Robot 6

What the children saw: Kids talk about comics

Every year, I participate in my city’s Community Reading Day, and every year I bring a big bag of comics to whatever class is lucky enough to get me as their reader. This year it was a fifth-grade class, and I thought their take on comics was pretty interesting — and should be troubling to publishers and marketers.

I always start by asking the kids what comics they read. Calvin & Hobbes is the one constant from year to year — often it’s the only comic most of them can think of. No one seems to read current newspaper strips, or monthly comics, or many graphic novels, but everyone knows Calvin & Hobbes. There is usually one kid who reads superheroes, but this year there were none (although one likes to draw them). Someone had a copy of Big Nate, and two girls who were obviously friends mentioned the manga +Anima. “It’s on the Internet,” one of them explained. Not legally, of course, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that. If I worked for Tokyopop, though, I’d be worried — they were obviously reading it on a bootleg site, and what’s more, it’s the only manga they read. Whatever marketing Tokyopop is doing is missing the core audience. (Maybe they should buy ads on the bootleg sites.)

I showed the kids some different comics and book-talked them a bit, and I mentioned that you can get them in the library. I told them that being a comics reviewer meant that I get free comics and I’m paid to read them, which they found very impressive. Then I pulled out my iPad, and explained about digital comics and review copies. During that conversation I flashed a digital review copy of the upcoming Garfield graphic novel, which generated huge excitement — over half the kids mentioned it in their thank-you notes.

For the main event, I read the first issue of Scratch 9, forgetting that there is a fart joke in there. (Oops!) I left them with a stack of graphic novels, including Smile, Brain Camp, Missile Mouse, Stone Rabbit, Lunch Lady, Amelia Rules and a handful of Archie floppies. They had never heard of any of these (except Archie), but there was a stampede for them as I left the room.

The thank-you letters I got this week made for interesting reading. Smile and Lunch Lady seem to have been the biggest hits. “There are lines for the books you brought,” one student wrote. Another one wrote, “I’m reading Brain Camp and it is really cool!”

One girl confessed, with disarming honesty,

I was a bit uncertain when I saw “community reader” written on the board. Those types of things can go either way. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have been wary.

Yep, fifth-graders are a tough audience. Incidentally, this same girl is working on her own manga adaptation of the YA novel The Hunger Games.

Remember how there was no superhero reader? This may be the reason why: A boy wrote that he used to regularly visit a local comics shop, adding, “I like to collect them. My favorite one is Batman and Robin. Such a shame they don’t have him any more!” Huh?

What I found really interesting about the encounter is that the kids absolutely love comics, but they don’t seem to know they exist. As one girl said,

Before you came, we only had ‘Big Nate’ and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’ I’m reading ‘Smile’ right now and it is very good. Everyone in our class is so exciting [sic] to read your books!

Once they see them, though, they catch on quick. One girl wrote, “For my birthday I got a Barnes and Noble gift card and I’m going to use it to buy a few.”

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Comments

8 Comments

That is so awesome of you.

Do you think that superhero kid might mean that Bruce Wayne is no longer in Batman? It’s a really inside baseball comment to make to some random adult, but it’s the only thing I can think of.

Brigid Alverson

March 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Nope, I think he thinks they aren’t made any more. I was wondering if he was referring to something in the kids’ line that was discontinued, as I assume he’s not reading the standard line of Batman comics.

It’s nice to see kids reading comics these days.

“My favorite one is Batman and Robin. Such a shame they don’t have him any more!”

I think that, for all intents and purposes that kid is right on the money.

Batman and Robin used to mean stories for kids that anyone could enjoy, but in an idiotic move to remove the stigma of being “for kids” these comics have been altered to the point that they no longer exist to kids today. Atleast not as comic book characters.

Batman and Robin the comic, is now for pretentious geeks who would rather shelter their fragile egos from criticism at the expense of the medium as a whole, than let their precious superheroes be for all ages.

The really damning thing is that this doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Comic books can be regarded as a medium instead of a genre, but that won’t happen while major publishers continue to force teenage-male sex and violence fantasies in to every book.

Speedy was great in Teen Titans: Year One, and completely awful in RIse and Fall/Titans.
Same character, different approach.

I would never give a 5th grader a copy of the current core Batman titles, but I would certainly give them Paul Dini’s run on ‘Tec (along with the dvds of Batman TAS).

Watchmen is not for kids. Superman always should be. And no one should be ashamed of that.
There are enough Superman analogs out their to tell whatever “mature” story you want, anyway.

Also, it would probably help if comic book companies advertised OUTSIDE OF THEIR OWN COMICS.
I have seen commercials for Dean Koontz and Stephen King novels, but never for Wonder Woman comics.

Publishers taking out ads on scan sites is a brilliant idea. Even if the kids don’t understand the legal part, they also don’t know the excuses, or the value of money. In fact, reading their favorite title without using up precious internet time (most kids get 2 hours) could be a big draw. Plus, kids will believe anything, so if you gave them an easy-to-read explanation of how scans are illegal, they’d be ranting at their confused mom for hours.

Thanks for spreading the Scratch9, Brigid!

Nearly every article I read about this subject and with some personal experience, all come to the same conclusion.
Kids love to read comics.

Or more to the point, if kids get the OPPORTUNITY to read comics, they’d love to read them.

But if you charge an outrageous price for them,
Make them all but impossible to follow (ridiculous inbred plots and asinine multi-isssue-company-cross-stories) and fill them with adult-like storylines,
Sell these overpriced monthly books only (for the most part) in specialty stores (many, not kid friendly)

Then, yes. They wouldn’t be aware of them, won’t get in the habit of reading them and not allow the genre of comic reading and collecting continue onto another generation.

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