Ted Naifeh’s Princess Ugg is a ridiculous delight and a real breath of fresh air.
In Princess Ugg, Princess Ulga of the highlands Grimmeria and sole child of the king, inspired by but not totally sold on her mother’s deathbed regret, has promised to learn how to stop all war between her people and the nearby Frost Giants.
It’s a heavy quest for a young girl faced with 2,000 years of feuding peoples and limited resources.
So, not really knowing what she’s doing, Ulga goes to the lowlands, where they’ve achieved peace and diplomacy. Unfortunately, they’re kind of pansies.
The lowlanders are also very judgmental and literate, so upon approaching these valley lands Ulga’s half-baked plan crumbles right out from beneath her feet.
Despite the blood, Princess Ugg fits pretty comfortably in the all-ages category, but that isn’t to write it off as just for kids. Instead, this comic addresses important issues like diplomacy and people skills without talking down to its audiences, and does so in an unusual way.
Without being manly (whatever that’s supposed to mean these days), Princess Ulga is very masculine, and she’s comfortable with that. But she’s not necessarily comfortable with the alienation of being so different and bullied by those around her.
While so many series—especially for children—include an episode or story arc about a young boy confronting his relationship with masculinity, there seem to be fewer instances of girls confronting their relationship with femininity—as though femininity just happens.
This isn’t true for Ulga. She is very masculine, but she still has to confront her relationship with femininity.
Princess Ugg is simultaneously upholding a traditionally feminine value of building relationships while doubting a traditionally masculine role of violence and apathy. A faux-Viking backdrop seems like the perfect setting for this discussion, and it takes place on different levels, lending legitimacy to each other.
Princess Ulga’s efforts to ease tensions between herself and frill-dressed, tea-drinking, nose-in-the-air Lady Julifer is really important and not just within the story itself. Diplomacy means something. Diplomacy is as romantic as war, even with nonsensical jerks who aren’t interested in making friends with you, either.
Princess Ugg is a wonderful, mildly fantastical comic about a Viking princess with hilarious references to the Prose Edda, including Odin in the form of a bird and a mammoth named Snorri, both almost acting as a wink from Naifeh to the original canon while not giving Ulga sleeves in feet of snow and ice.
I’ll admit that originally I was nervous that this little berserker was just another victim to the male gaze in the guise of being her own character, but I picked up the book anyway because all the covers only contained women and Ulga is always carrying a double-ax.
Luckily, I was wrong and despite her scant clothes Ulga is not there for heterosexual men. Ridiculously short and muscular, Ulga’s body is her own. Even in the shower scene she’s nothing but an undulating mass of pure, ax-wielding muscle.
One of the bullying princesses says to another “whenever one muscle moves, the others have to get out of the way,” while they stand as a group and objectify and gossip about her body. This story does, after all, essentially take place in old Nordic high school with the addition of politics and monarchies.
So while Princess Ugg can be suitable for younger kids, it’s worth a read even if there aren’t any children in your life.
I can’t wait for the next issue, which comes out on Feb. 25.