Thirty-four years ago, Congress blamed certain comic books for the antisocial behavior of America's restless youth. Today, cartoons are inspiring movies, rock music and even adult fashion. Some new looks in casual wear tout the colorful, vibrant images of pulp literature, in sizes to fit grown-ups who still want to play superhero.
No doubt Batman is behind the trend. With the release of the movie just three weeks away, the image of the dark-caped crusader seems to be multiplying. On the lighter, and even sillier side, there's Betty Boop, Tweety Bird and Archie to choose from.
It started when a mystic-looking bat appeared on more than the usual number of T-shirts, lapel pins and lunch pails this spring. Now his sinister, yet strangely appealing, image is showing up on satin baseball jackets, men's vests and hipper-than-thou crop-tops, leggings and skimpy slip dresses.
The youth culture, particularly the rock 'n' roll faction, seems to think it has first dibs on the new, cartoon chic. Thanks in part to Slash, the lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses, who wears a Batman T-shirt on the group's "Appetite for Destruction" album. And thanks too to the softer-edged songster, Jon Bon Jovi, who displays his tribute to comic icons by wearing a Superman tattoo on his arm.
Such images are not lost on Tripp N.Y.C., a company that has been producing "rock 'n' roll you can wear" for more than 10 years. Recently, Tripp incorporated the Batman logo into tank tops, leggings, jackets and a minimal-coverage bustier dress. Designers Daang and Ray Goodman point out that bat-garb springs directly from rock 'n' roll dress styles.
"The look sold very well long before there was any mention of a movie coming out," Ray says. "Batman is baaaad, he's very rock 'n' roll. He's not just a comic book character, he's a life style."
According to the Goodmans, Tripp customers relate to Batman as a hero of the night. The company's main market is shoppers in their 20s who aren't at all interested in cartoon clothes as "kiddie fashion."
Ray explains: "Batman's not a childish concept. The person attracted to our designs is a kid at heart, but also an adult. The look is cute, but sexy." There's a sleek, confident tone to Tripp's snug-fitting, Lycra styles, that meshes perfectly with the streetwise buyer's self-image.
"Everyone wants to be a superhero; the clothes reflect that fantasy," Daang says. "And Lycra is the material of superheroes. It never wrinkles."
Grown-ups who would rather relive their younger years, spent watching "Looney Tunes" on Saturday morning TV, might prefer "Too Cute" cartoon clothes. This spring the company put Betty Boop, Fred Flintstone and Tweety Bird images on jeans, jackets and cut-offs.
Actress Roseanne Barr wears a Betty Boop jacket. Sylvester Stallone bought one of Tweety Bird boxing with Sylvester the cat. Brooke Shields, Bruce Springsteen and Debbie Gibson are other Too Cute consumers.
"The clothes let our customers live a fiction and escape being too serious," theorizes the line's designer, Patrick Guetta.
Terry Sahagen of the company adds: "We sell to everyone from children to 40-year-olds." She believes that old-time 'toons and their slapstick associations are Too Cute's main attraction for adults.
"Betty Boop is the queen of our line. People are constantly saying, 'I'm addicted to her.' "
People drawn to Betty's childlike frivolity will wear her image and recall the playfulness of their past. Meanwhile, those who relate to Batman's dark world of heroes and villains are likely to dress like that campy street hero. But are these cartoon costumes likely to stay in fashion's active file after "Batman," the movie, is history?
Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman on "Batman," the '60s TV series, hazards a guess. "It's the attitude of the '90s," she purrs about the 'toon togs. "You get into the right costume and your soul goes into the character."