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.