Robot 6

What makes a kid-friendly comics shop?

Spider-Man #8, one of the featured comics at kidscomics.com

Kids’ comics are big business these days, and Diamond is doing their best to help get the young folks back into the funnybook habit; back in March they launched a new website, kidscomics.com, which is sort of a Previews for all-ages comics, with catalog descriptions, lists of new and upcoming releases, and even a modified Previews order form with just kids’ comics on it.

The side also includes a “kid-friendly comic shop” locator. At the Joe Shuster Awards blog, Joe Haines takes a look at Diamond’s criteria for making that list. Originally, the requirement was to order $200 worth of kid-friendly comics a month for three months. (Diamond labels comics as “kid-friendly” in Previews, so there’s no ambiguity there.) As Haines points out, you can earn that “kid-friendly” label just by ordering the full line of Boom! Kids comics each month, with no risk (because adults will buy them too) and no need to go any further afield. He also notes that Diamond lists Marvel Master Works and Marvel Omnibus books as kid-friendly, which in fact they are (they are reprints of older comics) but the cover price of $50 to $100 is outside the range of most allowances. Diamond recently tweaked the criteria, which Haines thinks is a good thing, as it encourages retailers to diversify a bit, but it’s still way easy to qualify without trying too hard.

The bigger problem is that orders are the only criteria; there is no requirement that the store provide a kid-friendly environment or training for its staff. The result, I predict, will be some unpleasant surprises. I plugged in my zip code and got three results. The first is a branch of Newbury Comics. I wouldn’t call it particularly kid-friendly, if your definition of “kid” is anyone under 16, and anyway, it’s no longer there. I have never been to the second shop, but I have been to the third: I went on Free Comics Day a couple of years ago, and I made the mistake of bringing my daughter (then aged about 12) and my mother-in-law (then aged about 83). Now my daughter refuses to ever go into a comics store again and my mother-in-law thinks I’m a pervert. The store, to give them their due, did have a good collection of kids’ comics and manga, and they were all in a separate section. But the rest of the place was an adult-oriented comic shop, with plenty of non-kid-friendly displays. Nothing wrong with that, except that you had to pass through some of it to get to the kids’ section and all of it to get to the free comics, which were in the back of the store. How about the staff? One person was friendly and helpful when we had questions. When we got to the counter, though, the staffers there ignored us while they chatted among themselves. When we did check out, I asked if they sold a lot of manga. The staffer shrugged and said not really, that that “fad” had pretty much passed. Mind you, I was buying three volumes of manga as he said that. Perhaps the place has gotten better since then, but I wouldn’t know because I never went back.

Now, a retailer can certainly choose to cater to adults, but if they want the kid-friendly label, they should earn it with more than a stack of comics. Ideally, a store that labels itself “kid-friendly” would be clean and well-lit, with kids’ comics in an easy-to-find area near the front and the seriously adult comics in the back, accessible but not in your face. They would have friendly staff, a good selection of comics that you can’t find in chain bookstores, and a comfortable place to sit. I can think of two Boston-area stores that fill the bill, Comicopia in Kenmore Square and Hub Comics in Somerville; Comicopia is on the Diamond list but Hub Comics is not.

Readers, feel free to fill in where Diamond falls short: What kind of comics shop do you want to bring your kids to, and what shops fill the bill in your area?

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Comments

6 Comments

Actually my colleague’s name is Robert Haines, not Joe.

Let me give a shout-out to my Boston-based LCS, JP Comics & Games. Paul and Mike, in addition to having a full line-up of each weeks’ titles, have a great selection of kid-appropriate stuff (I hesitate to call it “kid stuff” as I think most of Paul Tobin’s stuff and Thor: MA is pretty awesome). They are always very friendly to my girls, have fun things on display to look at and touch, and, as I have often observed, they take the time to understand what thier younger patrons are interested in and make them feel like their opinions matter. The store is bright and open and easy to browse in. I have been to most other LCS’ in the area and while I never feel shunned having kids with me, I dont get the same friendly vibe. All of the above criteria go towards, in my opinion, making a kid friendly comic shop.

I was gonna ask if Comicopia came up on their list as they are the first place I think of when I think of an all-ages comic shop. I still need to get to Hub Comics. Damn the T.

That list is kinda stupid. Three stores came up in my area. Two are owned by the same couple, and they definitely qualify as kid-friendly. They do a great job of having a diverse selection of kid-friendly titles and making sure they are front and center in the store. They’re also good about keeping a kid-friendly environment. They carry the adult stuff, but it isn’t necessarily where the kids are going to be looking. Plus, I was in one weekend afternoon when they were running games in the back of the store, when some coarse language let fly. The owner reprimanded the potty-mouthed kids.

That said, the third on the list isn’t necessarily adult-oriented, but it isn’t really focused on kids either. And shifting to a slightly different part of the city lists some other inappropriate stores as well. It really just seems like they’re listing close comic stores, not necessarily kid-friendly ones.

I don’t expect book stores to cater solely to kids, so why would I expect comic stores to? The difference, though, is that book stores have their sections clearly marked. I know that my kids aren’t going to stumble across a Stephen King novel when we go to Books-a-million looking for the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Of course, some book stores don’t do a good job of separating the kids’ comics from the mature ones. It doesn’t take much to go from Sandman to Marvel Adventures Spider-Man at my local Books-a-million. Barnes and Noble has done a better job recently of putting kid-friendly graphic novels in the kids’ section, and having stuff aimed at older teens and adults in the graphic novel section.

I have to disagree with your statement that Omnibus and Marvel Masterworks are kid-friendly books. Certainly, they’re reprints of books that you, and most 30-something comic readers, read when they were younger. The logic seems to be “if I read it when I was young, then it must be good for kids.” But, those books are no longer appropriate for a kids market according to the desires of modern parents. They contain too much violence, and far too many negative stereotypes of minorities and women. Trust me, that’s not what parents want.

Certainly, the amount of money spent on kids friendly comics is really little criteria in determining a kid’s friendly shop. Here at the Comix Gallery, the kid friendly stuff is in the very front of the store, with 8 feet of kid friendly comics and trades on one side, and another eight of comic strip books on the other. It’s a clean, orderly area, well lit and comfortable. When a person with kids comes in, we invite them to make themselves at home, if they have any questions, just ask, and also mention that the all ages reading is right where they are already at in front.

It’s amazing that many people have that on their minds and it’s addressed as initial info on the shop when they come in. We also permit sitting around and reading to beginning readers, and teach them a proper way to hold and look at books, if it seems it’s a new experience for them. You should also be available to answer a multitude of questions about what it is they’re looking at as well.

Price point is important, too, as we try to keep twenty dollars or less as a bit of a benchmark for trades. Getting kids in on the ground floor of reading comics should be cost effective, and we keep a short box of reduced to clear kids stuff handy there as well.

Vernon Wiley
The Comix Gallery

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