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Grown-Ups Are Dumb!
posted November 18, 2009
Disney/Hyperion, softcover, 96 pages, September 2009, $8.99
1423113314 (ISBN10), 9781423113317 (ISBN13)
I like Denis Kitchen very much and I like kids generally, I really do. Further, I'm thrilled when kids take to comics as a form of expression because I think it's a medium perfectly suited to the way a lot of kids think. In fact, I'd assert there are kids surrounding a peer's desk in classrooms all over the country every weekday that will attest to this fact. All that said, I don't really know what to do with Alexa Kitchen's work, a bunch of which was most recently reprinted as in the stand-alone volume Grown-Ups Are Dumb!
The cartooning in Grown-Ups Are Dumb!
is admirable in certain ways (the way she frames certain events; her timing), even fun at times, but it failed to impress me even in the obvious context suggested for it. I've read several samples of prose and plays by young people that seemed to seize on more intriguing surface qualities of those art forms than what's on display here; certainly we've all seen young actors that were devastatingly effective despite their limited life experience. Despite all the nice blurbs from cartoonists that assert otherwise, I don't really find Kitchen's cartoons reliably more sophisticated than my memory of the cartoons and comics passed around in Mr. Frischkorn's Mitchell Elementary School class, circa 1980. I would have to have some of these boosters sit down with me and walk me through the book and show me where and why what they claim is true. While there are moments of insight in Grown-Ups Are Dumb!
-- I like one cartoon about making cartoons, and I think the nostalgia inherent in certain strips touches on a fascinating subject generally -- a lot of what Kitchen spends time doing is pretty rote gag stuff and seems to me the sturdy and not astonishing results of a child really focusing in on something and doing it over and over, as opposed to creative precociousness or genius.
I'm further confused by the way the works have been brought to public. Billed as the work of a ten-year-old means that this is work from two years ago (I believe Kitchen turned 12 this summer). Is the overall body of Kitchen's work so compelling we need to patiently dole it out in age-focused chunks, or is the work of a ten-year-old somehow more conceptually sound in terms of publicity and press than that of an artist with a more indeterminate age? What are we really buying here? And the big question: why is it important to note that she's the youngest professional
when it's not a slam dunk that she'd enjoy that status were she my dentist's daughter? I remember being interviewed for 30 minutes for a New York Times
profile of Kitchen maybe two or three years ago, where I tried to make many of the same points, but nothing I said made the article. I was confused then, and I'm befuddled now. Alexa Kitchen clearly isn't a comics Mozart, and I'm not certain why we should care what's she doing until the work itself connects in a profound way beyond the press release. I sincerely hope that Alexa Kitchen becomes the greatest cartoonist in the world. We need as many great cartoonists as we can get. I'd also like to connect these books to something of actual interest.