Category Archives: kids
Won’t somebody please think of the children?
It doesn’t take much sleuthing on comic book store shelves to see that not many of those high-profile periodicals are geared towards kids. Nah. Superheroes, these days, seem to live in stories for thirty and forty year-old boys. Why, I remember sitting in a comic book convention panel a number of years ago where a prominent industry creator lamented the fact that once upon a time, decades ago, Superboy regularly sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies – something that title can no longer accomplish.
Every Wednesday (new comic book release day) leaves many wondering, “won’t someone think of the children?”
Well, last week, we did. And this week, we’re thinking of them again. In an itty, bitty way. And quite Hellishly.
BiffBamPop is not without affection for Wolverine. Canadian, opinionated, possessed of undeniable magnetism — it’s safe to say we feel a kinship. And the X-Men always give readers lots to enjoy. And part of the X-Men’s appeal has always been how easy it is for high schoolers to relate to them.
Wolverine went back to school in the first collection of Wolverine and the X-Men, as the founder and headmaster of the newly-opened Jean Grey School for Exceptional Youngsters, on the site of the old Xavier School. With the undeniable resources of the cream of the X-Men as instructors and staff (Iceman the accountant, Kitty Pryde as Vice-Headmaster, Beast as science teacher, Rachel “Phoenix II” Summers/Gray as telepathic instructor), hundreds of years’ worth of his own life savings, and the “Angel” Worthington fortune, it looked like things might just go their way.
Writer Jason Aaron knows that he can’t let things get too easy, though.
This week in The Comic Stop, I’ve got two titles that are about as opposite as you can get. One is for kids, the other a horror comic you wouldn’t want anywhere near your child. What both books have in common, though, is the ability to bring out the best in the comics medium within their respective genres. Read on:
Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Just For Adults – But Are Any Kids Reading Them? Part 2 of 2 By Andy Burns
Check out part 1 of this 2 part series here, which introduced us to Dani, her 9 year old daughter Jaiden, and Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski. And now, on to part 2.
With many Toronto comic book shops littered with an overstock of books, action figures, and dust, Comics and More, located at Danforth and Greenwood, is a welcome change. It’s immaculately clean. Sturdy bookshelves hold hundreds of graphic novels; a few choice action figures line the walls, while the back of the store features that week’s latest issues. There’s also a section devoted to comic books for kids. The day I’m in to talk with owner Rob Charpentier, a mother and her son are at the back looking through the shelf. It’s something he’s seeing more and more of every day.
“A lot of my customers are bringing their kids in here and saying ‘here’s what I like,’” says Charpentier. “It’s such a thrill seeing a little 5 year old screaming out ‘Batman! Superman!’”
Luckily for the industry and Chapentier’s own business, it’s not just comic book veterans and their kids walking through the Comics and More doors. But with new customers coming in everyday, Charpentier wanted to make sure it was clear that some comics were designed for certain audiences.
“We’re getting a lot of parents that aren’t comic readers themselves,” says the 22 year veteran of the comic retail industry. “They’re coming in and saying ‘my son’s friends all read these comics, what do I get him?’ So we had to separate [the titles] and say these are the kid appropriate ones. The last thing you need is some parent getting upset about their kid seeing something they didn’t want them to see because they didn’t have time to flip through.“
Charpentier heaps praise upon Marvel and DC for their attempts to put comics back into the hands of kids. Echoing C.B. Cebulski’s thoughts, he says “The Marvel Adventures line of books is not specifically a kid’s book; it’s like an all ages book. If you’re familiar with the Marvel Universe you get it on another level, but kids are just seeing cartoony characters doing silly things. There’s lots of colour, there’s lots of action, but the stories don’t drag on for years and years.”
Still, with an emphasis on massive crossovers and decade’s worth of backstory in the adult titles that form the vast majority of each company’s product, there are concerns that Marvel and DC may not be doing enough to build the next generation of comic readers.
“[Comics today] are so bogged down in continuity that unless you come in every week for years, you’re totally lost,” Charpentier claims. “They don’t seem to be going out of their way to appeal to the mass market, to the person who comes in off the street. There’s too fine a line between the kid books and the adult books. I don’t know if there’s going to be a natural progression where you read one and want to get into the other.”
Bridging that gap is something that C.B. Cebulski and the rest of Marvel are keenly aware of.
“We have comics for kids and then the Marvel Universe, but there’s that step that’s missing and that’s what we’re trying to tackle now,“ says Cebulski. “What’s going to carry them over? And we’re starting with trade paperback programs and lowering the prices and pushing them more towards kids. And that’s the next step.”
Sitting in the back of her mother’s flower shop, Dani Elwell’s daughter Jaiden is showing me some of the comic inspired art she’s created while explaining exactly what it is she likes about comic books so much.
“They’re different then a book,” says the affable 9-year old. “It’s easier for you to read and imagine things”.
Meanwhile, as retailers and publishers alike strive to sell more kids on the virtues of mutants, radioactive spiders, and kryptonite, this year Jaiden found her own way of introducing comics to the next generation of readers.
“I had my own comic book club at school,” says Jaiden. “We did a ‘zine. We played charades, and we played games to guess who was better, DC or Marvel.”
That’s a game that comic book fans have been playing for decades, and one the next generation might be ready to try answering themselves.
Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Just For Adults – But Are Any Kids Reading Them? Part 1 of 2 by Andy Burns
It was a cold Sunday afternoon in February when Dani Elwell walked into the small room in the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where a group of comic book collectors had gathered to sell, mingle, and haggle. Elwell, a flower shop owner and Toronto radio personality, wasn’t brought there by her own longtime love of Spider-Man or Batman, or any other of the iconic comic characters whose exploits have been a part of our culture for the better part of 7 decades. Rather, she was there for her daughter, 9-year old Jaiden, who having recently discovered comic books had become a fan of one of the Caped Crusader’s arch villains, Poison Ivy.
As mother and daughter made their way through the throng of people, navigating the narrow aisles bordered by graphic novels, premium “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” back issues, and the odd toy or shirt vendor, a few things became noticeable. First, but perhaps least surprising, the vendors and the clientele were mainly male, many of whom bore more than passing resemblance to one of the more recognizable television characters of the past two decades.
“Everyone looked like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons,” says Elwell.
But perhaps more alarming than the cartoon caricatures that seemed to populate the convention was the fact that, as Dani and Jaiden walked around the room, it quickly became evident that there was very little on display that would appeal to younger comic book readers. The room, and the contents of it, was clearly designed for a more adult audience.
“Even when we went to go and buy a t-shirt, all they had were extra large sizes in men’s,” says Elwell. “I was surprised.”
The dynamic duo’s experience highlights what has become a growing concern within the comic book world, for both retailers and publishers alike. In the wake of the success of adult oriented comics like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the past 20 years have seen an increasing level of sophistication find its way into the mainstream publications of industry leaders Marvel Comics and DC. For those that have grown up on books like Uncanny X-Men or Avengers, including this writer, the use of adult themes and imagery has kept them reading. But the cost could very well be the future of the industry.
A few weeks after Dani and Jaiden’s comic convention experience, I’m sitting in a New York City pub called The Dublin House. Across from me is C.B. Cebulski, a former Marvel Comics editor and now freelance writer and consultant for the company. Cebulski has made his name in part because of his kid friendly storytelling in such Marvel books as Spider-Man Fairy Tales, and X-Men Fairy Tales. He also has a knack for discovering up and coming artists. With his background, Cebulski knows better than most that for the comic book industry to continue, it has to reconnect with a younger audience, one that doesn’t necessarily care about years of complex continuity or character development.
“We tried so long to get out of the stigma that comics aren’t just for kids”, says Cebulski. “Our whole thing has changed now. People think that comics are for adults. Now we’re trying to get kids back into comics. We’re trying to convince people, especially after (2008’s film) ”The Dark Knight”, which took a different turn with all the dark superheroes out there, that there are still bright spots out there for comics for kids.”
Those bright spots come in the form of monthly comics designed for younger readers. Titles such as the Marvel Adventures line and DC’s Tiny Titans put iconic character likes Spider-Man, Captain America, Robin, and Kid Flash in easily accessible, stand alone stories, filled with humour, bright, oftentimes exaggerated art, with none of the confusing soap opera continuity of their adult counterparts. Still, according to Cebulski, even kid friendly books have an older audience in mind.
“When we’re creating comics ‘for kids’, we’re not making them specifically for kids. We’re selling them to the parents of kids. Parents are so involved these days, it’s a different generation. When I was growing up I used to read anything that was lying around. If it was a comic, it was for kids. My parents didn’t know how adult the themes in X-Men were. Now parents check everything their kids read.”
But even with publishers in agreement that getting comics into the hands of kids is a priority, are any actually reading them?
Check back for part 2 tomorrow!
A friend of mine posted a note on Facebook today describing her young daughter’s first adventures at a comic book convention held at the Toronto Convention Centre this past weekend. Unlike the larger Hobby Star Fan Expo, which is a three day staple held towards the end of the summer, this particular gathering was a far smaller affair, taking up but one smallish room in the North Building of the centre. My friend commented on the lack of children seen at the convention, and wondered what the industry could do to connect with the next generation readers. Posters in schools? Advertising from stations that air animated series like “Wolverine and the X-Men” or “The Spectacular Spider-Man”?
These were all great ideas, and helped highlight a concern that has come up in my own brain over the last few months. Just how kid friendly is the comic book industry in the new millennium? Judged solely on some of the books I read regularly, I’d say parents might think twice before letting their kids pick up the latest adventures of some of comic’s most enduring characters. Take the Avengers, for instance. From a storytelling point of view, writer Brian Michael Bendis is a master craftsman, weaving characters and concepts together to form a rich tapestry that hasn’t been seen since the days of the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. However, books like the New Avengers are full of swearing and sexual innuendo. As a guy in his 30’s, it works just fine for me, but I’m not sure I would feel comfortable handing a pre-teen a copy of the book for their reading pleasure. Which could be problematic, since it was the pre-teen Andy B that first got hooked on comics in the first place. I’m sure I’m not alone on that either.
That doesn’t mean Brian Michael Bendis can’t write for the kid set. His amazing (and if the rumours are true, soon to be ending) run on Ultimate Spider-Man, a continuity free book set in the “Ultimate” universe, is as entertaining for the youngsters as it is for this grizzled comic book veteran. The series was by design an accessible way for kids to start reading a baggage free but familiar teenage Spider-Man who just receives his powers. But on the flip side of this is The Ultimates, featuring familiar characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor set in the same “Ultimate” world. Unlike both Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, creators Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch wove The Ultimates as a darker and more violent book, hugely entertaining but far from what one would consider kid friendly. Of course, it’s a parents discretion what their kids are reading, but its problematic to think a child’s exposure to what is a mainstream form of art may be limited because of some of the concepts or content.
While mainstream Marvel comic books are clearly designed for an older audience, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some solid books out there that kids and adults can’t enjoy equally. While at the previously mentioned comic book convention this past weekend I picked up the two Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane hard cover collections, which is a kid friendly book that focuses on a teenage Mary Jane Watson and her infatuation with the mysterious Spider-Man, as written by Sean McKeever and Toronto artist Takeshi Miyazawa. There are love triangles, teenage angst, and a healthy dose of comedy. The book is pretty much like the O.C. or 90210 for comics, minus the sex and way more skillfully written. I spent a Sunday afternoon curled up on the couch reading a comic book that was free of violence or swearing and I was captivated.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is the sort of book a parent could easily hand their kids to read to give them a taste of the Marvel Universe, tiding them over for a few years until they’re ready for Civil Wars, World War Hulks and Secret Invasions.