The Runaway Princess – Johan Troianowski, Writer/Artist
Ray – 9/10
Ray: The all-ages and middle-grade graphic novel market is the fastest-growing sector of comics, with superstars like Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier blowing sales of any other book in the age group out of the water. Top companies like DC, Boom, and First Second have joined Scholastic in dominating the bookstore market, and into that market a new challenger has emerged. Random House, one of the most successful publishing houses in the United States, has launched their own graphic novel imprint—and they’ve kicked it off with a winner in The Runaway Princess, an inventive children’s adventure title that fuses elements of classic literature like Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels with a host of likable characters and some surprising interactive elements.
Divided into three chapters, The Runaway Princess is a traditionally-drawn book by cartoonist Johan Troianowski—an intro even explains the type of ink and paper used to create it. It has a simple plot involving a rebellious princess named Robin who can’t seem to stay at home for her etiquette lessons. She wanders off and goes on adventures while her kindly mother and stern castle wizard Elias pursue her into all sorts of bizarre situations. The first chapter follows her as she runs away and right into a quartet of homeless brothers off on their own adventures. This leads to one of the best segments of the book, a delightfully surreal sea-themed carnival where surprising dangers lurk and the kidnappers are surprisingly polite.
The following chapters keep coming up with reasons for Robin to find herself far away from home, be they secret tunnels in the ground or massive storms that sweep her and her friends up. Troianowski has done some impressive worldbuilding in this volume, including several maps of the world around the kingdom with some amusing lands and some dangerous ones. While the first story is the lightest of the three, the second and third installments feature some genuine peril, including a sinister witch and a cruel pirate captain. Along the way, Robin’s circle of friends keeps expanding, and she goes from being an impulsive little girl to the heroic leader of a ragtag band of kid misfits. Her character arc reminds me a lot of Disney’s Merida, to the point where it almost feels like an unofficial prequel.
The most intriguing element of The Runaway Princess is how it doubles as an interactive activity book. The narration interacts with the readers, often instructing them to get Robin’s attention or take other actions. These segments are only for the youngest readers, but the puzzles along the way—including mazes and connect-the-dot games—are a clever twist that makes the reader feel like they’re taking part in Robin’s adventure. Most are easy, but a fiendish lily-pad maze early on poses a surprising challenge. The art style is sketchy and cartoonish, but while the characters are stylized the backgrounds and puzzles have an often stunning level of detail. I’m not familiar with Troianowski’s previous work, but The Runaway Princess is a dense and often hilarious debut from Random House Graphic that works well as both a starter OGN for kids and a treat for comic buffs who will enjoy the skilled cartooning.
To find Ray’s other reviews, visit DC This Week.
GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.