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GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: The Courageous Princess, Vol. 1 Beyond the Hundred Kingdoms

The Courageous Princess
The Courageous Princess
The Courageous Princess


Story by: Rod Espinosa
Art by: Rod Espinosa
Cover by: Rod Espinosa
Publisher: ,
4.5/ 5

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To sum it all up..

BEYOND PARADIGM SHIFT I just read one of the tweet messages of one of the most prominent inkers in the Philippines whose opinions I really care about. He mentioned of the continuing evolution of Philippine independent comics and its progress on both the aesthetics and narrative levels. I agree with him, and at the same […]

Posted November 26, 2015 by


The Courageous PrincessBEYOND PARADIGM SHIFT

I just read one of the tweet messages of one of the most prominent inkers in the Philippines whose opinions I really care about. He mentioned of the continuing evolution of Philippine independent comics and its progress on both the aesthetics and narrative levels. I agree with him, and at the same time, his statement made me look back to its arduous and Odysseus path that started in the late 1990s up to its current evolutionary phase that is still an on-going Hegelian dialectic process. And one of these moments of reflections was the time I acquired and read The Courageous Princess, Vol. 1 Beyond the Hundred Kingdoms, one of the works of one of Philippines’ modern pioneers in visual literary that showcased the true creative potentialities and talents — Rod Espinosa.  It is a compilation of three chapters, published by Antarctic Press, and released and distributed by Dark Horse Comics, both in trade paperback and the rare hardcover editions.

Okay, the work itself is a foreign re-imagination of the fairy tale genre, more so the inspirational influences of the beloved stories we are so familiar with, namely the Ugly Duckling, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, among others. However, neither so-called works of any genre are created from the vacuum nor can be entirely categorized as totally “original” per se. The creator acknowledged the fairy-tale influences and that was where the bucks stopped. And to think about it, virtually all of the independent Philippine works then and now have both external-foreign and internal-local influences, inspirations, and integrations-acculturations one way or another. What actually matters here is the overall execution in narrative storytelling, the creativity the creator(s) tries to produce and the overall impact the work can project to the readers then, presently and beyond. I can say this in that regard, this first volume ages well like a great red wine, and it still holds strong with other fairy-tale inspired graphic novels, re-imaginations, and even to numerous titles of the expansive Philippine independent comics. This opus may be more than a decade-year old (released in one volume in 2003), but it is still the testament of our co-patriot’s imaginative prowess to move beyond his creative comfort zones by going out the usual trappings of the conventional fairy tale narrations and re-modified it according to his own accord.

In a nutshell, this initial volume centers on the introductions and some adventures of the titular cast, Princess Mabelrose, the only child of the kindly, beloved and well-respected royalty of an equally peaceful but small kingdom named New Tinsley. Yet, before judging this as another rip-off of sorts, the story follows are as re-imagined, reconstructing and even reinventing the genre itself. The femme character is no ordinary medieval or Disney archetype “princess” other than being well-respected, well-loved, and well-educated. Even in terms of beauty, she is just like an ordinary type, as presented in the ball where she got her first taste of actual realization within the power structure of her kind. Of course, what is a fairy tale without the most misunderstood mythological-imaginative beast of all—dragon? Once again, in the age of gender paradigm shifting in the roles of sexes/genders since the 1990s and the early 2000s, this “princess” is neither someone to be imprisoned forever nor waited by this “prince charming” or the “knight-in-shining armor” male typecasts at all. The term “girl power” that raged then (and still relevant to this present moment) applies adequately to her characterization. In addition, there are subplots occurring while the titular cast is gone, being searched, and ultimately, evolving to the point of the story: being “courageous”.

This book and even the author should be taken both seriously and lightheartedly because the quality overall is something to be proud with. The former description was significant for Rod Espinosa ended up being nominated (similar to maestro Gerry Alanguilan years later) some of the comic industry’s most prestigious award-giving bodies, like the Eisner’s and Ignatz (the latter is for independent published comics series and graphic novels). So significant moreover that his work has a Wikipedia entry devoted to its entry as well. And, the latter signifies the core audience the author loves to cater, the young demographics (and the young-at-heart types, naturally). Neither gore nor any shock value nonsense are visible here; just highly accessibly, good written, conventional panel sequential, and warm and positive coloring execution are the ultimate parameters why this work works wonder.

However, not all comic readers would necessarily agree with the vision the creator laid upon this highly seminal visual literature for he actually skipped one of the most prominent features of fairy tale storytelling tropes, romance and love-pairings. As a matter of fact, new readers may find this quite unorthodox on his part simply because the medieval concept of courtly love is something of a cliché in this fast-pacing generation, if not a bit corny to many readers who want something more different or being innovative in remodeling the fairy-tale archetypes, imagery and even the world-building that Rod clearly illustrated and beautifully laid out for visual guidance and future references in two succeeding volumes that were recently released earlier this year alone, namely The Unremembered Lands and The Dragon Queen.

Nonetheless, The Courageous Princess, Vol. 1 Beyond the Hundred Kingdoms can be seen as one of the evidences of Rod Espinosa’s evolutionary creative process in the independent comic circuit with this demonstration of reinterpreting the fairy tale genre and the creation of his universe-world-building that is entirely his and worth inspiring. Quite indeed, the creator remodeled the current paradigm by utilizing some of the well-beloved stories, and then made sure that these elements were refashioned as products of creativity, neither mere rehashing nor sheer imitations of the typical archetypes, stereotypes, or just laziness. And, it can be said that this work should be part of the larger scope of the evolutionary re-imagination of the visual and sequential craft since it proves its longevity and influences towards the said medium. Henceforth, this work is a true modern masterpiece.

Paul Ramos



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