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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/ 9/2009

The Morning Line: 'Full Frontal' Language--Ban the 'Boob'?

By Michael Cavna

Morning, Cartoon Nation...

The other day, 'Riffs highlighted a coupla "red-flag" words that can rankle comics editors, if not cause the surly beast that is Rabid Reader Fury to rouse, rear its head and spew all manner of foul, hot-breathed invective. (In our mind's-eye, this fury bears a striking resemblance to a liquored-up Jabba the Hutt. But we digress.)

Those two demon words, if you'll recall, are "sucks" and "butts." Or "butts" and "sucks." (Much like the BCS, it's tough to achieve consensus on which is No. 1 when rating these PG-rated contenders.) To that list, though, we should apparently add a word. Climbing the charts with a bullet, I am told, is a new upstart:


(That sound you hear is one of slack-jawed surprise. "Boobs"? Really?? Somewhere, even George Carlin would laugh in scorn.)

Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist who draws the rookie comic strip "FAMILY TREE" (about, fittingly enough, the Tree family), decided recently that her teen-girl character would suddenly, um, "develop." So in describing this sudden twist of puberty, Wilkinson used the term "boobs."

FAMILY TREE (WPWG) Enlarge Comic

Not so fast, came her syndicate's verdict, Signe says. "Boobs" is apparently one of those no-no words -- at least within a sexual content. (As opposed to, say, Frank calling Ernest a "boob," which seems to be acceptable, if not highly warranted.)

An acceptable synonym, Wilkinson says she was told, is "chest." Instead, though, Signe decided to make euphemisms her friend. All this week, she has unfurled such terms as "full frontal assets" (which, in its own way, sorta sounds vaguely more suggestive than "boobs").

For Signe, the language issues have come up before since launching her strip. "The bind it puts you in, as you well know, is that [on the comics page], we're living in the 1950s, before 'Gossip Girl' and all the stuff in the public media that we're allegedly competing with," Wilkinson says. "They're dealing with the lives of teenagers in a way that we're not allowed to."

The reasoning for PG-language restrictions, some syndicate editors say, is that cartoonists should not tick off newspaper editors unnecessarily. But, Wilkinson counters, "When you aren't doing it from the heart, how does it become real enough that anyone would want to look at it anyway?"

Besides, she says of terms such as "boobs": "I'm not going to 'South Park' territory here."

During the same week that Signe was referring to "frontal assets," coincidentally, the strip "ZITS" was able to use the word "breast." The apparent difference? The context was maternal.

ZITS (KFS) Enlarge Comic

Jerry Scott, the co-creator of "Zits," says of syndicate reaction to certain PG words: "Sure, they balk. I happen to think they're too balky, and we have spirited discussions at times. However, they didn't question 'suckling breast.'"

Scott, who also co-creates "Baby Blues," goes on to say: "Breast-feeding has been an integral part of 'Baby Blues' from the beginning, and we get almost nothing but praise for it. I believe in this case, it's a matter of handling the subject with as much dignity and respect and a comic strip can muster when dealing with a subject like boobs."

The "Zits" cartoonist clarifies: "We don't put naughty words -- words that normal people use in everyday conversation and on television 24 hours a day -- in the strips gratuitously. But there are times when no other choice but the right one will do."

Scott, though, does note one complaint: "Early on, we got a letter ... hollering about how breasts are not for children. Huh?"

By Michael Cavna  | January 9, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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Keep in mind, Zits once did a story arc where one of Jeremy's friend's mother has breast cancer. As he put it, "I'm the only guy who can say 'breast' without snickering." But "Family Tree"'s censorship is just nuts ... oh wait, that's another body part.

Posted by: drazen1 | January 9, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I just want to know where Connie Duncan finds those upward pointing bras.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 9, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Comic boob discussion without a Judge Parker reference?

Posted by: JkR- | January 9, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

...or Blondie for that matter

Posted by: JkR- | January 9, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Heh-heh. Michael said "boobs."

Posted by: tomtildrum | January 9, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

And this censorship is protecting whom? What child old enough to read doesn't already know what boobs are....

Posted by: tws1372 | January 9, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

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