I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be drawing the original Nutcracker and Mouse King story by ETA Hoffman as a graphic novel for First Second! Really excited to be doing my first full length graphic novel with them. This fairytale is a dark fever-dream, similar to Labyrinth or Alice in Wonderland, except there’s no real moral for the children at the end. Just a crazy, incredible fantasy all on it’s own. Look out for more updates and WIPs soon!
When young women are the main characters in fantasy - specifically as the primary protagonist, not as supporting characters - most of the time they’re along for the ride, our audience viewpoint to a strange new world. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan all have a female main character as a young girl, an innocent, virtuous woman who doesn’t know anything about the world. This trope continues into Labyrinth, Pan’s Labyrinth, Spirited Away, Coraline, as well as others.
And on it’s own, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s something inherently interesting about using an innocent young person to show us a bold new world, and have it work as a metaphor for puberty. To have that be a woman can add to the effectiveness, because our society focuses so little on what it’s like for a girl to become a woman (especially from the perspective of sexuality and identity), that a metaphor can work particularly effectively.
However, you almost never see men as the innocent. With a few exceptions (James and the Giant Peach,The Pagemaster), most coming-of-age stories for young boys aren’t about some innocent kid just exploring a supernatural world with wide eyes.
Instead, when young men are protagonists, they’re the most important thing in the universe.
I have to acknowledge that, at the end of the day, Star Wars is about a whiny blonde boy who finds out he’s magic, and since I was a whiny blonde boy, I had a special connection to that film. But if you’re not a blonde boy, that film may not be quite as powerful as I credited it as being. Not to say that not that you won’t or can’t enjoy it as much (or more) than I did… but it’s not designed to speak to anyone the same way as it does to young boys. Young boys were literally the target audience.
Young boys in fiction aren’t passive protagonists in the same way young girls are - girls are taken by the hand and led through a strange world (”eat this,” “drink this” being a particularly glaring example). Sure, they’re usually still reactive protagonists rather than proactive, but the difference is that young male protagonists are treated as important- nay, essential - to the very fate of the world. Either they were born important, or they did one thing and wound up important, but now they’re the single most important person to the story.
Western fiction tells young boys - and not young girls - that YOU, Arthur of Camelot, have a destiny. Yes YOU, Clark Kent, have grown up in obscurity but will one day be the most important person on earth. YOU, Harry Potter, were foretold in prophecy to save us all. YOU, Luke Skywalker, are the new hope we’re looking for. YOU, Neo, are the chosen one, the messiah. YOU, Bilbo (and Frodo) Baggins, are able to defeat the villains who have oppressed the world. YOU, John Connor, will save humanity.
Now, again, that doesn’t mean that those movies, tv shows, cartoons, books, or video games are BAD because of this. It doesn’t mean you have to stop watching them or reading them, or protest them.
It just means we may be 100% ready for something different.
Because, here’s the other thing about everything I just said: With maybe one or two exceptions, none of these characters are anyone’s favorite characters.
Sure, I like Luke Skywalker because I relate to him. But I wanted to be Han Solo. And Harry Potter is fine and all that, but he’s cool just because he gets to go to Hogwarts and hang out with Hagrid, he’s not inherently the best character. Neo isn’t nearly as cool as Morpheus, Trinity, or Agent Smith. Bilbo and Frodo? Please, we’ve got Gandalf and Aragorn and Boromir. Sarah Connor’s only function is to give birth to John, but then she becomes a badass warrior woman despite that, way more interesting than her son. I would argue that Superman doesn’t fit that rule, but then again, even the people making movies about Clark Kent don’t seem to think he’s particularly interesting.
BUT if you introduce a female character who is the most important person in the world, you get characters like these:
And really, at the end of the day, aren’t these characters a bit more interesting?