As someone who spent the entire decade of the ’90s trying to convince comics industry players that kids liked to read comics — while editing comics featuring the world’s most popular characters, no less — I can only nod and smile tightly at Chris Butcher’s latest blog post. Butcher has mostly been on blogging hiatus of late but he comes back with a 40 megaton bomb on the recent retailer discussions about whether there are enough kids’ comics. The entire essay must be read in full, but Butcher’s main point is that what most retailers are asking for isn’t comics for kids, but comics that they read as kids:
I’ve seen this happen myself, and with both moms and dads and daughters and sons, when it comes to getting kids some comics. Sometimes it’s because the parent liked comics as a kid and wants to share that with their children, sometimes it’s because the teacher told them it’ll get them reading. Sometimes it’s just to keep them quiet on a long car ride or plane trip. But the only time I’ve ever encountered someone who wants to buy their kid a comic exactly like they read as a kid? Die-hard superhero fans. It’s that defensiveness again, not only are superhero comics awesome and modern mythology and whatever, but they’re the only comics that they want their kid reading. I’ve seen some pretty appalling behaviour too, parents outright refusing to buy a young reader something they’re actually interested in (Simpsons, Disney, NARUTO) because the parent used to Looooove Spider-Man as a kid and hey you liked the movie didn’t you champ remember we saw all three come on get a Spider-Man comic. It’s upsetting, but it’s how they choose to raise their kid and that’s fine, I’m not going to be paying their therapy bills.
Indeed, I had the same kind of reaction when reading the various laments over the lack of comics for young readers. Bongo’s Simpsons comics collections are barely ever mentioned in polite direct market company, but have years of sales totals that anyone but Alan Moore would die for, to cite but the most obvious example.
Much less obviously to the most vocal comics shop crowd, a small but fast growing segment of the graphic novel business is probably YA graphic novels — unfortunately not original ones, but adaptations of existing successful kid and YA franchises: HarperCollins’ Tokyopop’s Warriors books are big sellers, as are the Yen Press James Patterson adaptations, the Artemis Fowl comics, and so on and so forth. I haven’t even mentioned (cough cough) Wimpy Kid. From where I sit, it’s pretty obvious that book publishers haven’t really figured out how to do kids graphic novels — even Scholastic, the giant in the field, is hit or miss — but they are getting the best traction in the market right now. I’m not saying they are good — Del Rey’s Avril Lavigne manga sold okay — but they are comics for kids that seem to have some kid appeal.
And OF COURSE we need readable, competent comics featuring popular characters like Spider-Man and Batman and the like. But the kids’ lines at both Marvel and DC are usually seen as the C-list — if people are any good at writing them — Mark Millar, Jeff Parker — they quickly get brought up to the big leagues. The idea that people can actually make a career out of creating lasting content for children in a variety of mediums doesn’t seem to have entered the superhero realm.
As a side note, here’s something I should have announced weeks ago: in one of my own little contributions to the cause, Publishers Weekly now runs a monthly page of just children’s graphic novel reviews. (Scroll to near the end of the link.) Working in concert with other editors at PW, I decided that breaking out kids graphic novels into their own section is a lot more useful for librarians and booksellers than seeing it lumped all together with the general “Graphic novel” section.
I’m already working with a few publishers to make sure I get enough books to review for the page, but anybody interested in adding me to the pile can email me at the usual place: heidi dot macdonald at gmail dot com.
In short, comics for children and young readers are alive and growing and helping educate the next generation of readers, comics readers, and future world makers. If comics retailers aren’t aware of the books and products that can help them tap into this market, there are several resources out there to help them.
RELATED: Robert Haines of the Joe Shuster Awards describes how they went about creating a category for young readers.