In the last couple of years Jeremy Whitley has made a name for himself with some of the most diverse all-ages books in the comics industry. When I say all-ages, I don’t mean kids books. I mean comics that are truly accessible to all readers, no matter their background. However, one of his passion projects, PRINCELESS: RAVEN THE PIRATE PRINCESS is in danger, and we got to sit down with Jeremy about the book and what you, the reader, can do to save a great comic!
Jeremy, thanks for sitting down with us about Raven!
It’s my pleasure. She’s a lot of fun to talk about!
For those who haven’t heard of it what’s the series about?
Raven is a series about revenge and romance on the high seas. It follows Raven Xingtao, the daughter of the Pirate King, whose birthright was stolen from her by her brothers as she and her all-girl crew embark on high seas adventure to get back what’s hers. It’s also very much about the interpersonal relationships between the crew, including a central love triangle between Raven, her long time friend and navigator, and a roguish new crew member.
What was the inspiration for creating this story?
I had begun writing “Princeless” a few years before. The main thrust of that comic for people that don’t know is that Princess Adrienne is locked away in a tower by her evil parents in order to wait for a handsome prince to come rescue her. Adrienne decides that she doesn’t want to wait around. She wants to save herself and take her future into her own hands.
A lot of people were very supportive of that book and a question that came up often with folks was Adrienne’s sexual orientation. While I thought this was a question that deserved to be discussed in the type of comics I write, it felt very much out of place in “Princeless” not because of any concerns with age range, but because I didn’t want to muddy the waters between the questions of “not needing a man to save you” and “not being interested in men as romantic partners”. So, when I decided to create a new character for our Free Comic Book Day story, I wanted to make sure I took that opportunity to introduce a gay character and that character ended up being Raven. Before I knew it, Raven was way to much fun to not have a series all her own.
Can you tell us a little more about the characters?
Sure, it’s a pretty big crew, but there are some characters who are more central than others.
Raven Xingtao is our captain and the main character of the series (though some of our other characters seem to be working to steal that title). Raven is determined, headstrong, a skilled fighter and a world renowned archer. She was born and raised on the sea and running a ship and crew comes naturally to her. What comes a bit less naturally, is her romantic life. She’s had a crush on her best friend and navigator Ximena since they were kids and not only is she not sure how Ximena feels about her, but she’s never managed to say anything about it to Ximena.
Ximena Santos – Ximena was the daughter of a navy general who was hired to hunt down and stop the Pirate King. Instead, the Pirate King attacked the ship with Ximena on it. Instead of forcefully kidnapping her, the King convinced his daughter Raven to befriend her and talk her into “joining” the crew. Raven and Ximena were best friends, until the General was discharged and, with Ximena no longer being of value, he left her in a coastal town where she had to get by on her own. Ximena had only just made a life for herself again when Raven showed up needing her help.
Sunshine Alexander – Sunshine is a roguish half-elf / half-human dancer. She’s mysterious and playful and full of surprises. She makes friends quickly and steals gold even faster. She joined Raven’s crew because she had a crush on Raven, even though she’s never been at sea.
Jayla Cooke – Jayla is the daughter of the cook from the ship Raven grew up on. Her father quit the pirate life to raise her and she’s become an intelligent young scientist. Chemistry is her specialty, but she’s pretty gifted at science and engineering all around. She joined Raven’s crew after using science to convince some local ruffians she was a witch.
Katie Kling – Katie is the second-in-command. She stands over six feet tall and is as tough as any male pirate the world over. Katie idealizes the freedom of the sea and is determined to do good for those in need outside of the law. She’s optimistic and idealistic in all things, but great at inspiring the crew. She is, however, pretty awful at being a functional social human being. She’s never been on a date, never had a boyfriend or girlfriend, tends to panic when small talk is required, and has no idea how to identify when a person is flirting with her.
Cid – Cid is a genius and an engineer. She is also deaf. She communicates through sign language, but her close friend Amirah is the only one who knows how to understand her – at least for now.
As the story goes, there are several more characters who begin to take on a prominent role in the story, but going to deep into any of them early on feels a bit spoilery. Suffice to say there are multiple romantic relationships within the crew and nearly everyone has an either mysterious or troubled history, which is how they ended up part of this crew to begin with.
Why was it important for you to create a series like this and get it on the market?
It became very clear to me, talking to fans of “Princeless” that just like there had been a need to have stories with young black women as the protagonist in comics, there was a need to have comics that told the stories of queer women. There are honestly no shortage of comics about queer women, but I think Raven is unique in that it is a book aimed for a YA audience with teenage characters who are finding themselves in the midst of having the sort of grand adventures I love in comics. I love adventure comics and I love romance comics and the idea of having a comic where both of those things were developing simultaneously was extremely appealing to me. And having several queer women at the center of that kind of story was the perfect confluence of stories I wanted to tell.
You’ve been very public about making sure more comics featuring strong female characters are on the market. Why is this important to the industry as a whole?
Comics is a medium with one of the best known and most recognizable “strong female characters” playing a central part in it for over 75 years. Comics is a medium that has traditionally had a very diverse audience and embraced a number of diverse subject matters. Yet, not long ago, there was a point where there were no notable comics being published with female protagonists by the largest American comic book publisher. Because it is a visual medium, there is often a tendency to exploit and oversexualize women in the medium. If you ask a lot of women, they’ve had an interest in comics at some point in their lives, but have either found no place for them in the community, been actively chased off, or had to go out of their way to find or create a safe space for themselves to enjoy comics.
While I applaud those spaces, they shouldn’t be necessary. Comics should be for everyone. Girls shouldn’t feel like there is nothing for them in comics. They should be able to enjoy and see themselves in comics the same way that boys can. And the more books feature strong female characters, the more likely girls are to find one that they really relate to.
Since you’ve entered comics, have you seen an improvement in more accessible comics?
Oh, for sure. Not only are there more diverse comics available on the market, but there are more ways to get your hands on comics. I think digital comics have helped comics reach an entirely new audience and generation. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not reason a person who doesn’t live within 100 miles of a comic shop shouldn’t be able to enjoy new comics the same day that I can pick them up at a store. For some of my friends, that’s the only way they can get comics.
Now, you’ve been really vocal the last two weeks about the future of the series. First of all, why is it important to you to continue the series?
Well, from a very personal standpoint, I have a long view of where this story is going and I want to see it get there. There are a number of divergences and twists and new ideas in the story, but I’m very excited about reaching some of the big moments we have planned. I’d hate to have to shelve scripts that I love and have already written.
But from a larger perspective, I think there aren’t enough comics like Raven. The diversity, representation, and diversity of representation that’s in this book is much different than most comics and doubly so when you consider comics created for a YA audience. It is a story that young girls can see themselves in that otherwise may not have another story like this. I’ve already gotten a story from a young woman who is a comics fan and podcaster about Raven being the book that helped her to come out as gay. I consider that a huge responsibility and one I’d never want to abandon.
What can your fans do to help the series continue?
Here are a few things
1) Buy the collections (trade paperbacks) that are out now. There are four of them and they can be ordered through your local comic shop (best case), your local book store (still good), a physical chain story (Barnes and Noble etc), or other online retailers including Amazon.
2) Pre-Order Volume 5, already available for pre-order through comic shops etc, including online.
3) The best thing you can do is subscribe to the monthly comic at your local comic book shop. This gives us constant numbers and will often result in a comic shop ordering extra shelf copies of a comic for their store. It also makes sure that even if you forget to place an order one month, the book still gets ordered for you.
4) Subscribe digitally via Comixology. This will assure that every issue is purchased for you as soon as it drops and show up on your phone for you to read. Notably, having pre-orders on Comixology also helps determine our placing in search results and best-sellers.
5) Review the books. If you read the comics and you like them, even if you don’t have the money to buy them, reviewing is a huge help. If you bought them digitally, be sure to review them on Comixology. Regardless of where you got them, you can post reviews on Comixology, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, or anywhere else that might help people find them.
7) Request them at your library. Whether you have books yourself or not, requesting that your library carry them can be a huge help. Libraries can help new readers discover them and one library buying a book can very quickly turn into an entire chain of libraries carrying the books. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.
8) Recommend us to a friend. If you know someone you think might like Raven, let them know what it is and where they can get it. If you have a lot of friends or, say, a review site then even better. This book has gotten where it is mostly by word of mouth. If it’s going to keep succeeding, word of mouth is how it is going to happen.
Have you considered alternatives to continue to series, such as a webcomic or Kickstarter?
Absolutely and if it comes down to it, that may be what we end up doing. However, I would like for it to keep being available to as wide an audience of people as possible and through as many means as possible.
How has the fan response been since you went public with the series’ struggles?
Frankly, overwhelming. My original tumblr post about our sales issues got over 20,000 notes in the first week (10,000 of those in the first two days). Amazon sold out of all four volumes and we’ve been actively encouraging Diamond to get more copies of the trades out to retailers. I’ve had dozens of people I’d never heard from before saying how much they loved the book and pushing their friends to go buy it. It means a lot to me how many people have showed up for this book since we began having troubles. I hope it’s a good sign that Raven has a long future in front of it, but as with all things comics, it’s about creating sustainable numbers and long-term fans. That’s what I hope we’re doing right now.
Are you working on any other projects that you want to tease?
Well, I’d honestly rather tease what I have written for the first volume of Raven Year 3. It’s a little different than what we’ve done so far in that the entire arc is called “Date Night” and follows the ladies of our crew on their first night off in a long time. We’ll be focusing on telling romance stories that are all taking place at the same time and giving the larger “adventure” side a break. Assuming we get to make the next year, we’re going to have four issues of straight up romance comics starting the new volume off.
Thanks for sitting down with me Jeremy! Do you have any message for our readers?
I appreciate anybody who is willing and able to jump in and help Raven in any way possible, but we’re far from the only comic that could benefit from your love. Make sure you’re supporting the comics that mean something to you. If that’s our comics, that’s absolutely thrilling, but if it’s someone else instead/also, make sure you’re letting the creators and the people you know who might like it just how good it is. Comics is rarely an easy business and while the big guys have their die-hards, indy comic creators can always use your help.
Thanks Jeremy! PRINCELESS: RAVEN THE PIRATE PRINCESS #6 is in stores and available digitally now, and #7 is available on Wednesday, April 18. You can also check out the collections in store and digitally as well.