Photo © Ye Rin Mok
Jen Wang is a cartoonist, illustrator, and the author of the graphic novel, “The Prince and the Dressmaker.” The book is available for purchase on February 13, 2018.
UR: Give our readers a short synopsis of “The Prince and the Dressmaker.”
JW: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” is about a 19th century prince who secretly likes to wear dresses and he hires a dressmaker to make these dresses. Of course, there’s conflict with the royal family about this and so there’s a little bit of secrecy involved, but ultimately, it’s this kind of fun fairytale story.
UR: Where did the idea and inspiration for the story come from?
JW: I’d always kind of wanted to do something that was almost like a Disney movie, but something maybe a little queer, maybe just sort of something that was relevant to my interests. Separately for a while I was thinking about a story where you would have a character whose superpower was to transform through sewing and I couldn’t really quite figure out the right story for it. I thought about things like historical reenactments and cosplay and nothing really stuck, but one day those things kind of came together and I was like, ‘Oh, of course!’ I think I was watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race actually, and I was like, ‘Ooh, yeah! Like, obviously, that’s the story!’ The rest of it fell into place really easily after that because everything about it just kind of made sense.
UR: Can you walk our readers through the process of creating the story? How long did it take?
JW: I start with an outline where I write in detail everything that happens in the plot and what the character motivations are. It’s basically like a rough synopsis. After I’m satisfied with that, then I start working on a full script with the dialogue and that’s the blueprint, which I am going to be working off of. After I finish the script, I do thumbnails where I kind of quickly do little layouts, like sketches, just so I know for myself what the book might look like and how many pages [it will be.] I usually average about four drawing pages per page of script. After that, I start doing the drawing. I’m actually a little bit old fashioned. I’ve always done books with pencil and paper, so I’m still doing it that way even though I feel like the technology has advanced pretty far for illustrators now. I do everything on paper and then I color it in Photoshop afterward.
It’s just how I’ve always done it. I started drawing comics in high school. I can totally do it on the computer, but something about it just feels different. I think I have a habit of still doing it this way even though I’m sure I’m wasting a lot of time scanning and cleaning up sketches.
UR: How did you come to be a cartoonist? How did your interest in high school unfold?
JW: I was always interested in drawing and writing, but I didn’t do comics exactly. In high school, I had some friends who introduced me to manga. I got really into it and I wanted to draw some myself. After [that] I started posting things online and getting feedback and meeting friends who were also teenage girls my age who were doing that. I think I felt very motivated afterward because I was doing something that was being seen by other people but also by other people who liked doing the same thing that I was doing. So that’s how I got started, and a lot of it has been over time posting a lot of stuff on the internet and meeting other artists that I eventually became friends with.
UR: The book tackles a major theme that is relevant to today’s society, and especially our fashion scene. In particular, gender non-conformity. What message do you hope to bring with that theme throughout the storyline? Why is that theme important?
JW: I feel like the idea is— regardless of how you identify, regardless of who you are— that you should be able to express yourself however you want. Fashion especially, is so expensive and it’s about how you see yourself. I think the whole point of the story is that a character wants to dress a certain way and [that’s] how they feel beautiful. That’s something that should be celebrated.
It’s important to recognize because I feel like this is the reason why we shouldn’t be hiding anything about ourselves, especially if it makes us feel good, and makes us feel seen and recognized for who we are. Even if you have no interest in fashion or there’s nothing about the story that is literally you, hopefully the takeaway is just to be happy with who you are and be able to celebrate that.
UR: One of the book’s poignant moments unfolds when Prince Sebastian’s father fully embraces who he is. What message would you give to today’s parents about gender non-conformity?
JW: The thing with the king at the end is, I really did want it to be a happy ending and one that — even if it seems like it’s a little historically inaccurate—I wanted to be able to have a story that reflected what we hope our parents could be, even if it’s something that isn’t quite what they imagine being supportive of in the beginning. I would like to encourage parents to love your kids for who they are. It may not be exactly something you understand, but if it’s what makes them happy, then isn’t that the point of your loving them?
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
A free advanced copy of the book was sent to Urbanite Runway for the purpose of facilitating this interview. This material in no way impacts our reporting objectivity and is not for personal gain.