Right from the start, Princess Ulga knew that she was different from her classmates at Princess Academy in a big way. However, as her classes kick into high gear, she realizes she is totally unprepared for the kind of warfare they wage; a battle axe just isn’t going to cut it in a history lecture! Charming and adorable, Ted Naifeh’s “Princess Ugg” has a world of potential, although it has some trouble finding its target audience.
Since picking up the first issue, I’ve puzzled over exactly who Naifeh envisioned as his intended readership and — now two issues in — I still don’t quite have an answer. Naifeh seems to have modeled his story on existing Disney princess fairy tales, including characters that look like they might have walked out of “Mulan” or “Sleeping Beauty.” Likewise, he’s kept the violence to a largely PG level, only implying it or referencing it in Ulga’s dialogue (save for one purely imagined, bloodless scene, of course). However, the princesses don’t seem quite so young; many wear low cut dresses that emphasize their cleavage and this issue includes a shower scene that shows some of the girls’ clearly developed bodies, with Ulga being the most confusing of all with her short stature and stout, muscular frame. What’s more, Ulga’s accent — spelled phonetically in her dialogue — would certainly be tough on a younger audience. Considering this, it’s hard not only to place Ulga but Naifeh’s intended audience, which distracts from the comic as a whole. I spent so much time puzzling over how old Ulga was and if she were acting age appropriate that it took me right out of the story.
That aside, the issue is solid. Naifeh takes readers through a day at the Princess Academy in a clear, enjoyable way that shows Ulga’s routine and her unfamiliarity with “traditional” princess duties. He really captures just how cruel teenagers can be through Princess Julie and her entourage, which deftly weaves in the idea that bravery takes on different forms. Although Naifeh is in danger of falling into the “special girl syndrome” (“I’m special and different and better because I reject all things feminine!”), the story is young yet and the characters have barely had a chance to grow; in fact, with Julie and Ulga rooming together, it takes on a kind of “Wicked the Musical” vibe, which carries a lot of potential. He frames the narration like a fairy tale, giving the story a fun but familiar tone and making it accessible to a wide base of readers. Additionally, he gives the story a proper vehicle in one of Odin’s ravens, who watches over Ulga due to Odin’s fatherly concern but (thankfully) doesn’t interfere.
So far as his artwork goes, Naifeh does a fantastic job with his princesses. Aside from their adult figures, he gives them each a distinct set of features that easily distinguishes them from each other. It seems that he draws influence from existing princesses in popular culture, but he executes it just subtly enough not to be overbearing. Likewise, he’s just as fashion conscious as Princess Julie, careful to switch up the characters’ clothing choices in line with their fashion-obsessed personalities. His sweeping landscapes, castles, and mountain tops are just as grand and gorgeous as befits royalty. However, he includes a few bewildering details without quite explaining; for instance, the number of princesses fluctuates depending on the classroom, but he never clarifies who they are or where they came from or how they fit into his “five kingdoms” model. For his part, Warren Wucinich gives the issue a lively atmosphere with a bright color pallet, which fits right in with the book’s lighthearted tone.
Hopefully, with a few more issues, Naifeh can clear up some of the book’s more problematic elements with exposition. Until then, “Princess Ugg” #2 is a simple, enjoyable read that brims with potential that it hasn’t quite reached yet.