Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Cartoon Roundup
Column by Steve Bennett
Published: 08/22/2012 01:02am
Comic-Con 2012 has only been over for a couple of weeks and all manner of "special reports" continue to dribble out; last week I got an email from TV Guide purporting to be a "Comic-Con Recap." And, believe it or not, a couple of nights ago I actually saw a Comic-Con report on the Disney Channel. I say "believe it or not" because since 2009 (see "Confession of a Comic Book Guy--The World That’s Coming Is Coming For You") I've been hoping Disney would make use some of their marketing muscle to promote comics for kids. And that's hasn't exactly happened, yet.
I'm not talking about outright product placement (i.e. placing Marvel Comics in Disney tween sitcoms), but I can't see how it would exactly hurt if characters from Shake It Up and Jessie suddenly started reading comics. I had never seen it before and haven't seen it since, which is a little surprising, considering just how often a man being stalked by AARP finds himself voluntarily watching the Disney Channel. But a couple of nights ago around 3 a.m. I found myself awake and between shows came across a brief Comic-Con report hosted by what I'm going to go ahead and assume was a regular kid (his haircut was too good for him to be a Disney "star"). It was so entirely unexpected I had absolutely no expectations, but I was still surprised by what I saw.
That's because it wasn't the most obvious thing: a pretext for covering the Disney Channel and Disney XD panels which were promoting upcoming Disney shows intercut with lots of shots of Disney tweens. Instead, the piece consisted almost entirely of an interview with writer Eoin Colfer, the author of the Artemis Fowl books. It makes sense, seeing as how Disney publishes the Fowl books, but, couldn’t they have at least shown a copy of the Artemis Fowl graphic novel?
I know I've already written about Disney XD's hit show Ultimate Spider-Man (see "Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--DC Nation Vs. Marvel Universe") and while I'm willing to concede with all its frantic movement and relentless fourth wall breaking and all of the mash-ups and pop-ups it's pretty obviously intended for a younger audience. If I didn't think that already I would know it because the shows creators, the "Man of Action" team (Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Steven T. Seagle), have given interviews where they've said (rather pointedly) that this is a superhero cartoon not intended for 40-year-olds.
Not that I, heaven forbid, mind that a cartoon series is enjoyed by its intended audience. But after watching another episode it occurred to me that another way to prove it's intended for kids is that its hero is a loudmouth, arrogant, irresponsible jerk with runaway self esteem who regularly gets away with all sorts of transgressive behavior. The only trouble with that is that the hero is Peter Parker, clearly one who was playing with his Gameboy when Uncle Ben was giving his "with great power comes great responsibility" message. I suppose you could make the argument that almost every episode is about Peter learning to take responsibility, but given the way it's constantly repeated it's clear the lesson isn’t quite sinking in.
But a nice antidote to those frantic doings is the much more relaxed Gravity Falls, created by Alex Hirsch. It's about pre-teen twins Dipper and Mable Pines who spend the summer with their Great Uncle Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon, a town that's roughly on the midway point between Twin Peaks and Eerie, Indiana. I have to confess that originally the main reason I watched was to hear the voice acting of the always wonderful Kirsten Schaal who plays the deliriously goofy Mabel. But I stayed for its strange rhythms and twists and innate niceness that feels informed by actual childhood experiences, which makes it unlike anything else currently on TV. I've grown especially fond of Dipper, a quiet, thoughtful (if slightly neurotic) decidedly not rugged boy adventurer who makes a nice change from your Ben 10's, Johnny Test's... and Peter Parkers...
Not that I want to take cartoons too seriously. A case in point of doing just that is this Yahoo piece Eric Pfeiffer titled "Ukranian commission wants to ban 'gay' SpongeBob and Teletubbie 'losers.'" Apparently the Ukraine's National Expert Comission for Protecting Public Morality released a report that attacks such shows as Futurama, Pokemon and The Simpsons as "projects aimed at the destruction of the family, and the promotion of drugs and other vices." In the study psychologist Irina Medvedeva is quoted saying that after viewing the shows children aged 3 to 5 "pull faces and make jokes in front of adults they don't know, laugh out loud and repeat nonsense phrases in a brazen manner."
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
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