'Princess Who Saved': How Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton Won Kickstarter

The creators behind 'The Princess Who Saved Her Friends' reveal how a children's tale dominated comic book crowdfunding.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk team up in a race against time that flings them all the way across the cosmos. Greg Pak, the acclaimed writer whose Hulk comics inspired much of the movie, recently had his own adventure: Crowdfunding his children’s comic at superhuman speed.

This week, crowdfunding for Pak’s new comic The Princess Who Saved Her Friends ended with a whopping $97,908 raised. The campaign launched on September 17 and hit its target of $39,000 in just two days. Over 2,000 backers, many of them comic book fans looking for something outside the mainstream superhero fare, contributed to the campaign.

“All of your books have been favorites with kids and parents I’ve gifted them to,” reads a comment from a contributor. “So excited to see more coming out.”

The comic is a sequel to 2015’s The Princess Who Saved Herself, an equally-successful comic from Pak and Jonathan Coulton, the folk musician with an online cult following. Pak and Coulton also reunite with their creative team from the first book: illustrator Tak Miyazawa (Mech Cadet Yu), colorist Jessica Kholinne, and letterer Simon Bowland.

That first comic, Pak believes, is what gave The Princess Who Saved Her Friends the edge it needed to demolish its goal.

“We had a built-in audience who were likely to dig this new book,” Pak tells Inverse. “And I’ll flatter myself saying that we waited until we had a story to tell. We’d talked about a sequel as soon as we finished the first book. But it wasn’t until this year that I figured out the next story.”

Cover of 'The Princess Who Saved Her Friends,' by Greg Pak, Jonathan Coulton, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jessica Kholinne, and Simon Bowland.

Greg Pak

In Pak and Coulton’s colorful fantasy, a barefoot princess named Gloria, who has a pet snake and a sweet Gibson, forms a band with two of her former enemies: a giant dragon, who plays bass, and a witch with a knack for classical guitar. The comic is inspired by Coulton’s catchy song of the same name.

While the first book explored themes of “determination, bravery, and understanding,” Pak says the sequel proposes the question: What happens if your new friend, who used to be mean, is actually still mean?

“That felt like an honest and fun story,” Pak says. “Just because you make friends with someone doesn’t mean they change overnight. How do you stand up for your friends when it’s another friend bothering them?”

Pak also teases a new group of villains, the Royals, “who are the super-cool, super-mean older kids” who play gnarly music better than Glory’s band. They’re so good, the Queen ditches Glory’s band to join the Royals. That no good…

“It’s a story that grapples with real, emotionally fraught, everyday social and ethical conflicts that little kids face. Heck, that we all face,” Pak explains.

Pak and Coulton didn’t have such a complicated friendship. After meeting in college “approximately one hundred billion years ago,” the two reunited in New York City. Pak was writing comics, notably Marvel’s Hulk, while Coulton found viral fame online for writing and performing quirky songs about heartbroken robots, zombie coworkers, and a family spending Christmas on an asteroid.

The Royals, a new group of villains who will debut in Pak and Coulton's sequel.

“We both went off after college and did these giant loops around our own career paths in separate worlds,” Coulton tells Inverse. “But we were mutual fans, so once Greg had the idea to smash our paths together, it felt like the most obvious thing in the world.”

“One day I found myself listening to Jonathan’s music and I thought, there are sure a lot of awesome characters here that could be a ton of fun in a comic book,” Pak says. After connecting over Twitter “because that’s how the kids do,” the two collaborated on Code Monkey Save World, based on Coulton’s hit song “Code Monkey”, which was funded on Kickstarter in 2013 and published in February 2014. That led to The Princess Who Saved Herself in 2015, and now its sequel, expected to publish in February 2019.

While a fantasy, the characters of Princess are refreshingly diverse. “It’s always been important to me to tell stories with characters that reflect the world I live in,” says Pak. “It’s fun that our heroine is a multiracial kid named Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion. The story’s not about being multiracial, but Glory’s there, living her best life. I’m biracial myself, and I think there’s a big role for stories that normalize multiracial people.”

Coulton, who admits he feels “like I’ve spent most of my career singing about disaffected, middle-aged white guys,” the musician grasps the importance of representation, especially for a young audience. “I wrote ‘Princess’ when I felt my own daughter was too awesome a human not to be a character out in the world, giving kids something to relate to and think about.”

Adds Pak, “I hope kids take away the big message of these books in terms of treating others with kindness, sticking up for the underdog, and taking the time to puzzle through difficult moments.”

Preview of 'The Princess Who Saved Her Friends.'

With The Princess Who Saved Her Friends on its way to print, Coulton and Pak are already pondering their next move. “The first Coulton song I thought could make for a great story was ‘I’m a Mason Now,’” says Pak. “Maybe some day!”

As for a third Princess comic, that’s also possible. “The Princess Who Saved the World feels like a natural progression,” Pak says. “Or maybe The Princess Who Saved Ten Percent of Her Income and Invested in a Nice IRA?

“Obviously it needs to escalate,” adds Coulton. “Maybe we need to attempt an Avengers: Infinity War situation, just keep throwing characters in there until we sell all the books.”

The Princess Who Saved Her Friends will be released in February 2019.

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