Monday, September 27, 2010

Kids, Comics, and Saving The World

There's been a lot of talk of Kids Comics lately. Between twitter rants, forum topics, podcasts and even big time hollywood magazine interviews, everyone seems to have an idea of what is wrong with comics and why kids aren't reading them. Instead of going on a 35 tweet blast that annoys the heck out of everyone because you have to read it like some sort of Memento tattoo game, I'll post a quick blog about it. 

The most popular complaint seems to be that not enough comics are made for kids. I have to disagree with this thought. There may not be a ton of comics made SPECIFICALLY for kids, but I think that a good majority of comics are very close to kid friendly. In fact, I've been drawing comics for Marvel going on 10 years now and every single comic I've drawn can be read by most ages. Of the Spider-Man, Human Torch, Venom, New Warriors, X-Men, Runaways, Monster of Frankenstein, and Oz books, only one of those titles is aimed directly at kids. That's 10 years worth of monthly comics that almost any kid could read, only one being called a "kid comic." 

What is a kid comic? Did we grow up on "kid" comics?  Who knows? I think we grew up with comics that could be read by anyone. I got started reading comics when Image started. I was 13-14 years old and seeing bodies ripped apart and child molesters getting murdered in the pages of Spawn. Funny thing is, I could buy those at Toys R Us. Was that material meant for kids? Again, i don't know. But I was a kid, I read it, and I loved it. I could name 50 other books that rode that line and at the end of the day, I was reading. I was learning and discovering and learning that i may be able to do something with my "doodling". Some people think that violence in comics isn't what is needed to get kids to get off the X-Box and pick up a comic. I say that those people don't really know what kids are playing on their X-Box. If anything our comics are way too tame for them. We all have grand ideas about how to make the perfect comics for kids. I say they already exist.

What's my point? Well, I don't think it's a matter of what comics are made for kids, but rather the kids... no, the PARENTS not knowing where to get them. Non comic reading parents don't know that comic shops exist. If you live where I live, comic shops barely exist at all. My nephew is 5. For the last 3 years he refused to wear anything that didn't have either Spider-Man or Batman on it. From his shirt to his shoes, he was sporting comic book gear. But my sister didn't know where to get him comic books. For all she knows, Spider-Man was created to be on a shirt, not in a book. Now, I know, that's an extreme case. But it's just an example.

This is a debate that can go on and on. The beauty of having a blog is I can state my opinion, walk away and never have to actually debate anyone...haha. I love blogs. I for one think that there are plenty of books out there for kids, wether their made for them directly or they're safe for them to read. All we can do is make comics and try to get them into the hands of new readers, young and old. A few friends have mentioned GIVE A KID A COMICS DAY and are in the middle of trying to organize that. Some have suggested books to their kids school libraries. These are the things that need to be done. It's easy for us to spread the word on Twitter, Blogs, Forums, etc. but if we want kids to get into reading comics... let's put down the keyboard, sign off of twitter, and show kids where they are. 

I will be driving over the local Library later today and donating 50 trade paperbacks. None are kids books, but all can be read by kids. What are you going to do?


Blake Sauner said...

Exactly, spot on. I totally agree with your observation that people don't have a clue what games kids are playing, how tame print stuff is in comparison, and also, that comic shops exist.

There were no black plastic pieces covering the shelves in bookstores where the Spawn comics were displayed, but I'm pretty sure violator tearing out hearts was a bit more graphic than a pair of breasts on the cover of the Playboy down the aisle....

I think it also has to do with sensationalist journalism and reporting that so many people are guilty of, fact checking and research only seem to go as deep as the first page of a Google search nowadays.

Sad, especially when people are trying to break down and speculate on subcultures and topics they last bothered to be involved in, in the slightest, probably more than 20+ years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. And my twitter feed is happy you didn't tattoo it across 50 tweets. ;)

Looking forward to the OGN, hope it's still going strong!

Tanoshiboy said...

I totally agree. I moved last year and had a giant box of comics that could be read by kids so I donated them to kids in the neighborhood. I got kudos from the kids and their families and felt good about spreading the word on comics. "Give a kid a comic book" initiative would be great and I have to commend bot DC and Marvel for their all ages books. And this might seem weird, but I think shows like Super Hero Squad really help kids get into these characters. I saw some kids over the weekend playing the video game version and they didn't know who Thor was, so i schooled them on all the major characters and explained what S.H.I.E.L.D. was since they didn't recognize the logo as one belonging to the bad guys. It was the one time my geekiness came in handy and didn't make me look like a nerd. :D

Tanoshiboy said...

I meant "good guys" on the SHIELD thingee.

Brian Denham said...

I agree with you completely.

Some of the people griping about this recently seem to only be focused on the efforts of Marvel and DC. But there are a lot of other comics being published with kids as the sole focus. These critics just need to open their eyes to the efforts of other companies in comics. Bone has sold millions already. Mouse Guard is getting there. There are others and manga. Look at the kids area at B&N.

I think to many people a "kids comic" is one that can only be read by children from ages 5-8. By the time they hit 8 most kids are able to read novels and may get bored of comics aimed at "kids."

I think the efforts of 75 years of comics publishing are available for a quarter at most used book and comic shops. There is work out there and good work that can sustain these kids for the 3 years of early reading. After that they want work of more substance.

-EM- said...

I agree with your statements on this subject. However in my town alot of the comic book shops only seem to be populated by people my age and older, and perhaps even a few years behind me.
It seems quite rare to actually SEE a kid in the comic shop these days here, but if you go into game stop or gamers your have to use a shovel just to get through them.
I dont want to say all cities, because i havent been to that many, but the general area where i live, it seems the kids are no longer interested in comics.

I mean i guess to them it's like why read X-Men when we can watch it on tv, or play the game? and that in a way sorta kills my motivation to try and shoot to be a comic artist or cover artist. however at the end of the day i know people our age will buy them, especially other artists.

I just hope the comic shops around here dont decide to just up and leave because of this, that would make me sad. I still hope to actually get better and perhaps one day make my own book, but i would like to be able to pick it up at the local shop and perhaps even attend free comic book day there.

Bottom line....parents need to step in and see what the kids are into these days, you don't know how many people i know where their 8 year old is playing grand theft auto....tis sad. (on a side note cool drawing)

Justin Castaneda said...

Have you heard about this:

Anonymous said...

I'm a high school English teacher who's been working for the past two years to build a graphic novel lending library in my classroom, so I'm always thinking about what types of comics are going to engage young readers. I can tell you that my students are absolutely indiscriminate when it comes to what comics they read- the two most popular comics in my collection right now are Marvel's Essential Godzilla trade and Art Spiegelman's Maus. HUGE difference there between the two books.

Mr. Young, I'm not a big commenter on blogs but I really enjoyed reading your perspective here!

Philip Rodrigues said...

Hey Scottie, interesting take on why Kids aren’t reading comic books. I agree that kids are more interested in playing video game than reading comics, but I also want to add to your thought, that the comic franchises is over saturating the Film, Television and video game industry allowing kids to get their comic book fix from other outlets. I believe that why it suffering back in day comic books where less in the mainstream.

J. L. Bell said...

In children's book publishing, companies and stores have many levels of books for kids, from simple picture books and board books for the youngest, through older picture books, early readers, “chapter books,” “middle-grade” novels, and “tween” books up to “YA,” which now overlaps with adult fiction.

The comics you describe reading at around the golden age of twelve (also the first time I read comics in quantity) would probably correspond to the “middle-grade” and “tween” categories for novels. When people talk about “kids’ comics,” though, I think they’re talking about titles for younger kids, maybe aged five to ten. Those kids do have different reading and maturity levels. Perhaps one obstacle in this industry discussion is defining the terms.

I’ve had no trouble supplying the younger kids I know with comics appropriate for their reading and maturity levels. There are good “all ages” comics being published: Bone, various Oz comics, G-Man, and TOON Books for younger kids. (All of which I of course read before passing on.) But in addition, DC and Marvel’s pervasive nostalgia means there are lots of reprints of stories originally written with kids and the Comics Code Authority in mind. Too bad no one gets royalties on those.

Richard said...

I started reading Transformer comics in the fifth grade because my fifth grade teacher noticed I had good reading comprehension, but I was a slow reader. At nearly 33 I am a 3rd year seminary student with more to read than anyone reading this blog wants to think about. I love comics. They got me into Graphic Design in undergrad, and I think they are an untapped resource for ministry. There just aren't any C.S. Lewis types to write comics kids can get into that hook parents to keep thinking about them later.

In His Peace,

dave roman said...

I also read Spawn and other violent comics when I was that age. 13-14 isn't exactly a kid though. Anyone that age wouldn't consider themselves one.

Stephen Wacker said...

This is all very well said.

The wall I ran into editing the Justice League Adventures books back in the day was that is was hard to get kids (particularly little boys) to go near them because they looked "safe". I loved the book myself but I was 30 and not buying it.

My time as a parent has shown me that--for the most part--kids want to feel like they're getting away with something. And sometimes with kids comics we take that fun away by sanitizing a bit too much.

When it comes to comics for kids, I think that some people have gotten so used to talking about the problems in comics, they
can't see when something has been addressed. This is a wonderful time to be a young comic fan...and with the digital breakout on the horizon (if not already here), you're going to see a creative explosion. (In fact I'm copywriting "ComiXplosion" now).

I think kids are ready to come along for the ride.

-Steve Wacker

Anonymous said...

A lot of the conversation about kids' comics is about the content, the creators, the location of the purchase...but there's also a simple economic reality to comics. Comic books are three-four bucks each (more in Canada, plus tax)--whereas chapter books for kids are six-seven bucks these days, and frequently on sale through school programs. A lot of parents think twice about buying a comic book more than occasionally. Think about it--most grownups seriously think about which comics are getting their bucks anymore, and that's their own money. (I'm blanking--is it CBR that does a feature on which comics to buy if you only have $10/15/20 to spend?) Once DC stopped sending Ty comp copies of books, we couldn't afford to keep buying our kids copies of books they liked.

And when kids' comics have been collected into digests, it's a complete sticker shock for parents (not knowledgeable about GNs)to pick one up thinking it will be the same copy as an Archie digest ($5) and discover that it's $10-14.

But, these same parents will buy their kids manga GNs because "there's so many more pages!" Maybe the industry needs to start looking more at manga, which does have the kids' sales, and getting some ideas...

Katie said...

I co-own and operate Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. Our kids area is busting at the seems with quality comics for all ages. The selection goes way beyond MV/DC books too.
I also help organize Kids Read Comics (inspired by the Kids Comic Con).
And it seems that now would be a great time to invite Skottie Young and any other creators of kid friendly comics to our event next year. We are still narrowing down our date, but it will most certainly be in the first half of June 2011.
And thanks Skottie, for talking about this subject in a clear, concise and knowledgable manner.

Mr. Perez said...

I feel really fortunate to have grown up with comic books. My uncle used to collect when I was a kid in the 70's and he would constantly supply me with bags full of books that he no longer wanted. Great Marvel stuff like The Defenders, Power Man and Iron Fist, and Dr. Strange. It was through the vested interest of an adult who cared about me that first brought comic books to my door. They have stayed with me all through my young life and into my adulthood. I don't collect like I did when I was younger, the dispensable income has more or less been funneled into raising a family, but you can often find me and my five children, aged 7 to 14, at the public library in my home town. They have this fantastic wall of graphic novels and manga for all ages. Every trip to the library yields equal parts of chapterbooks and graphic novels. Aside from the library, "Free Comicbook Day" is one of the best things to happen for comics awareness. I look forward to it every year and as a teacher, actively endorse, talk up, and make a big fat deal about "Free Comicbook Day" with my highschool students. The titles offered are always a range of young to mature for different readers. I have often wondered, with the success of so many films based on various comics, why publishers have not come together to promote a comics awareness month? As always Skottie, thanks for the insight and the excellent stories.
Chris Perez

Neil said...

Perhaps what is needed in comics shops is instead of having a "kids" section (which is typically only a few titles), there should be a "mature reader" section. By doing that, it would imply that the rest of the titles in the shop are appropriate for all ages.

M Kitchen said...

My brother Blair (who creates the comic called THE POSSUM) stopped by a school to do a talk for the children and brought them some of his comics. They gathered around and asked excitedly "WHERE CAN WE GET THESE?" to which he replied "at a comic book store". Amazed and bewildered they said "YOU MEAN, THERE ARE STORES THAT SELL COMICS!?!?"

RAWLS said...


Anonymous said...

My six year old digs Owly. I dig Owly. (I know grandmothers that dig Owly)

Same for Tiny Titans.

Great 'kids' comics do already exist!!

Boyann said...

Marvellous missives to the exceptionally good blog entry.
My perspective..? Pardon my ignorance since I don't live in the USA and haven't had in my mits any new comicbook[s] but what's happened to the good ol' SUBSCRIPTION..?
They do offer magazine subscriptions, them comicbook publishers..? Don't they..?
In my European country there were no American comics anywhere, no comic shops, no nothing. So, my late poppa had some US$ and got me subscribed to some Warrens, Marvels plus graphic novel one-shots, MADs etc.
See, downloading things on iPad or iPhone isn't the only non-comicshop solution, I presume.

CONCLUSION? Let's spread the 'Offer the Subscription Service To Kids' message and support the printed comicbooks.
I hate to sound like a backward curmudgeon but the merry announcement that '... soon comics are going paperless' gave me creeps.

Now, to wrap this up with a quirky remembering: whilst my homeland was Yugoslavia and whilst it existed, it was a Communist land with existing comics publishing but official frowning upon from educational and cultural establishment. We kids knew that in France comics are an accepted high-brow thing and used to lap up what an old painter, respectful of comics, told us long time ago: 'I won't experience it but you, kids, shall see comics accepted into the cultural mainstream with grown-ups reading them... AND YOU'LL MISS THESE DAYS WHEN COMICS ARE RIDICULED AND CALLED IMMATURE CHILDREN'S GARBAGE'.

I dread to even contemplate that the old late painter was right...

Mollie said...

i have a book about manga comic books it's called come and check it out!