Jen Wang’s latest graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, hit shelves on February 13th. It’s an inspiring story about the blossoming connection between a young seamstress with dreams of becoming a fashion designer and a prince who wears dresses by night and longs for parental acceptance by day. As a treat for our readers, here’s an early excerpt! In this scene, Sebastian and Frances are out for their first night on the town, with Sebastian wearing one of Frances’ designs. After perusing the excerpt, read on for an interview with Jen Wang about the inspiration behind this heartwarming story.
Bookish: This is a story about self acceptance and identity exploration. What drew you to those themes?
Jen Wang: I wrote this book for my teenage self, so it’s all about themes that were important to my young self: questioning your identity and gender, but also your creative aspirations and the person you want to be.
Bookish: The fashion in this book is absolutely stunning. What inspired Sebastian’s sense of style and Frances’ designs?
JW: Mostly I just tried to have fun with the designs! I did a lot of research into late 1800s fashion, but ultimately it’s a fantasy and the point is Frances was having fun with the rules, so I kept it intentionally loose and mixed in some ideas from different eras.
Bookish: Why did you decide to set the story in 19th-century Paris?
JW: I kept coming back to that era, partly because I couldn’t resist setting a fairytale romance in Paris, but also that era in particular is super interesting. A lot of the tech (department stores, public transit) and societal changes (emerging middle class! capitalism!) at the time led the way to our modern society. I felt it was fitting to to set the story in a time that straddled both worlds, where you can understand the old world Sebastian’s parents came from, but also see how Sebastian’s generation is going to grow up in a completely new society.
Bookish: Fashion is incredibly important to both Sebastian and Frances, but in very different ways. How does fashion help each of them feel more connected to their true selves?
JW: For Sebastian fashion means being physically seen and acknowledged as the person they feel on the inside. For Frances it’s about a creative expression and being able to manifest something about themselves into an object. Both of them felt previously isolated in their interests so coming together is really what allows them to blossom.
Bookish: What other graphic novels or webcomics do you recommend for readers as they await The Prince and the Dressmaker’s release?
JW: I really loved Spinning by Tillie Walden, which is a graphic novel memoir centered around the author’s experience figure skating as a teenager. It’s just very perceptive and captures perfectly the struggles of a smart teenager who is queer and driven and learning how to be herself.
Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache. Her graphic novel Koko Be Good was published by First Second. In Real Life is her second book.