Princess at Midnight original graphic novella
Writer/Artist: Andi Watson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US
It’s coming on the three-year anniversary that my family moved into our first (and, we expect, last) house. We absolutely love it. It’s a four-bedroom home, and we only use two of them regularly (one for the wife and me, and the other for the boy). One is a guest bedroom, and that leaves one more. It’s my home office, or at least, it was always intended as such, but it’s only recently that I really set out to make that a reality. I assembled a new bookshelf and have been finally organizing all the softcover and hardcover books — mostly comics — and am working to make it a little haven for myself. As such, I’ve been unpacking a lot of books that have been sitting in boxes since the move three years ago, and I’m rediscovering a lot of interesting gems — books I hadn’t thought about in a long time and even some I hadn’t even read.
Princess at Midnight is one of those falling into the latter category. I’ve always loved Andi Watson’s work, though when I think of his storytelling, it’s usually things such as Slow News Day and Dumped that come to mind, more mature, character-driven works. Still, Watson is an adept teller of stories about and for children, and Princess at Midnight, published by Image Comics in 2008, stands out as a charming example of that strength. It’s actually a surprising book, as it’s not about what one expects at first. It seems to be about a little girl’s dream-haven away from her annoying twin and her unconventional parents, but instead, it proves to be a political story that casts the little girl as the antagonist in her own story.
Holly Crescent laments her existence. Her twin brother Henry torments her, and her overprotective parents home-school her, providing a good education but denying her the frivolity and friendship that she can hear coming from a nearby school. Fortunately, she has an escape: every night, as she sleeps, she becomes the princess of Waxing Castle. She’s waited on by her loyal servants, Peepo and a dragon chancellor, and she loves nothing more than a lovely picnic. But when her favorite picnic spot is beset upon by creatures from a neighboring kingdom, her territorial inclinations lead her down an unfortunate path.
Watson’s incredibly basic style is incredibly versatile. In other words, he’s able to convey a lot of subtlety of emotion. But Princess is far from a subtle book. Instead, it’s innocent and cute and wondrous. Easily the most impressive visual in the book is Watson’s design for the Chancellor. An assembly of simple but fluid lines brings the dragon to life incredibly well, and I love his facial expressions, always deferring to the princess but always knowing better.
I can’t help but wonder if Watson’s story, which offers a solid moral for kids, also serves as a commentary on the Iraq War. The central message is about warmongering, about overextending resources blindly in the name of a never-ending mission of greed and ambition. Given the timing of the book’s original release, I can’t help but think real-world events played something of a role in crafting this all-ages fable.
Whenever I write a review, I almost always end up researching the comic or book online, sometimes for images and sometimes for more information. My Google search turned up something interesting: Watson turned Princess at Midnight into a webcomic, offering a color version of the story, and a much longer read at that. One can find it here; it was last updated a year ago.
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to about Holly’s effort to overcome the annoyances of her everyday life that were beyond her control. As it drifted away from that more predictable path and her princess persona revealed itself to be rather spoiled, I was a bit put off. I wanted to like Princess Holly, but she was proving to be the problem rather than the protagonist. As I continued, though, I saw the real message Watson was offering, and I came around. Princess at Midnight remains a cute story that’s appropriate for all readers, but its depth actually gives one something to think about at the same time. 7/10
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