Hail and well met, fair readers, to Princess Ugg! In this new Oni Press series, Ülga, princess of the mountain kingdom of Grimmeria, follows in her mother’s footsteps and begins Princess Academy, where young royal ladies come for their higher education. Ülga, however, is quite the fish out of water, and her education is sure to be an uphill battle. Writer and illustrator Ted Naifeh’s first issue is – one big thing aside – charming and fun, and a promising start to a new series.
To get the bad out of the way first, the biggest flaw of the issue is the dialogue. It is, for the most part, regrettably stilted. Not because what the characters are saying is bad. In fact, most of the dialogue is actually pretty smart. The problem is that the Grimmerians – Ülga and her folks, who do the lion’s share of the talking – have their dialogue written out phonetically (Yeh know, lyk dis). When writers do that, it’s to signify a character or characters are a different class, from somewhere else, or just generally an Other in some way. However, whatever advantage writing out phonetic dialogue has, it’s also always also irritating and distracting to read.
In limited use, this is fine. For example, when writing Harry Potter J.K. Rowling wrote bits of of Hagrid’s dialogue phonetically – teh instead of the, ter instead of to, et cetera – to show how he sounded when he spoke. But the Grimmerians’ dialogue is overpowered by this eye dialect, and frankly, it makes it a pain to read. Otherness can be signified in dialogue through vocabulary and dialect, and the Grimmerians’, underneath all that phonetic speech, does do that. So why fall back on awful phonetic dialogue? Furthermore, the Grimmerians are clearly Norsemen, but their funky phonetic speech is written as though they were Scottish. Why do that? That just makes it even more incongruous and distracting. Imagine if Ey wer’teh writ tha whole article dis way, eh? Wouldn’t that bae annoyin? Ey already saw Brave, fer Pete’s sake, Ey dinnae teh reid it.
But aside from that, the issue is a total delight from start to finish. The issue is focused more on character and world establishment, and does a great job of it. Our heroine Ülga is charming and fun from the get-go: strong-willed, precocious, and brash, she’s at a good place to grow into a powerful queen like her mother. Lady Julifer, Ülga’s foil, initial enemy, and inevitable BFF, is very much a Cordelia Chase type: spoiled, materialistic, self-centered, and shallow. I’m in love already. The two girls form a classic odd couple, highly reminiscent of Galinda and Elphaba from Wicked in particular.
Ted Naifeh’s script is matched by his amazing illustration and Warren Wucinich’s colors. Their characters are expressive and lively and full of energy, and the designs for each character are just terrific. You can nail the characters’ personalities the second you look at ‘em: Ülga is brave yet brutish, and considerably shorter than the rest of the cast because she has a long way to grow. Her mother is stunning, very much a matured version of Ülga; fierce, refined, a lady of grace and power. Pretty, thin, blonde, blue-eyed Julifer is a prototypical shallow, selfish teen princess. Wucinich’s colors are particularly noteworthy as they are bright and vivid and bring the entire product to a new level.
All in all, dialogue issues aside, Princess Ugg is a promising beginning to a sure to be enjoyable series. What adventures await Ülga and Julifer, as well as the rest of the academy’s princesses, in the forthcoming issues have yet to be seen, but whatever happens, it’s sure to be worth checking out.