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The Daily Times

October 21, 2009

This morning, when I went into AJ’s room, I saw a newly drawn comic on his desk.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s a comic I drew,” he said. “You can look at it if you want, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

These days, that means one thing: cartoon violence. AJ’s imagination is full of destruction. He hasn’t been drawing comic strips in a while. Mostly he’s been coming up with these elaborate pictures of dozens of tiny stick figures experiencing various Hieronymous Bosch-like traumas. In one corner, one is tripping into a shark tank while another is being eaten by a shark and a third is climbing out again, minus a leg. In another, there is an earthquake (you can tell by the shake lines) and scores of tiny stick people are clinging to the cliffsides as a gaping maw opens in the ground. Others are swinging from vines over more people shooting arrows at them. One guy is walking around with an arrow sticking out of his head à la Steve Martin, a big grin on his face. These pictures are inventive and detailed and there’s a notable lack of gore, but still, very violent.

Today’s comic strip — more of a comic book, actually, began looking like another addition to the strip, The Adventures of Pie, that AJ’s been drawing since kindergarten. The Adventures of PIe is about a stick figure boy named Pie whose head, shaped like a capital D, looks like a half-eaten Pie. He has two friends, Joe Bob, who has disappeared from more recent strips, and Cake, whose head is a block with hair that looks like burning birthday candles. Today’s strip begins with a frame that reads “The adventures of Pie in getting his other half head back” (the “back” is in teeny tiny letters, an afterthought after he ran out of room in the box). The next frame shows pie in front of a sun half below the horizon with the caption “Out for a sunset walk. In the third frame, another stick figure with an all black head appears. They look to be facing each other. The caption reads, “Meets (another) ninja!” AJ is very fascinated by ninjas these days. I’m not sure where he’s getting his information on them. Not from me. The fourth frame has no caption, but ninja man has pulled out two knives and is holding them threateningly, one in each hand, as Pie maintains a look of alertness. In frame five, the sun has nearly sunk below the horizon and the moon and stars have come out. Ninja man is still holding one knife, but has apparently launched it through the air. The sky in frame six has more stars and a meteor. Pie has caught the thrown knife. The two men appear poised for attack. Frame seven shows Pie relaxing a little as the ninja tosses away his knife and pulls out a pistol. In frame eight, Pie tosses away his knife and pulls out a shield. In frame nine, under a starless, moonless sky, the ninja fires two bullets at Pie who, in frame ten, deflects them with a “clang.” in frame 11, Pie is surprised to find the ninja collapsed on the ground. He has apparently deflected the bullets straight back at the ninja, killing him and cutting his head in two. You can tell Pie is surprised because an exclamation appoint has appeared over his head. In frame twelve, Pie is doing something — you can’t really tell what — on the ground as the sun creeps back up over the horizon. In frame thirteen, Pie is holding up half of the ninja’s head (keep in mind these are faceless stick figures, so it’s not gory, just creepy) as the sun comes up and the caption reads “sunrise!”. Frame fourteen: Pie has attached the half a head to his own face, which is now perfectly round, and exclaims “i’m not pie anymore…” And, in the final frame, he announces, “i’m stickly!” Then, “The End” (in enormous letters with speed lines) and a large announcement: Change comic name: The adventures of STICKLY.

On the third page of the comic book is a mock up of a newspaper called “The Daily Times” featuring a pictures of a smiling Pie in front of the rising sun next to the fallen, clearly half-headed ninja. The headline reads, “Our Hero Pie (now stickly) gets his head back. And the dek: “He called himself “Stickly” now. The rest of the mock newspaper is covered in squiggly lines to suggest text AJ didn’t feel like writing. At the bottom is another small picture of the cartoon character who was formerly known as Pie speaking into an outstretched microphone and :Channel 32 10:00-11:00 11:30-12:30, presumably the times when you can catch Pie’s exclusive interview on TV.

There are many aspects of this comic that I find wildly inventive and fascinating and my first response was to tell AJ how cool I thought it was. But all the violence in his recent drawings does bother me a bit. At what point should a parent worry about it? I’m not really worried about it with AJ, not at the moment anyhow. I think it’s his way of exploring, much as I spent many fascinated hours at his age reading the goriest of Grimm’s fairy tales. Plus, AJ clearly knows that violence is wrong. But I did have a talk with him to make sure he knew that drawing comics like this at school was probably not a good idea and that he should save them for home (a talk that resulted in a great deal of eye rolling and “I KNOW, mom”s. But I’m increasingly aware that there is clearly a line that could be crossed. I’m just trying to figure out where that line is. Maybe for me it will have more to do with the representation of suffering — there isn’t any in AJ’s pictures. Victims frequently pop up, smiling (if they have faces, which is frequently not the case) apparently unharmed by sharks gnawing on their thigh bones or tornados whisking them up into the air and then dropping them from enormous heights. Plus in this case, the bad guy clearly did himself in. He got what he deserved. All Pie did was take a souvenir and a new identity. Which is a fascinating metaphor in and of itself. The Brothers Grimm would be proud.

On the final page, Cake and Pie-now-Stickly meet in an open field. Stickly sees his old friend and says, “Cake! this is pie. Well, call me stickly now. I got my head back!” “Nice!” Cake responds. “Ninja fight?” “Yep,” says Pie/Stickly, pointing at the ground. “Right here.”

I must admit, I’m completely curious about how the Adventures of Stickly will continue, how they will differ from The Adventures of Pie. But even more, I’m curious about the part of AJ’s brain that draws these pictures in elaborate detail, as if he has films running through his head at all times. And I’m relieved to see that even if AJ has killed off the little kids comic so he and Pie can grow up, he is taking at least half of his head with him. Stay tuned for the next showing.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. crankygirl permalink
    October 21, 2009 11:54 am

    I think you should do a comic together–that would be extra cool. Though AJ might not think so.

  2. freshhell permalink
    October 21, 2009 1:08 pm

    I don’t think you need to worry about this level of fantasy violence. I do, though, think AJ and Dusty need to team up and create some comics together. Or, start their own comic/news business.

    Dusty mentioned over the weekend that she wanted to be a ninja next year for halloween. I have no idea where this comes from except maybe boys at school. Ninjas don’t really pop up at home that often.

  3. October 21, 2009 3:28 pm

    I hate to admit this, but… (I’m cringing) …he’s a boy. I swore for 35 years that there were NOT fundamental differences between girls and boys; it was all nurture. But there are. I’ve made my husband swear (on multiple occasions) that he too, made every car crash and every picture include a weapon and every character fight. He has turned into a very peaceful man without hardly an argument in him, let alone a fight. I have confidence that unless I see fighting between my kids and peers that this is a normal part of working through and experimenting with issues they encounter in their lives.

    We started into a ninja phase a few years ago w/ the Magic Treehouse books. He’s past those, but some of his peers aren’t. Maybe it’s a playground thing.

  4. October 21, 2009 9:43 pm

    Cranky, I think you nailed it. He would not, I think, be interested, but it would probably be fun. Freshhell, I’d love to see that collaboration too. I wonder if they’d be into doing something by mail, maybe one of those things where one of them starts a story/comic and the other finishes it. Yeah, ninjas are in the air. AJ wanted to be one for Halloween too, but he ended up picking something else out of the school’s costume exchange. Jill, you might be right about the Magic Tree House influence, although I think it’s also buoyed by their interest in manga. And you’re definitely right about boys needing to do this kind of stuff. And I’d much rather see him act it out this way than actually fighting. Maybe that is the line.

  5. October 21, 2009 10:16 pm

    But where are the pictures?! Scan in the cartoon strip. We want to see AJ’s comic genius.

    As far as violence is concerned? All us boys go through that stage. Whether it be launching matchbox cars off sofas, to blowing up (the same) with firecrackers, to playing guns or ninjas! We all did it.

    And most of us come out ok! As Amber says, it’s a vent to let off imagination steam. You may have the next Gary Larson (ala Far Side) on your hands!

  6. October 21, 2009 10:32 pm

    I’d love to, Haunted, but alas, my new laptop and my old scanner are not yet on speaking terms. I’m hopeful I’ll have this problem resolved in the future (Firmware? Counseling?), but for now, you’ll have to use your imagination as well.

  7. October 22, 2009 2:33 pm

    Another vote for the “all boys go through that” explanation. When my girl played with plastic dinosaurs, they walked around in family groups talking to each other. When my boy played with the same dinosaurs, the meat-eaters marauded through the land pushing over any vegetarian dinos and leaving them for dead.

  8. October 23, 2009 4:26 pm

    Count me in with the boys-are-like-that vote. Buddy Boy was brought up exactly as his sister without a gun or weapon in sight, and yet he knew exactly what they were without having to be taught. Boys (and men) like movies with car crashes and chase scenes; girls like movies with conversation and character development. Mars and Venus.

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