Wednesday Whittling: Kids in the Funny Papers

I’ve spoken a couple times about kids in comics. I want to
get particular today.

What is it about
kids and comics? Adult characters are always dealing with adult things – that is,
things that they see through their adult eyes. It’s not just comics, either.
Think about Denzel
Washington in Philadelphia
. Something
in that lawery, well-educated brain can’t get what Tom Hanks is trying to
explain. I mean, he does. He hears it. But he really wants to understand it. Denzel wants to make your point
exactly as you would. To do that he needs the most basic, bare-bones wording
because that’s all that can squeeze between the cracks in his metaphorically
calcified brain.

That’s what kids in comics do. Take Bill Watterson’s Calvin.
When he’s not peeing on your favorite brand to hate, he’s cutting through the
tension that builds up on our shoulders on a daily basis.

image

Like, for real. As an adult, what’s your response when
someone adamantly shouts “WHAT ARE YOU
DOING?!”
There are two things that can happen: turn into a total cactus,
except with needles feeling like they’re going inward instead of pointing out; or get at least semi defensive. But
Calvin just explains it like he’s six (because he is). Whether he’s supposed to
be doing it or not is totally irrelevant. What a fantastic way to live.

There’s also Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Schultz was
even more blunt than Watterson sometimes. I think part of that is the faces he
drew – Watterson almost always had Calvin smiling at some point. Schultz,
meanwhile, has his kids simply say what’s on their mind. Unfiltered, stark, no
snark.

image

Lucy being the one to say “Snap out of it! Five cents,
please” is what makes you pay attention. If Charlie Brown’s talking to his mom
or laying on a psychiatrist’s couch, that’s the most frustrating thing in the
world to hear. How could they reasonably say that to someone? And to a child?!
Don’t they know it isn’t that easy?! Why would they be so damn naïve, so
dismissive?!

But Lucy saying it – a young peer – is just like Calvin’s
question above. She says it sort of snippy like she says anything, sure, but
the reality is she doesn’t consider any other response. It’s not that she
dismisses it, but that she does not see
dwelling as an option
. It’s not a choice to ignore it and persist and take
the high road and keep your chin up. It’s merely “we don’t have time for it.”
So freakin’ zen.

And that’s just one example each from two different comic
strips. Calvin’s always mouthing off like he is above. And through the entire
existence of Peanuts the adults are
womp machines. They say absolutely nothing audible to the kids. Explaining it
like you’re six sounds so trite and childish but only because we’re so stupidly
grown up. Instead, it’s what’s necessary.

Kids in comics: getting the big ideas to wiggle into our
brains one panel at a time. Have a favorite? Let me know!

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