by Zachary Clemente
Comics writer Greg Pak (Action Comics, Storm, Code Monkey Save World) and songwriter Jonathan Coulton were kind enough to answer some questions about their in progress Kickstarter for the upcoming creator-owned comic The Princess Who Saved Herself. According to Pak: The book is based on the beloved Jonathan Coulton song that reinvents the princess myth for a new generation of proactive girls. The main character is multiracial and the book’s written by yours truly with art by Japanese Canadian artist Takeshi Miyazawa and Indonesian colorist Jessica Kholinne.
Comics Beat: There have been many instances of Kickstarter projects, both in comics and out, having problems getting off the ground after a fully-funded campaign, even one as critically successful as Code Monkey Save World, are you approaching this next Kickstarter any differently?
Greg Pak: I love Kickstarter so much for helping us make the Code Monkey Save World book possible. But yes, running and delivering a Kickstarter is a HUGE undertaking, particularly when you add in a lot of different rewards. Jonathan and I did our best to calculate the worst case scenario for every add-on with the Code Monkey book, so we went into it with pretty clear eyes. But even so, it took a bit longer to deliver everything than we hoped. But we did indeed get the book done and into people’s hands just a few months late, and our backers were hugely supportive and understanding. They’ve been particularly cool about waiting for us to finish this new Princess Who Saved Herself book, which was a stretch goal for the CMSW campaign. But here we are, delivering the digital version of the book as promised, and we couldn’t be more pleased.
That being said, in launching this new Kickstarter to make physical hardcovers of the PWSH book, we’re purposefully scaling down the scope of the rewards a bit. For the CMSW Kickstarter, we had T-shirts and challenge coins and mugs and posters, all of which were awesome, but all of which took a lot of time to produce and ship. For the PWSH campaign, we really just want to make the books, so the main rewards are the books themselves. And stickers, of course! Because stickers are awesome.
CB: The original song “The Princess Who Saved Herself” does a great job of quickly depicting the princess and her world in just under three minutes. What are you looking forward to in respect to expanding her character and the world she lives in?
Jonathan Coulton: It’s certainly hard to fully realize a world in only three minutes, and within the rhythmic and rhyming constraints of a song. I personally love the way Greg fleshed out the characters. The witch in particular was a little one dimensional in the song – just your standard fairy tale witch. Greg and Tak made her human, and moreover, they made her a cool hipster mom type, which is an angle I never would have thought to pursue.
CB: How much input has Jonathan had in this process?
GP: We talked through it every step of the way. He’s been an amazing collaborator — always ready with great insights and perspective, but also totally open to whatever crazy plan or ideas I might be tossing out there. I think fundamentally we had the same basic understanding of the essential characters and themes of the story, so that meant we were always working from the same page in coming up with solutions to our various storytelling challenges.
JC: I feel as though I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t take credit for the bee fart joke. But Greg is right – we have a nice shared sensibility when it comes to these characters, so it wasn’t hard to get to a place that worked for both of us.
CB: The theme of subverting the standard “princess waiting in a castle” is clear in the song; what’s your approach for expanding on this theme?
GP: I just loved the way the princess tackles every challenge she encounters with fearless aplomb and is totally ready to kick a dragon’s ass, if that’s what needs to happen. But what makes the song really great is that our heroine always ends up finding the compassionate solution to her problems with others. That’s funny, surprising, true, and a little beautiful. So I tried to keep that in mind while expanding the story into a full children’s picture book.
CB: When introducing the concept of this book, you were careful to mention that not only is the main character racially diverse, so are two of your collaborators, Takeshi Miyazawa (artist) and Jessica Kholinne (colorist), being Japanese/Canadian and Indonesian, respectively. With the comics community pushing for better representative diversity both in characters and creative teams alike, how do you find this influencing you and your work?
CP: I’ve always tried to cast my films and comics diversely, from creating Amadeus Cho with Tak Miyazawa for Marvel ten years ago to writing War Machine and Magneto Testament and Storm and Turok to bringing diverse supporting casts to the books I write at DC. I’m biracial and I live in a diverse city and world and the stories that come into my head tend to be populated with diverse people. So that’s just something I’ve always done and will continue to do.
CB: I’m not sure how it goes for you, but I’ve found myself the self-anointed pusher of comics in my family, so the standards I hold a book to can often change to accommodate another reader or two. I often find myself enjoying a book more when I know I can share it with my younger cousins, Rachel and Kyra (both girls). Do you have this sort of process when working on The Princess Who Saved Herself?
GP: Oh, sure. Every time I sit at my table at a con and little kids come up with their parents, I mentally kick myself for not having written more books that are appropriate for them. I love the idea that if all goes well, pretty soon I’ll have a book at that table that they can dive right into.
JC: Me too, I definitely have become more aware of which parts of my songs are appropriate for kids. Mostly I write for adults, or rather, I write for myself, but as my kids have grown up I’ve given a lot more thought to themes and messages that I put in there, knowingly or not. And having a thing like this song and book, something that is straight up FOR kids, feels really good.
CB: You refer to Jonathan’s song as for “a generation of proactive girls”. How do you think the world of comics is doing in respect to that demographic?
GP: We’re living at a pretty spectacular time. In my ten years in comics, I’ve never seen the call for diversity become so mainstream and come from every single level of the industry. The reality is that comics are for everybody, and men and women of all backgrounds are buying comics. Diverse readers are supporting a huge range of different kinds of comics from an ever diversifying group of creators, and it’s a thrill. That’s how we grow the readership and it benefits everyone who works in comics in any capacity.
CB: How can we do better?
GP: As readers, we have to put our money where our mouths are. Buy all these cool books and the creators and companies will keep making them. As creators and publishers, we have to keep taking risks, trying new things. And we need to get better at reaching different demographics for different books. You asked about girls specifically. And yeah, kids are a tough demographic for comics creators to reach. Because as I understand the market, it’s typically parents who buy books for kids, not necessarily the kids themselves. And most parents who buy books for kids go to traditional bookstores, not comic book stores. Of course, many, many great comic book stores have built fantastic kid-friendly spaces. But it’s still a challenge to get a monthly kid-friendly comic book into the hands of all the millions of potential readers who are out there. I don’t have any easy or brilliant solutions. But running this Kickstarter is I guess one stab I’m taking at finding one way to reach folks with this kind of book. Many creators and publishers smarter than me are trying all kinds of things right now. We’ll all learn from whatever works, and then hopefully we can all collectively build on any successes and audiences that come.
You can support The Princess Who Saved Herself by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign.