The Associated Press report in their creatively titled article “Berenstain Bears Co-creator Jan Berenstain Dies” that Jan Berenstain, one of the creators (the other was her husband Stan) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series has passed away. On Thursday Feb.23, Berenstain suffered from a severe stroke which ultimately resulted in her death, at the age of 88, on Friday.
Selling over 260 million copies from it’s start in 1962, the Berenstain Bear book collection was often applauded for educating, and soothing, children on common childhood concerns “like dentist visits, peer pressure, a new sibling or summer camp.” Prior to this series, however, the couple made quite the lucrative living by participating in another popular children’s medium, comics. The Berenstain couple was well known for their children targeted comic, “All in the Family”, which ran in magazines such as Good Housekeeping and McCall’s.
Mike and Leo Berenstain had recently collaborated on a few books with their mother that also tackled the modern issues of “online safety and childhood obesity” and furthermore reenforce their mother’s lifetime of making children happy through her own love of writing. Because of his mother’s desire to continue this type of entertainment for children, Mike also says he will maintain his illustrative an writer’s position with Berenstain books.
This connects so closely with not only our continuing theme of whether or not different popular mediums are successful at teaching kids educational tools as well as moral values conducive to Western culture, but it also lets the reader know just how influential the comic book industry was. It provides a stark contrast to what critics of comic books maintained about the lack of moral content in this type of reading. It has also now been picked up by PBS as an educational show for children of younger ages.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV, book by the Berenstain family
According to an article in the Times of India, there has been a recent surge in new comic books and comic book popularity in India. At Comic Con India, it was reported that at least 22 new book launches are expected this month. Some of these titles include familiar Western heroes, such as the Watchmen, but many Indian publishers are putting out their own original stories with their own characters. The article claims that the surge is a “growing niche” but it has not yet “arrived”, meaning that it is still a growing movement, and has not become completely mainstream yet.
In class, we discussed comic books from the 1950’s and explored the themes and content that made them unpalatable to parents and other authority figures back then in the United States. They were concerned about the adult story lines, violence, and disdain for authority. As comic books became more popular, this backlash gained traction, and led to comic book burning and bans from state and local governments. It will be interesting to see, as comic books become more popular, how parents and other adults in India respond to this new form of entertainment. India has a history of placing high importance on family values, which comic books, especially those containing Western characters, may not always embody. As the world becomes more globalized, this concern over Western ideals taking over their children may be lessened, but it will still be interesting to see whether this surge leads to a moral panic.
The article Comics: Justice League Fights Real World Hunger by Andrew Smith of the Seattle Times informs us that DC Entertainment has started the “We Can be Heroes” campaign to help the hunger crisis in the horn of Africa. DC Entertainment announced that through the characters of the Justice League they are trying to raise a goal of $2 million dollars and they will match the donations 100% up to $1 million dollars. On their website they have quick interviews with people that have already donated, and they portray these people as “an unstoppable force for good… banding together.”
This is not the first time comics have been involved in public service projects. There have been anti-drug use promotions in the “Amazing Spider-Man,” and some comics encouraged children to grow victory gardens, recycle metal, etc during World War II. We talked in class about how comics often have an underlying meaning. Examples in class were the evils of the slave trade and the atomic bomb. We also talked about the stereotypes comic books encounter. I myself am guilty in judging comics to be all gory crime-fighting superhero thrillers. I also assumed them to be mainly for children. However, I was surprised in class to find how wrong I was.
We discussed in class how a lot of the comic books were a lot less child-like than we assumed. At the end of the Comics article above, Smith talks about how the accusations of too much violence and sex in these superhero comics for children have come back. However, the comics industry struggles with these accusations because they claim that most of their comics are not for children and clearly state for age 16 and above on their covers. The comics for children are clearly marked as well and do not contain the material that critics find unacceptable for children.
We also talked about how the comics were much more educational than we expected. Some of the comics taught about science and history. With this new campaign to stop hunger in Africa, comic readers and followers of the industry will be educated on the situation and given a chance to help.
Overall, there are much more to comic books than the stereotypes lead on. They can be educational, historical, charitable, etc. We must learn to not judge a graphic novel by the cover and give them the credit they deserve for building such a sustainable industry that is able to endure all of the knocks society throw their way.
There’s a new reality show airing on February 11th. Comic Book Men will take viewers into the“sacred geek temple” of a retail comic book store. Kevin Smith, comic book writer and film producer, is the brains behind the show. The storyline revolves around the four guys who work in the store and who also model for Smith’s comic book characters.
The show features an all-male cast, which has received criticism because of the lack of females. Smith acknowledges that both women and African-Americans are both under-represented in comics and sees this as something that needs to change. He also points out that non-geeks can feel alienated when they enter a retail comic store. He hopes his new show will make mainstream America more comfortable with the comic industry.
youtube, Mingchen, Jan. 1, 2012
According to a recent survey by DC Comics, males make up 93% of its readers. Blogger Henry Hanks, a contributor on CNN Geek Out!, confirms that there is an entire culture of geeks out there who thrive on the characters and stories contained in comics. We saw an example of this in the video we watched in class about the geek collector.
Todays’ comic books contain the same stereotypes that readers encounters in the 1940s – females with big boobs, and males with huge muscles. The storylines haven’t changed either – men in capes are still rescuing helpless women. In the book, The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hadju, takes the reader through the history of comics and helps decipher the intense attraction many have towards these books.
The comic industry as a whole is suffering economically and the hope for this show is that it will expose non-geeks to the art of comic collecting and increase readership.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.