Christmas Toy Tie-ins:
Barbie Fashion #6
I never thought I'd be recommending a Barbie comic, but...
"Ability”, “Be A Sport”, and “Culture Cat”
Writer – Lisa Trusiana
Penciler – James Brock
Inkers – John Lucas and Roy Richardson
Letterers – Janice Chaing, Chris Eliopoulos, and George Roberts
Colorists – Ed Lazellari, Sarra Mossoff, and Mike Worley
Editor – Fabian Nicieza
Editor-in-Chief – Tom DeFalco
The idea for the first Barbie doll came from two sources. Child’s play was the first and the second was a German comic strip character. Ruth Handler, wife of Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler, noticed that their daughter would occasionally give her dolls adult roles when playing with them.
On a trip through Europe in 1959, Ruth found a German toy called Bild Lilli, an adult female doll based on a popular newspaper comic strip called Lilli. The Bild Lilli doll was originally sold to adults but became popular with kids who loved dressing her up in clothes sold separately. Ruth bought three of the dolls, gave one to Barbara and took the second to engineer Jack Ryan (NOT the Tom Clancy character) to retool.
The result was a doll called Barbie that Mattel introduced at the American International Toy Fair in March of 1959.
The first Barbie wore a zebra striped one-piece swim suit and came in blonde or brunette versions. The Bild-Lilli people were not happy, to say the least, but after a few lawsuits and an out-of-court settlement, Barbie purchased her place on store shelves.
Since then the doll has had numerous retoolings, including changes to hair, eyes, chest size, and waist. Accessories ranging from designer clothes, to animal and human companions, cars, and huge dream houses. She’s sold in 150 countries worldwide, at a steady clip of three per second according to Mattel executives in 2006, amassing an astounding billion sold. Sort of like the McDonalds hamburgers of dolls.
I’m going to throw out a link to Never Grow Up’s page for some other Barbie projects and product lines I don’t have space to cover here.
Barbie hasn't always had an easy go of it. She’s found controversy too. Like when a 1992 speaking version of the doll called Teen Talk Barbie had the audacity to utter the phrase “Math class is tough!” (often misquoted as “Math is hard!”) leading to criticism from the American Association of University Women and resounding condemnation nationwide.
As for her fictional background, Random House published a series of novels in the1960 that gave her full name as Barbara Millicent Roberts, born in the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin to George and Margaret. She attended a local high school and had an off-again/on-again romance with boyfriend Ken Carson.
Also appearing in these stories was a 1964 addition to the line, a younger sister sibling for Barbie named Skipper. Created along-side a best friend doll named Midge Hadley, Skipper helped Barbie avoid claims that she was some kind of sex symbol by rounding out a family that she had to babysit. Since then, she’s matured to the level of early teens and hung out with celebrity friends Jimmy Osmond, Kristy McNichol and Mary-Kate and Ashely Olsen.
I mention Skipper specifically because a large majority of this book follows her adventures.
Barbie got her own series of comic book adventures in a short lived five issue series of books Barbie and Ken put out by Dell books way back in 1962. The covers were photos of the actual dolls posing in various outfits. Marvel got a chance at the property in January of 1991 Barbie (63 issues) and Barbie Fashion (53 issues) were both released simultaneously. A two-issue Halloween special came out in 1993 and a one-shot Barbie and Baby Sister Kelly book saw release in 1995.
But here we are back in 1991 with the first two of Marvel’s attempts at a title already going one issue better than Dell ever got. This book is an anthology format with one writer and penciller for all the stories and several inkers, colorists and letterers. There are three stories and one “Craft Shop” page and, since it is almost time to finish wrapping all those goodies, I’ll start with that one pager.
Here Barbie shows us how to make a fun, seasonal wrapping paper. The fact that the book includes this earns all kinds of weird pluses from me. I’m a fan of Tasty, Crafty, and a long subscriber to The Family Handyman, so I love little do-it-yourself projects. And this one seems seasonally appropriate. Even though it comes after two stories, I’ve thrown it up first to raise your expectations of the title.
I think you’ll find it will meet them.
The first real story is called Ability and concerns Barbie’s sister Skipper. She’s chatting with Bob about the rules for the class nature hunt that is to take place tomorrow.
Skipper tells Bob that the teacher paired her with the new girl, who they will meet next panel. It turns out that Angela is disabled and needs a wheelchair to get around. However, she is also smart with a very positive outlook on things.
This turn of events prompts Bob to be a bit of a judgmental jerkwad.
And Bob’s doubt makes Skipper question her chances when she wasn’t just a few moments before.
The next morning, Barbie notices Skipper picking at breakfast dejectedly.
Barbie gets the scoop about Skipper’s partner in the class project, and how Skipper is coming to terms with losing before the contest even starts. Barbie gives her sister just the right encouragement.
At school, the contest starts with this befuddling clue…
… which has Angela off like a shot. Skipper has to try hard to catch up with her teammate, who already has figured out the first riddle.
In the true spirit of teamwork, Skipper figures out the second clue and races alongside her partner to the next stop…
…the mums in a classroom's windowsill…
…however, the next challenge proves a true test for these two’s intellect, as Angela can’t make it to the frog pond.
Due to Angela’s ingenuity, the team can work together, even when Angela isn’t right beside Skipper.
And sure enough, Angela provides the final answer that allows the girls to win the contest. Bob, of course, doesn’t understand how they could have won. Because Bob is a judgmental asshole. Don’t be like Bob.
But Angela is a pretty amazing chick, even to pricks like Bob. For their prize the girls get to got a rock concert and they take short-bus Bob with them even.
Okay, I’m surprised I liked this as much as I did. The art is clean, like most of Marvel’s younger kid books and I find it appealing. The story is a morality tale, but I like the vibe the book is putting out which is wholesome, positive and uplifting. I can see how this thing went three years with content like this.
Let’s move on to story number two, another Skipper centric tale called Be A Sport. In it, we find the Skipper and friend Courtney don’t want to waste time going to school.
As Skipper goes to grab a donut, Barbie notices that girls seem really unmotivated…
…so Barbie has an idea.
She gets the pair the day off from school so they can spend it being fashion models with her for the day. Child labor laws be damned, and all.
The two girls are ecstatic, even though they quickly learn that being a fashion model means making some sacrifices in diet…
…and in your time not being your own. The girls believe that being a model means not just going to lots of parties, but it is also lots of hard work. Today they are modeling sportwear. Skipper still thinks she’d rather be hitting tennis balls than hitting the books…
…but a few hours doing the same strenuous exercises over and over again wear the teenagers down to the point of Skipper confiding to Courtney that modeling is hard. Let’s see someone put that in a Talking Teen Barbie’s list of pull string comments.
And they pair also start to learn that there are things taught in school that are useful later on in life. Like biology terms and French.
Just like that, the lightbulbs go off in the teens’ heads and they ASK to go back to school. Barbie’s plan was a complete success.
Alright, the book is two for two. By this point I was handily surprised to find myself reading a Barbie comic and loving it. I liked the morality tale structure and that the characters learned life lessons I’d agree with teaching my own kids.
Let’s plow on to the third and final tale, the only one to not feature Skipper, a little ditty called Culture Cat.
Barbie is visiting her friend Midge, who has taken up painting as a hobby. Unfortunately, she isn’t very good yet and she’s asking Barbie for her honest opinion. So how does Barbie tell her that her work is no good. Nice setup and I’m interested in seeing how this resolves itself.
Maybe it’s just the subject matter of said painting? Barbie asks what else Midge has, but all she has is lots and lots of…
Barbie skates around the moral thin ice of brutal honesty, but she feels Midge’s paintings may have a hard time finding buyers.
And that could be a bad thing, since Midge has a professional artist coming by to pick up paintings for a charity auction.
As if on cue, Barbie’s dog shows up and starts play a game of tag with Suzette…
…right into the paints and paintings. The pair is able to get the mutt and feline under control, but only after they’ve splattered all of Midge’s inventory.
And wouldn’t you know it? Right then is when Jacques Louis chooses to make his appearance. Midge is beside herself.
But Barbie takes a hopeful outlook on the situation, which is exactly the right tone because Jacques Louis believes the paintings are masterpieces.
And we end with animals sharing a look that means they knew exactly what they were doing. Cute tale.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be endorsing a book series like Barbie Fashion, but this is truly great stuff. It’s fun, has a nice moral lesson or two and most important, is told in an enjoyable way. I thought these would be sort of empty-headed tales and they turned that on it’s ear with some clever plotting and decent writing. I’m giving the Barbie Fashion line a heavy endorsement and I’ll be looking for copies of it and the regular Barbie series when I bin dive. These look like perfect books to share with young girls who like My Little Pony or DC SuperHero Girls but are looking for something different.
As for now, Barbie faces competitive market forces from the more ethnically diverse Bratz dolls, DC’s SuperHero Girls dolls and the horror themed Monster Girls dolls. With that competition the time appears to be ripe for her to reenter the world of comics as Papercutz has begun a new series of Barbie adventures with a handful of one shots each year. Time will tell how her popularity will fair, as given the increasing buying power of the female market, it is truly anyone’s guess.
I hope she does well. As a symbol of a woman who can do all the things: fashion model, dog groomer, pilot, big sister, doctor and astronaut among others, I want her out there serving as a role model for future generations.