Writers: Pat Shand, Mike Wolfer/Ken Siu-Chong
Artists: Eric Shanower/Omar Dogan
American Mythology/Udon, 2019
A GHOST NUDGED MY ARM while rifling stacks on Free Comic Book Day in 2019, couldn’t help it, I came home with Casper’s “Spooksville,” a reissue of CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, whom I formerly knew well from the age of diapers and jammies; and another action adventure for kids with cool art, Japanese style, STREET FIGHTER: SAKURA VS. KARIN, whom I knew not at all. Both strips exhibit high doses of moralizing.
Remember Casper always makes nice choices, while his pals lay out a range of other options all the way to outright bad-boy bullying. Sakura and Karin are from the Street Fighter video game, and come to life here to flesh out their characters and discover the dojo of gamer good conduct on our side of the screen. No, I mean this side. You mean your side? Today’s world of shifting screens appears to be about as mystical as ghosts and demons in magical dimensions, all amounting to your world and my world barely meeting to play.
Meeting in the flesh to compete is part of the story in Sakura vs. Karin, pictured here in bad-girl poses by artist Omar Dogan, showing his other stuff with these combat girls, who come out much more cartoonish in the comic I read, or different levels of cartoon. A good part of the action occurs with figures inside the video game.
The moral outcome prepared by writer Ken Siu-Chong is edifying, something like the temperance card in the tarot deck going topsy-turvy and eventually wobbling upright. Or maybe the reverse. Whatever the end result, a good part of the morals in both these strips for kids is evident along the way. For example, in both, smacking down bullies with hellfire is good. Even Casper laughed.
Yet Casper’s bad-boy buddy Spooky likes to scare people for fun. He is a bully, too. We put up with his vulgar disposition, and sometimes he is the tough guy you need. Casper is not too good to know him, rather, he is good enough to know him. Steadfast friends high and low help you get by; I guess I learned that in jammies.
In Street Fighter, over-the-top Sakura gives a different impression, driven to obsession as if devotion to excel makes it all right to lose sleep and make up for it with gallons of chemical energy drink. Jokes about coffee substitute for the only thing that really works—good old dexedrine in Casper’s day, now renamed and prescribed to a high percentage of youngsters to combat a supposed spread of attention deficit in a society that deserves none.
The Street Fighter game is the drug in plain sight here, disguised as a training engine to hone actual combat skills. Sakura and Karin are both tough martial arts fighters. The premise makes for great excitement, but also leaves a false impression that gaming can make you something other than what you are actually doing. Studies on killing show you need to fire a gun in a game to get good at firing a gun. Finger puzzles on a controller trains good fingers, maybe get a job typing code, or firing payloads from a drone, but it is not going to train your body to fight or to know how and when to defend.
Likewise, manipulating avatars feels like people skills, but it’s more like learning habits for command and control. Reality in the computer age gets as blurry as when reality was full of magic.
I remember something about those years in between, when I started to walk on my own, self-conscious, a little like Hot Stuff with capital letters, looking around for my special magic, something I could do just for me to show my special powers and feature large. The magic, I see now, may reside in capitalization itself, a motif, the same way one of the first sentences back then read, “See Spot run”; the spotted dog gets called Spot, the same way all the hegel in the universe a few centuries ago was collected to create Hegel, and all the terry became Terry, and the you became You.
This is the pregnant idea I inexplicably derived from these kids books: capitalization, declaring a name to bring a concept into existence, to collect a force, an identity, an awareness from existing parts already here. This is what we do for everything we know and for ourselves, too. All of these kiddy avatars I gradually recognized in myself, even the bad ones, as I learned and relearned their names.