I admit I do review a lot of children’s media on this blog, so it may seem strange that when I call them “childish” I mean so in a critical way. But let’s face it, a movie for children and a childish movie can be two different things. Rango was meant for kids but didn’t feel childish due to its melancholy setting and the protagonist’s psychological journey . On the other hand, Hotel Transylvania was for kids and was childish, due to a protagonist helping the old fogeys to have SUPER AWESUUM FUN and jokes about lycanthrope’s piss. The Where the Wild Things Are movie felt more like a movie for adults than one for kids; it didn’t have any swearing or violence like Rango did, but the interactions between the characters felt realistic despite what the characters were, explored growing up and there was even a sprinkling of existentialism. The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas celebrates childishness by destroying a mature yet effective factory to make way for Santa’s airy-fairy kiddy workshop, glorifying infantile sentiment over the adult world.
There is childish kids’ entertainment, but the sad fact is that there is also childish adult’s entertainment too. It’s easy to see why the likes of Breaking Bad and Silk are considered programmes for adult consumption, not only do they have the ol’ sex and swearing, they also revolve around subject matter that children wouldn’t really understand. Jesse Pinkman is amusing when he’s childish, but him maturing throughout the series has made the show compelling. Then we have stuff like Mongrels; I indeed believe a programme for adults with talking animals can be made, but not when we have dogs singing ‘We will, we will fuck you’. You could probably take a show like The Big Bang Theory, remove the sex and stuff and have something children could watch; the characters are exaggerated loons, the storylines are easy to understand and the jokes are obvious.
Where this problem is most apparent, it seems, is the medium of webcomics. I mean, we just looked at Alex ze Pirate, which had the same style and humour as a poor man’s Tiny Toons, yet also had a tiny pervert stealing bras. But we also have stuff like Ctrl Alt Del, Least I Could Do, Dominic Deegan and others, which all claim to be aimed at an adult audience, and yet have this childish air about them. The main characters may have sex and beat up each other, but there’s also plenty elements from kiddie cartoons. The worst elements of kiddie cartoons. The very elements that made most of us grow out of kiddie cartoons.
Over-Explaining the Jokes
Look at this comic:
OK, funny joke. You think he’s talking to his wife, but he’s talking to himself because he’s an egomaniac. Ha ha, easy to get. But see those weird lines on the mirror? They’re there because this is my half-assed edit of a comic that appeared in British kids’ comic Krazy:
The joke here is simple enough that it could be told without that big caption up there, the confederate announcing it is himself he is talking to and one or two of the panels, but it’s a kids’ comic, one from 1983. Standards are lower and kids are dumb.
Now compare that to this Ctrl Alt Del comic:
This isn’t a kids’ comic from 1983. It’s a comic for 20-something gamers from 2004, based around a mature-rated game. The readers should be able to discern the joke for themselves if they just look at the pictures and the speech bubbles, but the joke is spoon-fed to them by the captions. In fact, captions and speech bubbles that explain the joke have gotten the name ‘Buckley Boxes’ from this comic’s overuse of them (the creator of Ctrl is called Tim Buckley).
What’s really sad is that here the kids’ comic is better than the “adult” comic. The artwork is better, and there are some additional humorous touches in the background (the confederate with the teddy bear, the baby picture). The Ctrl Alt Del comic looks bland and lifeless in comparison with its basic art and copied backdrops.
People Who Support the Author’s Beliefs are Good and People Who Don’t are Bad
Some cartoons need to teach kids morals, and since it’s kids we’re dealing with here, the moral should be taught simply. One of the most simplistic ways to teach a moral is to have good people practice it and bad people oppose it. In Captain Planet, the good guys looked out for the environment, and the villains destroyed it. Not only that, but the villains didn’t destroy the environment in order to build businesses or anything, they did it because they could. Because they were EVUL.
An episode of Disney’s Recess had a moral about how stealing was wrong by having nervous kid Gus being forced to steal some gum by some bullies. The bullies were mean and nasty and nothing more, and the shopkeeper Gus stole from is kind and forgiving; he punishes Gus by having him help out at the store but also gives Gus some ice cream after Gus confesses. I’m not saying stealing is good, but there are better, more mature ways to show that stealing is bad.
Most adult TV shows and movies understand the importance of grey areas. Breaking Bad never glorifies meth-making, but Walter is doing it so his family are financially secure and gradually becomes more evil as the series progresses; his despicable actions in later series are more terrifying given that he was once a loving family man.
Webcomics on the other hand…
A lot of political webcomics are based around themes children would find boring or complex, but even though they aim for an adult audience, simplify complicated themes to a child’s way of thinking. If the comic’s author doesn’t support Obama, all Obama supporters will be drawn as ugly trolls, being bested by the author’s avatar.
One of the most infamous examples of this is in Jack Chick’s comics about Christianity. Religion is a tricky topic to handle, and Chick’s comics generally dilute it into ‘Christians are better than everyone else’. A teacher teaches evolution? He’s an ugly balding man who yells at a handsome Christian student. People who celebrate Halloween? Devil worshippers, the lot of them. People who don’t believe in Hell are grumpy old witches, too.
Religion and politics are subjects that require some tact and intelligence to tackle, and a lot of webcomics have neither. Even kids hate this type of moralising, which is why they are drawn to the likes of Dennis the Menace. Which brings me to my next point:
The Protagonist is a Loveable Scamp Who Can Get Away with Murder and is Beloved by All Except the Audience
There are characters in kids’ stories who can either be a mischievous sort (everyone from the Beano, Kids Next Door) or a wacky little sprite who says silly things and makes silly noises (Donkey from Shrek, minions from Despicable Me). Kids like these characters because they do the things they wish they could get away with and appeals to their still-developing sense of humour. Adults hate these characters because their kids act like them. Kids emphasise with Sooty, adults emphasise with Matthew.
There’s a reason a lot of adult Simpsons fans love the Homer from the old episodes and hate the “Jerkass Homer” from the more recent episodes. The old Homer may have been stupid, but he was relatable in that he wanted what was best for his family and how the world seemed to be against him. Jerkass Homer made silly noises and acted like a crazed chimpanzee; he’s the type of character you’d expect in a Dreamworks movie, one who smirks in the posters.
The same could be said for protagonists like Ethan Macmanus in Ctrl Alt Del and Rayne Summers in Least I Could Do. Ethan is an irritating man-child whose life seems to revolve around video games, so much so that he makes his own holiday revolving around them. What makes it worse is that the comic more or less glorifies this attitude, with one “Winter-een-mas” arc ending with him worshipped by fellow gamers, and him becoming more mature treated as a bad thing. Likewise, Rayne Summers is a sex fiend with an eternally smug expression you just want to fucking punch. Yet we’re supposed to find him loveable and adorable. One arc was based on A Christmas Carol with Rayne as Scrooge and yet Rayne isn’t really shown the error of his ways or made to reassess his life. Indeed, his future shows him happy and content rather than dying alone, and the three ghosts are all replaced with Kiera Knightley trying to make him feel better about his life. They’re all more or less like Jonathan from Hotel Transylvania only more so – at least that movie focussed more on Dracula than Jonathan.
Goofy Random Humour
Comedy is, as many say, the hardest thing to write, and while what people can find funny is subjective, there are things out there that are objectively not funny. How fortunate then, that children will laugh at the word ‘monkey’ or ‘pants’, thus writing for children is a good career choice for unfunny people who nonetheless want to be comedians. Kids eat up stuff like Captain Underpants and Nearly Naked Animals, while adults can only roll their eyes.
VGCats, despite aiming for an older audience than Captain Underpants, has a character called Pantsman. Ctrl Alt Del (this again) has a character called Chef Brian, whose whole schtick is that he says nonsense words. The word “pants” by itself is not funny. The only people who would think so are the very young or the very mentally young.
Yes, that’s it. These webcomics are not meant for mature adults, they’re meant for your average internet manchild. Someone who doesn’t really care for sophisticated entertainment so they’ll settle for lowbrow humour and video game jokes. One who is more likely to buy the books and merchandise you make from your webcomic because they have more disposable income.
So maybe these webcomic creators do have some sense after all.