The Webcomic Overlook #73: The Princess Planet
Submitted by El Santo on March 8, 2009 - 20:18
On a message board I frequent, one of the regulars mentioned how it was “stalking Neil Gaiman.” Not literally, I think. It was a phenomenon where he was convinced he’d never read or seen anything by Neil Gaiman before. After reading American Gods and some research afterwards, he then discovered that he was mistaken: Gaiman was also the man behind Coraline, Mirror Mask, and several short stories that he’d already read. Thus, his “stalking Neil Gaiman” moment.
I had a similar experience with a webcomic collective named Transmission-X. Previously, all I knew about this collective was that Dean Haspiel, a man whose opinion I highly respect, mentions the collective whenever he’s given the opportunity. That, and it had a terrible name. Seriously, it sounds like something you’d find at the shelf of your local Pep Boys. “Extend your engine life by filling your powertrain with specially formulated Transmission-X!”
As I started writing the review for today’s comic, I clicked on the link to the Transmission-X collective. It turns out I already reviewed two of their comics, both 5 stars! On this site, I gave Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher a glowing review for its fantastic arc and expert storytelling. And despite its weirdness, I rather enjoyed Ramon Perez’s Kukuburi and gave it a glowing review over at the Comic Fencing site.
Which means that the subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook, Brian McLachlan’s The Princess Planet, has large shoes to fill. Will Transmission-X go 5 stars for a third time?
According to his fanciful About Page, Mssr. McLachlan writes puzzles, games, and a comic (Alex & Charlie) for Owl Magazine, a children’s mag published in Canada. He’s also provided artwork for Nickelodeon Magazine and several other publications. The bio also goes on to state that he saved a helium balloon full of supermodels, but I figure he’s being loose about the facts. However, Comixpedia, which does seem to be on the level, says that Brian wrote horoscopes for the Toronto Star newspaper under the name Phantasmo Starseer, and that is pretty awesome. Why make up stuff about “confronting the draculas of your future” when you were flippin’ Phantasmo Starseer, Brian?
Also appearing in the Toronto Star for a brief period was McLachlan’s comic, The Princess Planet. It appeared in the Kid’s section. I can see what you’re saying: “Nice try, El Santo. But I can tell, this comic’s just not for me. You can go back to your Princess Planets and stuffed animal tea parties, you girl.” Look, buddy… I had the same reaction when I started reading this comic, but I manned up. And don’t knock tea parties until you’ve tried ‘em.
The comic stars fiesty Princess Christi from the Kingdom of Snotland (yes, seriously). Her world is mix of science fiction and fairy tales. The strip leans strongly to the latter. In writing the comic, McLachlan tries to keep it in the world of Greek legend, genies, pirates, and giants. There are references to well-known fairy tales such as the magic mirror from Snow White and the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Princess and the Pea.” The Princess Planet also takes a swipe a several typical fantasy cliches, but McLachlan makes sure not to take it too far. In one of his blog posts, he mentions that he doesn’t do any strips dealing with elves or dwarves for fear that it would be needlessly Tolkienesque.
Anyway, Christi, in a fit of boredom, changes out of her lacy princess dress and into spandex superhero tights to live a life of adventure! For the most part, that means masquerading as a “treasure inspector” and swindling fairytale beings from their hard-earned cash. On her free time, she gets into a game of “What ever you have, I’ve got something better” with the other princessses — all ditzy Valley Girl types. Christi, being the main character, always wins. It’s a noble tradition begun from the very first strip.
The webcomic, by the way, isn’t all about Princess Christi. Like the town of Springfield from the Simpsons TV show, The Princess Planet revolves around different sets of characters. Each gets their own chance to revel in the spotlight. There’s Christi’s parents, the King and Queen, who are usually stuck in the throne room in the kingdom’s most menial task. There’s Christi’s friends, which include a Snowman and a fashion-forward a gorgon. We’re introduced to the snooty Princess Patricia and her clueless boyfriend, appropriately named Bad Boyfriend. We meet a mythological beefcake named Smirkulees, a villainess named Magic Madge (who’s only in it for the hot guys), a mopey Goth named Gothilocks, and a not-so-mopey hockey player named Goalielocks. Now, The Princess Planet is a gag strip in the spirit of Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes, so don’t expect any startling character development here beyond my one sentence descriptions. They’re all given just enough personality to have humorous things happen to them.
The humor of the comic, by the way is CORNY. All-caps and in bold, justified. It’s corn distilled to a concentrate and fed through an IV. OK, everyone, let me hear you say it: “How corny is it?”
It’s so corny that the most prevalent running gag is about the King’s embarassment over his kingdom’s symbol. What’s that symbol? It’s a pile of grass eating a sandwich. Yes, it does sound like a gag a six-year-old would wwrite! The king keeps running a useless contest to select a new symbol, but nothing ever comes of it. (Though it does seem that baring flag with a pile of grass eating a sandwich does have some unforeseen tactical advantages.)
You know what else is, like, super-corny? It is so the SoCal faux-cool dialogue. Most of the time, this means adding “S” to the end of everything. Whenever something goes your way, its not simply “awesome,” it’s “Awesomes!” Feel like shouting for joy? Why not scream “Hoorays!” And when some losers are getting on your nerves, just tell ‘em, “You’re both a shut-up!”
Sounds annoying, doesn’t it? I thought so too, at first. What you don’t count on is how charming and infectious it is. I have been telling everyone how “the awesomes” everything is all week. The more The Princess Planet piles on these corny jokes, the more they start to grow on you. You start to appreciate the work McLachlan’s put into them. You start to realize how the joke builds a fantastic and silly universe. And, yes, you do suddenly find the jokes to be actually funny.
Take my old nemesis, the pun. I have gone on record as saying that I consider puns to be the lowest form of humor. The most they have ever done for me is make me groan. And yet newspaper comic strips keep going to this form of humor all the time, each attempt less funny than the one before it. The Princess Planet is all about puns. However, I appreciate the jokes in this comic, perhaps because McLachlan takes the joke to absurd lengths.
When he does a gag about someone giving you the eye, he cycles through ridiculous variation after ridiculous variation until the joke itself defeats you. An argument of misunderstanding between the Queen and her chef escalates to ludicrous levels, aided by the fantasy setting where any option is possible. These are puns that will work at your funnybone until their jobs are finished. Thanks to The Princess Planet, I no longer fear the pun.
To prove how much I enjoyed The Princess Planet, here’s a personal testimonial: it’s the only webcomic I’ve e-mailed to my wife. She’s a school teacher, and her sense of humor runs cleaner than most. Her favorite strip is Garfield, the proletariat’s choice, and her favorite comic is the Archies. Up until this point, I can honestly say that none of the webcomics I’ve reviewed would have met her approval. However, I found one strip, about a wondrous creature with two bodies and one mind, to be too wonderful not to share. She laughed and called me a huge comic reading nerd. However, she also enjoyed that strip a lot. When she was talking about the married life to her cousin some time later, she recounted the very same strip. Mission accomplished!
She also like the one strip about the two doors — one that lies and one that tells the truth — and their response when the Queen asks them if a dress makes her look fat.
To The Princess Planet’s credit, it’s several levels more creative, humorous, endearing, and overall enjoyable than the typical fare found in newspapers these days. It’s an eye-opening object lesson: just because a comic is kid-friendly, that’s no excuse to make it boring. In the end, I have to conclude that The Princess Planet upholds the stellar reputation of Transmission-X.
The Princess Planet is, in two words, the awesomes.
Final Grade: 5 stars (out of 5).