- Representing Childhoods through Comics
As the title indicates, this collection of thirteen essays focuses on representations of childhood in comics from different countries. The editors note that their text represents "the first book-length approach to bring together a variety of comics, across vast geographic and temporal spaces, to better understand the intersections between comics and childhood as both an abstract concept and a lived experience" (3). They observe that the book stands at the intersection of comics studies and childhood studies, both of which are interdisciplinary fields. Although most chapters focus on North American comics, the anthology includes essays on comics from France, Japan, Finland, Argentina, and Iran, testifying to its transnational scope.
The anthology asks how constructions of childhood in comics speak to contemporary culture and society and how socio-historical concerns of the time shape representations of childhood in comics. Picturing Childhood is organized chronologically and covers a century: the first chapter discusses Little Orphan Annie, which debuted in 1924, and the last chapter analyzes Sweet Tooth, which was serialized from 2009 to 2013. In the introduction, the editors helpfully categorize essays according to different areas of focus. Chapters by Pamela Robertson Wojcik, Lara Saguisag, and Annick Pellegrin "explore the ways in which comics reflect a wide spectrum of cultural values concerning children and childhood" (7). Chapters by Ralf Kauranen, Christopher J. Hayton and Janardana D. Hayton, Qiana Whitted, and Brittany Tullis show how comics negotiate "[c]omplex and sensitive national and sociocultural issues" through child characters (8). Chapters by Ian Blechschmidt, James G. Nobis, and Mark Heimermann investigate comics which represent "unconventional" [End Page 168] children, such as sexualized or grotesque children. The last group of chapters by Clifford Marks, C. W. Marshall, and Tamryn Bennett discuss autobiographical or semi-autobiographical comics to explore the ways in which adulthood and childhood intersect.
This excellent anthology offers insight into how child characters in comics have been deployed for various purposes: for instance, to make child readers aware of complex issues of racism and sexuality, to socialize children into becoming good citizens, and to register protest against constricting gender norms. Qiana Whitted discusses comic book representations of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Black boy who was lynched by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of flirting with a white woman.1 Whitted argues that comics representing the lynching of Emmett Till "illustrate the racial and gender socialization of children during the civil rights era in ways that pointedly draw attention to how Black male youth are denied the social protections of childhood" (71). Whitted shows that in childhood memoirs such as Lila Quintero Weaver's Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White and John Lewis's March: Book One, Till's lynching functioned "as a crucial part of the socialization process for Black children during the 1950s and 1960s" with regard to how they learned about race, gender, and sexuality (78).
The anthology also touches upon how children's comics have been used to mould children into ideal citizens. Ralf Kauranen's "Competent Children and Social Cohesion: Representations of Childhood in Home Front Propaganda Comics during World War II in Finland" examines comics issued by Finland's Ministry of Supply. Children were represented as productive and competent workers, "provid[ing] an understanding of children as worthy members of society with an important contribution to make" (41). Simultaneously, they were represented as innocent victims who signify the weakest members of society and therefore deserve protection (37). These discourses were framed in nationalistic terms and served to nurture social unity during wartime.
Nonetheless, as Brittany Tullis notes in her exploration of the Mafalda comics, child characters are also cleverly deployed to subvert and critique hegemonic norms. Tullis notes that Quino's internationally acclaimed comic strip "constructs an alternative model of Argentine femininity for the next generation, one that revolves around education, compassion, participation, and critical evaluation . . ." (93). The spunky child protagonist becomes a vehicle for critiquing the "angel in the house" paradigm of femininity, represented by her mother...