Another Castle is the new all-ages fantasy series from Oni Press about a feisty princess that seeks to subvert her role as a helpless “damsel in distress” and save her kingdom. Using video game references, feminist themes, and excellent storytelling, writer Andrew Wheeler (editor-in-chief of comicsalliance.com) and artist Paulina Ganucheau (recently of Zodiac Starforce fame) have begun to tell a tale that has already begun to stand out as a remarkably progressive comic that doesn’t let its noble ambitions get in the way of fun.
I loved the first issue, so it was a pleasure and an honor to speak to the creative team!
Greg: Andrew, Paulina, thank you so much for speaking with me. I enjoyed Another Castle #1 immensely, and one of the things that I love about it is that it really feels like a lot of love went into it from both of you. Since I have you both here, can you tell me a little bit about how your collaboration got started?
Andrew: Thank you, Greg! Paulina and I were actually introduced by James Lucas Jones at Oni Press. I think we’d both been speaking to him separately, and when I pitched James the idea for Another Castle, he realized Paulina was the perfect artist for a story about a fierce princess in a pink dress!
Paulina: Yep! It was obviously a perfect fit. And actually, my buddy Jamie S. Rich is who recommended me to James! Thank you Jamie! I couldn’t be happier on this amazing book. Andrew is the best collaborator and working with Oni has been a dream!
Greg: While it explores some mature, progressive themes, this is still an all-ages comic about “a fierce princess in a pink dress.” Do either of you have a particular audience in mind as you work on this book? Was it meant to be an all-ages title from its conception?
Andrew: The story came first. I wanted to tell a story where the damsel in distress is the hero and the dashing knight is part of her adventure. But there’s an an obvious audience for that story – one that’s mostly young, mostly female – so it makes sense to tell the story in a way that connects with those readers. One of the advantages of working with Paulina is that her art is so charming and expressive that I have a little more room to get serious if I need to! But the aim was always to tell a story that’s funny, exciting, and thoughtful.
Greg: Andrew, you’re the editor in chief of Comics Alliance, where you also frequently contribute articles that you’ve written. What is it like to go from writing about comics, paying such close attention to the craft and the industry, to writing your own comic (especially one that plays with some of the topics that you’ve written about in the past, such as feminism and gender roles)?
Andrew: It basically means I have to put up or shut up! It’s a funny thing; the gestation period of comics is such that I had no idea I’d be editor-in-chief of a comics site when my comic came out. That wasn’t the plan. But it means there’s extra pressure there. To go from critic to creator means you have to at least try to meet your own standards, and you don’t get to decide if you succeeded!
That said; I write what I believe, and that’s true whether I’m a critic or a creator. I’ve read more than enough stories that uphold the idea that straight white men always get to save the world and win the girl; I’m not about to write one.
Greg: Paulina, this comic is clearly inspired by video game narratives, but the art style is still very much your own. Were there any video games that informed your approach to this comic?
Paulina: Ohh good question! Actually yes! The two games I took away most inspiration from at the time were Zelda: Twilight Princess and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Probably much more from the latter in terms of inspiration (DA:I is so amazing), but Zelda is such a strong princess I had to look towards her greatness for Misty in some respects!
Greg: Andrew, you said in an interview with War Rocket Ajax that you came up with the idea for Another Castle before you became aware of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” In its own way, however, Another Castle is still critical of the way women are often depicted in video games. Did “Gamergate” affected your approach to this book at all?
Andrew: I’m actually a fan of Tropes Vs. Women from way back, but the Damsels in Distress series didn’t exist yet when I came up with Princess Misty and her story. It was the launch of the …In Video Games series that gave me the confidence to send my pitch to Oni Press. The reception to Anita Sarkeesian’s video proved to me that there was demand for this sort of story, and probably proved it to Oni as well, so I’m forever indebted to Ms. Sarkeesian for that!
As for these toxic campaigns against women – against their participation, against their respectful inclusion, against their right of expression – I think those campaigns have had more than enough attention. This story isn’t about them. It’s about recognizing that everyone deserves a chance to be the hero.
Artist Paulina Ganucheau cites Zelda: Twilight Princess as one of her strongest inspirations for Another Castle
Greg: Paulina, there don’t seem to be many comic book artists these days that fully illustrate and color their comics on their own, like you do. I think everyone can agree that this is a gorgeous book all around, but how does taking on so much artistic responsibility affect your process?
Paulina: Doing all the visual steps in a comic is both a blessing and a curse sometimes. I love having control over all the illustrative elements from thumbs to colors, but it’s definitely a very big undertaking. I look forward to a time where I can work with more of a team. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m having a blast testing out my skills and my resolve doing everything! But I will be honest, it’s tough at times!
Greg: Andrew, you’ve said that LGBTQ characters will soon be introduced to the Another Castle story, which I think is great. We need more of this kind of representation in media in general, but I think it’s especially important that children see characters that reflect the diversity of the real world. What do you think it will take for this to become more commonplace?
Andrew: There’s this longstanding lie that same-sex relationships are “adult” in a way that no-one claims is true of relationships between a man and a woman. It’s dangerous nonsense. Some kids are queer; they need to see themselves included in the stories they read, to know there’s nothing wrong with who they are. And the more examples we have of that, in cartoons like Steven Universe, or in comics like Jem And The Holograms, the more apparent it becomes that excluding LGBTQ characters from the worlds you create is an act of cowardice.
Now, no single work can represent every type of person. But every work that makes a good faith effort to reflect the world around us is a welcome step forward.
Greg: Paulina, I’m glad that you brought up Princess Zelda, because she immediately came to mind when I read this story, as she’s a great example of a “damsel in distress” that goes beyond that assigned role (at least in The Ocarina of Time). Who or what are some of your other influences, from comics or otherwise?
Paulina: As far as more powerful princesses go: Rapunzel from Tangled, capable, spunky, feminine and cute! Sailor Moon, magical moon princess warrior. And although she may not be a princess, but Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena was also a huge inspiration. Awesome sword wielding babe!
Greg: I understand that you can only reveal so much, but what can readers look forward to for the future of this series?
Andrew: We have a heist in issue #2. Some truly terrible heroic verse in issue #3. Oh, and a giant frog monster in issue #4. Something for everyone!
Paulina: There’s a whole lot of great stuff coming up. It just gets better and better!
Greg: With all of the video games out there that portray women in “damsel in distress” roles or employ similarly old-fashioned (and in some cases, misogynistic) tropes, can you recommend any games that, like Another Castle, subvert these tropes in fun and interesting ways? In other words, what should readers be playing as they anxiously wait between issues of Another Castle?
Andrew: I don’t get nearly as much time as I’d like to play new video games, so Paulina might be better able to answer this than me! The games I grew up playing certainly didn’t subvert those tropes, and I can’t think of any that I’ve played recently that do either. The damsel in the Lego games I play is usually Stan Lee.
Paulina: It’s honestly embarrassing how often you still see these tropes in modern games, so characters like these are hard to come by, but some games I recommend with great leading ladies are Dragon Age: Inquisition, Super Mario 3D World (Peach is FINALLY a playable character in a flagship Mario game! She doesn’t need any saving in this one!), and the new Tomb Raider series.
Greg: Andrew, Paulina, thank you again for chatting with me. Everyone, go pick up “Another Castle”! If you like high fantasy, video game references, and smart storytelling (and let’s face it–if you’re reading this, you probably enjoy at least two of those things), you won’t be disappointed.
Andrew: Thanks Greg!
Paulina: Thank you so much Greg! And thank you everyone who picks up this great book!