Uniting the perspectives of comics studies and childhood studies, this pioneering collection is the first book devoted to representations of childhood in iconic US and international comics from the 1930s to the present.
Comics and childhood have had a richly intertwined history for nearly a century. From Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, and Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie to Hergé’s Tintin (Belgium), José Escobar’s Zipi and Zape (Spain), and Wilhelm Busch’s Max and Moritz (Germany), iconic child characters have given both kids and adults not only hours of entertainment but also an important vehicle for exploring children’s lives and the sometimes challenging realities that surround them.
Bringing together comic studies and childhood studies, this pioneering collection of essays provides the first wide-ranging account of how children and childhood, as well as the larger cultural forces behind their representations, have been depicted in comics from the 1930s to the present. The authors address issues such as how comics reflect a spectrum of cultural values concerning children, sometimes even resisting dominant cultural constructions of childhood; how sensitive social issues, such as racial discrimination or the construction and enforcement of gender roles, can be explored in comics through the use of child characters; and the ways in which comics use children as metaphors for other issues or concerns. Specific topics discussed in the book include diversity and inclusiveness in Little Audrey comics of the 1950s and 1960s, the fetishization of adolescent girls in Japanese manga, the use of children to build national unity in Finnish wartime comics, and how the animal/child hybrids in Sweet Tooth act as a metaphor for commodification.
Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Shortlist for Best Scholarly Work
- Putting Childhood Back into World Comics: A Foreword, by Frederick Luis Aldama
- Introduction. Bridging Comics Studies and Childhood Studies, by Mark Heimermann and Brittany Tullis
- Chapter 1. Little Orphan Annie as Streetwalker, by Pamela Robertson Wojcik
- Chapter 2. Competent Children and Social Cohesion: Representations of Childhood in Home Front Propaganda Comics during World War II in Finland, by Ralf Kauranen
- Chapter 3. In the Minority: Constructions of American Dream Childhood in 1950s–Early 1960s Little Audrey Comics, by Christopher J. Hayton and Janardana D. Hayton
- Chapter 4. Comics and Emmett Till, by Qiana Whitted
- Chapter 5. Out of the Mouths of Babes: Mafalda's Interrogation of the Argentine Angel in the House, by Brittany Tullis
- Chapter 6. Sex, Comix, and Masculinity: The Rhetoric of Zap Comix's Attack on the American Mainstream, by Ian Blechschmidt
- Chapter 7. RAW and Little Lit: Resisting and Redefining Children's Comics, by Lara Saguisag
- Chapter 8. Lolicon: Adolescent Fetishization in Osamu Tezuka's Ayako, by James G. Nobis
- Chapter 9. Wise beyond Her Years: How Persepolis Introjects the Adult into the Child, by Clifford Marks
- Chapter 10. Vehlmann, or the End of Innocence: Lessons in Cruelty in Seuls and Jolies ténèbres, by Annick Pellegrin
- Chapter 11. Zeno, Childhood, and The Three Paradoxes, by C. W. Marshall
- Chapter 12. Dancing with Demons: Consciousness and Identity in the Comics of Lynda Barry, by Tamryn Bennett
- Chapter 13. The Grotesque Child: Animal-Human Hybridity in Sweet Tooth, by Mark Heimermann
- List of Contributors
Introduction: Bridging Comics Studies and Childhood Studies
Mark Heimermann and Brittany Tullis
The past few decades have seen the emergence and growth of comics studies as a field, which has rapidly expanded in recent years. Comics scholarship, of course, is not a new phenomenon. In the United States, it can be traced back to the early years of the twentieth century,1 but it coalesced in the 1940s and ’50s when the perceived negative effects of the medium on children received widespread attention (Heer).2 In the wake of this public attack on the medium, early proponents of the academic study of comics such as Umberto Eco, Donald Ault, M. Thomas Inge, and David Kunzle made important strides in establishing an incipient scholarly corpus surrounding the study of comics in their various manifestations, paving a legitimizing path for future comics scholars around the world. The field of study was further vitalized by publications like Scott McCloud’s treatise on the comics form, Understanding Comics (1993), and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art (1985), both of which offered definitions and theoretical positionings that incited beneficial debate within the field and soon began to attract new scholars, ideas, and institutional recognition to the academic study of comics.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, comics studies has become a dynamic interdisciplinary field that continues to grow, evolve, and make important contributions to a number of disciplines. Alongside fan-based conventions like the San Diego Comic-Con International, which has met annually since its establishment in 1970, scholarly conferences and journals have been organized in recent years locally, nationally, and internationally. Numerous university presses, including Duke University Press, Rutgers University Press, the University Press of Mississippi, and the University of Texas Press, have published works that situate comics and their study firmly within academic contexts. Simultaneously, prominent conferences dedicated solely to comics studies, such as the International Comic Arts Forum, the Michigan State University Comics Forum, and the University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, continue to grow in size and prestige.
Because scholars working in the field have long discussed the drawbacks implicit in the fact that comics studies as a discipline lacks “institutional footing” (Hatfield, “Indiscipline,” 2), seasoned comics scholars such as Charles Hatfield have worked to create the sort of institutional hub that comics studies has historically lacked. As a result of this effort, the Comics Studies Society was formed in November 2014 at the seventeenth annual International Comic Arts Forum at Ohio State University. At a meeting inside the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the Comics Studies Society’s first Executive Committee was officially voted in, marking a key moment in comics studies as its first declared discipline-wide institution began to take shape.
Ongoing debates within the field mean that much work continues to focus on establishing parameters, such as “the attempt at definition . . . the initial framing of comics as an object of study” (Hatfield, “Indiscipline,” 5). These discussions often involve an emphasis on form or history. A number of scholarly considerations involving the form or history of comics have been published since Eisner’s and McCloud’s early attempts at defining the medium, such as David Carrier’s The Aesthetics of Comics (2000), Robert C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book (1996), Charles Hatfield’s Alternative Comics (2005), Amy Kiste Nyberg’s Seal of Approval (1998), and Bradford Wright’s Comic Book Nation (2001). International publications such as Thierry Groensteen’s The System of Comics (1999, trans. 2007), Jean-Paul Gabilliet’s Of Comics and Men (2005, trans. 2010) and Santiago García’s La novela gráfica (2010) have further enriched the field, offering not only insightful formal and theoretical discussions, but also a range of perspectives stemming from differing national contexts. These formal and historical considerations are not the only books being published on comics, of course, but they represent attempts within the still-developing field of comics studies to address the complexities of the comics form. In this way, comics scholarship has sought, and continues to seek, to understand comics in relation to cultural, historical, and industrial concerns over time and to account for the uniqueness of the medium in relation to its artistic and narrative capabilities.
In addition to the constant and continuing emphasis on form and history, comics studies has produced scholarship on a wide range of topics and themes. Bart Beaty’s Comics versus Art (2012), for example, explores the sometimes-fraught relationship between comics and the art world, and the ways in which low and high culture are constructed. Hillary Chute’s Graphic Women (2010) focuses on how trauma is represented in the graphic memoirs of five important female comics artists, from the underground’s Aline Kominsky-Crumb to the contemporary graphic novelist Alison Bechdel. José Alaniz’s Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond (2014) explores manifestations of death and disability in the superhero comics of postwar United States. In the realm of collections and anthologies, Charles Hatfield, Jeet Heer, and Kent Worcester’s The Superhero Reader (2013) presents an insightful examination of superheroes and the comics they inhabit; Brannon Costello and Qiana Whitted’s Comics and the U.S. South (2012) offers a compelling look at the ways in which southern US culture has been represented in comics. As illustrated by this small sampling of recent publications, the scholarship currently being produced by comics studies is vast and provocative, and continually expanding in scope and volume. At the same time, however, areas remain in which little scholarship has been produced. Explorations and analyses regarding representations of childhood in comics is one such area.
Childhood, as well as its complexity and the ways in which it affects adulthood, has been represented in the pages and panels of comics since their very inception, and yet focused and sustained scholarship in this area is scarce. There have been forays into the exploration of this topic in recent years, but this anthology 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. Despite the disparate cultural contexts of the comics featured in this anthology, the chapters show a remarkably sustained emphasis on childhood as a dialectical institution that both shapes and is shaped by cultural and social factors across time and space.
The focus of this chapter builds upon earlier convergences of childhood and comics. ImageTexT ran a special issue (“Comics and Childhood,” Summer 2007) devoted to this relationship, and in 2014 the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics dedicated an issue to the connections between constructions of childhood, picture books, and comics. The editors of the latter write that the intersection between these three areas is important because it influences what is available to children and how they are depicted: “[We] believe, then, that focusing on constructions of childhood, rather than education, or reading for pleasure, is an important area of enquiry that opens the fields of childhood studies and visual culture to new debates” (Gibson, Nabizadeh, and Sambell, 241). This type of thinking is reflective of Daniel Thomas Cook’s belief that the “‘child’ [can] be approached as an interactional sphere, as something which not only includes children, but also adults and institutions and institutional actors, like industries, which shape and contest and mould” (quoted in Smith and Greene, 62).
Despite the important contributions of these journals, and of individual contributions by scholars who have engaged with this theme, the concept of childhood in comics remains critically underexamined, considering the early association between comic books and childhood in the United States, the sheer volume of representations of childhood, the importance of childhood as a metaphor regarding futurity, and the reliance of approaches like psychoanalysis on childhood. This underexamination requires rectifying, since “many of the best—the most stimulating, most troubling, most psychologically questing, ideologically fraught, and artistically vital—comics for adults have as their subject matter childhood and its possibilities: its potential for tenderness, awe, terror, and social critique” (Hatfield, “Introduction”). The subject matter of childhood in comics is the focus of this anthology, which explores the ways in which adults understand childhood and its relationship to culture and history. Bradford Wright notes that comic books “have figured into the childhoods of most Americans born since the 1920s” (xiii), and they “have always been the domain of the young.” The reasons for this cultural prevalence are straightforward: “Generally fashioned for an adolescent audience by creators often little older, comic books have spoken to youths’ concerns and sensibilities with a consistency and directness that few, if any, other entertainment media can claim” (xvi). Admittedly, Wright’s assertions are becoming increasingly dated, since children’s comic books have drastically declined in popularity among children. Even the recent resurgence in the reading of comics, spurred in part by the consumption of manga, doesn’t approach the readership numbers of 1945, when about “half of the U.S. population,” including a high of “95 percent of all boys and 91 percent of all girls between the ages of six and eleven” read comic books, as well as “16 percent of men and 12 percent of women over thirty” (Wright, 57). Today there are also far more creators making comics for adult readers and markets than there used to be. Contemporary depictions of children and adolescents are still common, as they have been in newspaper comic strips since their inception, but these depictions are increasingly geared toward adult readers.
Childhood has previously been examined in the realm of comics studies, often as a way to illuminate other issues. The role of graphic narratives in communicating cultural history, for example, can be seen in some Native American comics, such as The Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws (2006) and A Hero’s Voice (Noori, 1996). The concepts of childhood and childhood innocence are also used as narrative tools that lead readers to grapple with historical and cultural realities, as in Rhode Montijo’s Pablo’s Inferno (2000). Frederick Aldama, in his discussion of this particular text in Your Brain on Latino Comics (2009), observes that the reader is meant to identify with “the innocent child protagonist,” whose perspective on the Spanish conquest of America is an alternative to a history told from the perspective of the conquerors (23). This alignment associates the experience of a subjugated people with the innocence of childhood and simultaneously emphasizes the importance of children in preserving culture. In another work, Aldama notes that coming-of-age narratives are common in multicultural comics, and that these narratives are often “raw and eye-opening” to readers because they so often involve issues of racism or sexism during scenes that take place when the characters are young (“Multicultural Comics Today,” 7–8). These instances of discrimination resonate so deeply with us, of course, because Western society draws from Romantic conceptions of childhood in which children are meant to be kept free from and unburdened by adult realities (Kincaid, 14–15). Perhaps this is one of the reasons some constructions of childhood are so poignant for adult readers. When not idealized, they reveal the reality of childhood, which is more complex but also, perhaps, more rewarding than the idealized constructions so firmly ingrained in the cultural imaginary. Gilbert Hernandez’s Marble Season (2013), for example, depicts quite clearly “the decisions and dilemmas faced by the children who populate the neighborhood,” which lends itself to a more adult reading (Royal). Like Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (1950–2000), Marble Season is a comic about children that acknowledges the dialectical relationship between childhood and adulthood. What approaches such as these reveal is that the separation between childhood and adulthood is often blurred, and that sanitized depictions of innocent childhoods reflect the desires of adults rather than the reality of children.
This recognition of the complexity of childhood in comics has also taken place in comics from other countries. In Paracuellos (1975–2003), the Spanish cartoonist Carlos Giménez re-creates the harsh reality faced by children living in the Hogares de Auxilio Social (Social Welfare Homes) during the brutally divided postwar years; his depictions of the violence and persecution that these children faced become a means of showing how the battles of the Spanish Civil War continued to play out well after the war years. Quino’s Mafalda (1964–1973) uses a child protagonist to effectuate a mature criticism of both contemporary Argentine culture and mid- to late-twentieth-century global politics and conflicts (see chapter 5). Suhaan Metha notes that in India, the burgeoning comics industry is often sanitized, steering “clear of polemic, ironing out creases in the fabric of national integration and presenting a highly selective view of India to a young audience” (173). But some Indian comics creators, such as Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh, create provocative narratives by depicting childhood and adolescence with all its trials and tribulations. Their graphic novel Kashmir Pending “throws into relief the disillusionment of certain Kashmiri youth, the highly politicized environment of Kashmir, the bitter factionalism among warring groups, and the endless cycle of violence that plagues the valley” (175). Ivorian comics writer Marguerite Abouet’s Aya de Yopougon (Aya of Yo City, 2005–2010), illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, explores the life of a young female protagonist and her interactions with other characters living alongside her in the Ivory Coast during the 1970s. Her next work, Akissi, begun in 2013 and illustrated by Mathieu Sapin, similarly tells the tales of a young girl’s adventures on the Ivory Coast, but is written for children rather than adults. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive; they represent only a small percentage of the body of work that engages childhood as a concept. But they illustrate the international scope of the fertile material regarding childhood and comics.
This anthology gathers together a variety of approaches to help demonstrate the pervasive yet often underexamined presence of childhood in comics. This confluence of essays comes as childhood studies, as well as comics studies, is growing as a discipline. Mary Jane Kehily, writing in 2004, notes that childhood studies has experienced a significant amount of growth over the course of the past decade, placing the rise of childhood studies around the same time as the publication of McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993) and the subsequent expansion of comics studies as a field of inquiry. Kehily ties childhood studies and its expansion to “recent developments in education and the social sciences” (1), in some ways grounding the field in these existing disciplines. Indeed, the indebtedness of childhood studies to education and the social sciences is apparent in the wide range of scholarship that focuses on the lived experiences of children, as opposed to the less prominent analyses of cultural representations of children and childhood in literature, art, and popular culture. Like comics studies, childhood studies is a thoroughly interdisciplinary field, and also concerns itself with childhood as a concept (Kehily, 1), which is how comics studies and childhood studies intersect in Picturing Childhood: Youth in Transnational Comics. Interrogating childhood as a construct can provide immense cultural insight. To echo Henry Jenkins, recognizing these constructions can help us “understand adult politics, adult culture, and adult society, which often circle around the specter of the innocent child” (2). Yet these constructions are not concrete. For example, Debbie Olson and Giselle Rampaul observe, “Childhood is, and always has been, an unstable concept, variously interpreted and represented according to historical, social, cultural, political and economic contexts” (23). Exploring the articulation of childhood in cultural texts, then, is in many ways a move toward understanding society itself. Picturing Childhood investigates the ways in which constructions of childhood in comics function to explore, question, and comment on contemporary culture and society, using the unique combination of text and image to articulate characters and situations that speak to larger concerns and realities.
To that end, this collection provides a comprehensive and wide-ranging accounting of the ways in which children and childhood, as well as larger cultural forces behind these representations, are depicted in comics from the 1930s to the present day. The 1930s marked the point when comic books, which were marketed at youth, emerged (Wright, xiii–xiv). While newspaper comic strips had been published since the late nineteenth century, the marketing of comic books to children and adolescents was one of the reasons that childhood and comics became so entwined in the popular imagination. Created by, and often for, adults, comics have a rich history of exploring the lives of child characters and the realities that surround them. From the early days of US comics production, child characters such as Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, and the title character of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, to name only a few examples, began to establish an important precedent in the representation of childhood in comics. In Europe as well, child characters have long played an important role in the bandes dessinées, historietas, fumetti, and comicheft of European comics production, featuring such characters such as Hergé’s Tintin (Belgium), José Escobar’s Zipi and Zape (Spain), and Wilhelm Busch’s Max and Moritz (Germany), all of whom quickly became icons in their countries of origin and beyond. Examples like these paint a picture of international comics production that is in many ways defined by the child characters that have been depicted within its diverse panels and pages. This collection brings together scholarship on representations of childhood in comics through both time and space, providing an international scope and a time frame that covers the better part of a century.
In doing so, it takes up a number of theoretical issues. While the chapters in this anthology are organized chronologically based on the comics under examination, the chapters also productively cohere. For example, the 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, as well as how comics in some instances question or resist dominant cultural constructions of childhood. In “Little Orphan Annie as Streetwalker,” Pamela Robertson Wojcik examines the representation of “new girlhood” in Little Orphan Annie. Wojcik argues that the title character’s ventures out of the orphanage and into the space of “new girlhood” allowed for a liberating unmooring from conventional family life, affording her mobility, freedom, and significant agency to transform and improve both her situation and that of others. In “RAW and Little Lit: Resisting and Redefining Children’s Comics,” Lara Saguisag explores tensions between childhood and adulthood from Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman’s RAW, an alternative text which rejected the notion that comics were for children, to Little Lit, which was a comic created for children. Because Mouly and Spiegelman used RAW to help separate comics from childhood, Saguisag questions what it means for them to create a line of comics for children. She finds that both publications differentiated themselves from a more traditional comics format to create an alternative publication. Examining this contrast between childhood and adulthood from a different angle, Annick Pellegrin explores what makes a comic suitable for children in “Vehlmann, or the End of Innocence: Lessons in Cruelty in Seuls and Jolies ténèbres.” Pellegrin discusses two works written by the same person with similar themes and publication histories. In this case study, she finds that death and cruelty may become suitable topics for children when the text reflects on difficult subject matter and mitigates it with comic relief. Alternatively, she demonstrates that the comic book aimed at adults is unrelenting in its attack on childhood innocence.
Complex and sensitive national and sociocultural issues can also be expressed and explored in comics through the use of child characters, as demonstrated by the inclusion of chapters by Ralf Kauranen, Christopher J. Hayton and Janardana D. Hayton, Qiana Whitted, and Brittany Tullis. In “Competent Children and Social Cohesion: Representations of Childhood in Home Front Propaganda Comics during World War II in Finland,” Ralf Kauranen highlights the promotion and valorization of national unity through wartime comics featuring child characters. Kauranen demonstrates that children in Finnish comics, in an attempt to build national unity, were endowed with an exceptional, unquestioned agency and competence that tied them firmly to the adult world. Christopher J. Hayton and Janardana D. Hayton explore the representation of race and gender in “In the Minority: Constructions of American Dream Childhood in 1950s–Early 1960s Little Audrey Comics.” Highlighting the positive depictions of both African American and female characters during a time of marked homogeneity in the American comics industry, Hayton and Hayton find that Little Audrey was not only more diverse and inclusive in its cast of characters than other comics of its time, but that the plotlines promoted a markedly egalitarian perspective that encouraged social change and equality among its young readers. Discussing comics that deal with a violent and tragic historical event from the same time period, Qiana Whitted’s essay continues this examination of the represented intersections of race and childhood in comics. In “Comics and Emmett Till,” Whitted examines the ways in which racial formation and cultural trauma intersect with the construction of childhood in comics by taking a closer look at representations of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. Looking at comics published since Till’s death, Whitted argues that depictions of Till are used frequently in comics to illustrate the process of racial segregation for black and white children, often alerting black youth to the chilling consequences of racial division in 1950s America and making them aware of the power and vulnerability of their own racialized bodies for the first time. Internationalizing this exploration of sociocultural issues in comics centered on child characters, in this case moving toward an exploration of representations of gendered experience and subjectivity, Brittany Tullis examines critical reactions to constructions of idealized Argentine femininity in “Out of the Mouths of Babes: Mafalda’s Interrogation of the Argentine Angel in the House.” Through the title character’s repeated lampooning of embodiments of traditional patriarchal gender roles, she points out how women throughout history have been confined to the domestic sphere and denied the opportunity to play meaningful roles in society. Tullis contends that Mafalda gives voice to the growing population of young, educated Argentine women and girls who began to vocalize their rejection of this socially prescribed role during the 1960s and ’70s.
Contributions by Ian Blechschmidt, James G. Nobis, and Mark Heimermann analyze the ways in which alternative understandings of childhood, such as grotesque or sexualized children, are expressed in comics, and to what ends. In “Sex, Comix, and Masculinity: The Rhetoric of Zap Comix’s Attack on the American Mainstream,” Ian Blechschmidt analyzes early issues of Zap Comix in order to better understand their symbolic assault on the American preoccupation with childhood innocence. This chapter discusses how Zap’s rhetorical use of graphic imagery featuring children and the entertainment icons associated with them served as a response to the policing of gender via the entrenchment of the nuclear family as the standard for normality and respectability in the Cold War United States. Continuing this provocative exploration of depicted intersections of childhood and sexuality in comics, James G. Nobis analyzes a particular construction of sexualized childhood in his article, “Lolicon: Adolescent Fetishization in Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako.” Nobis explores Tezuka’s role in the emergence of the lolicon phenomenon, which involves the fetishization of adolescent girls, in Japanese manga. He emphasizes the visual semiotics of Tezuka’s Ayako to better understand lolicon and its place within Japanese culture by drawing upon Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen’s Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (2nd ed., 2006). Just as Blechschmidt and Nobis identify and analyze discursive spaces created by the conflation of the realms of childhood and adulthood, Mark Heimermann considers childhood as metaphorically grotesque as a way to consider belonging to multiple worlds in his essay “The Grotesque Child: Animal-Human Hybridity in Sweet Tooth.” He argues that the animal-human children in Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth provide a metaphor for what commodification does to people: it turns them into hybrids, part human, part commodity. At the same time, by highlighting the hybrid’s humanity, Heimermann argues that the text challenges this commodification.
Finally, chapters by Clifford Marks, C. W. Marshall, and Tamryn Bennett demonstrate a shared interest in the complex ways in which adulthood and childhood are always in dialogue with each other, but explore this relationship on a more intimate scale by focusing on adults, both real and fictional, looking back on their own childhoods. Clifford Marks employs the psychoanalytic concept of introjection to help show how Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis resonates with readers, in “Wise beyond Her Years: How Persepolis Introjects the Adult into the Child.” Marks argues that introjection serves multiple purposes. It allows a Western audience to relate to a Middle Eastern character, even as it enables Satrapi’s child protagonist to dissociate herself from the trauma she experiences. C. W. Marshall discusses the role of childhood in Paul Hornschemeier’s purportedly autobiographical The Three Paradoxes in his essay “Zeno, Childhood, and The Three Paradoxes.” Marshall emphasizes the comic book’s use of pre-Socratic philosophy while arguing that the return to the narrator-author’s childhood within the narrative highlights his progression through life. This progression positions the titular paradoxes as lying outside the bounds of reality. In “Dancing with Demons: Consciousness and Identity in the Comics of Lynda Barry,” Tamryn Bennett examines Lynda Barry’s emphasis on the praxical as a way to better understand trauma, consciousness, and identity. She argues that Barry’s comics go beyond merely representing childhood to reconstructing it, since Barry’s work reconstitutes the fragmented childhood self as whole. At the same time, Barry doesn’t offer closure in this reconstruction so much as the possibility for alternative ways to construct childhood. These essays show the dialectical nature of childhood and adulthood. Childhood influences adulthood, yet childhood oftentimes cannot be fully understood until time has passed.
In light of the vast reach of the preceding topics and themes, this anthology is meant to provide a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) overview of depictions of childhood in comics. The range of literary, historical, and theoretical approaches is intended to make meaningful contributions to ongoing discussions in numerous fields and disciplines, including African American studies, childhood studies, comics studies, communication studies, and women’s and gender studies, among others. This broad array of interdisciplinary connections helps demonstrate the multiplicity of productive approaches to childhood as well as the wide-ranging importance of the humanities. By moving beyond national boundaries, it also demonstrates affinities and differences between comics and representations of childhood in the United States and other countries. Further research and scholarly attention is clearly merited. In addition to further exploration of the texts discussed in this volume, there are a number of interesting avenues to explore in continuing to pursue these questions. For example, this anthology doesn’t take up comics such as Tintin, Peanuts, or Aya, all of which offer notable representations of childhood in comics. There is a rich tendency in superhero comics to explore the formative experiences of superheroes and villains, too. These comics often deal with childhood trauma or other childhood experiences, such as Batman’s loss of his parents or the love and support of Superman’s adoptive parents. These constructions are not explored here, but they remain ripe for examination. The concerns of this volume are meant as another step in the exploration between childhood and comics, not as the final destination.
“This collection is the first extended work to mesh childhood studies with comics studies, and, as such, it represents an important contribution to the discourse of both disciplines, as well as to children’s literature, popular culture, and related fields. What makes this volume especially notable is the broad scope of the comics under consideration. This breath of format, setting, and purpose helps ensure that both casual readers and expert comics scholars will come away with new insights.”
Carol L. Tilley, Associate Professor of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign