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Princeless Month EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Whitley Interview Part 1 – Raven and Representation

It’s Princeless Month here at Talking Comics and to celebrate this spectacular series, I got the chance to chat with Princeless writer/creator, Jeremy Whitley about his new spinoff!

So, Raven: the Pirate Princess is coming out soon and I’m so excited about this spinoff! How’s this series going to be different from the main Princeless line?

It’s a lot of the stuff I’ve wanted to do with Princeless occasionally but I’ve had to tone back on my own accord because I wanted it to be a book that is literally all-ages, that somebody could read to their 2-3 year old and be fine. I wanted Raven: the Pirate Princess to read just a little older with a little more fighting, a little more romance to it.

Let’s start with Raven, the newest character that’s now near and dear to my heart. When you started with Adrienne’s third arc, did you always know that Raven needed her own series spinoff? Were you writing with that in mind?

Adrienne and Raven meet for the first time!

Well, it was an interesting thing because Raven was sort of born out of the Free Comic Book Day story. I found out that we were going to have the chance to put something in for FCBD and they asked me if I wanted to add something from a pre-existing story or if I wanted to go ahead and do a new short story because we had half of a book to do it in. I wanted [a story] that was new but sums up what Princeless is about. So I came up with the idea of Raven and having Adrienne rescue her. And the FCBD story ended up being the first half of the first issue in Princeless: the Pirate Princess. I wrote that story and at the end it was open-ended and then I decided to do a story with her. As soon as I was half-way through with writing [Princeless: the Pirate Princess] I knew it needed to be its own series. I love this character and I want to keep writing more stuff for her.

Before it even started coming out, before Ted [Brandt] and Rosy [Higgins] were even drawing it, I was working hard at convincing my publisher at Action Lab that we needed to go ahead with [the spinoff]. I think as soon as he saw the art from Rosy and Ted, it wasn’t even a question anymore. He wanted to keep them around because they’re amazing.

I think my pitch wasn’t more than “It’s Princeless but with pirate stuff!” [laughs]

The art for Princeless: Pirate Princess gives off a Disney/Mulan feel, was that intentional? And did you want the art to have less of that feel for the spinoff?

FullSizeRender (1)I wanted it to feel kind of like that. When I first got the sketches from Ted and Rosy that’s the vibe I got from it. Before they were on it, I had another artist that I was working with. Her version of Raven was more short-haired. She looked less like Mulan than this one does with more of an anime look. I liked that one as well but when Ted and Rosy came on, the first sketch they did for me looked like this character and I was like, “YES, that’s what we’re going to do,” because it looked fantastic.

A lot of that has to do with them. I try not to get too crazy with my descriptions of characters, I try to hit a couple of important points and let the artists do what they will from there. I will give them notes on things but I try not to dictate every inch of how a character should look. One of my big things with her was that I wanted her to appear to be Chinese, since there isn’t an actual China in this world, like there isn’t an America. I wanted her to not dress like “girl pirate” with long boots, a skirt and all that stuff. I wanted her to dress like a captain of a ship. When we first meet her, she’s in the green dress and at the first opportunity she loses the green dress. I think I actually gave them more notes on what her outfit should like than what I wanted her to look like.

When I was reading Pirate Princess, I got a kind of gay vibe. And usually when I get this vibe, I’m wrong, especially when it comes to television characters and I could have been wrong here but a mutual friend of ours [and fellow Talking Comics contributor] Maria asked me if I was getting a gay vibe too (and she’s straight!). So just to clarify, was I wrong?

[Laughs] No, you’re right. And that’s something that’s very much been a part of Raven’s character since her conception. I wanted to have that representation. I wanted to have a young-ish lesbian character in this story. I wanted to have that sexual representation in there because that was a question that I got a lot when I started writing Princeless.

People would ask me that about Adrienne and about several other characters in the story. It was something that I very much wanted to cover but I didn’t want to conflate the message of Princeless with the idea that Adrienne doesn’t need a man to be because she is not interested in men and that would be the only reason. It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about and will be addressed in Princeless later.

I wanted RFullSizeRender (4)aven to be a cool, fun, swash-buckling pirate who is also into the ladies. Yeah, it’s definitely something that I tried to seed in there without it being like, unfortunately what big comic book companies tend to do when they have a gay character which is to go: “GAY, GAY, GAY! Look how GAY our character is! This character is SO gay!” and then they don’t do anything with it! [Laughs] I think the perfect example would be Earth 2 Alan Scott/Green Lantern. They made a big point of [his sexuality]. And then…

Didn’t his fiancé die in the first issue?

Yeah! His fiancé died in the first issue and it doesn’t really come up again.

That’s really an unfortunate thing with representation in comics, and in fiction in general. I think a character from Orphan Black said it best when she said something like: “My sexuality isn’t the most interesting thing about me.” I thought that was a good note for LGBTQ representation. There are points when it [sexuality] should be a focus but it can’t be the only thing about that character.

Yeah and I think those same writers would stick out like a sore thumb if the focus FullSizeRender (3)of a character was that they were straight. Like if all they ever talked about was how straight they were or how Black or how Asian they were, I think it would stick out to people. But for some reason, those same writers don’t see sexuality the same way. And I guess, in a lot of cases, it’s probably something they’re not as used to discussing. Especially for straight people, there’s a real kind of otherization there that I want to try to avoid.

As I had written the Princeless storyline and as I was writing this first Raven: the Pirate Princess storyline I was reading Lumberjanes and it was amazing to me. I met Noelle Stevenson this past weekend and I told her it was fantastic how much [Mal and Molly’s story] is and isn’t about them being gay. It’s a crush. It’s not a thing where the book takes a huge amount of time to step aside and point out that they’re both girls. It just is.

You’re doing a great job with it on Princeless. Especially because with fantasy and sci-fi, there’s an opportunity there to have diversity without it having to constantly have a coming-out focus. I feel like a lot of fictional mediums don’t take advantage of that but you do and you do it really well.

Thank you! Yeah, it’s something I’m definitely thinking about as I’m writing it and wanting [it] to be something that is important and is an important part of the character without it making it the whole character. It’s going to be interesting because there is a love interest for Raven that appears early on in the series. The two of them are very different characters and other than the fact that they’ve known each other for a while and they like each other, they don’t have a whole lot in common and that’s what I wanted to go for. I didn’t want to make it a thing where I have one particular sort of character and all the characters that are like this are into girls and all the characters that are like this are into boys. In my experience that’s not the way it is.

Look out for Part 2 of my interview with Jeremy Whitley next week where we talk about Raven’s mission and new crew!

Get your free download of Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 HERE and don’t forget to pre-order the upcoming Raven: the Pirate Princess series at your LCS!

Comic book reader, video game player, and manga/anime fanatic, Nikki has been a geek since she first saw the X-Men animated series way back in the 90's. Loves DC characters, Marvel Comics, and mostly everything Image is putting out there now. You can…

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