28 September 2010

What Do We Mean by “Kids’ Comics”?

Yesterday Marvel-Oz artist Skottie Young wrote about the supposed lack of comics for young readers:

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."
Young’s next paragraph reveals that his perspective comes from having started to read comics in bulk in his early teens—i.e., “kids” start at the golden age of twelve. There’s much more of a continuum in mainstream American comics between books for teens and those for adult readers, with more sex and profanity in the books for adults and a lot of violence everywhere.

I think the “kids’ comics” people are talking about are meant for pre-teens. There are significant differences in reading level, maturity, and interests between those young readers and their teenaged siblings, as prose-book publishers and retailers have acknowledged.

Nevertheless, Young is correct that there are many comics being published for the younger group: Bone, G-Man, Mouse Guard, all the Oz comics from Young and Eric Shanower, the TOON titles, Amulet, Amelia Rules!, and so on. The problem for the comics-publishing industry, especially the “big two” of DC and Marvel, is that they aren’t doing most of that publishing, or the most successful parts.

Except in one area: DC and Marvel’s reprints are big hits with the kids I know, as well as the companies’ main products for sales outside of comics stores. In the 1940s through the 1970s, the companies saw kids as a big part—maybe the better part—of their audience. For most of that time they also hewed to the Comics Code Authority on subject matter. Yes, those stories reflect the sexism, racism, and classism of their times, so we have to read with care, and finding non-white characters is next to impossible. But there’s a huge supply of material.

DC’s new Editor-in-Chief comes from the company’s Collected Editions department, which is where the growth has been in recent years. (He was also Editor-in-Chief at Marvel in the late 1990s.) That could presage more attention from the company to collections and sales outside of comics stores.

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