At Fan Expo Canada this year, I discovered a very interesting Canadian web comic. The Ditzabled Princess, as its title suggests, tells stories of a diva with a disability. Based on her real life, author Jewel Kats has a bright pink elbow crutch and permanent bowel problems. All of the characters in her comic are her real family, named only by the relation to her – characters named “Little Sis” and “Hubby” conceal their real identities, but also place Jewel, the only named character, at the centre of her universe.
The comic updates weekly and reads like a Sunday newspaper funny page, most strips having 3 panels and a set up punch line. Kats makes frequent use of silly puns, which drew me in quickly. The artist is also a woman, K. Andriopoulous. Her art is cute and clean, if a bit flat. Through her mother and two sisters, Kats portrays a variety of women in varied roles, which still isn’t a granted in comics. Most importantly, this comic normalizes Kats’ disability. Some strips will deal directly with issues related to her crutch or health issues, but just as many (if not more) focus on her “princess” persona, dreaming of shoe sales and spoiling her small dogs. Kats pokes fun at herself, depicting a version of herself that is extravagant and jealous (not to mention flatulent), but self-awareness keeps her from feeling like the unwilling butt of a joke. With her visible disability, this could easily fall into Lifetime Movie Inspirational Story, but it never does; Kats celebrates her disability as a perk, sometimes using it to get special treatment, and she never asks for sympathy. It’s a part of her identity, but not all of it.
Kats has written about disabilities before, as the celebrated children’s author of stories like “Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair: An Empowering Fairy Tale.” In an interview with The Buffalo News in June, Kats said that “Limitations are a perceived mindset,” so her version of Cinderella doesn’t accept her wheelchair as a disability – and doesn’t need a prince to save her.
The Ditzabled Princess is primarily comedic, but is not without moments of sweetness, especially where “Hubby” is concerned. The illustrated Kats would have been at home on Sex and the City or 90’s sitcoms, as would much of the humour, and the fact that characters like Jewel were absent from those shows the first time demonstrates the importance of this comic. People with disabilities have rarely been protagonists in mainstream stories, especially comedic ones. This is simple, lighthearted (and G-rated) fun that shows that we can include characters with disabilities without tip-toeing around them. This comic is worth supporting and I hope more like it follow in the future.