THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER BY JEN WANG
Art
Plot
Characterization
Summary
THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER is a charming coming-of-age story of identity and yearning for acceptance. Illustrated and written by Jen Wang, the beautiful scenery and designs are enchanting and intricate as the characters themselves.
97 %
C'MON VOGUE
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When you think of royalty, you can imagine a lavish castle. You can picture the grandeur of their regal events and celebrations. You can feel the larger-than-life emanation of nobility through a family. In THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER by Jen Wang, readers are swept into Paris and into the secret life of Prince Sebastian.

Sometimes, you have to be a prince: to exemplify and represent the family ideals and to maintain an image of the entire kingdom. But, sometimes, you just want to be a princess. Sometimes Prince Sebastian wants to be himself through his persona Lady Crystallia.

The graphic novel embraces identity and captures the difficulty of allowing the world, and even family, to understand that certain qualities make you-you. These traits and quirks, while strange or unusual to others, comprise the integral structure of your personality and self-image.

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Heavy themes can often lead to heavier and darker stories. However, in Wang’s graphic novel, everything is very lighthearted and almost therapeutic in a way. Plus, the graphic novel sets a fun, amicable tone throughout the story, give or take moments of conflict or the dawning of emotional revelations.

Furthermore, it becomes a pure test of will not to remain mesmerized by Wang’s designs when reading through the chapters. Frances, Sebastian’s seamstress, gives us an indication of how much love she possesses for her craft as she tirelessly works long hours and through the night for Sebastian’s dresses. Wang, by extension, communicates her own love, enthusiasm, and dedication she gave to her delightful story.

Walk, Walk, Fashion Baby

In the graphic novel, Wang reveals at the end of the book that the characters were visually very different in the preliminary sketches. Prince Sebastian and Frances were adults rather than teenagers, and after seeing the difference between what could have been THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER to now, I’m relieved Wang went along with her second attempt.

Not that there was anything wrong with the style, but it doesn’t match the soft, gentle, and warm tones the story sets. If they were older, Sebastian and Frances’s innocence, visible growth, and relationship might not have translated as well. This finalized rendition complements the narrative and provides a charming appeal to Sebastian’s inept social skills and Frances’ quieter, subtle demeanor.

The Prince and the Dressmaker
Image courtesy of First Second.

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER got me all heart eyes emoji over its fantastic and simple artwork. Sebastian’s dresses, and Wang’s fashion choices for him, had me alternating between gaping in awe or getting starstruck by the different ensembles. Where can I find me a Frances? Why does every dress store I’ve passed by seem so basic in comparison? Oh, Wang, what have you done.

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER
Image courtesy of First Second.

Wang’s backgrounds, settings, and diversity in bodily and facial compositions is a sight to behold. We don’t really get that many characters with long noses in many other graphic novels. In this one, no two people look the same. Also, the coloring is simple, too; there isn’t a drastic emphasis on shading or deviating from flat coloring.

It’s wonderful. It has that same fantastical atmosphere of the Disney Renaissance aged films. While, of course, more modern, THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER comes across as a film I would have seen from Disney. But, y’know, more progressive.

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Royal Expectations

The Prince and the Dressmaker
Image courtesy of First Second.

Much like the art, THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER has a simple and direct narrative. Some people like a story with plot twists, action, maybe even a bit of angst. I love that as much as the next person, but THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER is a graphic novel that goes along with a rainy afternoon, a hot drink, and snug blanket.

Also, it’s a soothing read with just enough of an emotional kick that’ll make you continue reading in one sitting. I certainly did when I first got my hands on this graphic novel. Next thing I know in the span of an hour or so, I was nearly ¾ of the way done. What can I say? I’m a big sucker for emotionally expressive characters with plenty of dimensions!

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER
Image courtesy of First Second.

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER is an excellent coming-of-age story. It deals with identity, the desire of acceptance, sacrifice between wants and responsibility, and the drive for personal and social recognition. The characters demonstrate to us what the loving support a friend can offer.

Sebastian’s alter ego, Lady Crystallia, allows him to be his utter complete self. It’s his own form of expressionism. This is a prince who wants to wear dresses, who is deathly afraid of his family’s ostracizing him, and terrified to shame his family lineage and himself to the world.

Sebastian’s fluidity to alternate between feeling like a prince and feeling like a princess faces a pivotal turning point when he realizes his weakening father needs his heir to take his place eventually. The exploration of identity is rich and captivating, heartwarming and disheartening, and questions how much of your identity you should sacrifice to appease your families’ expectations.

Parenting Done Right

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER
Image courtesy of First Second.

The vivid characterization of THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER outweighs the involvement of the minor characters. We get the progression of the cast, but some of them were still ambiguous. Sebastian’s mother remains static; she doesn’t provide an opinion on her son’s expressionism once they reunite. Juliana is nowhere to be seen or heard after her sibling unveils Lady Crystallia’s identity to the royal court. We get that she’s betrayed and leaves, but…that’s about it. She simply disappears right after.

Not that there’s much else to go on about with minor characters, but the rest of the characterization is spot-on. It can be a sore spot when parents, and parents in media, witness their child grow differently. They usually blame themselves, blame their kid, or ask what it is about their parenting that has “failed” to meet their child’s “normal” growth. Sebastian’s father provides the framework parents need to embrace: to love and support your child.

Sure enough, the King must not understand why Sebastian turned out the way he did, but he can try. Sebastian’s no masculine ideal like his father, but his open, emotional vulnerability to being a princess some days is a sweet and refreshing take on gender fluidity. The graphic novel explores these themes gently.

It doesn’t attempt to drive plot point out of proportion like some comics tend to do. Frances’ support and passionate heart is the cherry on top in this story. She watches her dresses come to life through her enthusiastic model, and it’s hard not to feel overly proud of her accomplishments. Plus, a story is always headed in the right direction if you grow an attachment to the cast very quickly.

Final Thoughts on THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER

I reread the story right after finishing. There is so much to admire from Wang, from her beautiful artwork to her quirky characters. This story is the physical manifestation of a kind hug: sweet, full of love, warming, and gentle. The characters are full of life, full of hope, and offer such a positive representation of identity and acceptance. Also, in this time and age, that’s what we need. A happy story with happier endings validating people and their choices to be who they want to be and to be loved as they are — that’s that hug THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER gives to you.

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