Category Archives: Comic Books

Comic Books Again

Not long ago I wrote about how hard it is to find kid-appropriate comic books these days. Zack Smith agrees.

In a much-publicized keynote address
at the 2004 Eisner Awards, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon argued
that in the quest to achieve respect as an adult medium, comic books
had abandoned children.

Well, yeah.

Marvel and DC have become so oriented toward teen and adult readers
that material construed as acceptable for 8-12-year-olds is set in an
outside universe, usually labeled as ‘Adventures’. There’s some
excellent work being done here, but it’s not going to find an audience
with the readers of the mainstream books.

My hubby was the original editor of the Adventures line. He pretty much created the genre, though he would say he was one of several people involved. During his time as editor of Batman Adventures, books he edited won something like five Eisners and two Harvey Awards—those are the biggie awards in comics. When I was packing for our move, I found a box of award plaques hidden away in the darkest corner of the basement. He also wrote a three-year run of Gotham Adventures, which are some of my children’s favorite things to read. Funny, funny stuff, and great art.

Smith continues:

Let us also be thankful for the fact that there are once again Disney
books being published in the US (and that poor Don Rosa can finally
read his stories in his native tongue), that John Stanley’s LITTLE LULU
is back in print after all these decades, and that there are still
collections of TINTIN and ASTERIX in print.
But it’s worth noting that those books are either major licenses, or
they’re reprints of 50-year-old material.

What if someone wants to create something new for kids?

The independent market is already pretty treacherous on that score.

The latest issue of POLLY AND THE PIRATES, a superb all-ages comic by
Ted Naifeh, sold 2,400 copies, according to Diamond sales figures.
Issue #2 of Marvel’s CIVIL WAR, by comparison, sold 240,000 copies.
Without speaking to CIVIL WAR’s quality, it’s clearly not a comic for
kids. Someone going into a comic shop is 100 times more likely to find
a copy of that than POLLY AND THE PIRATES.

Not only that. Today’s comic shops are NOT places you want to take little kids. Ohhh, no.

But there is a strong market in bookstores for all-ages material. Manga
is the obvious example, but there are others. JM DeMatteis and Mike
Ploog’s excellent ABADAZAD was rescued from the implosion of its
publisher, CrossGen, and recently revived as a series of illustrated
books from Disney/Hyperion. These volumes combine heavily illustrated
text with sequences of the original comic and – one can assume – new
comic book material as time goes on. Mark Crilley’s AKIKO has enjoyed a
second life as a series of illustrated novels. TRAVELS OF THELONIUS, a
new hardcover by Susan Schade and Jon Buller, takes a route similar to
ABADAZAD by combining comic book sequences with passages of text. This
may very well be the new route for children’s comics – comics as books.

I hadn’t heard of Thelonius yet, but I’ll have to get my hands on a copy. I love Jon Buller’s illustrations. I first encountered his work in the pages of Aliens for Breakfast and its sequels, which were written by Stephanie Spinner, my boss at Random House back in the day.

Backing up to TINTIN for a minute, an amusing interjection: while I’m sitting here typing this, Beanie is drawing with crayons at the table behind me. A minute ago I congratulated her on using her pencil grip instead of the fist grip she prefers. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I forgot to show you my NEW grip! It’s my cigarette grip!"

"Your what?"

"My cigarette grip. See?" She demonstrated, holding the crayon lightly between two fingertips in a perfect forties-starlet ciggie pose.

"Um, where did you learn that one?" I asked, trying to sound casual.

"From Tintin!" chirped Miss Bean.

First the Pillsbury Doughboy, now Tintin. Is there no one left I can trust? Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, you stay away from my precious children!

But back to Zack Smith (and this is the exciting part):

This [publishing comics in book form] isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it doesn’t auger well for those
who might try doing a serialised monthly or bimonthly comic for
children outside of Marvel or DC.

There are exceptions to every rule. One in this case is MOUSE GUARD,
a small press series by David Petersen reminiscent of the REDWALL
series of children’s books. It’s received excellent reviews and plenty
of media attention, and often sells out at shops that carry it. But
it’s still under a lot of people’s radars, and it’s still too early to
call it a breakout hit.

Have any of you heard of this? Mouse Guard? I hadn’t, and I am psyched to know it’s out there. I’ll try to rustle up some copies for a review. Peeking at the covers, I can see I love the art already. If these are good, my young Redwall fans will be ecstatic. Stay tuned…

Smith closes with a question: "Why is it important for kids to read comics?" He presents some possible answers—that comics are a great medium and ought to be available for all ages, that comics can hook kids on reading, that there are incredibly talented writers and artists in the field and it would be good to share that creative genius the youngest readers. But I find the question itself intriguing. Of course it begs another question—"IS it important for kids to read comics?" What do you think? Are comic books an integral part of (Western) childhood? Do they teach something or inspire in a way that other types of books don’t?

Comic Books for Children

This blog really IS about children’s books, you know. Sometimes.

People who know that my hubby writes and edits comic books for a living often ask me for recommendations for young kids. Most comic books today are written for adults, and they are emphatically NOT for children. You want to be veeerrry careful about turning your little ones loose with most of the superhero stuff that’s out there nowadays.

Back when Scott was writing Gotham Adventures (a Batman monthly aimed at children), I could point inquirers in that direction with a clear conscience. His comics were age-appropriate and fun, and darn well written, I might add, and I’m not just saying that because I adore the man. But he stopped writing that title long ago. He occasionally writes Scooby Doo now (among other things) and that has been a huge hit with our kids, of course. Funny funny stuff.

The day before the movers pulled the truck into our Virginia driveway to load my hundreds of boxes, another box arrived in the mail. From Scott. A little one, but still: I admit I sputtered a bit at the thought of having ONE MORE BOX to deal with. I should have known better. Shame on me. The box contained: chocolate (bless that man!) and a fat trade paperback which, upon inspection, turned out to be a reprinted collection of Batman material originally published in the 60s and 70s.

60s and 70s, see, which is to say: back when comic books were still being written for kids. The Batman book is part of a series called Showcase Presents, and there are around a dozen more titles now, I believe. They’re black-and-white reproductions, not full color, but that hasn’t seemed to matter to my gang. They were so crazy about the Batman one (it was passed from child to child in the car and was the most popular reading material on our long, long drive) that he brought home a few more the other night, and OH MY GOODNESS. You want to know how I’m chipping away at the unpacking and still have a minute to write a quick post? It’s these books. (No kidding, right in the middle of THIS VERY PARAGRAPH Rose came to me in tears because Jane had just finished the pick-o’-the-bunch, Teen Titans, and had the nerve to give it to Beanie instead of Rose who was waiting impatiently for her turn.)

I consider these books perfect reading material for the topsy-turvy days we’ve had this past month: light, fun, absorbing, did I mention fun? When they aren’t reading, Rose and Beanie are LIVING the books; they are superheroines named Aquagirl and Flash Girl, and they have informed me that I’m Wonder Woman, which: bwah ha ha, but thanks!

I haven’t vetted all the titles in the series yet, but some others that Scott gave the gang are The Elongated Man, Superman, and Justice League of America.

By the way, Rose and Beanie seem to have solved their problem by reading side by side.