My thesis was on the aesthetic modes employed in children’s media, specifically on the “cute” and the “grotesque”—what they are, what they make us feel, and what it means to present them together. In analyzing two texts dear to my heart, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Jim Henson’s Muppets, I got to approach the question via a conversation about medium, too: what do animation and puppetry do to us as viewers, and how do they inform the conversations about childhood these texts present to us?
Most of all, I wanted to understand what the art made for children might say about children and the complexity of what we call “growing up.” But as any “grown-up” fan of children’s media knows, the art doesn’t stop speaking to us just because we surpass a certain age. So maybe my real motivating question was more personal: what excites and inspires me about the art intended for children? And why do I think adults should return to it?
Eventually, I got around to the idea that these texts offer us, even (or especially) as adults, an important opportunity: the chance to “play pretend.” They ask us to believe in them. And in doing so, they might teach us how to believe in others—however joyous or violent that experience might be.
(All this being said, it’s not completely essential to know these characters to understand my comic, but one helpful tidbit if you’re unfamiliar with Spirited Away is that No Face is mute… that is, until he swallows someone whole, allowing him to use their voice. Hope that helps!)