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When cartoonist Linnéa Johansson’s 3-year-old son Caspian came home after a particularly trying day at preschool, fighting to hold back tears, she was surprised to hear his reason for refusing to cry.
“I said to him, ‘Why don’t you want to cry?’ and he replied, ‘Because Spider-Man doesn’t cry,’” said Johansson, a mother of two. “It’s a strange phenomenon that kids, who are so emotional and sensitive have to relate to these shallow role models.”
So Johansson, who lives in Norway with her family, decided to create a more sensitive superhero for her son. One drawing of Spider-Man turned into a coloring book for children, showing everything from Batman baking cookies to Superman crying over a dropped ice cream cone.
“For boys, the role models are violent and aggressive,” Johansson said. “It seems the only emotions they are allowed to show are either neutral or angry.”
Johansson’s coloring book, “Super-Soft Heroes,” is available for free through her website (she has no ownership of the licensed characters she illustrates). Johansson says she is grateful for the opportunity to spread her message to kids all over the world.
Among the images are a baby-wearing Batman and Superman snuggling a baby kitten, all designed by Johansson as a humorous way to make people stop and ask questions about the gender roles our society presents to kids.
“This is a coloring book with a purpose…it has not been created with an intention to sell products to children, but to make them laugh. I want to show them that strong men should have warm hearts, and that women should be able to decide for themselves. To be vulnerable is actually a strength and to be different is not only OK, it’s a gift because it brings diversity and new perspectives to things,” Johansson told TODAY.
Johansson says that while she speaks six languages fluently, her favorite language is illustration and expressing thoughts through images.
Now that she’s tackled the behaviors of superheroes, the artist has set her sights on the girls – with images of Disney princesses showing their strength. In one image, Sleeping Beauty says “no” to the prince who tries to kiss her while she’s sleeping, while Cinderella tries her hand as a video gamer in another.
Johansson also says that after coloring her illustrations, her son has stopped holding back his tears. The artist hopes her work going viral will bring her more opportunities to speak out for kids who are trying to find their place in the world.
“Hopefully, I can make other kids, who like myself didn’t fit in, feel that they are free to be themselves and that they as individuals have value,” said Johansson.