Robot 6

Quote of the Day | Comics ARE for kids, and that’s their appeal

… a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, “Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art,” I don’t think they know what the fuck they’re talking about.

– director David Cronenberg, on the limitations of superhero movies

Although he’s focusing on whether superhero movies can be art, the part of that quote that most interests me is Cronenberg’s assertion that the superhero genre is for kids and is “adolescent in its core.”

My first reaction was that it’s Cronenberg who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore meme has been going on so long that it’s now accepted fact. We should be clear that when we say “comics aren’t just for kids,” what we really mean is that superhero comics aren’t just for kids, but that’s still a fact, too. If anything, the challenge is to find superhero comics that are appropriate for children. This is not a new observation.

But Cronenberg’s statement made me stop and wonder for a bit. What if he’s right and we’ve been deluding ourselves? What if superpowered people dressing up in colorful costumes to fight each other is an inherently silly and childish idea? What if it’s meant for our children and we’ve just been too selfish to pass it down? What if our insistence on darker, more “mature” superhero stories is freaking ridiculous and everybody knows it but us? What if the reason that the Superheroes Are for Kids attitude won’t die is because it’s actually right?

Does that mean that adults shouldn’t also enjoy them? Hell no. When Cronenberg says the superhero genre’s childishness is its appeal, that resonates with me. It’s great to enjoy childish things, both for nostalgic reasons and also because they help us bond with younger people. They keep us young at heart. But that’s exactly why it feels increasingly foolish to insist that superheroes are an adult genre. Rather than arguing that they’re not for kids, maybe we should proudly be embracing that they are.

(photo via Flickr)

News From Our Partners

Comments

37 Comments

On the nose!

C.S. Lewis said it best: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Embrace, proudly.

Though mean spirited as his quote sound, I’d have to agree with the premise that super hero comics are adolescent to their core and were originally geared towards kids. Doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed by adults. I love Adventure Time!

I sometimes find myself recoiling from writers who intellectualise comicbooks – and then catch myself doing exactly that! I doubt I am alone in my hypocrisy.

I wonder how much that need to defend comicbooks as “not just for kids” is society’s disdain for the art form (yes, I noticed my own choice of terminoogy with amusement) nudging us towards trying to justify it as intelligent and worthy (X-Men is really about racism, etc.). Probably a natural reaction when you spend decades with people telling you your hobby is little more than a label proclaiming you’re emotionally defective.

I like Cronenberg well enough–saw him speak at a premiere once. He’s definitely an intelligent guy, but I really don’t think he gets that comics are part of the new mythology. His reference is from another age, and his view of comics is really outdated. He’s partially right about the appeal–but then it stops there for him. He doesn’t get the wider impact comics have had or the fact that fully developed characters can come from comics.

It’s perfectly okay to enjoy childish things to some degree as an adult. It’s just not okay to get hung up on them or let enjoying those things get in the way of your responsibilities.

I think there’s some truth to it given the origins and histories of many of the major characters.

But while most people probably consider superhero stories to be a genre, I think of them as a storytelling medium. They can be noirish, sci-fi, fantasy, off-the-wall, tongue-in-cheek, serious, disturbing, slapstick, profound, irreverant, satirical, insightful, etc. They can be whatever the creators craft them to be. They can deal with themes of love, life, friendship, death, betrayal, justice, or just about anything else you can come up with. People who broadly label as “kid’s stuff, not art” everything that involves people with augmented or unnatural abilities strike me as the type who haven’t read many comics and are perhaps resentful that Batman puts more asses in the seats than any of the “art” he directs.

Is this a spillover from his interview last week where he was saying stuff like this?

Anyway – he’s absolutely right in the quote above. When I was watching The DK Rises, I couldn’t help but think about Nolan, a man in his 40’s, writing the scenes of a guy in a leather suit punching bad guys, while looking cool doing it

First, we should separate “superhero” from “comics.” The MEDIUM is not necessarily for kids. But superheroes as a genre? Yes. Too many fans actually make this error who should know better. That said:
He’s right, they do NOT know what they’re talking about.
A superhero movie can never be anything more than entertainment, however well-done. And that SHOULD be fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But no superhero movie is ever going to be Herzog or Kubrick and shouldn’t pretend to be, because then it just looks as silly as a kid dressing up in his daddy’s suit. The function of superheroes is not to deliver serious points seriously.
This is probably why the Marvel movies are less annoying than the DC ones–the Marvel movies only aspire to giving you a really good time, and mostly they deliver, while something like DARK KNIGHT RISES really thinks it has a serious point to make. Except its serious point–that the people need to be lied to in order to keep society stable–is repulsive. If you take the ideas at the core seriously, they’re horrible. And Nolan wants you to take them very, very seriously. It almost works in comics. In a film, well, this is the reason you see so little of Batman as the series goes on, because when he comes onscreen, he’s ridiculous and kind of redundant.(look at DK for an excellent example–the film is fun the whole time Ledger is onscreen, and he IS having fun, much like Downey in IM, while the rest is…ponderous and neocon and stupid)
This is why IRON MAN works better than any of the BATMAN films; it knows what it is and embraces it fully. And is a lot more fun–and is not stupid. While the Nolan Batman films ARE kind of stupid, and it’s partly because they’re trying for something that they simply look silly when they attempt.
Superhero fans have to get over this idea they have to justify their love of the genre by forcing it to try for stuff it’s not really built to hold. It’s that sentiment that led to the Dark Age after all. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it’s just that certain genres have certain reasons for being and can only do so much. If you want something more serious: well, there are other kinds of comics. Superheroes aren’t ALL comics, much as DC wants you to think otherwise(look at how they’re turning Swamp Thing ridiculous by making him a superhero). They’re just one part of the medium.

PS and anyone who starts saying WATCHMEN or DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to that: the former is really about its formal structure and that’s ALL that matters as Art with WATCHMEN. As far as what it says about superheroes–well, what exactly does it matter what superheroes are in the wider world? They DO NOT EXIST. That only matters within the context of comics history. And as for DKR–all it tells you is what Batman is. Again, not a point that matters outside that context.

Raphael Martinez

August 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm

This from the man who made Fast Company.

Please stop quantifying confusing comic books with superheroes. Everyone. Superheroes are a genre. Best suited for kids. Comic books are a medium. Suitable for any kind of story. For any age reader.
TIM SEELEY

Originally, yes, comics were geared to kids, but at the same time, I feel like Cronenberg’s just trying to go against the crowd and be a non-conformist just for the sake of being a non-conformist. The fault in his statement, I think, isn’t that it excludes adults from the crowd of those who should enjoy the genre, but that it implies kids are the only ones who they’re really meant for. It’s the act of including only a few, not excluding many, that he’s wrong in. Comics are for everybody!

Yup…. super-hero concepts are, at their core, adolescent fantasies…. and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. There’s a charm and epic-ness to them. I think when you try and make them too realistic, they start to collapse under the scrutiny. (and yes, I am the comic book minority that doesn’t think Nolan’s Batverse quite works….)

@Ryan

It’s the superhero part that begins to be silly at a certain age. That is why Marv from Sin City works much better than Batman. One is a beer-drinking guy in a trench coat – the other is a guy who flies in cars and wears a cumbersome suit – one which probably obscures your vision and slows you down. It becomes very hard to take one of those seriously

Cronenberg is basically rejecting the idea that these movies can be high art – and that the filmmakers involved should be celebrated from making high art

Also, it isn’t much different than what Garth Ennis has been saying and doing with his comics all along – that is, exposing super heroes as a pretty ridiculous concept after you grow up

Cronenberg is very aware of what comics AS A MEDIUM can do. He did HISTORY OF VIOLENCE which comes from the graphic novel by John Wagner. Which is NOT a superhero comic. When he uses “comic book” here he means it in the pop sense. He would probably use the term “graphic novel” for more seriously meant stuff, and we can quibble over the semantics of that forever but one knows what he means when he uses the term here. So anyone who starts freaking out here about him “attacking comics” –you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. He is talking about the genre of superheroes, and only the most dimwitted and sheltered comics fan thinks superheroes and comics are synonymous. But I expect a bunch of rageys here to do just that, to which I say: try to read something more in comics besides superheroes. There’s lots more to the medium and you may find you get more out of it then and realize he’s right.

Suppose we said “Baseball is only for kids.” Or Bugs Bunny. Or Peanuts. Or Harry Potter. Something can be essentially meant for kids and have greater appeal. And also have a lot going on besides what’s on the surface.

>>But while most people probably consider superhero stories to be a genre, I think of them as a storytelling medium.

You’re confusing “genre” with “medium.” No genre is a medium. An genre is a genre, and it is one subset OF a medium.

Didn’t this guy adapt a comic into a movie? Wasn’t that movie not for kids?

Except, of course, Cronenberg doesn’t ever say superhero comics are “only” for kids Simon.

Comics and superheroes aren’t the same thing Thalia.

Amazing, I was absolutely right that ragey superhero fans would start confusing the superhero genre with the medium of comics. I really should have put money on that…

I wanted to post the C. S. Lewis quote, but I was beaten to it. I will say that just because a premise is silly doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy it. The idea that space ships can travel faster than the speed of light is silly, but that doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy Star Trek. Some might even say the idea that 2 people can fall in love and live happily ever after is a silly, naive, and childish notion, but that shouldn’t stop adults from enjoying romance stories.

All this can be applied to superhero comics. I’d say that nowadays superhero comics aren’t really intended for kids. The cartoons based on the characters are designed to be the kids’ gateway and when they are a little older they might try comics based on their enjoyment of superhero cartoons.

>> You’re confusing “genre” with “medium.”>>

Yes, he is.

>> No genre is a medium. An genre is a genre, and it is one subset OF a medium.>>

No, it isn’t.

The Western, for instance is a genre, but it’s a genre that can be used in virtually any media.

Genre and medium are separate things.

*

Also: It’s entirely possible for X-Men to be about prejudice (it is) and still be adolescent at heart — it’s not as if stories aimed at children or teenagers can’t have themes.

I’d argue that the superhero was conceived and primarily used as a young-readers’ genre, but that doesn’t mean it has to be: Robert Mayer’s SUPERFOLKS, to pick one example, is a superhero novel for adults, and we’ve seen plenty of superhero comics aimed at adults over the years.

And Bugs Bunny, PEANUTS and baseball were never intended solely or even primarily for kids.

kdb

Translation: I’m jealous that Christopher Nolan’s movies make a billion dollars and only these indie types pay for mine.

Guy turning into human spider, silly. Guy turning into fly, art. Got it!

I think ideally a superhero story should not be JUST for kids nor JUST for adults.

The industry and even the fandom seem to only want to think of it in extremes. (Partly I think because to this day fans still have this overblown shame complex about the 60’s Batman show.)

“Does that mean that adults shouldn’t also enjoy them? Hell no. When Cronenberg says the superhero genre’s childishness is its appeal, that resonates with me. It’s great to enjoy childish things, both for nostalgic reasons and also because they help us bond with younger people. They keep us young at heart. But that’s exactly why it feels increasingly foolish to insist that superheroes are an adult genre. Rather than arguing that they’re not for kids, maybe we should proudly be embracing that they are.”

Also just want to say this is one of the best things I’ve seen on a comic site in a long time.

The standards of superhero genre; the secret identity, the arch-nemesis, the costumes, the battles, these are all childish delights that we enjoy even as we grow up.

If we start admitting to ourselves, as an industry, that superheroes are childish fantasies, I would hope creators and publishers would begin to cover more serious, other genre stories. Watchmen will always be our mediums Star Wars Blockbuster/Godfather art proof, but when we start to ask ourselves how much we reflect upon life through the art form, there is still lots of ground to cover. This is still one of the main reasons that this medium excites so much (i mean, besides being the rawest, coolest form of art on the planet).

and funnily enough, kids even know that superheroes are childish (deep down). Kids are smart, no matter how much we like to think otherwise. They may not know the details, or even the words to describe their world, but they understand on a human level.

Sorry, this kinda turned into another stupid critique of the industry. I guess I just want different comics, cause right now, I am fucking starving.

@John Roberson

In your “ragey” eagerness to disparage other comic readers, you ignore everything I said in my post, including the line you copied which addresses your criticism.

From Wikipedia: “In the arts, a medium is a material used by an artist or designer to create a work.”

In this sense, I see Batman and Wonder Woman as material that artists use to tell stories. Of course they’re not physical materials, but they can serve as tools and building blocks to tell a story that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the characters or their costumes and super powers. The tights provide the means to get that story to a wider audience than it might otherwise have.

Superhero stories can be a platform for discussing politics, economics, personal relationships, substance abuse, child abuse, or any number of serious topics.

Also, you’re not the only person who reads comics that don’t feature superheroes. Get off your high horse.

@Kurt Busiek

I’m not confusing anything; I’m just stretching definitions. And I happen to think I make a good argument.

Well, then genre doesn’t exist, only media. Because not just superheroes, but cowboys and gangsters and spies too can be used as tools and building blocks to tell stories that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the characters or their occupations either. Or, maybe we’re better off to acknowledge that the boundaries between genres are fluid and, to an extent, permeable and that there is plenty of space within a genre to tell all sorts of different stories.

We have to acknowledge that whatever else a superhero story might deal with — economics, personal relationships, politics, substance abuse, and the like — there’s still the expectation, maybe even obligation, that it’s going to still be built around those costumes, a nefarious villain, exciting physical combat, and action set pieces. If the next Batman movie is all about Bruce Wayne lobbying for greater stimulus and social program spending for Gotham after his parents’ murder because he recognizes the link between socio- economic marginalization and rates of crime without sight nor word of ninja training, fight scenes, a para-military Batmobile, a rubber Batman suit, or a supervillain, is it still a superhero story? Probably not, and that fact alone seems to argue more for genre than media.

“Well, then genre doesn’t exist, only media.”

Not really.

Let’s say you build a replica of the Eiffel Tower with nothing but Batman action figures. Batman figures are your medium, but if it catches on and people start building all types of crap out of Batman figures, then it becomes a genre as well, but Batman is still the medium.

I’m not even sure what I’m talking about anymore.

You win this time, pedants.

It’s not pedantic to point out that genre and medium aren’t really interchangeable terms.

Hahahaha…

IIRC Cronenberg didn’t even read a history of violence, what with it being a stupid comic and such. Watch the extras if you have it on DVD. He as no respect for what the medium can do. I beliee he thinks of it the way my dad does. Good for kids.

God yes. This exactly. Superheroes at their core present a simplistic morality perfectly aimed at pre-adolescents. That doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them, but it does mean that if you load superhero stories with adult themes, eventually they break. The stories stop making sense. You can have 100 Bullets and you can have Love and Rockets and you can have the Fantastic Four, but not all three in the same book.

It’s pretty hypocritical of Cronenberg to slam superhero movies as being incapable of discussing anything meaningful. This is the guy who started out making horror movies — another frequently-attacked genre — and he certainly thought those films of his own had merit. To disparage a genre for its shallowest interpretation is disappointing coming from such an otherwise intelligent man.

Leave a Comment

 


Browse the Robot 6 Archives