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Problematic ‘Powerpuff Girls’ Variant Cover Pulled By Cartoon Network

A variant cover for a new issue of IDW Publishing’s Powerpuff Girls comic book sparked a bit of a debate over its depiction of the titular, pint-sized heroines as young adults in revealing outfits and heavy makeup. Although the piece by Mimi Yoon was commissioned by PPG licensor Cartoon Network to be offered specifically to direct market comics shops as a collector’s item — as opposed to the “mass market” version for readers of all ages featuring a more traditional PPG cover — the company has decided to cancel the variant over fans’ and retailer concerns about its appropriateness.

Created by Craig McCracken, the Powerpuff Girls are preadolescent superheroes made of “sugar, spice, everything nice… and a dash of chemical X,” famous for “saving the world before bedtime.” Their inescapably cute adventures took the form of a tremendously popular animated series which broadcast on Cartoon Network in the 1990s and early 2000s. Equal parts comedy and action, the series earned numerous awards, admirers of all ages and, perhaps most notably, accolades for its distinctly feminist — or at least strongly feminist-leaning — take on children’s programming and the superhero genre in particular.

The show was not without its occasional sexual undertones, of course. One of the main characters was a faceless, shapely adult woman who wore only sexy outfits and spoke in a husky voice. But the PPG themselves were to the best of my knowledge always depicted as adorable little kids and never in a sexualized way (unless you count that time the girls defeated the villainous Rowdyruff Boys by kissing them, which the boys found so gross they literally exploded). A memorable Cartoon Network promo featuring Wonder Woman explicitly referenced the Powerpuff Girls’ nature as distinctly innocent, nonsexualized characters and, indeed, even more violent and powerful than the heroes from which they took their inspiration.

 

 

Given this long established tradition, Yoon’s cover was seen as objectionable by some when it proliferated on social media this week. ICv2 suggests that it was retailer Dennis Barger, Jr. of WonderWorld Comics in Michigan whose complaints led to the cancelation of Yoon’s variant.

Barger wrote:

Are we seriously sexualizing pre-teen girls like perverted writing fan fiction writers on the internet????”  is that what this s*** has gotten to? DISGUSTED.

 

Powerpuff Girls #6 Mimi Yoon
‘Powerpuff Girls’ #6 variant cover by Mimi Yoon

 

Personally I’m not sure that Yoon’s cover rises to the occasion of Barger’s disgust. The figures are no doubt meant to be alluring, but the characters are also depicted not as prepubescent girls but as young women, which is not an unusual approach in PPG fan art and other illustration circles. Its kind of the reverse of Skottie Young’s popular “baby” variants for Marvel, which reimagine superheroes as little tykes in colorful costumes. But obviously your mileage may vary. I’ve spoken with some colleagues and cartoonists who agree, but others say that even though the image is plainly meant to be some kind of alternate reality and not for mass consumption, Yoon’s distinctive style and the use of a vinyl-like clothing for the girls’ skin-tight dresses suggests a kind of sexualization that’s incompatible with our understanding and long established affection for the characters.

But despite what anyone else thinks of the image, it was Barger’s missive that prompted a response from IDW’s VP – Marketing Dirk Wood, who wrote:

That was actually a Cartoon Network mandated cover, by an artist of their choosing. I think they were thinking of it more along the lines of “female empowerment” than the kind of thing you guys are talking about, but certainly, we’re sensitive to the issues here. We love making comics for kids, and always want them to be appropriate. For what it’s worth, CN has been a great partner in that regard… I know an 8 year old and 10 year old really well, and always look at these kinds of things through their eyes… Half of the employees have kids here, and we pride ourselves in making comics they’ll enjoy and not give them a warped view of the world (except, you know, in a good way). Anyway, I certainly see your points, and we’ll be sensitive to these things, as I think we mostly have been.

Contacted by ICv2, Cartoon Network’s licensing division confirmed they would be “pulling” Yoon’s cover. A representative wrote:

In conjunction with our licensing partners, Cartoon Network Enterprises from time to time works with the artist community to reimagine and reinterpret our brands using their talents and unique points of view.  This particular variant cover for The Powerpuff Girls #6 from IDW was done in the artist’s signature style and was intended to be released as a collectible item for comic book fans.  We recognize some fans’ reaction to the cover and, as such, will no longer be releasing it at comic book shops.

For her part, Yoon had this to say on Facebook:

one opinionated dog barks (i’m fine with that)… and the rest of the pack barks “pretending” to know what they’re barking about (hate those idiots)… tsk tsk tsk

 

 

UPDATE (01/27/13): Yoon has followed up her initial remarks, characterizing Barger’s interpretation as “perverted” and “corrupted,” which she defends by pointing to a photograph of him posing with some adult entertainers wearing costumes featuring the logo of the Detroit convention he organizes. Her unedited comments:

i am quite overwhelmed but will try to reply all of the supportive messages as soon as i can. and i will continue to create art embracing the beauty of women and femininity. i find all of the accusations for my Powerpuff Girls image sexualizing minors not only ridiculous but also embarrassing (for the accusers) and disturbing especially since it’s started by a person of such value as seen in [these pictures].

Yoon also observed that as a consequence of the controversy Barger fueled, her illustration has been seen by more people — perhaps even children —  than it likely otherwise would have, given its intended purpose as a limited edition variant cover.

the image has spread wider now than it would ever have as a comic book cover in stores.
computer savvy children are seeing it and will see it for a long long time easily too on their computer monitors, even the ones who would never have if this nonsense has not started by that one perverted mind who conjured up the nonsense in his dirty mind. how is he going to stop the kids from seeing the image on the internet now? i SUPPOSE now the image is readily available for all ages to see on the internet, when any girl who has interest in Powerpuff Girls searches for it on any of the search engines will see the image and grow up to be like the “ladies” in the pictures below…. that would be one serious tragedy, wouldn’t it?

Last Friday, following the initial discussion of this news, IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall indicated via Twitter that he’d hired Yoon to create a new cover for the publisher, presumably for a different book.

UPDATE (01/27/13): Dennis Barger has penned an open letter meant to be his final word on the subject, published below via Robot 6. It contains many debatable assumptions about numerous things beyond the scope of this subject, but with respect to the Powerpuff Girls cover he objected to so strongly, Barger argues that the speed with which the cover was pulled by Cartoon Network supports his view that Yoon’s illustration was inappropriate.

Let me start this letter out with a cliche … children are the future of this industry. If you do not subscribe to this philosophy, then you might as well stop reading right now. There is no other way to put this — our industry of print comic books is dying. The number of readers is falling fast. By my estimate, there are roughly 70,000 readers for each of the best selling serialized comic books released today. After counting cross-over readers from the Big Two and people who only read Indy comics, I would guess that we have around 120,000 actual people reading comic books today. Judging from the attrition rate that we are losing readers, we need 12,000 a year to start reading comic books and getting hooked on visiting the stores that remain. When you consider that there are roughly 2,000 comic shops that number means each store needs to be making six new readers a year.

I am a huge supporter of IDW and especially their all-ages line of comics. It wasn’t until they released My Little Pony comic books, that I decided to dedicate almost 10% of my store to a kids’ section. Now when I say kids, I mean kids the age of my children, 6-12 years old. This is the pure age that if you get them into a habit of reading, they will read for a life time. I have been a huge supporter of IDW’s cartoon network licenses with Samurai Jack and Powerpuff Girls. Not that Boom! Studio’s Adventure Time and Regular Show weren’t enough, but the kids and fans of those shows weren’t coming in on a regular basis enough to dedicate the space to just them. Now it seems that everyone has dedicated an effort to a kids’ line of comics, most notably DC Comics, Art Balthazar and Franco offerings. But nothing got them through the door on a regular basis like My Little Pony. IDW showed me that as a publisher, they had a great commitment to getting kids through my door and I wanted to be ready for them when they got there. When a kid comes into my store, they are greeted with a sucker, left over Free Comic Book Day comics, Archaia’s Mouse Guard hardcovers that I ordered enough to have for freebies and a kids’ section of all-ages comics from every publisher. I feature books like Jeffrey Brown’s Vader and Son and Brad Meltzer’s new book I am Amelia Earhart and every small price point kids’ toy I can buy from Diamond. I create new comic readers every time they walk through my door.

I know I am creating my six new readers and then some. I spend $2,000 a year on Free Comic Book Day for kids alone, giving each kid who comes in 10 free comic books from our selection. By spending that money today, I will hopefully make those kids customers for life. It is my “get them off the video games and into comics” philosophy. And let me also say, that in my opinion, this is the last generation of kids that we have a chance to win. They are saturated to the point that “pop culture” is the only culture around them. If we can’t win these kids over, surrounded by Avengers movies and TV shows with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Batman Legos, Star Wars cartoons and video games and Walking Dead zombies on every parents T-shirt, then I don’t know what will.

Which brings me to the point of this letter, The Powerpuff Girls #6 comic book subscription variant by Mimi Yoon. A phenomenal piece of art by an extremely talented artist, commissioned by Cartoon Network and mandated to be placed on a licensee’s comic. It was submitted through Diamond Previews to retailers, ordered by retailers and finally on Final Order Cut Off date seen by me for the first time. It was clearly missed by several people, because some didn’t find it offensive and other just simply didn’t look hard enough. When I finally saw it, I was floored, angry and dismayed. In this day and age, when that happens, you do what everyone does, share your feeling on social media. We all do it, only in this day and age, people listen. Media picks things up and more social media shares it, and it continues. If anyone in this industry doesn’t think we live in a 24 hour news cycle, you are kidding yourself. Everything happens in 24 hours. It took 24 hours for Bleeding Cool to run a story on a facebook post; it took 24 hours for more to pick that up; it took 24 hours for ICV2 to call Cartoon Network; and it took 24 hours for them to cancel the variant cover and media around the world to pick up that story.

It also took 24 hours for people in this industry to paint me as the villain in all of this. I will not discuss why this cover upset me and this is the last time I care to talk about it, aside from this. I did not feel that it was appropriate for the cover of a book aimed at young children, especially young girls, and many people agreed with me. A Hollywood corporate machine like Warner Bros and Cartoon Network would not have pulled it unless enough people saw that this was inappropriate in some way. Count how many things Hollywood has lost money on because there was a controversy. You’ll only need 1 hand.

We are the only ones who can police our industry, the comic book industry. We are the creators, publishers,distributors, retailers and customers. Comic book creators work diligently to create content which brings in customers. Publishers take risks on a daily basis with their bottom line to make sure there is work for creators and products to sell. Distributors make sure that the retail side is properly supplied. Retailers pick and choose what books they think they can sell, take risks on everything they order, and supply the customers with the products they want. Customers look to the others to make sure they have books every Wednesday that are high quality enough to shuck over $3.99 apiece, every week of the year. Sometimes when I talk to people in our industry they lose sight of a few links in that chain.

Let me point out to you, Hollywood is not a link in that chain. For licensed comic publishers it may be, and for customers who only read licensed comic it is. For creators sitting around and waiting for that fat proverbial “Hollywood Movie Check” it might be … but from start to finish, Hollywood is not in that chain. We need to remember this. Hollywood came into this chain and told a publisher what they had to do, for no one’s betterment but their own. Hollywood needs us, the comic book industry, we are the frack needed to pump into their dying wells. The second we lose sight of that we are done. We cannot let them into the middle of our industry. No one from Hollywood has to tell creators like Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples how to create new readers, no one from Hollywood walks into a comic shop and tells retailers how to create new readers, and IDW knows how to create new readers without Hollywood dictating what’s on the cover.

All it takes is six young new readers created by every comic book shop when they walk through the doors to maintain this business we all love.

All it takes is one giant mistake to upset the parents of those new readers and we will lose this industry.

Dennis Barger
Co-Owner of Wonderworld Comics
Taylor, MI

Powerpuff Girls: Dance Pantsed

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