Monday, February 05, 2007

Comic Books and Kids

I was asked by Brighter Minds Media if I'd review some of their products for children. Being thrilled at the chance to offer an opinion (I'm nothing if not opinionated) I gladly accepted. They asked the ages of my children and the next day--the next day--I had a box on my doorstep full of items to review.

I don't want to sound ungrateful--I was impressed at their generosity and will write about three other products I liked--but an issue immediately arose that I felt worth mentioning.

The package included the Marvel Super Hero Fact Book. Not a book designed for older readers--as evidenced by the board-book cover and mere five pages of material--and David, my 8 year-old who loves anything to do with Spiderman and comic books, was immediately in love.

"Mom, can I have that?" he asked excitedly. I consented and he began flipping the pages each of which unfolded to create a huge poster highlighting each super hero.

I happened to look over as he got to the page about Storm, one of the X-men. X-women? Whatever. He had unfolded her page and was staring at this:
Think about it from the perspective of a young boy (which I'm learning to do more and more these days). This is what he saw:

He lingered on this page for quite a while until I came to the party and realized what he was staring at. With the pages unfolded to the size of a poster she was practically life-sized. Well, everything except certain parts. I've never seen anything in real life that size. Maybe that's why she's called "Super."

"This," I thought "is a job for Super Dad." and gently prying the book out of David's rigid fingers to save for that magical time known as "when your father comes home" I said, "David, I'd like to hold on to this one a little longer. Let me talk to Dad about something and then I'll let you know if you can have it."

Did any of you experienced mothers out there spot my mistake? Anyone catch the fatal error?

I left the door of possibility open. I gave him a "maybe." In his mind he heard, "You'll get this right back when Dad comes home" rather than the "I'm going to talk to my husband and see if I'm off-base on this one but I don't think I am and you'll never see this book again."

So all I heard about for the next few hours was "When can I have my book back?"

When Andrew did come home I brought out the book and showed him Mega Woman. He had nearly the same reaction as David and once I had pried it out of his rigid fingers he let me know that yes, I was right--it wasn't appropriate and that David shouldn't have it.

Now the job was to tell David, which didn't go over so easily but I am, after all, the one in charge and he eventually got over it.

Now I ask you good readers out there: What do you think about comic book heroines? My kids love reading comic books--though they mostly check out the bound anthologies from the library rather than buy their own--but the female body is drawn to rather unrealistic proportions that leave Barbie in the dust. Until now I haven't felt uncomfortable enough to stop them from reading comic books so why did this instance bother me?

Maybe it's because it was targeted to such young children, maybe it's because with the fold-out poster she was HUGE. I'm not sure exactly why this picture bothered me but I do know that in the future I'm going to be a bit more aware of what they're looking at when it comes to comics. Am I off of this?

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Ni Yachen said...

You got one of the more tame examples of comic book heroines. You can definitely tell what demographic they are trying to sell to.

Carinne said...

A couple years ago I let Ethan check out a book on superheroes from the library - which he was thrilled about. It took me 2 seconds during the ride home to realize that it wasn't for him. All of the female superheroes were drawn like that - or frankly worse. Before I even read this blog I knew what you were going talk about. One of my biggest pet peeves is the fact that things like Spiderman, The Hulk,Batman and such are marketed to small children, but the content is designed for teenagers and up. When the Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-Men etc movies are all rated PG-13 - why do they come out with their images plastered on underwear, toothbrushes and coloring books? It makes my job as a mother so much more difficult. As for that book, we ended up paperclipping big sections of the book together. Although, that was when he was younger - at 8 I just couldn't let him have it at all. Good luck with the whole thing.

local girl said...

To be honest, I'm not sure what you should do. Even if he doesn't read it at home, I'm sure all his friends have comic books. Let me know how it goes!

Leslie said...

I'm with you on this one. It isn't appropriate for children. I can see why the picture bothers you so much.

Is it me or are the very things that make it an inappropriate image for children the focal point of the picture? Even the lightning, or whatever that is, seem to be pointing right there.

You did the right thing. And when he sees something like this again down the road, he'll know just how you feel about it. And that will have a lot to do with how he feels about it.

edj said...

I think you made the right choice. Even if local girl is right and his friends have the same comics or worse, he will know how you feel about it and will have to make a concious choice, rather than just going with the flow.
My 9 y/o LOVES comic books! Fortunately we've been able to control his access, but Carinne is right--why must they make things for teenagers and then market them for kids, especially things like superheroes that little boys just adore? Grr. I'm about ready to believe in the vast conspiracy to make our kids grow up waay too fast and sexualize everything! Who wants to join me in my hermitage?

Jeana said...

I'm with you. It's just too much.

girlymama said...

I'm with you. That seemed a mite graphic for someone who is 8.

Gina said...

Hi Michelle! This reminds me of my conversation last night with my brother about internet & our young nephews & how our sister should really supervise their usage of the internet because of all the contents in there. There is just to much out there (like that comic book illustration/pic) that is not appropiate for young , impressionable minds.It is up to the parents to set boundaries so that children would know whats proper, whats not.

Jane said...

My husband has a huge collection of comic books. He saved all his paper boy money to buy them each week. He told me a story once about reading a Spiderman comic where Peter Parker had his girlfriend over, she was sitting on his lap. Cliff says that was the first time he realized that someday he might like to have a girlfriend too.

Now, I have read a bit of the comic books (all from the '80's) and their vocabulary and content is of a high level. Not sure how it is today.

Did you tell him that you were offended by the drawings? (offensive! I agree.) That conversation would be interesting.

We live in Hollywood, where there are billboards with real life "altered" women advertising strip clubs and graphic billboards advertising male on male phone sex lines. It's just one of the many things that will make raising children in LA a challenge.

I think lots of snippets of "values" conversations add up over a lifetime to counteract negative images/values.

Kim Priestap said...

You were right on taking away the comic book. My husband loves comic books as well and has been collecting them for our son, but I don't recall any of them being so racy. I'll have to double check, though.

Karen Shanley said...

I was thinking along the same lines as Jane -- snippets of "values" conversations.

With my daughter, it wasn't comics, it was Barbies. Offered lots of chances for interesting conversations.

My daughter's response to "Do you know any human being who looks like that?" was, "I know she's deformed, but she's the only doll you can dress in grownup fashions and ball gowns."

Sadly, she has a point there.

Julie Q. said...

Why do you think my father never let us watch Wonder Woman?

I think taking it away without an explanation might seem cruel to him (judging from my boys who measure all things by their sense of "justice.") Maybe it's a good opportunity for a frank discussion about immodesty.

Kim Priestap said...

Hey, Michele. Your post inspired a similar post for me, and I linked back to you.

Kat said...

We're really, really picky about what our kids watch/see. Partially, because we're really picky about it for ourselves and partially because I suppose we're pretty protective.

Right now, we just have two daughters so the main thing we avoid is scary stuff (our 4 year old is rather sensitive), but we'll welcome our little boy into this world in about 8 weeks, so we'll have much more to think about with him.

I think one thing that will help is that my husband is really the leader on the whole issue. He leads by example.

He took me to see Pursuit of Happyness the other night and during the previews of other movies he'd always become amazingly intrigued by our bag of popcorn every time a woman who was "clothing-challenged" was shown on screen.

He's always done that. Even when he doesn't know I'm watching and even before we were dating. He flips the channel when football cheerleaders are shown, or a commercial has poorly dressed women and if a movie is questionable, he'll just ask me if I mind if we watch something else.

It makes me feel profoundly special and I think it will really set an example for our son regarding how to view women (someone's daughter and someone else's future wife) and how he can honor his own future wife...

Sorry for the long tangent....all that to say, I think you're response was appropriate.

Stephanie said...

My eight year old would not be reading that either! Good "teachable moment" though! :)

tracy m said...

I'm skipping the other comments, in lieu of time, so forgive if I double up on what someone else already said...

My 5 year old LOVES comics, and I have had this very same issue. HE LOVES THEM- and the few that I have bought for him have had the preposterously proportioned women, and I don't know what to do about it. What he really cares about is the super heroes, but he also brought one of the comics to me, gushing over how "Beautiful!" this super woman was- needless to say, she was equipped with atomic-bomb sized boobs- and that book has now disappeared.

How do we let our kids enjoy comic books, but not subject them to near-pornographic images??

I'd have taken it away, too.

Laurie said...

OK. That's it. We mothers need to come up with CLEAN superheroes! Geez - you can't even watch Disney shows anymore without sexual innuendo and references to curse words. In Nemo, one of the tank gang says, "Hey, don't you guys realize we're swimming in our own..." someone else barges in with, "Shhhhhhhhhhh...he's coming". Now tell me that WASN'T intentional. Even Ursula has a huge bulging chest and that was early 90's, wasn't it? Makes me so mad! I'm so grateful for TIVO because I can shield my son from the soft-porn Victoria Secrets commercials and there's one out now that's just a couple sticking their tongues down each others throats - for gum or toothpaste or something stupid.

jchevais said...

Honestly, from the image on screen, I don't think I would have taken this away from my eight year old son and if I did, it would have been because of Storm's eyes and not her chest.

I honestly don't feel that her chest is that interesting and it isn't any worse than what we see on billboards when we drive around (of course, bare boobies on billboards in France and in commercials are par for the course...)

I tend to think that if one takes stuff away from kids, they tend to want it more and then it becomes obsessive. And that's when it becomes a major issue. And headachey.

I actually think that Storm looks powerful and strong rather than "sex object"-y though I can understand your not wanting a pin-up like this on your son's wall.

AND she might be significantly more impressive in "real life" rather than onscreen... :-)

scribbit said...

I love the comments and am glad to hear I may not have been crazy after all.

jchevais--I can see where you're coming from with your comment, I think Europe is a little more open with the human body (to put it delicately) than Americans. The first time I saw a picture of a naked woman was on a billboard in Beligium which dropped my jaw, but regardless just because things are natural (such as skin) doesn't mean I feel comfortable allowing my children access to it.

Local girl had a point about my children's friends still having access to comics but once again, I don't think it means I am powerless in the issue.

Julie Q had a great point in talking to my kids about why I do things. It all happened fast enough (and why does the important stuff always come up in the middle of fixing dinner or when I'm running a million miles an hour)that I didn't "have time" to stop and talk about my reasons. I'm ususally better about communicating than that and now I feel sheepish that I let the moment pass. I'll have to correct it.

I'm glad that people, such as j chevais, feel comfortable commenting on what might be a touchy issue--and feel comfortable disagreeing. I would hate to have people not feel that they could have a different opinion without being insulted, so thanks for keeping things polite and bringing up other sides to the issue.

Anonymous said...

Michelle, you did the right thing. He needs to learn why and how to turn his attention elsewhere as Kat's husband does.

Eyes are the window to the soul. Storm has no eyes making her just an object not a person. Objects can be treated any way we choose and are disposable. We are considerate of other people and respect their choices, though we may not agree with them.

It appears the comic book (magazine) is a step toward other magazines that are inappropriate.

kim said...

If the other pictures are better (and if I owned the book, rather than it being a library book) I might glue that page shut. Or if the poster can be ripped out, I would take it out, but maybe let him have the rest.

I had a friend once talk about her husband teaching her sons to avert their eyes. Even standing in a grocery check-out isn't safe.

I agree that I wouldn't let my son keep that page (the figure and the eyes, both, I don't like that magic-power look in the eyes) but I would also make sure he understood that it was a modesty issue and that the Bible teaches us to guard our hearts and keep them pure.

But my husband loves comic books, and so I might be overruled, personally, on ditching the whole book. That's where the glue comes in handy. Just use a glue that would really damage the pages if it were to be peeled apart.

We had a spiderman toy that came with some comics that were very much aimed at teens - in fact, the high school 'bad boys' in the plot were smoking pot. I threw those out promptly. My son was 5 at the time and had no clue about that sort of stuff. Why learn it from a superhero book?

strugglingwriter said...

I am a huge comic book fan so I may be a little biased, but I still would like to add my $.04 (people always add their $.02, but I think that should be increased with inflation and all). The picture doesn't seem too bad on the screen, but it may be worse in person. That said, I agree they probably should have toned it down a little for a "kid's version".

However, don't get turned off of comics completely. I think it's great you son has shown such interest in reading, even comics.

The Franklin Richards (son of Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman) comics, such as this one
were fun and completely kid friendly.

I guess the whole point of this was to say that if you were uncomfortable with the comic, then you definitely did the right thing, but there are many comics out there that are great for young kids.

Lisa said...

I've NEVER understood why these artists need to draw huge boobies on the women in comic books.... Some of photos are quite bizarre... So yeah, I think you did the right thing...

Marie N. said...

If/When I come across this situation (my son is just 5 now) I'll be deferring to Dad too.

I am curious to know what kind of feedback you plan to give to the company who sent the book to you in the first place.

Maybe submitting your comments would add weight to your single voice? -- just a thought.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I left a comment, but it seems it got eaten in cyber space.

I definitely think you did the right thing. Now all you need to do is tell him why you feel the way you do. My kids respond so much better to "no" when they understand where I am coming from.

Is it possible to give him back the book minus the one page?

Nicole said...

No, I agree with you. That is definitely NOT age appropriate. But I have to say that I had to laugh at your description of him looking at it. Definite boy. :)

Chickadee said...

Yea, I would have taken that out of his little hands too. I've noticed that a lot of the comic books and what not portray heroines with big heaving bosoms, tiny waists, short skirts and high heels. Ummm, ya can't fight crime like that you know.

I think it's demeaning.

Sheela said...

i agree with you. i wish i know the right way to take deal with it when the time comes...

i love comic books too, but, my childhood days seem so naive and innocent in comparison. today's kids are exposed to so much and get desensitized very early to violence and porn...

my hope is that i do not censor blindly, but manage to guide them about what i consider appropriate for their age, as their mommy; and perhaps have a "Why i think this is not right for you" response that they can relate to and understand.

Her Bad Mother said...

I think that comic books like that really are for older kids and aging geeksters. As Carinne said, they shouldn't be marketed to small children, because there is usually an undercurrent - or overcurrent - of sex and violence.

My 2cents.

Steve G said...

We have no children and live in Europe. Just to set the scene. I'm not offended by the picture, but it's the parent's responsibility to decide what is appropriate for their children to see. If I had a concern, it would be that your son won't understand why you took the book back. That might make a bigger impression on him than what he was looking at.

scribbit said...

More good points . . . thanks so much

I guess I'd add that I wasn't necessarily offended by the picture, but I just felt it was a little graphic for my children.

And yes, I'll be having a talk with him about the whys and wherefores right away.

Bernadette said...

Tintin comics are great entertainment, not pornographic, and available in many languages. I have 5 sons and 6 daughters from ages 8-26 and they all agree that these are wonderful. I also let them use Captain Haddock's (a marvelous Tintin character) curses when they are angry with one another. Good, clean fun.

Marie sent me and I'll enjoy reading on down. My family lives outside of Seattle.

Haley-O said...

Really good question, Michelle! I've never thought about it before. They're all so...Pam Anderson. And, they definitely contribute to warped notions of women's power, women's beauty....Problematic, for sure. But, I guess traditional. I doubt they'll be changing it any time soon....

wheresmymind said...

I wouldn't even try to take a stab at that question :)

MC Milker said...

Well, I do have to weigh in on this discussion, since it is a pet peeve of mine. As my DH gets ready to go off to “real school” next year, this is on my mind.

I did a little research awhile ago, on movies actually and of course got sidetracked and found some information that encompasses all sorts of kids’ products. The bad news is that adult themes are purposefully being marketed to younger and younger kids.

Movies and books that were targeted to 9-year-olds are now targeted to 4-year-olds – our suspicions were right. As kids move at younger and younger ages to electronics, - toy and book marketers and all the licensees along for the ride, look to younger and younger children for a market. This is unregulated, so there is nothing to stop it.

OK- there’s the rant (BTW – I’m an ex-toy-marketer – yikes, I’m like an ex-smoker).

I haven’t had to deal too much with this yet but, I do try to keep things age appropriate. That means lots of vigilance and previewing, as well as, a skeptical eye on “suggested ages’ listed on packages. In general, I stay away from most licensed products, relatively easy as my DS doesn’t watch TV – though I will let him have a Thomas or Bob the Builder something or other from time to time.

I could go on about this subject for awhile but I don’t want to take over scribbit’s (who has been kind enough to become a regular reader of my fledgling blog) site. So, I’ll write more on this on my own later.

Thanks for bringing up this topic!

Molly said...

Hmmm... I grew up on comic books as a kid. I loved Rogue and Storm the most, and always dreamed that Gambit would come sweep me off my feet.

15 years later I have fake boobs.

I have no idea if there is a correlation between idolizing a cartoon character and getting plastic surgery, but it's one of those things to make you think ;)

crystal said...

I agree that the big boobs are inappropriate for 8yos. Had to say that right up front. BUT,,,,, do you guys know who the artists are that are drawing these things? They are middle aged old men with disillusions of grandure. Have you ever tried to convince a dirty old man not to be a dirty old man? Rarely successful. Do you know who the marketing execs. are that decided to place a big set of boobies in a book aimed at 8 year olds? Yeah,, same guys. Some 45-55 year old man who thinks with his you know what. I'm not a man hater but let's call a spade a spade. I would say that a HUGE percentage of the money spent on the super hero products come out of the pockets of men like the geek I live next door to and the one I live with (my husband). Not 8yo boys. You can control what an 8 yo buys. Fisher Price tried to make non sexual super heros (like rescue heros but spider man, hulk, etc etc) and from what I can tell, they didn't sell that well. I bought one for my 4 yo at the time and he didn't care for it! Yes, I don't like my boys oogling boobs, but it's hard wired into them and I don't see a way around them seeing some boobies every once in a while. This is a battle that I cannot fathom how to fight.

jchevais said...

I tend to disagree with the last comment. Marvel has some excellent technical illustrators and not all of them are dirty old men; some of them are quite famous.

In fact, comics are becoming more and more of a booming business. In Paris many auction houses are scrambling for comic books and original story boards... and it isn't because of the marketing execs... it's because of the "artwork".

Like it or not, Comic books are an art form. As such, it is not necessarily appropriate for everyone.

Trusting your instincts is what matters Michelle, so I do think you did the right thing for you and your family.

allrileyedup said...

I don't know, I'm kind of a comic book lover myself. Yes, most of the women are drawn that way (though even the same charater's body type could change depending on the illustrator). That being said, the male superheroes are equally overdrawn with brawny torsos and muscular legs that would put Magnuim PI to shame. Superheroes, as a whole, are larger than life. That's why they're superheroes. I think children get that they're not real too. Everything about that picture of Storm is pretty over the top, not just her cleavage -- her mountain of white hair, her glowing eyes, the lightning in her hand. And truthfully, she's smart superhero, and a good guy, and has the power to control the weather but knows how to harness her power. She's actually quite an admirable superhero. If your son is still begging you to look through the book, maybe you could look through it with him and try to draw his attention away from their bodies and use the picture to hit on the other more imaginative aspects of comic book heroes, like their ethical dilemmas. Okay, I may have taken this too far. Sorry for the long comment. I should also say my son is only 4 and I may be singing a different tune by the time he is 8.

Matt Senne said...

I'm not clear on what the issue is. Is it that there are breasts prominently featured, or just that they are too large/unrealistic?

If it's the prominent featuring then I can't identify with your complaints. 8 year olds are halfway between breast feeding and make-out sessions, so it seems futile, but it's a parent's decision.

If it's just that they are too large then I think you should reevaluate your logic. Are you going to shield their eyes will a large, well endowed woman walks by in real life? Obviously not, but I guess the standard "it's not polite to stare" is appropriate!

Good luck!

scribbit said...

Well my problem with it isn't so much the unnatural proportions, but the overt sexualization of a child's book. It's published for young boys and is blatantly appeals to sexual interests which, however prevalent in our society, I still refuse to permit in my home.

Yes, you could use that old argument about "they're going to see it anyway so why stop it now" but that's the biggest fallacy every given as a reason for poor parenting.

Just because our society is obsessed with sex doesn't mean I should turn a blind eye to what my children bring home.

Anonymous said...

what's ridiculous is the fact nobody commented on the bulging muscles on the guy heroes

Anonymous said...

I can see the concern of what you want to expose your son to, but how can you protect him from the whole world? I might consider telling my son that these images aren't age appropriate for him. Let the company know that you don't want kids seeing oversized parts in children's stories.
AKA AnchorageYoungMOM

Planet Comic Book Radio said...

I can see the concern of racy materials. But comic book sketches of women have been like that for years. Think also that the artists tend to be young male (or maybe middle age). But hey, video games can be worse - no reading involved, all point and clicks.

Hairx said...

Mostly i read books diffrent type of becoues books take us lots of knowledge.