The young adult graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, is an enjoyable, heart-warming story that attracts all age groups. Wang’s goal was to create her ideal Disney movie, and she has done just that, although it was Universal, not Disney, that recently acquired the movie rights to The Prince and the Dressmaker. The obvious popularity of this modern fairy tale begs an
analysis of its key components that appeal most to readers.
The book’s most obvious attraction is the storyline, which focuses on a crown prince, Sebastian, who at times likes to dress in women’s clothes. Wang states, “I wanted a story that explored questions about gender and self-identity in a way that was also really colorful and fun and positive.” Wang originally imaged the story with the main characters as adults, but she soon realized that making them teenagers would give a sense of hope and positivity to their lives. Wang uses the term “genderqueer” to describe Sebastian, but she feels the character is open to each reader’s own interpretations. It is this sense of inclusiveness and acceptance that makes The Prince and the Dressmaker special.
While some may argue that the novel moves too easily into that acceptance, the simplicity of the ending works perfectly in the fairy tale genre. After the King’s initial anger and embarrassment over his son dressing as a woman, he dons feminine attire and flaunts it to a huge, Parisian crowd. The tale begins, after all, with a Cinderella-inspired ball, and a happy ending is expected. It is an easy way to wrap up gender questions that, in reality, are often not accepted and are a source of grief and pain for those struggling with their identity. Perhaps that is the exact point, though. Acceptance can really be that easy.
Other aspects of the story flow just as easily. Wang does an excellent job of creating a world that is realistic without the need to explain any incongruities. The time-period is never explicitly stated, though there is the reference to the first department store in Paris. In the real world that was 1852, but the fashion created by Frances for Sebastian would not fit with the styles of that time. The ease of talking about a man wearing women’s clothes would also not fit in that era. Wang said she tried to not be too strict about accuracy because she wanted the book to feel both fairy-tale-like and contemporary.
Besides the beautiful and unique dresses, the contemporary feeling of the book is due to the visual storytelling employed by Wang. The Prince and the Dressmaker is not drawn in democratic panels. In some scenes, the panels are overlapping one another, and in others, text floats out into the gutters. What catches the eye is that most pages have images both inside panels and without panels. Those with no panels draw the eye and makes aspects of the story stand out. Along with the vibrant colors, it creates a contemporary pop-art sense across the pages of the novel.
One can only hope that what makes The Prince and the Dressmaker so refreshing comes through in the film version – that it becomes the modern-day fairy tale our world needs right now.
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