The Middle Ground #102 | Back to school (age)
Here’s just one of my strange internal contradictions that I can’t explain: Even though I was raised on comics – Asterix was a series that I re-read with such regularity that there was a time when the pre-teen me could’ve easily rattled off plot points from multiple books before going on to tell you what book they were from, what puns were used in characters names in that same book and what (if any) continuity plot points were included in said book that would affect another book in the series – the subject of “all ages” comics is something that I am woefully under-educated in. Luckily, that’s about to change and it’s all down to one book.
I was sent a review copy of A Parent’s Guide to The Best Kids’ Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love by Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith this past week, and it’s been a revelation to look through: Not only does it have the usual suspects (Bone, Owly, Yotsuba!, The Smurfs), but it has all manner of books and series that I’ve never even heard of, with enough information on them that I can not only tell whether they sound like things I’d want to track down, but also make it easier to track them down (Publishers and publication dates? My friends at the local library will be very happy with you, Mssrs Robins and Wildsmith).
The book is separated, sensibly, into reader age-groups by grade level (Pre-K-1, 2-3, 4-5 and 6-8), with the books in each section then being listed alphabetically, making it easier for the parents of the title to be able to use the book without having to read through material that they’re either already past or aren’t ready for, yet. Each book is given a page of preview art along with a listing that includes title, creators, plot summary and also themes the book touches on (listed as “Educational Tie-Ins”) and potential problem points (“Heads Up,” which warns of violence, name-calling, and other things that parents might want to be aware of in their kids’ reading – Looking at it as a childless adult, it can seem slightly overreactive at times, such as the flagging in the Tintin books or “some instances of realistic violence, adult alcohol use, and minor instances of death,” but I can recognize the need for this kind of thing in the abstract), letting the reader get a good idea of what the book is like before potentially recommending it to their kids.
The real strength of the book, though, is the selection of material it contains: There isn’t a noticeable bias towards publisher (except when publishers push more kid-friendly material; you’ll find more Oni Press than Marvel Comics, for example, and no Zenescope at all) or genre, and while there is somewhat understandably a leaning towards American material, there’s also an impressively wide range of manga and European comics amongst the various titles suggested. There’s also just so much to see; I keep coming back to the book and finding new titles and creators that I want to find out about, or new material that I haven’t seen from familiar names (Somehow, I missed Okie Dokie Donuts by Chris Eliopoulos, something I’m going to have to change as soon as possible).
(The book is also impressively up to date; it lists the Courtney Crumrin hardcover reissue that only came out recently from Oni – Educational Tie-Ins include “Duty; Responsibility; Bullies; Abuse of power; Family; Folklore,” in case you were curious.)
The book is one I’d wholeheartedly recommend to parents curious about how to indoctrinate their children into comics – or just reading – and also to people like me who like the idea of having a guidebook to a whole area of comic about which they don’t really know enough. You’ll learn a lot and come out of it with a shopping list of new things to track down, and you might just have your faith in the variety and potential of kids’ comics boosted more than a little, as well. Really, really good stuff.