Being a fan of comic books (and an adult) I am constantly being asked the question, “Aren’t you a little old for that kind of thing?” Of course, that kind of thinking stems from the questioner’s own experiences with the comics of their youth and the abandonment of comics at some point in time for something more “grown up” like video games or sports.
But, the fact of the matter is that many people still judge comics and other items by whether or not they are “age appropriate”. This is definitely the case when it comes to comics for kids. There is no way you will ever catch a kid reading something that is “for little kids” (even if the kid is themselves little). Usually the judgement is based entirely on the appearance of the book, regardless of content.
Lou #1: Secret Diary looks like it should be for young readers. It is pink. The characters are cute, small, and look like they belong in an animated tv show. However, the story is actually more nuanced and the subject matter above the head of an 8 year old (about where I pegged the age appearance of this book).
“Meet Lou! She’s hardly your average 12 year old. Her handmade outfits are the talk of the school (even though they make the other girls laugh), and her homework gets a lot of attention from her teachers (even though it lands her in the shrink’s office). Home sweet home is an apartment she shares with her couch-potato mom and a cat named Cat. At least she can pour her heart out to her best friend, Mina, and scribble her dreams in her secret diary.
Now that she’s almost a teenager, Lou’s life is becoming even more interesting. Playing with dolls has lost its appeal and the boy across the street gets cuter every day. The new neighbor, Richard, just might be the perfect match for Lou’s mom. But will Lou or her mom ever pluck up their courage and actually talk to their crushes?”
I enjoyed the story. Instead of being laid out like an actual diary, each page was a single comic depicting one event in a single day. Each one was satisfying and complete in its own right. There was a combination of sight gags and wry humor that made each page a delight to read. Lou and her mom have a relationship unlike any other in comics (or other media for that matter). She deals with real ‘tween problems with grace and humor that make her a truly enjoyable character. But I kept being distracted by the art.
The art was just too damn cute for this comic. Tweens are not cute. Their lives are not cute. Their friends are not cute. It is an awkward age full of awkward moments. So, to see it all laid out with cute characters who really deserve some singing birds or animated squirrels flittering around the background just strikes an off chord.
I asked DJ, out twelve year old reviewer, her first impression of the book. She took one look at it and said that she thought it would be something for her little sister. She didn’t even bother to read it. I showed it to her nine year-old sister who immediately grabbed it because it was cute and pink. But when she actually sat down to read the story it was a bit over her head. She could follow the big beats, but she didn’t get most of the humor or quiet moments.
Wildly popular in France, Lou has spawned several volumes of books as well as an award-winning animated show. Hopefully people in the States will find a way to look past the cutesy art and find the delightful tween underneath.