Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Frog Queen's Revenge

Earlier this year Jim Burke asked me to contribute a piece to the Dellas Graphics Frogfolio. If you've never heard of it, basically it's a calendar featuring all frog-themed illustrations. Some of my favorite artists have been included in this showcase (Victo Ngai, Sam Weber, Yuko Shimizu, the list goes on. Leigh Guldig did the cover illustration) and I was thrilled  to be asked.

Almost immediately I knew I wanted to do something around the old Brothers Grimm story of the Frog Prince (read here if unfamiliar). I never really liked the princess in this story- she's sort of a brat. I thought, what is the story that isn't getting told here? With this seed planted and many sketches later, I discovered what I wanted to do: a sequel.

Because I create better when I have a solid story, I kept  fleshing out details of the sequel in my head as I worked out the image.  I realized I quite liked this character. I not only wanted to paint her, I wanted to tell her whole story. So after I finished the painting,  I sat down and wrote it out.

So here you are: a brand new painting and some Grimm Brothers fan-fiction to go along. I hope you like it! There are some notes on the process at the end.

16 x 20
oil on panel

The Frog Queen’s Revenge
by Kristina Carroll

When the large, ugly frog that had followed the little Princess up from the forest turned out to be an enchanted Prince, the Kingdom rejoiced. What a handsome Prince! What a rich kingdom he’s from! What a lucky girl to break the spell! There were lavish feasts and colorful parades. The well in the dark forest behind the castle where the frog had lived was even given a shiny bronze plaque.

 The King had been especially pleased. The Princess may have been a bit too young to marry, but she was near enough. It was no secret that the Kingdom was no longer rich and the King had very little to offer in the way of dowries. The chance to send the girl off with just a small corner of land and a new, powerful family member was more than he could have ever hoped for. Thank goodness for witches! He’d thought. The bond that comes from spell breaking was sacred and absolute. Though the Princess was already quite beautiful for one so young with golden hair and a rosy mouth, beauty did not win wars or pay for roads. The King knew that all too well. Breaking the Prince’s enchantment was the only way the little Princess could have ever made such a rich and powerful match.  The King now thanked the good fortune that had led the Frog to their castle that night.
At first, when the slimy thing knocked on the door of the castle saying the Princess had made a deal with it, the King had been red with anger and beat the Princess. She tearfully admitted to going down to the well to play with her favorite toy: a little golden ball that had belonged to her mother. She’d been playing too close to the edge, peering down into its depths, when suddenly the frog jumped out at her. Startled, she dropped the ball and watched it disappear into the darkness.  The Princess thought of how angry her father would be at her losing the precious toy and was frightened. She could only say yes when the frog offered to retrieve her ball in exchange for a promise to bring it to the castle as her companion. However, when it returned and she was faced with carrying the ugly creature back, she grew scared and ran away.
                 Normally the King would have simply stepped on such a disgusting thing, talking or not, if it came knocking on the door claiming a debt owed. However, the King thought it a very clever punishment to make the frog eat from the girl’s plate and then send it off to bed with her. She was clearly repulsed by it.
                “When you are so careless that you need to enlist the aid of slimy creatures that crawl upon the ground, you have earned no better than to share your bed with them.” The King growled as the Princess sat weeping on the stone floor and wiping a bleeding lip.  “We are royalty, child! The source of our power defines us!”

Clearly fortune had rewarded the King’s wisdom and good sense. He never did ask exactly how the spell had been broken, he didn’t care. All that mattered was that the Princess was gone to be wed in the far off kingdom and he’d already received a very generous gift of fine silks from the Prince that he could begin trading.

◊◊◊

When the young Princess arrived in the Frog’s kingdom, (for in her mind, he would always be The Frog) she was terrified. The customs, language, dress and even the weather were all alien to her. She was utterly alone apart from an old, one-eyed handmaid that was given to her. And when her wedding came, she spent the first of many nights silently sobbing on her side of their bed.

The Frog may have changed his form, but it was soon clear he was still slimy and was not kind. His father, the old King, was blind and useless so the Frog Prince was ruler in all but name and wielded his power cruelly. She wished she could once again throw him against the wall of her bedchamber like she did that first night he’d crawled, slippery and cold, into bed with her. She fantasized about the violence turning him back into the little wet creature and then ripping off his legs to be fried for her supper. (The Princess had found a delicious irony that frog legs were actually a delicacy in this Kingdom and ate them whenever she could.)

                When the Princess woke one cold, winter morning with red on her sheets, she was certain she was dying. She sat shivering and horrified as her old handmaid explained what was happening and what it meant.
                “Don’t be afraid, little bird.” The handmaid had said with a soft voice and a spark in her good eye as she stroked the girl’s hair. ‘Little Bird’ was the handmaid’s nick-name for the Princess: ‘Because all Princesses are little birds: pretty things in pretty cages.’  She was old and strange and spoke in riddles most of the time, but she had helped the Princess learn the ways of the kingdom and was the closest thing the girl had to a friend.  The Princess had asked the handmaid once how she lost her eye, but the old woman had just smiled.
                “Don’t be afraid,” the handmaid repeated, “for now the little bird has the power of life. This is a very strong power and it is only for the little birds. ”
                The Princess didn’t fully understand what the old handmaid had meant but for some reason her father’s words came back to her then: The source of our power defines us.

This secret could not be kept from the Frog and he became gentler for a time. Yet when the seasons came around to winter again and her belly still did not swell, he grew colder. Then the Frog’s old, blind father died. The Frog Prince and Princess were to become Frog King and Queen soon.  Finally the Frog turned from cold to hot with anger.  He came to the Princess’s chambers one day in a rage and threw her to the floor. He told her that spell-breaker or not, if she would not give him a son, he would have her thrown in the dungeons and forgotten.
    After the Frog left, the old handmaid helped the Princess rise off the stones. The girl looked through unshed tears at a canary in its elaborate gilded cage, a gift from her handmaid. It was still flitting around in agitation from the excitement.
                 “Grandmother…” The Princess began, using the endearment she had adopted for her handmaid in private, “Little birds have the power of life, it’s true. Our canary here has had many chicks. But do they not also have sharp beaks? I still have a scar on my hand from when I tried to take out one of her eggs to look at.”
                At this, the corner of the handmaid’s mouth turned up a bit and with a strange glint in her eye she took the Princess’s hands in her own. She looked very hard at the Princess for a long time, until the girl grew afraid. When she tried to break away, the old woman’s grip was iron.
                “Yes. You are ready I think.” The handmaid said finally. Then she began to tell a story. The Princess’s eyes grew wide first in surprise, then fear and finally, hunger.

                The handmaid told of a Prince who was spoiled and cruel. He liked to torment the servants, especially the girls. When a particular young handmaid fought back, scratching his face, he had one of his soldiers hold her down while he cut out one of her eyes with a knife. He kept the eye in an amulet around his neck as a warning to anyone else who might defy him. However, the young handmaid only grew strong in her anger and so she sought out a witch to teach her of those secret magics known only to women. Many years she practiced and grew more powerful just as the Prince grew crueler. When finally it was time for the Prince to choose a wife, the handmaid was ready with her magic and cast an enchantment.  The Prince chose a Princess, beautiful and rich, from a far off kingdom. However, when he took his new wife to their bedchamber on their wedding night and closed the door; she suddenly turned into a rotting corpse. His screaming brought the guards but as soon as others were beholding the girl, she turned beautiful again.  Certain of some dark magic, he had his wife thrown in the dungeon and married again. Once more, as soon as he took his new wife to their bedchamber, she turned into a corpse. He kept trying, but every new girl, while lovely in anyone else’s presence, became rotting and putrid as soon as they were alone. At last the madness and humiliation drove him to a fit of desperation. The Prince took his knife and cut out his own eyes, breaking the spell. Finally he was able to bed his newest wife, who was plain and not from a rich Kingdom but kind and wise. When the Prince’s father died and they became King and Queen, she became the power behind the throne. She ordered all his previous wives released from the dungeons and returned to their homes. Next to the King, she ruled the kingdom well for many years.

                “Unfortunately she died giving birth to their only child. A boy. Without the Queen, the old cruelty passed from father to son and I saw the pattern repeating itself. The Prince liked to torture small creatures so I decided to turn him into one of them. The spell would not be broken until a Princess made him feel as helpless as the little things he tormented. I had hoped it would teach him a lesson, but perhaps even my power wasn’t strong enough in his case.”
                The handmaid ended her story and released the Princess’s hands. The girl stared hard at the floor for several long minutes and then straightened her back and raised her chin.
                “You will teach me.” It was not a question.
    The old handmaid looked at the Princess for a long time. Then she smiled.

◊◊◊

                Years after the young King mysteriously disappeared, supposedly on some crusade or another; the land had grown fruitful and prosperous under the Queen’s rule.  Although she may have been a bit young to be Queen, she was wise and no one missed the cruel King. Still, tales began spreading to other Kingdoms about the wealth to be found in the Kingless land, tempting those who thought to claim it.  Though many armies marched, and many suitors came, the Queen turned aside every last challenge to her power.

                 There were whispers of witchcraft, but they never became louder than whispers. The Kingdom loved the Queen and only grew richer under her rule and so, Witch or not, the people would not speak against her.
                However, the Queen did have one particular strangeness that kept the whispers from dying out completely. More than the lavish balls, the string of lovers, the eccentric fashions, it was her crown that kept the hushed rumors going.
                After the King had disappeared and she took his throne, the Queen decided that she needed a new symbol for her power as ruler.  She took an elaborate gilded cage and had it fashioned to sit comfortably on her head. It towered above her in a dance of sparkling ornament and delicate bars. Still, it was not so much the new crown itself that was unusual. It was the other thing.

                For always inside the cage, contrasting with the beautiful craftsmanship, it sat.  Looking out dolefully from two wet, yellow eyes and occasionally giving a half-hearted croak was a very large, very ugly frog.


 ◊ The End 



Preliminary Drawing
Pencil on Paper

Below is one of my early concepts that I started mocking up digitally. I really liked it but worried that the full body composition would make the frog too small. It was important he got noticed.


Some thumbnails and quick value study:



I love high fashion and try to steal from it whenever I can. Tex Saverio and Alexander McQueen are two of my favorite designers. They provided a lot of inspiration for this piece.

Tex Saverio
Alexander McQueen
Photo by Scott Bakal

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