written character. At the same time, there's something very powerful to seeing somebody who looks like you as the hero of the story. And every kid should have that experience."
So Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion -- badass princess, amateur guitar player and pint-sized snake wrangler -- was born. "The name is a little bit of a wink and a joke, but it's actually not that unusual for people to have that many different points of heritage," added Pak. "So many families in America have incredibly diverse backgrounds, so I just thought that would be a fun thing to do."
And for Pak, bringing a confident, happy-go-lucky multiracial character to life was important. It's the kind of character he wishes had existed when he was growing up. "She's not normal. She's awesome and outstanding, and she does things in her own specific way," he said. "I wanted to write a multiracial character that is not hampered by the usual tragic tropes that multiracial characters are so often saddled with in film and literature. It gets tiresome."
Princesses can be I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T.Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Colors: Jessica Kholinne
When it comes to parents in fairytales, usually, one of two things happen: they're tragically killed off or they're totally lame and controlling. In "The Princess Who Saved Herself," however, Gloria's parents don't even exist. She lives in her pink and purple castle with her pet snake, and she can pretty much do whatever she wants.
"I feel like a lot of times in children's stories, you have a tragic disappearance of the parents or a separation from the parents," Coulton said. "I didn't want to get into the tragedy of it. I just sort of said, 'They're not around.' No big deal! She's actually fine with it. She's actually having a great time. She can do whatever she wants."
But when it came to adapting Coulton's song for the page, he and Pak had a deeper conversation about Gloria's parents. It was ultimately decided that for this particular story, the princess didn't need mom and dad around. She's an independent little lady, after all.
"When we sat down to make the adaptation of the song and turn it into a story, we started talking about how we should deal with the parents. But once you start talking about it, it becomes this tragic story," Pak said. "So we don't mention it. It's not about the parents."
Besides, parents would totally cramp her style.
Villains don't have to be, well, evil.Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Colors: Jessica Kholinne
If "Maleficent" taught us anything, it's that villains are never truly evil. In fact, their heightened emotions always stem from a perfectly normal place. In "The Princess Who Saved Herself," the antagonist is just a witch who wants to play her guitar in peace but the ruckus from across stream is giving her a major headache. Not cool, princess.
"I kind of love that the witch isn't evil in any way," Coulton told us. "It's just from the perspective of the princess, that she's annoying her."
Imagine if you were trying to play your music when all of the sudden you were interrupted by loud, obnoxious, out-of-tune playing. You'd be annoyed too. So, naturally, she sends her giant bumble bee to take care of her princess problem.
"The problems that she encounters are very fantastical -- there's a dragon, there's a witch, there's a giant bee -- but the problems are very everyday," said Pak. "They're the kinds of problems that kids face every day, which is just about people annoying each other."
"People getting all up in their business," Coulton added. "Especially from the perspective of a kid. When a grownup is telling you not to do something, that grownup, who may be coming from a perfectly rational place, is the enemy. The kid is like, 'Why are you stopping my fun?'"
After a scary incident involving a sensitive dragon, the princess and the witch ultimately come to an agreement -- and eventually, they even become friends. Friends who start a super cool rock band together because, duh.
"And as they go through this conflict, they kind of figure each other out," said Coulton. "People are not just villains because they disagree with you."
Princesses need an awesome squad.Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Colors: Jessica Kholinne
Princesses and animal friends go together like peanut butter and jelly. We don't question the communication barriers. It just works. So naturally, Gloria's squad includes a rock 'n' roll snake and an adorable bee who wants you to think he's a bully. "He's this cranky bruiser of a bee who is also kind of adorable," said Pak.
"When Jonathan and I got together, we thought about what other kind of minion this witch could have," he said. "And the idea of a bee was perfect because kids are scared of bees, but they're also kind of cute."
"They're fuzzy," Coulton added. "They're literally fuzzy."
"The Princess Who Saved Herself" is now available for pre-order.