Princess at Midnight

By Andi Watson
64 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

What little kid didn’t dream of having a fantasy life that was radically different from their own? It’s a simple and smart hook, and one that Andi Watson really uses to its best advantage in Princess at Midnight, a new one-shot comic. Best of all, though, is that I think Princess at Midnight could be used as an example of how a book can find just the right length.

Holly Crescent’s parents are a little over-protective about her and her twin brother Henry. Born prematurely and in the hospital for some time before going home, Mister Crescent still sees them as his fragile little babies. So now, every day they’re home-schooled by their father, with Henry forever taunting and putting down his sister. Holly’s one form of escape is when she goes to sleep and is transported to Waxing Castle, where she is its Princess and attended to by courtiers and dragons. When the Horrible Horde invades her favorite picnic spot, though, she decides it’s time to use our world’s knowledge of war in her nighttime fantasy world—and the response will keep Holly forever scrambling to stay one step ahead.

Princess at Midnight is comprised of two short stories (the first originally printed in The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga). The first, main story sets up the action, as well as opens itself up for sequels—and the second story does just that. What I really liked about Princess at Midnight is that it used its length perfectly; there’s a certain level of back-and-forth about the main story, where each action of Holly’s results in a response from the Horrible Horde. This could have gone on for ages and eventually grown tiresome, but Watson wisely recognizes just that and brings it to a conclusion at just the right moment, never overstaying its welcome. Of course, it also matters that Princess at Midnight is fun; the back-and-forth escalation is funny, and while the other denizens of Castle Waxing are there for comedic relief more than anything else, for a story of this length they work just fine. There’s a nice point in here about wars and losing sight of initial objectives, although Watson never hits the reader over the head with it; younger readers will just see Holly going too far even as older readers will catch the deeper levels. And really, that’s exactly how it should be.

What can I say about Watson’s art that hasn’t already been said? It’s beautiful as always, using sparse lines and gray tones to perfect effect. It’s always amazing to me just how well Watson makes it work, using the two together in such a way that each complements the other and ends up with a strong, robust look. Watson gets to cut loose here with his depictions of the Horrible Horde monsters, and while I wish we’d had them a little more central from time to time, they’ve got a fun look, a cross between tribesmen of an earlier era, and brutish creatures from your fairy tales. Add in the little touches like Holly’s perfect little crown, or how her pigtails sometime transform into more ornate curls while in Castle Waxing, and it’s a visual delight as well.

Princess at Midnight serves its purpose perfectly. It’s short, sweet, and to the point; it ends at just the right moment, but at the same time it leaves me wanting to read another installment down the line. Should Watson ever decide to revisit Holly, Henry, and the rest of the characters I’d certainly be quite happy. For now, though, it serves as a fun side-trip into Watson’s imagination. Watson fans—or really, just readers in general—should make sure to check this out.

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