Talking Princesses With Greg Pak And Jonathan Coulton

by James Ferguson

As a father, I’m constantly on the lookout for quality kids books. There are only so many times you can read Goodnight Moon. That’s why I was immediately drawn to The Princess Who Saved Herself in 2015 from Greg Pak, adapted from a song by Jonathan Coulton, with artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Jessica Kholinne, and letters by Simon Bowland. The team has gotten back together for a sequel story, The Princess Who Saved Her Friends and I – and my kids – could not be more excited.

At the time of this writing, the Kickstarter campaign for the project has almost doubled its funding goal and it’s closing in on the final hours. I had a chance to speak with Pak and Coulton about the book and what brought it to fruition.

James Ferguson: What drew you back to The Princess Who Saved Herself to create a sequel story?

Greg Pak: The original book was probably my favorite thing to work on in 2015. I just love everyone on the creative team and the entire process was a joy. And the characters really seemed to lend themselves to more story. But we took our time about committing to a sequel because for quite a while I didn’t have an exact story in my head. Then at some point earlier this year, I realized the next story should be about how a kid deals with a mean friend. In the original book, our heroine sticks up for herself against a wicked witch and eventually opens the circle and makes friends, and that felt just right. But just because you make peace with someone doesn’t mean they change overnight. Someone who was mean once will probably be mean again. So how do you deal with that when it happens? That felt like a great challenge for our heroine to face, so I pitched it to Jonathan, who loved it, and we got the band back together!

JF: How has the fan response been to the original book? I can tell you that my kids absolutely love it.

GP: Oh, thanks so much for getting it! The reader response has been through the roof. It’s consistently my best selling book at comic book conventions, outselling every Hulk, Superman, and X-Men books I put out there. And so many people tell me amazing things about how much their kids love the book. Girls and boys! It’s the best thing ever writing books for kids. I remember being a little kid and absolutely loving certain books and wanting to read them again and again. It kind of blows my mind and melts my heart to meet little kids who feel that way about something I contributed to.

Jonathan Coulton: It’s been extremely gratifying to hear from people whose kids love the book. I remember reading to my kids when they were little. Some books really hooked them, and I remember those phases where they made me read the same book over and over again, because for whatever reason, it was exactly what they needed to hear. It means a lot to have made something that does that for kids.

JF: The original book’s origins can be traced back to a Twitter conversation between you and musician Jonathan Coulton. Is that the most unusual way you’ve started a project?

GP: Ha ha! Probably! I had a bit of an advantage in that exchange because Jonathan and I went to college together, so I wasn’t just randomly reaching out to him. But yeah, I’d been listening to his music and at some point thought dang, there are a lot of great characters in here that could make for a great comic book! And I tweeted about it. And he said let’s do it! And that led to our graphic novel Code Monkey Save World, which led to The Princess Who Saved Herself, which led to The Princess Who Saved Her Friends and hopefully much more down the line!

JC: I do love that our collaboration grew from Greg throwing out a crazy idea and me saying “Sure!” That’s one of the nice things about being independent artists; the only people we need to sell on an idea is us. I guess we thought a little bit about whether or not people would buy it, but mostly it just felt like a thing that needed to be done once we had thought of it. That’s my favorite kind of project.

JF: As someone that has had some great success on Kickstarter, what is one piece of advice you would give to creators looking to crowdfund their work? Aside from picking up your book on the subject, of course.

GP: Yes, picking up my Kickstarter Secrets book is key. 😉 You can grab it at gregpakshop.com for just ten bucks!

The one concentrated nugget of advice I’d offer is to pick a project that matches your audience and experience at this point in your career. Everyone dreams of a five or six figure Kickstarter that will fund a huge dream project. But Kickstarter’s not really a magic money machine that generates massive viral attention; instead, I think it’s smart to think of Kickstarter as an awesome set of tools that make it possible to make the most of the audience you already have. So if you’re early in your career, think about a project that you can complete with a couple of hundred backers and a few thousand bucks, for example. Make that work and you can build on your audience and go a little bigger next time, maybe.

JC: I would add, don’t create too much work for yourself! You can boost your numbers if you have more reward items – a poster, a shirt, a mug, a mousepad – but each one of those things complicates your project and creates more work for you on the other side of funding. And it’s easy to promise to write custom ringtones, or do a bunch of house concerts, or hand-paint a bunch of figurines, but it’s also easy forget that someday you’ll actually have to DO that stuff. I know so many people who are a year past their Kickstarter project and still working down their list. Whatever your Kickstarter is, that’s going to be your job for a while, so make sure it’s stuff you actually want to work on.

JF: While I have you, Mech Cadet Yu just wrapped up in a bittersweet moment as I loved that series. Is there any hope that there might be more to Stanford Yu’s story down the road?

GP: Thank you so much! Mech Cadet Yu was my favorite thing to work on over the last two years. And it used much of the same creative team as The Princess Who Saved Her Friends, including artist Takeshi Miyazawa, colorist Jessica Kholinne, and letterer Simon Bowland!

This chapter of the series is done with issue #12. But I absolutely want and hope to return to the story for another season at some point down the line. We recently won the Spirit Award at the Ringo Awards in Baltimore, which was amazing, and the collected editions of the series are still coming out, so the good vibes are still out there. Crossing my fingers!

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign for The Princess Who Saved Her Friends. You can pick up the original book there too if you haven’t read it yet.

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