I've been a fan of Ted Naifeh's work since I discovered his recently completed Courtney Crumrin series last year. I consider Courtney Crumrin to be an underrated masterpiece, and I don't think it's received enough attention over the years despite earning an Eisner nomination a few years ago. Naifeh has proven himself capable of writing rounded, realistic and non-sexualized female protagonists for over a decade. With books such as Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes receiving well-deserved attention and the industry as a whole starting to address the need to publish more books featuring young female protagonists, I'm astonished that Naifeh's work hasn't received more attention.
Next month, Oni Press released the first issue of Naifeh's newest series, Princess Ugg, a fantasy series once again focusing on a young female protagonist. Written and drawn by Naifeh, Princess Ugg is colored and lettered by Warren Wucinich, who also provided colors for the beautiful hardcover reprints of Courtney Crumrin. Joining Naifeh and Wucinich is editor Robin Herrara, who replaces Courtney Crumrin editor Jill Beaton.
Princess Ugg is about the young Princess Ulga, a barbarian princess from the Norse-like kingdom of Grimmeria, who travels to the more pampered country of Atresca to attend a princess school and receive a more traditional education on the behest of her departed mother, the warrior queen Friorika. Ulga is quickly put at odds with Atrescan culture as well as that country's princess Julifer, which leads to an interesting rooming situation which will probably fuel conflict for future issues.
The opening issue's plot is relatively standard for a "fish out of water" sort of story. I did enjoy how Naifeh provides a nifty and natural contrast between the two kingdoms' cultures by comparing the morning routines of the two princesses. The issue is well-paced and the dialogue is well-written, although Ulga's faux-Scottish accent took a little getting used to. At times, I was a little disappointed with how standard the plot and fantasy elements were. Princess Ugg is narrated by an immortal named Odin, Albion gets mentioned off-handedly and Julifer wears a pointy medieval princess hat during the last scene of the book. Besides Ulga's pet mastodon, there's not much that stands out about the setting of the book, unless you count female warriors wearing practical looking armor a rarity in fantasy books. However, I think that Naifeh is draping Princess Ugg with familiar fantasy elements to better subvert them later in the story, and I can't really say that I enjoyed the book less because of them.
Like Naifeh's other self-drawn series, Princess Ugg is absolutely gorgeous. With distinctive designs and fantastic action sequences, Naifeh's art reminds me a little of Jeff Smith's work, only maybe a bit less "cartoony" and a bit more stylized. I also really enjoyed Naifeh's landscape panels, especially his depictions of castles and medieval cities. Well-drawn castles and landscapes are the best way to establish a fantasy book's setting, and his castles are a pleasure to look at. I really liked when Naifeh drew old looking buildings in Courtney Crumrin, and Princess Ugg has even more opportunities for cool looking backgrounds. guess it makes sense that Naifeh's a pro at drawing fantasy elements since he's illustrated Magic: The Gathering cards in the past, and his artwork alone is reason enough to pick up the comic.
The pencils are complimented perfectly by Wucinich's coloring throughout the book. I also liked the subtle tweak in coloring and inking during the book's opening flashback sequence, which makes the panels seem more like a painting than a comic book. I think those panels are colored with watercolors and they look amazing. I also think that Wucinich deserves recognition for the calligraphic lettering used in the captions of the book. I've seen old-timey calligraphy in comics that looks awful and nearly unreadable, and the captions in Princess Ugg definitely aren't that.
I think that Princess Ugg #1 is a great launching point for a future classic, and it's a comic that I'll probably be reading to both my sons and daughters when my wife and I get around to having children. This is a comic that anyone can and should enjoy. If you enjoy well-written comics with gorgeous artwork, pick up Princess Ugg today. I'm willing to bet that it will be sitting on the top of your "to read" pile every time a new issue comes out.