Princess Diaries and Enthusiastic Fangirling
Travis Hedge Coke
I don’t think anyone has done a serious study on comics, anime, and SF fandom in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. And, this won’t be one. But, with a new novel and a new spinoff released this year, I think an informal rumination could do some good in the world.
Princess Mia, at fifteen, was fond of comparing her boyfriend to Wolverine and voted, against her friends, for the 2D version of Hellboy as one of the sexiest men in the world. This, as with her wearing Star Wars underpants for good luck or regularly worrying about sex she isn’t having is not present in the two Princess Diaries movies, because they skew to a younger, perhaps more family audience. But, the books are full of it, because while movie-Mia is a bit of a generic nerd, book-Mia has very serious commitment to specific fandoms.
When I was a kid, my favorite types of stories were either romantic or Romantic, and usually both. Superheroes gush, fret, rage and reminisce all the time. Superheroes are passionate, by and large, and their relationships with other people mean the world. Eras of Spider-Man, Batman, even Deadpool, are often identified by who they were fighting most often, and who they were making sexy times with most frequently. Schoolgirl stories for youths, tend to follow a similar path, while schoolboy stories for kids are mostly about pranks, ranks, and solving logical problems. Encyclopedia Brown can sort your logic problems, but he’s not huggy, and he’d probably never kiss a sad foreign student’s face to make her stop crying, like Joey Bettany (School at the Chalet), or tear out a girl’s extension braid after she nastily called another girl, “hermaphrodite,” as Princess Mia does in Princess in Training.
I blame 19th Century standards making this received wisdom, because if young boys really didn’t want passion in their stories, they wouldn't be the traditional bread and butter of superhero comics.
Mia seems to know, as many fans do, that ho Wolverine must not kiss during a particular story is just as important - probably way more important - than who he’s putting his claws through. When we’re very lucky, in a psychically complex fashion, he puts his claws through the person he’s not supposed to kiss perhaps even while kissing them.
(Sidenote: I assume if she were reading comics right now, Mia would disapprove of how desperately Marvel seems to be stepping back from a bisexual Hercules, particularly after how good an alternate reality Herc looked while romancing an alternate reality Wolverine.)
I’m getting, from a Princess Diaries story, essentially the same energies, the same thrills and frisson as I do from a Wolverine story, from a Hellboy comic. My nieces, who also read all three of these, seem to as well, so it’s not just me being weird (it’s my whole family being... no, it really is more than that).
Cabot has written comics, for that matter, Some of the PD books utilize illustrations that I would say are more than essential and not just because “whale (not drawn to scale)” makes me laugh. If there is a superhero energy transfigured into these stories, there is also some visual flair that cannot be wholly replicated in straight prose. The visual is given, in line art or text, its due weight.
Does Mia like the Star Wars prequels so much because she also likes Hayden Christensen’s abs? Does this devalorize her fannishness? Does it imply a lack of true fandom any more than, for example, the legion of Power Girl fans who may insist her boobs aren’t the draw, yet freak out any time they are fully covered or less than enormous for longer than four consecutive pages?
For all any of us may find sexualizing Harry Potter awkward (especially when done by an adult and not a teen), we likely take little notice of how easily Hermoine (and the actress who portrayed her) were eroticized by fans. The Slave Girl Leia has been, on occasion, the only Leia action figure available new in stores, so throwing stones at anyone, fictional character or real person, who finds Anakin kind of hot, should not, at least, come from within even the broadest realms of Star Wars fandom.
To modernize this a bit, let’s swap not-yet-Vader for Loki or Thor or… well pretty much any of the very pretty and generally well-shaped men featured in a Marvel movie. Dismissing this as a side-fandom is silly. Finding Loki or the actor portraying him for Marvel does not downgrade someone’s level of fannishness. Eroticizing Black Widow or Tigra isn’t more (or less) fair game than Loki or Wonder Man.
Princess Mia’s 2D lusts are not indicative of a less-invested form of fanning than anyone else’s different 2D lusts. Her fan status is not cheapened or enhanced by having a sexual or emotional context, nor is anyone else’s. Regardless of who feels the same or feels vehemently differently. And, as a fictional character, her author does not have to hold the same feelings at the same levels, but whether she does or not, does not alter the veracity or sincerity of the character’s fannishness.
It may seem silly thing to have to defend (or too close to the bone for some of you), but the rise in prominence of the Girl Superhero Fan as a title-launching comics character (especially at Marvel; Excalibur, Ms Marvel, Spider-Girl…) springs from a need to defend. Not defensively against a straw argument or phantom hatred that you can only see if you believe in it a priori like Slenderman, but a genuine response to a very ugly, increasingly vocal subsection of many geek fandoms as exemplified by gamergate’s obsession with releasing embarrassing pictures or home addresses in the pursuit of justice against women having opinions.
I’m not saying there’s a direct linkage from the PD series to the recent Ms Marvel or the later issues of Avengers Assemble that Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote. There is a shared insistency in character type, though, or general fanning ethos. That the female geek exists, and does so enthusiastically. Maybe, also, that her enthusiasms need not be a mimicry of her stereotypical male counterpart.
Before Excalibur’s enthusiasm in Captain Britain and MI 13, Ms Marvel fangirling over her namesake in her own title, or Lt Trouble cheering on the former Ms, now Captain Marvel in recent Captain Marvel series, Princess Mia was braving bullies by wearing Amidala panties on gym days where she’d have to strip off and probably hear something derisive. Which is very Wolverine, I think, and a Jubilee one, too. I could see the Wolverine of Meltdown or the Larry Hama era rocking provocative undies in the face of those who’d take a swing at him. And, Jubilee has essentially grown into being Wolverine without stubble and cigars, honing herself through issue after issue of being Logan’s biggest fan.
And, now I’m wondering where and how Marjorie Liu’s early, very Wolvie and Jubes-haunted professional fiction is best places, in the continuum that seems to be forming from these considerations.
I don’t for a moment believe that gender is dictating the shape of anyone’s fannishness or these type of fan expression. I love sometime Cube writer, Kimberly Smith’s Hank Pym enthusiasm and her husband, and writer of roughly eighty-seven percent of the Cube, Ben Smith’s fanning. I don’t see an appreciable difference in how intensely they’re expressed. Unlike the places I frequent that are decidedly more women-centric or run by a woman, for certain television shows or manga genres, the best fanning I see via comics forums (or on social networks, to be honest) involving a majority of omen, comes to me in the form of group private messages or off-board joint skips, emails, and chats.
(Sidenote: Some of this is due to the ramifications from outside the fandom, from being discovered discussing aspects of a socially sensitive nature publicly by family or employers. And, some of it should cement how anecdotal this is because I also don’t have thorough or regular conversations with men as often as with women.)
Hypothetically, all my friends and co-fans could just be hiding the special public comics talk forums from me. The guys I’m not engaging with off-board may be having just as much, just as fascinating para-conversations. Seems more likely, to me, that the pirate utopia politics of personal Huntress Tumblr or deviantArt page for fanart, the relative protection of a PM on a forum, as opposed to a public post, has not a gender-fueled initiative, but it is culturally wrought.
Which, is probably why movie-Mia has less fandoms, is less of a specific geek and just frizzier hair and a retainer. It doesn’t wash in a standardized movie world (and, I’m saying this as a fan of those movies). It isn’t that the female fan of geek shows or comics didn’t exist until recently; Star Trek was saved by its fandom, but most specifically by notable women who loved it. Pop culture itself, popular entertainment has erased the and obscured women in fandom and women who are fans (as well as downplaying or erasing women working in geek fields, from the sciences to science fiction). That’s where we’re at, culturally. Our entertainment does reflect the social reality we think we have.
Outside of the Engineer while Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch were working on The Authority, can anyone think of a superheroine in the entire DC multiverse who was a comics fan as a kid? I can think of a few others who read comics as kids, but a dyed in the wool fan? Angie might be it. And, that’s just weird.