If you played a lot of video games in your youth, especially ones like "Legend Of Zelda" and "Super Mario Brothers," then you've probably saved a fair number of princesses in your day. But what do you think the princess was up to that whole time while she was waiting around for you to show up?
That's the idea that inspired "Another Castle," a new comic book by Oni Press that's set to debut in March 2016. The first issue tells the story of Misty, the fierce and feminine heir to the kingdom of Beldora who must keep up appearances as a prisoner while secretly plotting to overthrow the evil dictator who's captured her. It's a fascinating twist on a familiar trope, and one that fits into a very promising trend of indie comic series that embrace female empowerment and '90s nostalgia.
Below, check out MTV News' interview with "Another Castle" writer Andrew Wheeler and artist Paulina Ganucheau, as well as an exclusive look at the Emerald City Comic Con-only variant for Issue #1 as drawn by Marguerite Sauvage.
MTV News: So I don’t feel like I’m going out on a leap by assuming that “Another Castle” is very much inspired by the “damsel in distress” video game trope. Can you tell me how the particular story of Misty came out of that framework?
Andrew Wheeler (writer): Absolutely. It came from thinking about the other side of that story. While the noble knight is fighting his way towards the castle to rescue the princess, what's the "damsel" doing? She has a story, too. She's not in sleep mode. The "damsel in distress" is a character in someone else's story, not a character in her own story. So the question I wanted to answer here is, what's the "damsel in distress" really up to the whole time we're distracted by that guy with the sword?
MTV: How did the two of you come up with the visual design for Misty in particular? Andrew, did you have specific ideas for how you wanted her to look before Paulina started drawing?
Wheeler: She had to look like a fairytale princess. That was the most important note. We can always use more stories about amazing tomboy girls who take on the system, but we also need stories that say you don't have to choose between being a princess and kicking butt. You don't have to put away the pink to be competent, heroic, or in control.
Now, Misty knows how to dress for the task at hand, as you'll see in the first issue, but for all the things she's rebelling against, she's not rebelling against pink. Pink is a rebel color.
The rest was really up to Paulina, who knocked it out of the park!
Paulina Ganucheau (artist): Aw shucks! But I really couldn’t have said it better myself. Her design celebrates femininity. Just because you look fabulous in your flowing pink gown doesn’t mean you’re weak. Misty’s hair is perfect, her makeup looks great and she will also dismantle her enemies from the inside out.
MTV: I think my favorite characters so far might be the weirdly cheerful citizens of Grimoire, because they’re seriously adorable. What inspired their creation and design?
Wheeler: You mean Gorga and Fogmoth, Misty's jolly jailers? They're a lot of fun to write. They are very upbeat for citizens of an oppressive regime, but as we'll see, they've lived rather sheltered lives in a city awash with misery. They're in deep denial about the world they live in. But their positivity is a weapon that Misty is going to need.
Ganucheau: Those two poor cuties. I love them so much. They’re a joy to draw, too. You can tell they have a lot of harbored feelings of denial, but they have strength that Misty definitely needs.
MTV: At the end of the issue, Misty has very compelling reasons for staying a prisoner and not just busting out of her captor’s clutches. Can you talk about why you decided to go that route with the character, Andrew?
Wheeler: Misty is incredibly competent and strong-willed, so it's easy to imagine her busting out and heading home; saving herself rather than waiting to be saved. But what if there's a reason why she can't do that? What if she makes a heroic choice of her own?
I wanted to make two things very clear in this first issue. First, Misty could rescue herself. She doesn't need a prince. But second, she's the hero of this storry. Saving yourself isn't heroic. Making a sacrifice to save someone else is heroic. So by the end of that first issue, Misty makes a choice to do the one thing she really doesn't want to do. She stays. But she's not just going to wait.
MTV: There seems to be this really awesome trend of empowering, ultra-femme, nostalgia-inspired indie comics recently, like “Power Up,” the “Jem and the Holograms” reboot comic, and even Paulina’s other series “Zodiac Starforce.” (Also excellent, by the way!) “Another Castle” certainly strikes me as fitting into that aesthetic. Do you both agree? Where do you two think the trend first began and do you see it having a positive influence on comics moving forward?
Wheeler: That's a great question. I don't have a sure answer, but I suspect we may have reached a tipping point for stories for girls. The first step was to acknowledge that the audience is out there. The second step is to recognise that it's not a single audience, and those readers deserve a lot of different types of story. And a lot of what we're used to seeing in comics is very masculine, so carving out a space for feminine empowerment fantasies feels like a necessary balance.
As for where it started; I think we have to acknowledge creators like Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks as the standard bearers. They proved that there's an audience out there, and it is hungry for great stories. And I think that's great. The comic industry can be pretty cowardly, and that stunts its growth in a big way. These books are all part of comics realizing its true potential.
Ganucheau: Thank you for the kind words about “Zodiac Starforce!” Andrew put it so well, so I don’t have much to add to it, but I think some of this change was boosted by manga growing in popularity when people our age were younger, too. Especially with women getting into comics more and more. So much of manga features female empowered and lead stories. I mean, I know tons of women (and men!) whose first intro to comics in general was manga, and I think a lot of those people are making books in the western market now. You can see those same childhood influences in a lot of comics/media lately.
I think the trend will be hugely positive and I don’t think the industry will be the same. Comics are changing and it’s a wonderful thing!
"Another Castle" Issue #1 is available March 2, 2016.