Monday, March 13, 2006

Baby-sitters, Unite!

With the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies and even Trixie Belden making a comeback, I should have expected to see new editions of the Babysitter's Club on my shelves. I was not, however, expecting to see them re-issued in graphic novel form. It makes a lot of sense though. People can talk all they want about more boys reading comics than girls, and it may still be true, but as far as graphic novels go, most of the ones that are actually in the kids section are written either for girls or for both genders.* Again, this makes sense, since girls are avid readers but a relatively untapped market as far as comics go. Plus, boys are more sensitive to accusations of being to babyish, so they are even more likely than girls to want to read stuff that seems as though it's meant for older kids or grownups, so when comics are written exclusively for boys, they are often moved to the general graphic novel area for marketing reasons.

But, back to the BSC:

Needless to say, I just had to read it in that "can't look away" kind of way, so I grabbed a copy to skim through during my break....

...and was pleasantly surprised to realize that it was actually very good. The story is almost identical to the original, so it should appeal as much to girls today as it did to my peers and me when it was first written. The artwork was well done, uncluttered but very expressive. It reminded me a lot of Bone, actually. Both Jeff Smith (Bone) and Raina Telgemeier (BSC) tend to use a lot of curves and they both do a fantastic job of varying line thickness to help convey perspective, meaning and emotion.

I started reading The Babysitter's Club during the few years before I was old enough to babysit, and Kristy and the gang made baby-sitting seem fun and grown-up without being too unrealistic. For girls too young to be proper baby-sitters (the series main audience) it's both a fantasy and a positive (but glossed over) portrayal of girlhood that's grounded in just enough reality to make it easy to relate to. The part of the series that was the most unrealistic, of course, was it's hook: the idea that getting paid to watch ankle biters is a bonding experience among teen girls rather than a isolating job. (Now there's a sentence deserves it's own post.)

As I read the story of the club's creation for the first time as an adult, it also struck me that the "club" was neither that nor the business Kristy proclaims it to be, but a union.

The idea for the club comes from Kristy listening to her mom calling around town trying to find a sitter for her younger brother. It occurs to Kristy that she and her friends could do parents like her mom a favor, and themselves one as well, by creating an organization that parents can call in order to get access to several sitters at once. But unlike referral agencies or even partnerships, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey do not work for Kristy, nor do the four founding members have people work under them**. The point of the club is not to raise capital for the club, it's to make finding work easier on the clubs' members. By the end of the first book, the gang has already choosen club officers, started setting rules for employers (no pet sitting, only baby-sitting!), paid voluntary dues to fund a social event, and created a skills training program (a notebook where the girls write down their experiences). Over the next few books they will start to set more guidelines for employers and (if I remember right) a minimum wage as well. The club does blur the line between a business and a union - the girls set up a summer camp for their regular charges at one point - but the main focus is on making sure that are treated well as workers and are able to find enough work when they need it. They are able to do this because they ensure a high level of competency among members and they band together to deal with problem employers. Which is very much what unions, especially the first unions of skilled workers, have always done.

It's interesting to look back on something that seemed so stereotypical at the time and realize that there was always just a little bit of subversiveness running through it the whole time.

*Which really makes me wonder how the industry is going to deal when all these girls grow up and start demanding more comics for them.

**When Mallory and Jessi join, they aren't afforded full status right away because of their age and inexperience, not because the original four are the partners and everyone else are employees. Abby, after all, becomes a full member right away. Which makes the club even more like a union for skilled labour, since that means Mallory and Jessi are apprentices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those girls can grow up and read manga (korean, international and japanese).

Manga has sub types designed exactly for girls and a equal number of men and women, boys and girls creating the manga.

It also deals with more mature subjects than other comics and even some books.

You can get gay "yaoi" and lesbian "yuri" storys, even though yaoi is often written for girls, and yuri for boys (but not always).

You can get manga on all topics and all ages from very young to adult.