Another Castle #1 is the debut of a new all-ages fantasy series by writer Andrew Wheeler, artist/colorist Paulina Ganucheau, and letterer Jenny Vy Tran. Is it good?
Another Castle #1 (Oni Press)
Starting from the title, Another Castle is off to a good start. It’s a phrase that should be familiar to gamers (“Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”), but nothing is lost on readers who aren’t quite as pop-culture savvy, as that title becomes significant in a different way by the end of the comic. I don’t want to give it away, but you can probably guess.
And really, that’s one of the things I love so much about this comic in general. There is a layer of it that is absolutely a satire of video game narratives, particularly the “damsel in distress” trope (see the Zelda franchise, the original Donkey Kong, and too many others to name), yet it’s not a parody, and it doesn’t wear its references on its sleeve. The tropes that it is beginning to dissect in this first issue are so common in fantasy that even if you are the kind of person that avoids the fantasy genre, it’s almost impossible not to be familiar with them through cultural osmosis alone. And even if you’re somehow not familiar with these tropes, or simply do not want to read this comic through a deconstructive lens, there’s a lot to enjoy.
With that in mind, Another Castle #1 kicks off the story of Princess Misty (short for Artemisia, if you like your mythological references nice and unsubtle), who, much like Princess Merida from Pixar’s Brave (which played with similar themes), does not want to get married—at least not in the manner that her parents and the rest of society expects her to. It’s even hinted that the groom that has been chosen for her, Pete (Prince Pete… perhaps a reference to Princess Peach?) may not be so interested either. Yet they get caught up in an adventure, and in a twist that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you’ve been following along, Misty doesn’t want to be yet another damsel in distress.
The princess that doesn’t need to be saved has been done before, but this line added a layer to Misty’s character that proves that Wheeler isn’t content to tread familiar ground: “…I like dresses and dances and carriage rides. But is that all I get?” I love the fact that Wheeler doesn’t conflate Misty’s unwillingness to conform to the passive, helpless role that society has tried to force her into with a lack of femininity, or at least a conventional view of femininity. He understands that she doesn’t have to be a tomboy necessarily. I think it’s an important message to send to young girls (this is an all-ages comic, after all) that while it’s totally cool to be a “tomboy,” nobody’s saying that it’s not okay to like “girly stuff” like princesses and Barbies. You do you, kids.
I’ve been reading Andrew Wheeler’s comics criticism through years on ComicsAlliance, where he is now editor in chief, and one of the things that always struck me about him, besides his writing talent and sense of humor, was how sharply he writes about diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ issues as they pertain to comics. I discovered him through an article entitled “The Myth of Sexy Superman and the Search for Superhero Beefcake” (I encourage you to do the same), and it was one of the first articles I had read that really made me seriously think about my place of privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man within the context of the geek community.
As such, I came into this comic with high expectations. While he certainly does not disappoint when it comes to injecting such a self-aware, yet unforced sense of progressiveness, and I look forward to seeing where he takes that sensibility throughout the future of this comic, it was also a relief (though not necessarily a surprise) to find out that he can write comic book fiction just as well as he writes prose non-fiction. The dialogue is smooth, the pacing is brisk without feeling rushed, and he really knows how to write an all-ages comic that should be appealing to kids without talking down to them, and without alienating adults in the slightest.
I haven’t spoken enough about Paulina Ganucheau, (whose work you may have seen most recently on Zodiac Starforce), but as the person penciling, inking, and coloring the comic, this is just as much hers as it is Wheeler’s. I love the fact that she doesn’t seem to be going for a video game aesthetic, instead letting loose with her talent for clean lines, bright colors, expressive faces, and a general sense that this could all be easily adapted into a beloved children’s animated series or film. Her layouts are simple and clean enough that children who are new to comics should be able to easily navigate their way through the story, and the low panel count per page should make things less intimidating too. Don’t worry about decompression, though, because she and Wheeler still pack in plenty of storytelling.
For her part, letterer Jenny Vy Tran is a perfect fit for this comic, with big letters and well-placed balloons that, again, should be inviting for young readers. It’s extremely important for the future of this industry and this art form that all-ages comics not only get made at all, but are made properly, so it’s great to see this much attention to detail from everyone involved.
Is It Good?
Another Castle #1 is refreshingly progressive, refreshingly kid-friendly, and most importantly, refreshingly fun. Buy this for a prince or princess in your life—just be sure to treat yourself to it first.