Sporadic Sequential
Friday, June 20, 2008
Hmm, Maybe I Should Write A Comic Book Based on My Kids

Crayon Shinchan Vol. 1
By: Yoshito Usui
Length: 128 pages
Price: $7.99
Publisher: CMX

What's that old saying? "It's funny because it's true!" Or was it, "It only hurts when I laugh!"? Those phrases — or some mixture thereof ("I only laugh because it hurts to realize how true it is"?) — were going through my mind when I read volume one of Crayon Shinchan from CMX. I'd read several volumes of Shinchan's exploits before, back when ComicsOne was publishing the series, but that was before I'd ventured into the dangerous waters of child-rearing myself. Now that I have kids of my own, one of whom is close in age to Shinchan and at least as headstrong, the humor in the series takes on a whole new perspective. Although I still find Shinchan's antics amusing, I also find myself empathizing with Shinchan's long-suffering parents quite frequently. (The scenes where Shinchan's parents tsk-tsk another misbehaving child, wondering why the parents can't control their child, only to turn around and find Shinchan engaged in even worse behavior hit especially close to home.)

Maybe that's why Shinchan (and other similar series, such as Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes) are so popular with parents: it's easier to laugh when it's someone else's kids acting up. For such series to work, a delicate balance has to be struck, where the main child is mischievous without becoming entirely malevolent, otherwise readers will tire of following the character. It's also important when writing a child character to make sure that character actually comes across convincingly as a child. Sure, a writer could go for the the interest generated in the extreme juxtaposition of a child that acts like an adult (and Shinchan gets some of its mileage from that effect), à la Stewie from Family Guy, but in doing so you'd lose the dramatic potential inherent in the parent/child relationship. And despite all of his odd behavior, Shinchan is still recognizably and believably a child, which gives the series a richer undercurrent of familial sentiment than it otherwise would and grounds the humor in a way that rings true for those with experience battling raising children of their own. For example, the scene of Shinchan drawing all over his face (and, uh, other body parts) with his mother's lipstick and then defending his actions by pointing out that she draws all over her face with it is the kind of frustratingly overly-literal child logic that renders parents' attempts at reasoning impotent.

I've long since given away my old copies of ComicsOne's versions of Shinchan, so it's difficult for me to offer a side-by-side comparison between the two publishers' presentations. But judging by my old review of ComicsOne's edition of volume one, their book was flipped, so CMX's version will undoubtedly appeal to manga purists. One difference that I did note is that CMX has updated some of the cultural references in the series. ComicsOne also replaced references to Japanese pop culture with reference to American icons, but CMX has further updated the references to be more current. This is probably a good idea, as I doubt that there are too many people in 2008 who would understand why Shinchan and his father are obsessed with Britney Spears as an ideal of female sex appeal. (CMX has updated the references to name Jessica Alba.)

One thing I noticed in my old review was a thought that some readers might be put off by the "simple" or "crude" artwork, a thought that didn't even cross my mind this time. With audiences embracing "crude" artwork in similarly crass-humored series such as South Park and Family Guy, I don't know if this is really much of a concern. Besides, the naive artwork fits the subject matter, as the artwork in Shinchan looks like something a child himself might come up with.

CMX's production values are once again very nice. The only glitch I noticed was a stray panel where several "I"s mysteriously vanished:

Is dropping your "i"s the latest form of text-speak?

Other than that, the book looked top-rate, with eight color pages at the front. A 12-page preview can be found on CMX's site.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Labels: , , ,