Review and Rating of Princeless

Princeless appeals to all my feminist sensibilities. And while I’ve thus far made an attempt to keep these sensibilities out of my reviews (and into the ratings), I’m breaking my rule (But really, I named my blog Ms.Comix. Perhaps quiet feminism wasn’t ever in the plans). So here’s the compromise. Let me first present you with an analytical review of Princeless. Then, allow me to unleash the feminist. Deal?

Princeless conveys its main plot quite explicitly in its name alone. A young woman, a princess named Adrienne, is locked away in a tall tower. But she’s unlike the princesses of your typical fairytale. Adrienne decides she doesn’t want to wait around for a prince, so she befriends the dragon guarding her tower and saves herself. Now, she’s on a quest to save all her sisters.

The plot is unique (I’ve certainly never read anything like it before), but the concept of a fairytale parody (think Enchanted) is borderline cliché.  However, this cliché is forgiven pretty quickly, as the art compels. The lively yet cool color pallet sets a tone in accordance with the pithy, light writing style. The large panels, sometimes full page in size, create a more casual reading experience.

What I enjoy most about Princeless is the characterization. Adrienne is the kick-butt type, and it works. She’s loud, opinionated, and clever. And she’s surrounded by an equally dynamic cast—a prince who seems to have a thing for frogs, a brother who enjoys the beauty of words, and a girlfriend who is half dwarf and can wield an impossibly massive hammer. In short, the characters of Princeless are not cardboard cutouts or anything close to it.

Expect a pleasant ride when you pick up issue one (and don’t expect you’ll be content to stop there!). Princeless is enjoyable, casual, and simple enough for children yet profound enough to touch upon issues most comics simply ignore.

And that’s where the feminist comes in.

Here’s my thought process when it comes to fiction: A writer has the power to shape an alternate reality. She has the ability to create a better world, to not take the real world’s social conventions as a given. A writer has the power to undo stereotypes. Yet, very few writers of fiction recognize this power.

I have read far too many fantasies that accept society’s stereotypes as given.  If you have the chance to create a whole new world, why are your female characters old hags, bitchy villains, innocent young lovers, or caring mothers?  (If you need an example, read the Eragon series. Why are the village women always so…domesticated?) Why not seize upon this opportunity to cast women in nuanced roles that more accurately portray their potential, roles that denounce the stereotypes of a patriarchal society?

Princeless, happily, does seize this opportunity. Princeless (perhaps even to the point of potentially harming its plot and characterization) constantly questions women’s role in this fantasy world.

“I don’t need a hero or a prince or anyone else!” states Adrienne.  And when presented with the so-called armor (e.g. chainmail bikinis) of a woman warrior, the princess declares what women in the real world (and especially women who read comics!) so often believe, “Just because I have a woman’s body doesn’t mean I have to show it to everyone! Especially if I’m on a quest. Why can’t I just be a hero?”

I want my little sister to read this comic. I want my future daughter to read this comic. I want you to go out and read this comic and then go out and read this comic to the little girl or boy in your life.

Let’s start undoing stereotypes!

Princeless is currently available through Diamond (in stores everywhere!).  Additionally, it is available digitally on at

% Panels Devoted to Women

Okay, I’m not counting. Too many. (Don’t you love when that happens?). Let’s say…98%.

Women in Action

 ★★★Women often participate in plot-moving action.

Um, yeah, like constantly.

Women as Leaders

★★★Women often lead the other characters.


Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

Adrienne’s a pretty girl. That’s all there is to it. She’s not oversexualized at all. (Expect, of course, when she has to wear a Wonder-Woman-esque outfit and is catcalled by some of the king’s men. But that was to make a point.)

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★★★Men deviate dramatically from the male stereotype. They express their emotions, use creativity, and think of others.

Adrienne’s brother for example. Can’t swing a sword to save his life, but he knows a good book when he sees one.

Review and Rating of Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon

Artist: Steve Bryant
Writer: Paul Daly
Color: Chad Fidler and Jason Millet with Kevin Volo
Publisher: Ape Entertainment
Athena Voltaire is Indian Jones meets Xena. This air racer-turned-actress-turned-businesswoman doesn’t let her feelings get in the way of shooting bad guys and throwing sticks of dynamite while flying an airplane. Not surprisingly, the plot and side characters are a little hokey, but I’m writing this review to tell you that you should read this comic anyway. Athena lives up to her namesake’s intelligence and fighting prowess. First and foremost, Athena’s personality (and, at least for me, the fact that she’s not wearing a leather suit) compels the reader, so much so, one’s willing to forget about a couple Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-esque skeletons and a Nazi on the hunt for a secret tribal relic with untold powers (reminding one immediately of the latest Captain America movie). She is surrounded by a motley crew of side characters, including a female Nazi major (who, it seems, has a personal vendetta against Voltaire), two burley cutthroats, a holy man, and a slew of other equally diverse friends and enemies.
The artwork is vivid in full color that adheres to no particular scheme. Bright, bold sound effects in varying fonts give the comic a superhero quality, which adds to the panel after panel of action scenes. The panels are simple, allowing the reader to focus on the artwork within them. The writer uses two types of captions: third person captions to inform the reader of place and time and captions used to denote speech “spillover.” This “spillover” occurs when dialog from a character continues into a panel in which he or she is not present. This caption technique is unique to comics and adds layers, through juxtaposition, to a scene.  The creators of this comic also incorporate a scrapbook-style montage to tell Athena’s background story without wasting a ton of space. This background information was relevant in that it provides the reader with insight into Athena’s character, but since it does not directly move the plot, I’m glad it was not a space-sucking element.
Ultimately, Athena Voltaire is a very enjoyable read, especially if one is in need of a break from male dominated superhero comics but still desires some physics-defying action.
Rating: (see more information here about Ms.Comix’ rating system)
% Panels Devoted to Women
Too many to count. Let’s just say 98%
Women in Action
★ ★ ★ Women often participate in plot-moving action
The comics called Athena Voltaire after all.
Women as Leaders
★ ★ ★ Women often lead the other characters
Athena is in charge of them all.
Woman as Sex Objects
★ ★ ★ Women are depicted as sexy, but their allure does not define their purpose as prominent, plot-moving characters in the comic.
Yes, Athena is hot, but she does so much nonstop ass-kicking, it’s no surprise she’s in shape.
Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes
★ ★ Men sometimes deviate from male stereotypes of a logical mind, rationality, and lack of expression and empathy.
Most notably, the British archeologist at the beginning of the story has a hard time understanding how flippantly Athena shoots (and blows up) her enemies.
Something to ponder: How can modern writers tackle the challenge of setting a comic in a historical time period without marginalizing women (as so often occurred throughout most of history)?

How to Make a Comic from Script to Print

Sarah Spoto │Contributing writer.
So, one person writes and draws a comic…right? And everything is drawn by hand…isn’t it?
You wouldn’t be alone if you were unsure about how a comic is actually made. Recently, I attended a lecture at the Chicago Comic Con that cleared up a lot of misconceptions about creating comics or graphic novels. Here’s what I learned.
Comics are written in a sort of assembly line process.
1. To start, the writer must first write the story. The script resembles a movie screen play. There are two generally accepted scripts: the Marvel method and the Traditional full script method. For the Marvel method, the writer will break the action down page-by-page. She provides a general description of what is happening on a page. This method gives the artist greater autonomy over how to execute the story. For the Tradition full-script , the artist describes the action panel-by-panel. For this method, the writer provides a high level of detail to guide the artist.
Both Marvel and DC have samples of scripts to download. Writers also offer samples of their work on their websites. Another resource for scripts is the book Panel One, which provides examples of real comic scripts. Another suggestion is to write to comic companies to send scripts.
2. After the story is written, the script is given to the penciler, who then draws what the writer has described. Before computers, the penciler would pass the comic on to the letterer. Traditionally, the letterer adds the text to the comic by hand. However, today the lettering is done on the computer usually by the inker. The comic is traditionally drawn 66% larger that actual size of the final comic.
3. The inker scans the pages and inks over the pencil. This is process is usually done now on the computer with programs like Photoshop.
4. In the fourth step, the colorist either colors in the Xerox copy of the comic or colors the comic in digitally. Photoshop is a common software for coloring.
5. Finally, the comic can be printed.
How can writers or artists get their work published?
As a writer, it can be very tough to break into the comic industry. Breaking in is actually easier for artists. For submission, writers should submit a paragraph of an idea as a sample. Writers really must sell their idea to find success.
When submitting, avoid the big guys, Marvel and DC. Instead visit your local comic shop and look at the independent comics for smaller, independent comic companies.
Webcomics are also on the rise. Publishing independently on the web is a good way for writers and artists to get their comics read.
Sarah is an art and business student who enjoys the occasional graphic novel and the more than occasional Marvel hero movie.

A Comic Strip You Need to Know About

I found the Wonderella comic strip after my amazing twin sister dressed up as Rogue, coerced a friend to dress as Jean Grey, and attended the Chicago Comicon in my stead. She gave Justin Pierce, the creator of Wonderella, my card, he emailed me, and next thing you know I’m sitting in my room alone shamelessly laughing aloud at this comic. I’d like to share it with you now, so when you’re taking a break from groaning and/or screaming at the politicians on the news, you can have something to laugh at. 

Add This To Your Bookshelf

Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers
Tell someone you’re writing a graphic novel, and you’ll probably hear a response like this, “I didn’t know you could draw!” And then you’ll have to explain, “Actually, I’m writing a graphic novel. A graphic novel script.” Show them Panel One, which includes graphic novel scripts from numerous writinger such as Neil Gaimen. Graphic novel scripts are harder to come by than screenplays, so Panel One is a valuable addition to the new comic writer’s bookshelf.

Review and Rating of "Wolves" by Becky Cloonan
Writer & Artist: Becky Cloonan

Publisher: Self-published

I was drawn to “Wolves,” a short 20 page comic in which the readers follow the story of a hunter on a mission that will change his life, by the beauty and simplicity of the artwork. Happily, the writing follows suit. Cloonan rarely uses dialog, but reveals the depth of the character through first-person captions and compelling full-panel close ups. The plot is sophisticated, employing flashbacks and memories, yet simple. The world of the hunter is depicted as chilling and cold by the sharp lines of the black and white artwork. Cloonan’s panels are expressive as well. Square panels enclose events happening in real time, rounded panels, the past. The last panel on the second page encloses a smaller panel within it, an interesting technique. 

It’s hard to talk about the writing separately from the artwork, since the two work together so closely. This syncing of art and writing is no doubt the result of Cloonan’s work on both aspects. She even self-published the piece, making me re-think my prejudices against self-publishing. The only disappointing elements of “Wolves” are the occasional lack of clarity in artwork and the somewhat cliche fantasy motifs. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely read.

% Panels Devoted to Women

Women in Action
˜˜ Women occasionally participate in plot-moving action.
The one female character provides the romantic interest and the personal motivation and internal struggled for the male protagonist.

Women as Leaders
˜Women are followers, not leaders.
The woman in the comic is significant, but her role is passive.

Women as Sex Objects
˜˜Women’s features are over-emphasized. Their sex separates them from male characters, but they do engage in plot-moving action.
Cloonan does a lovely job of creating a sexy female character who isn’t over the top sexual.

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes
˜˜Men sometimes deviate from the male stereotypes of a logical mind, rationality, lack of expression and empathy.
We’ve got a hunter as a protagonist, so luckily the first-person captions reveal his inner struggles and emotions. This guy’s a fighter and a feeler (Yeah, I made that term up for the sake of alliteration, but you get it, right?)

Something to ponder: As readers, do we expect women writers/artists to create works with female protagonists? Do we, without knowing the gender of an author, assume that books with female leads are written by women?