Y’know, comic books based on fairy tales aren’t quite as common as you might think. I know, it seems like a ridiculous notion. However, with that being the case, I thought I’d take the chance with this column to sometimes focus on comics that use concepts and stereotypes of concepts that have been drawn from fairy tales.
That’s what brings us to this specific comic: Princess Ugg from Oni Press, written and illustrated by Ted Naifeh and with colors and lettering by Warren Wuchinich.
This comic deals with the particular concept of the princess and stereotypes of what a princess in a fantasy setting is supposed to be.
Princess Ugg is the story of Princess Ulga of Grimmeria, the daughter of King Thorgrim and Queen Fridrika. The Grimmerians are a rough, warrior people that live in the icy mountains beset by frost giants (think of them as kind of being like Vikings). The narration does a lot to establish these rough-hewn mountain people, even saying that they have no word for “luxury”. According to the narrator, the closest equivalent is “burden”. One day, Ulga descends from the mountains astride a wooly mammoth (yes, you read that right. It’s one of the coolest touches to the story). She is headed toward Atraesca, an opulent city-state in the lowlands. There she plans to attend a school for princesses with no clear purpose in mind except to find “a new way of living”. Naturally, she doesn’t quite fit in among the more dainty princesses of the school, in particular making an enemy of her roommate Princess Julifer. She has trouble in all her classes except history. She even has trouble with archery, Grimmerians preferring to throw axes than shoot arrows. Things don’t seem promising for Ulga, but with a little help from one of the professors, she may learn what she needs to learn yet.
Though perhaps not as “fairy tale-ish” as most of the stuff I review in this column, I still quite like this comic. When most comics, TV shows or movies try to turn the princess stereotype on its ear, it’s usually by taking a stereotypical fairy tale princess type and making her feisty after the fact. Ulga is a as far from that as possible right from the beginning, but being the daughter of a king and queen still has every right to be called a princess. The setting is far more epic fantasy than it is fairy tale fantasy, focusing more on royalty, city-states and warriors than the more domestic affairs that pop up in fairy tales. However, it is not to the extent that you’re force-fed heaps of mythology and fictional history. Any history is conveyed through narration or the lectures in history class and even then it’s almost incidental. The art is expressive and tells the story well. If I were to make one criticism of this comic, it’s that the dialogue of the Grimmerians is all written in dialect. For those who aren’t familiar with this practice, it’s the act of writing the dialogue in a way that’s supposed to evoke the accent of a people. It can be off-putting to some and it can seem a bit closed-minded to others as it often assumes the accents and pronunciation of words for the Northeastern and Mid-Western United States is the default. Personally, I’m used to it as I spent my youth reading Marvel’s X-Men comics which feature many characters who are written in dialect. For reference, it seems that the Grimmerian accent is more or less a Scottish one (Viking-like characters speaking in a Scottish accent. I’m suddenly reminded of Dreamworks’s How to Train Your Dragon movies).