The Princess And The P.I.: Kelly Thompson And Brianne Drouhard Talk ‘Mega Princess’
Mega Princesss, out next week from Boom, is an all-ages story about a young princess named Max who really wants to be a detective. She has a pony named Justine, who can be kind of a jerk, and because it's her birthday, her fairy godmother just gave her superpowers.
To Max's disappointment, however, her superpowers come from the world's princesses, so they're mostly about dancing, charm, and being able to detect a pea under a pile of mattresses. But with her baby brother missing, Max is going to have to use her detective skills, her princess powers, and her powered-up Jerk Pony to solve the case.
ComicsAlliance sat down with Mega Princess writer Kelly Thompson and artist Brianne Drouhard to talk about the feminist princess moment, building fantasy worlds, and the importance of a mean pony.
ComicsAlliance: The world of Mega Princess mixes a typical Disney-esque fantasy kingdom, in which princesses receive gifts from fairies on their birthday, and our own world, in which Philip Marlowe and the Wizard of Oz exist. Have you mapped out how these elements fit together, or are you just having fun with it as it happens?
Kelly Thompson: You’re going right for the tough stuff right out of the gate, Elle! I would say this is the most malleable thing about Mega Princess, in that we talked about it a lot, trying to pin it down --- where the rules and boundaries are. It was important to me that the Mega Princess world encompassed more than just “traditional Fairy Tales,” and I wanted it to feel modern and have other kinds of genre options (like detective noir, which Max is such a fan of).
In the end, we ended up with something like --- all fiction is real… and maybe just “the real world” is the thing that isn’t real? Which is sort of a spiritual successor to my Storykiller novel… in that it’s kind of an inversion of the ideas there?
Brianne Drouhard: I’m just along for the ride, it’s been refreshing to draw between what seems to be standard fairy tale tropes with a more modern twist.
CA: If Maxine has the powers of every princess, surely there must be some princess somewhere who’s a great athlete, or an excellent swordfighter? Is it possible Max might discover some powers she’s more excited about, or is it really just detecting peas and talking to animals?
KT: Yeah, a lot of the series is naturally about Max growing as a person and reconciling her princess and detective selves, and part of reconciling that princess self and the powers that come with it is opening her mind and thinking about how to use the powers creatively and also how many different kind of powers and princesses there are in the world, and that things she thought useless might not be so useless after all.
BD: That’s one of the aspects that’s so fun with Max, is seeing her discover how to use her powers in a way only she could. That she can be a princess and a detective, that these are only two parts of her. From there, she starts to get really creative with how she can combine her powers to help solve the mystery of her missing little brother.
CA: We’re going to see more of Amber the Fairy Godmother, right? She seems fun, and she has a really great hoodie.
KT: Yeah, Amber is super fun, I love her unexpected voice, and she’s a favorite of mine. She’ll definitely be popping from time to time, but we did have to put some metaphorical handcuffs on her early on, because she’s so powerful, we can’t have her just popping in to save the day all the time. We need Max to learn how to save the day herself.
BD: I want Amber’s hoodie. It is probably fully fleeced inside with extra pockets. I love pockets.
CA: How do you approach a book aimed at a younger audience differently from your other comics work?
KT: This is really my first middle-grade book, so it definitely stretched some different muscles for me. However, I’ve been writing Jem and the Holograms for over two years now, and we try to write that to be very all-ages friendly, so I at least had some experience with it.
I definitely try to write Mega Princess on a couple levels --- one that kids get and can enjoy right out of the gate, and one that’s a little deeper and more adult that hopefully older readers will appreciate, and that those first readers might enjoy if they come back to it some time later.
BD: I’ve mostly worked on animated TV shows aimed at kids, (that people of all ages can watch too), so this isn’t too far out of my wheelhouse. It can be hard to find projects that are focused more on a girl’s perspective, and that’s a big reason I jumped at the chance to create and draw for Mega Princess. Having more variety and reading choices for kids is always a good thing.
CA: Feminist takes on fantasy and princess stories seem to be having a real moment right now, especially in comics. Do you see this book as part of a conversation or movement?
KT: I think it’s only natural that somewhat dated and conventional stories and tropes get turned on their ear a bit, and traditional princess stories are certainly ripe for subverting.
I’m a huge fan of fairy tales, and especially since they were originally usually very dark tales (I mean, seriously, read the original The Little Mermaid someday… nightmares, people, nightmares!) it seems only fitting that they’re getting new life and subversions --- stories are constantly evolving, it’s one of the best things about them. I definitely see Mega Princess as part of a larger zeitgeist of subverting traditional tales and remaking them into something modern and wonderfully naturally feminist.
BD: It does feel like a natural progression.
CA: I love how supportive Maxine’s parents are, when it would have been easy to make them oppressive figures to rebel against.
KT: Yeah, in middle grade and YA stuff we see a lot of orphans and kids with awful or MIA parents, and we really wanted to avoid that. Max is a very lucky and even spoiled girl; she has a very doting and supportive family, even if she and her mother don’t entirely see eye to eye. Max has a whole world of good and bad things to explore, and part of what makes her so equipped to do that is the strong home base she’s always had behind her.
CA: Related question, was it a deliberate decision to make the King adorable, or did he just come out that way?
KT: I definitely wanted him to be adorable, but I think we mostly have Brianne and her genius to thank for that!
BD: I deliberately made the King adorable, the world needs more adorable kings.
CA: How much influence did Kelly have on the character designs in general, and how much of that was Brianne?
BD: Going off of Kelly’s initial description of the characters, I took a few passes on each, and we pared down from there. For secondary characters, I look over Kelly’s scripts and we spitball ideas to flesh out the characters designs. There is a lot of personality and story you can have in just the visual details. We really wanted to flesh out this world and the individual kingdoms it contains. The second issue, where Max and Justine visit the Tiny Kingdom, we had a lot of fun just coming up with some of the outfits the residents wear.
KT: There’s a great example of how critical Brianne is to the Mega Princess worldbuilding and characters, in that when she was designing “Tiny Kingdom,” which appears in the second issue, she did this design for a character we dubbed Tiny Sock Baby… and I fell so in love with the design and personality she gave him that I went back into the script to write him into it. I love him. And letting Brianne just run wild as the genius she is, we get the best of both worlds.
CA: Jerk Pony might be the character find of 2016. Why a pony, and why a mean pony?
KT: Jerk Pony is the character of 2016! I agree! Why a pony? Because ponies are the. best. (especially ones with “battle mode”). Why a mean pony? Because smart sassy ponies are always more fun than sweet ponies. Sweet is overrated in my book… as you can probably tell from reading Mega Princess.
BD: There is a law that every project I work on must contain at least one equine. I don’t want to go to jail. Is Justine really mean, or is that just the front she puts on to deal with Max’s over abundant imagination? (Justine is my favorite character; don’t tell Max.)
KT: Justine is also my favorite character… Max is gonna kill us both!