The Powerpuff Girls and Legitimising Sex

Time for a quick and really simply quiz, and yes, it’s on that Powerpuff Girls comic cover that was yanked last week.

Ready? Spot the difference:

Powerpuff Girls Go Battery Powered

and

PPG_Mimi

Hmmm, let see. While both feature ‘aged’ version of animated kid characters and a certain lack of skin covering, that’s just about all they have in common. For starters, the top one is an actual spoof comic that takes the idea of aging the characters to the extreme by having them smoke and drink among other things. The bottom is just a variant cover for a regular PPG comic.

So why was there such an uproar about the bottom comic while the (admittedly) much more incendiary top cover slipped under the radar? It is partly to do with exposure and the fact that the IDW comic was to be seen by a far greater number of people than the top cover.

Yet that isn’t the entire story. Rather, the uproar came about partly because as an officially licensed product, the IDW cover, while not directly created by Cartoon Network, is nonetheless officially endorsed. That means that the network is directly connected with it in the minds of consumers. That’s what licensing is supposed to do though. When things like this occur, all hell can break loose.

The reasons ought to be obvious to everyone. Yes, the cover features the characters in an alternate or stylised form that is not their original from the show. However, the overall tone of Mimi Yoon’s cover is overtly sexual; intentional or not. Regardless of the age of the characters as depicted, is the fact the the comic, as official merchandise, is meant to represent the girls as they are in the cartoon. In other words, as kids, and the notions implied by mixing sex with young characters are never good for anyone, and especially a studio that depends on the franchise as a source of revenue as well as its good standing among partners and suppliers. So of course the cover had to be pulled from distribution.

Coming back to the first point, the top comic, which is for the story ‘Battery Powered’ by the way, is not as blatant as the IDW cover but the story itself (all one page of it) certainly is. You would think that Cartoon Network would have made a fuss about it a long time ago, right? Well yes, but parody copyright exemptions aside, they can also afford to let it be. Why? Because it’s not official! They never sanctioned it, they don’t profit from it, and they rightfully expect the general public to be able to recognise that too. In other words, the public is capable of spotting the difference between a genuine, official effort and that of a random fan on the internet.

The problem is that the IDW cover seriously blurs those lines and led to a fair amount of confusion about the exact purpose and tone of the cover that in the end was too much for any sort of sane explanation from the publisher, the artist or the network itself to redeem it. If distribution had gone ahead, Cartoon Network would almost certainly have appeared to be legitimising the sexier versions of their characters, an act that could have caused them serious problems further down the road.

It’s a problem that is far from Cartoon Network’s alone, but different companies seem to approach it in different ways. Disney is militaristic about the portrayals of its characters, yet isn’t afraid to make exceptions. Slave Minnie anyone?

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