In his essay, “Hypocritical Theory,” in Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon opens with the provocative, “I hate Captain Underpants.” Yes, Chabon agrees the popular series written by Dav Pilkey is “lively, well crafted and snappily designed,” and if he was a kid, he’d probably love the books, too. Really, how could he not enjoy the two potty-minded fourth grade boys who invent Super Diaper Baby? What he hates is that the series has co-opted the gross humor that kids use, typically out of earshot of adults. “The original spirit of mockery has been completely inverted; it is now the adult world that mocks children, implicitly and profitably, speaking its old language, invoking its bygone secret pleasures,” writes Chabon.
Back in the days when we drank gallons of Tang and ran wild in the neighborhood like dogs without leashes, these books were called comic books. Now they’re graphic novels and have fancy covers and binding so they don’t fall apart. They’re still action-packed, with lots of sounds spelled out in capital letters and exclamation points (KLANG! OOF! SLAM! WHOOSH!). The plot usually involves the forces of good versus evil. My husband tells me graphic novels, unlike comic books, tend to involve humor.