Comics and Childhood: An Overview

Posted by on September 24th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

By Ana Merino
Translated by Elizabeth Polli



Where, in childhood, does the reading of comics begin? If I were to travel back to my own childhood in Madrid, I would immediately think of Little Lulu and those tomes I had, lovingly bound in red cloth, tomes my father still keeps on his bookshelves. During the 1970s, Ediciones Novaro in Mexico sold Spanish translations of the Lulu comic books to the entire Spanish-speaking world. They too had multi-colored jackets, which imitated the U.S. editions. There were several generations on both sides of the Atlantic, thus, that grew up captivated by the universe of that spirited little girl and her friends. Comic books were as respected as literature and art in my parents’ home and, for that reason, our collection of comic books printed on flimsy paper was gathered together, taken to be bound and then affectionately organized on the bookshelves. Lulu was invented by “Marge” (Marjorie Henderson Bell) as a single-panel gag cartoon in 1935 for the Saturday Evening Post, and, from 1948 on, it became an alluring series to which many artists quite capable of engaging the imagination of children contributed. For many, John Stanley was the storyteller who most stood out. For 14 years, in addition to producing many of the front covers, he invented an unlimited number of Lulu’s adventures. The work of other artists is equally as prominent: Woody Kimbrell, Del Connell and Roger Armstrong. The world of Little Lulu taught me how to read when I was 4. I became fascinated with words and I wanted to understand what those miniature bubbles above that little girl’s head were saying. Lulu was intelligent and she knew how to teach us the value of friendship. It didn’t matter that the boys’ club didn’t let girls in, because she always taught them lessons of female superiority. I liked everything about the strip, for example Lulu’s ability to entertain her neighbor Alvin by telling him stories about a poor girl and her perplexing, Witch Hazel-foiling adventures. And there was her friend Tubby who was always investigating suspicious cases of slight household imperfections. Lulu’s father was always found guilty, in spite of the fact that Lulu was always initially and unjustly accused. The idea that this U.S. comic was able to create empathy in a girl growing up in Spain in the ’70s and ’80s is proof that good comics have the ability to erase temporal and national borders for children.

The French-Belgian school of clean-line drawing also impacted my childhood. I grew up reading Tintin without asking why there were scarcely any girls in the stories. It was only the unbearable Castafiori who was always trying to liven up the situation by singing some song or another, much to the dismay of Capitan Haddock. The character of the young reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy, created by the Belgian Hergé in 1929, has left its mark on the universe of European comics, ideological questions aside. Due to the impeccable quality of the drawings and the entertaining stories the albums of Tintin continue to be reedited. In addition to delighting young readers, these volumes have also captivated the attention of many adults who seek to re-experience these imaginary escapades of their childhood. Asterix, created in 1959 by the French artists René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, falls into the same category of clean-line drawing. The world of Asterix and his friends takes place in Gaul during the first century B.C., centering on a small village that continuously resists the Roman siege thanks to a magic potion. The simulated historical context, the time of the Roman Empire, enhances the outrageous imagery as Asterix, his friend Obelix and his dog Dogmatix live through exciting adventures attempting to resist the imperialist activities of the Roman legions. Asterix and the villagers commonly exulted in their victories by the light of a huge bonfire, indulging in grand celebratory feasts built around savory wild boars on a spit.



While more recent generations of parents can still enjoy the French-Belgian classics with their children, there are also new and attractive authors such as the French writer Joann Sfar, who grew up reading Tintin and Asterix. Part of Sfar’s recent work has been translated for children; the character in The Little Vampire stands out in popularity. In this work, Sfar pays homage to the tradition of vampires in literature by adapting the personality of the main character to the child’s imagery. On the other hand, Sardine, the girl character he created with Emmanuel Giubert, offers hours of entertainment and reading pleasure to children who fancy pirates and outer-space adventures.

In many cases, the world of advertising and its icons have impacted the world of children’s comics. A prominent example is Globi, featuring a bluish parrot who at one time was referred to as the Mickey Mouse of Switzerland. In 1932 Globi was the children’s mascot of the department stores Globus. The adventures of Globi, originally drawn by Robert Lips, combined wordless vignettes with poems. Over the years, the number of Globi volumes has grown to more than 40; it is well documented that this format of six vignettes accompanied by a poem has played a significant role in the childhood imagery of many generations of Swiss girls and boys. A. Bruggmann initially wrote the verses, but in subsequent years other authors such as Jacob Staheli or Guido Strebel composed the poems, and Peter Heinzer substituted Robert Lips in the drawing and graphic development of the comic. In spite of the fact that more than seven decades have passed since the first Globi comic appeared, it still preserves the graphic aesthetic that originally defined it. The adventures gather together and reflect a regional humor devoted to the past. It has at times, however, suffered harsh criticism for its depiction of international stereotypes.

In Northern Europe, we find similar cherished childhood classics. The world of the Moomins, by the Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, known for her numerous children’s books, is an essential reference. In 1954, her hippopotamus-like characters made the leap from illustrated storybooks to a daily strip in English, published in London’s Evening News. And as of 1957, Lars, Tove’s brother, decided to dedicate himself to the strip as well, continuing on until 1968. This endearing opus narrates the adventures of the adorable Moomintroll family that lives in Moomin Valley in Moominland, a remote location in the breathtaking Nordic countryside. The peaceful life of these characters is interrupted every now and again by the Doomladen Fillyjoks or the hair-raising Hattifatteners.


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3 Responses to “Comics and Childhood: An Overview”

  1. Jeff Albertson says:

    Thank you ,for this, Ana. I share all of these comics memories with you.

    Alas, I fear that small kids just don’t read comics as a matter of course any more…

  2. WLLilly says:

    …Daily and Sunday newspaper strips in the Hearst NEW YORK JOURNAL-AMERICAN , which my father brought home when his jornalism job had him on more or less a standard 9-5 , were among my earliest…

  3. WLLilly says:

    …( cont. ) , if not my earliest , comics exposures .
    I saw the ” nicer ” NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE at least , some , too .
    I recall LITTLE IODINE , and I guess THEY’LL DO IT EVERY TIME , being in the J-A . The H-T had PEANUTS and PENNY .
    My father had worked for a Hears paper , in his earlier years , when he still worked on business towards newspapers proper , as had my mother…
    I seem to recall Little Iodine as a daily , but references say that it was a Sunday-only . Whatever .
    The two papers I mentioned merger with another into the WORLD JOURNAL TRIBUNE , which didn’t last very long , and maybe some of my comics memories come from that paper…I recall HI AND LOIS causing me to switch to calling my parents ” Mom ” and ” Dad ” , like Chip !!!!!!!!!
    We also had home-delivered the Westchester County daily , which diod not publish a Sunday .
    DENNIS THE MENACE ? MUTT & JEFF ? I recall POPEYE being in it , but dropped when I was about 6 and I never saw it again except when thumbing past the Sunday of the Spanish EL DAIRIO .
    I saw comic books too , including those d*mm*d super-hero ones , as much as the Journal demographic might perfer to have me ( and themselves ) not do so !!!!!!!!!!!
    But more on that later…Maybe .
    After the WJT went under – My father bought o copy of their last Suinday and put it away in a trunk but we were never able to find it agin . – my family’s Sunday-paper-with-comics custom ( Yes , we bought the Times on Sunday as well . ) switched to the NEW YORK NEWS , which I suppose must’ve picked up BLONDIE and LIL’ ABNER about then .