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Review: ‘Extraordinary: A Story of an Ordinary Princess’

Extraordinary: A Story of An Ordinary Princess
Writer/artist: Cassie Anderson
Dark Horse Books; $12.99

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Georgia, there was a young artist named Cassie Anderson. For an assignment at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she created a four-page comic about an ordinary princess in a family of extraordinary, fairy-blessed princesses. That comic became an animation pitch, and then became a webcomic and now it is a graphic novel. I can’t promise that you will live happily after if you read Anderson’s Extraordinary, but you will likely be quite happy during the time you are reading it, given how charming a fairy tale riff it is.

Anderson’s story is built on the fairy tale conceit of fairies blessing special children at birth, as in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty stories and Gail Carson Devine’s Ella Enchanted. The king and queen of Florim have seven daughters. Each of the first six was given a superlative quality or talent by their fairy—beauty, dance, singing, cooking, wisdom and humor—while the seventh princess was blessed (or was she cursed?) by the grumpy, cigar-chomping fairy Melvina to be “ordinary.”

That was Princess Basil, who is coincidentally named for an herb while her sisters are all named for flowers; Princess Rose, Princess Lavender, Princess Lily and so on. Her relatively plain looks and lack of a single, defining characteristic make her an outsider among the members of her family, and this becomes particularly vexing to her mother, who worries Basil will never be able to secure a suitor. And so the queen takes drastic action: She hires a dragon to kidnap Basil, believing this will lead to knights seeking to slay the dragon to rescue her and thus earn the right to marry her, before they have a chance to realize she’s so ordinary.

Given that the paid-off dragon is really more of a babysitter than a captor, Basil doesn’t have too much trouble rescuing herself, and in the woods outside the dragon’s castle she meets Hudson, a shepherd boy who is even more ordinary still, but who also dreams of someday  being special. Together, they decide quest for the fairy who cursed/blessed Basil to see if anything can be done about her condition or not and, from there, they are given an even more perilous quest which will have ramifications for the two of them and the entire kingdom.

I can’t imagine that I would be spoiling the story too much to reveal that Basil ends up learning that not having her fate assigned to her as a baby ends up being a good thing, as it allows her a degree of freedom her sisters lack, and it allows her to figure out exactly what her talents are for herself, and those talents end up being a pretty useful, once their castle is attacked by a much bigger, fiercer and more powerful dragon than the one her mom originally hired.

Perhaps due to the project’s time as an animation pitch as much as the way it echoes Disney Princess narratives, Anderson’s character designs are all quite simple, there’s a bright, almost luminous quality to the coloring, and the scenes flow a bit like storyboards. In fact, it reads an awful lot like a deconstructed and reconstructed, old-school Disney cartoon, one in which the princess can and does save herself, and doesn’t need a prince, a knight, or a man of any kind, really—at least, not for anything much more than friendship, and to keep her company on her quest.

Given the broad, popular appeal of the sorts of stories that seem to have inspired Anderson in the creation of her comic, it’s not hard to imagine Extraordinary having a similarly broad and popular appeal.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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