Guest Column: The Kids Are All Right by Chris Eliopoulos

Working in the comics industry for 20 years, I’ve learned that the creators and fans tend to be some of the most open, progressive and inviting people on the planet. They are not quick to judge people and always seem open to new ideas…except when it comes to their comics.

For some reason, when it comes to their comics, most of today’s readers, and frankly creators, want to keep the status quo. Anything new is viewed with caution or, sometimes, outright dismissal. Anything that is not directed at their particular tastes is derided and summarily dismissed. Not always, mind you, but I’ve noticed a very conservative tilt when it comes to people’s comics. I’ve read super hero comics, I like them and think they should always be around, but comics can’t make that the end-all/be-all.

As an industry, we’ve been forced to steer most of our product to the same demographic. Comic books in the direct market are non-returnable, so that puts the retailer in the position of taking the chance in ordering comics. If they order incorrectly, they end up with product they can’t sell and have to eat that cost, so they usually play it safe and order the top-sellers for the most part. I don’t blame them.  If I was given the choice of selling X-Men, which I know will sell through, or another less known commodity, I’d choose X-Men. So, then the publishers see that and provide more of what the retailers want. It’s a vicious circle and diversity is lost.

You may say to me that there is a ton of diversity out there, but I mostly see an appeal to the same type of reader. Why else would it be news when comics geared at women are released? We have shrunk our medium to a very small group. In a world of billions, it’s telling that the top-selling book sits at around 100,000 copies sold. And those numbers are dwindling. Why? When a survey comes out saying that 25% of comic readers are over 65, don’t we see the answer?

As Whitney Houston once sang, I believe the children are the future. (Yeah, I’m old.) We need to get more children into reading comics. Now, I’ve heard it said that there are plenty of comics out there for kids, and there are. A lot of them happen to be super-hero comics cleaned up, but I think we need to radically change the kinds of comics we do for kids as well as where they are distributed.

First up: the type of comics. I know that there are plenty of all-ages comics out there at the smaller comics companies, but as I said, they’re not being ordered by shops.  I’m looking at the big comics publishers who must lead the charge moving forward. They have the resources and giant multi-media parent companies. So, while super hero comics are well and good, we need to expand that. We need to do comics that, like a Pixar movies, can be about lots of other things and other subjects and other genres. We can have adventure stories, fantasy stories, or anything else we want. But, and this is key, these books need to break from the monthly format. Marvel and DC need to offer up 120 page graphic novels that can be read in one sitting or with their parents a little at a time at night before bed or whenever. I look at the passion my kids had when Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out—they gobbled the books up. We need to make comics for them fun, exciting and something they want to read, just like movies. The movies that seem to consistently do well are those aimed at all-ages audiences in whatever genre they may be.

The next important thing is getting those books into their hands or, more likely, into the parents’ hands. They are not coming to us. Parents don’t head out to comic book stores because there either aren’t any, they don’t know of any, or their dreaded preconceived notions of comic shops. We need to get these books into the major bookstores, right next to other children’s books. We need to run a pilot program that offers these books to schools where children, teachers and parents can read them firsthand.

I have experience with this. I started Franklin Richards, a comic I wrote and drew with Marc Sumerak, when my kids were in second grade. I offered copies to the teachers, which they seemed to like. The children loved them and then the parents started approaching me asking where to get the books, because the kids loved them. I always cringed at the responses when I told them they could get them at comic book stores. They usually didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then when the trades came out, I told them that they could get them at bookstores, but the bookstores didn’t stock them. I think there was a fear of the unknown in both the parents and booksellers. They didn’t know what this book was. But, I think when there are enough of these type of comics out there, they become the norm and accepted. Eventually, the teachers told me that the Franklin books became a great motivator. The children all wanted to read the comics, so the teachers would let them read them after they completed an assignment or read a prose book. It was a treat to them. We need to make comics a treat for kids again.

I recently read a study that children prefer reading books digitally rather than dead tree versions. I’ve seen it first hand. My kids have read more comics on my iPad than they ever read before. They aren’t giant comic book readers, but they seem more intrigued. I would love to do a digital comic along the lines of the Alice in Wonderland app when things happened as you read—things moved, popped out, etc. Another idea was a flash comic I saw once where the page stayed static and each time you touched the screen, it flipped to the next panel or completed an action in the panel. Whatever type of digital distribution is utilized, it can only help.  However we do it, we need to get these new type of books into their hands. We need to go out and get them, because they aren’t coming to us.

I know a lot of people who look down their noses at all-ages comics and they have the right to their opinion, but I think to dismiss the idea or to think they aren’t real comics should really look at the bigger picture. Numbers are dwindling. The amount of devoted comics readers is going down and if it continues, the books that you love may disappear with the readers. So, we need to build back readership and that means getting them when they’re young and maybe the next survey will say that 25% of comics readers are under 10 and we’re growing the industry.

Like I said, we need to turn comics into a treat for kids, but also let the parents know it’s a treat for their kids, but maybe also for themselves. Don’t look down on kids comics.  Make them, distribute them, celebrate them and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pick up a copy of X-Men when they get older and see what it is about comics that you love so much.

 


Chris Eliopoulos has been working in comics for over 20 years. He has written and/or drawn Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, Pet Avengers, Desperate Times, and the daily strip, Misery Loves Sherman.  He's also known as one of the best letterers in comics today. He has also been trapped in New Jersey for far too long, and efforts to retreive him have fallen sadly short.  Visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Shallam Shallam says:

    Damn right!! This makes so much sense! Geoff johns and Joe quesada should read this. I am a dad of three and my kids love comics but not monthly formats. Kids (and parents) don’t want to spend $4 on just one chapter of a story. Give them a book, with a start, middle and end, get it bookstores, create a kid focused app portal and keep comics alive!

  2. HailScott HailScott says:

    Last week, I bought my six year old son a copy of Batman/Brave and the Bold. It had Green Lantern, and the bad guy was and evil meteor named Bob, who looked like a giant popcorn ball. Batman flies him into spaced and chucks him in a black whole. He loved it!

  3. HailScott HailScott says:

    Wow. I really need to edit my posts. But you get the idea.

  4. Aalbatr0ss Aalbatr0ss says:

    My 4 year old son gets super excited when I bring home Incredibles every month.  Great stories for a little kid.  Unfortunatey most of those other Boom licensed books are not so good.

  5. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    Lots of smart, common sense suggestions here by Chris… which means none of it will actually be enacted by the comics industry.

  6. queenrikki queenrikki says:

    I buy Tiny Titans every month for my nephew and he loves it.  But I do agree that there’s a dearth of good, quality stuff for kids.  Though my nephew isn’t at an age where the longer stuff would be appealing, I can see why having that for older kids would be a good idea. I want more comics for younger people not just because I want the industry to survive but because I think comics are an awesome way to tell a story.

  7. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    The point is, all of you people know about kids comics, because you know about comics.  Most people don’t, as Chris points out. 

  8. Jdudley says:

    Digital is the ONLY way to get more kids reading comics. Ex: get Marvel Adventures comics on a website with other kid related content—heck, put it on a website for the new Mighty Avengers cartoon.

  9. Shallam Shallam says:

    Ooooooohhh synergy! Nice idea! This took us 5 minutes to work out! Where are the industry guys when you need them??!! Same could work at dc for brave & the bold

  10. blulew23 blulew23 says:

    Remember when Kirkman was crazy for saying the big two should be going after kids? I know he said a lot more than that, but you get the idea. Marvel, DC and the direct market are slowly strangling comics. I want comics in corner stores and grocery store check out lines, but then I realize, what regular person will buy a twenty two page, continuity dependent comic for four bucks a pop?

    I really love comics, and I don’t think they’re going to go away anytime to soon, but Mr. Eliopoulos makes some very good points. More kid comics please, especially since I have one of those kid things now. 

     

  11. Continuity is the catch 22 of the industry.

    I think continuity keeps the current comic readers buying comics because of the obsessive impulse to "have the whole story" or to be in the know or to find out what happens with the cliffhanger even when they are not that into a book.

    But it is also what makes comics kind of impenetrable for potential new readers.

  12. Patman2 Patman2 says:

    Could not agree with this article more! Especially the parts about 120 page graphic novels, If you used that format and put them out through scholastic(or something) then kids and parents can buy them at book fairs.

  13. Neb Neb says:

    I think "Thor: The Mighty Avenger" is the perfect example of what Chris is talking about.  An all ages title that both adults and children can love.  That title is so good, and doesn’t have the insane violence and adult themes that the titles I normally read (and enjoy) have.  Most of the stuff I read I can’t quite show to little kids because of blood, dismemberment, etc.

  14. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    But it’s still a repackaged version of a superhero comic. It’s the “cape-rut” that comics can’t seem to get out of.

  15. powerdad powerdad says:

    Bone seemed to do very well via Scholastic sales in the schools.  Is there a model here other publishers/creators could follow?

  16. powerdad powerdad says:

    I wonder if the Muppet comics could make similar inroads like Bone did in the school system.  I would imagine it has a strong brand name, plus its not the standard superhero stuff too.

  17. powerdad powerdad says:

    I like Chris’ statement of comics as a treat.  When I introduced comics to my daughter she was 9, and already a pretty active and high performing reader; so comics for us have never been a way to build reading skills (which is often a reason sited to have kids read comics). So in our house the comics are just simply a treat.

    Plus many of these kid’s comics are really good.  Tiny Titans are a household favorite.  

    One thing I found interesting is my daughter actually sought out comics which I thought she’d find boring such as Walt Disney Comics, Donald Duck, and Scrooge McDuck.  I thought kids might find them too "old timey" and thus boring…when in fact it was more my own preconceptions getting in the way.

    As a side note, for 2009 I would have to say the best single comic of any sort I read that year was….DC Super Friends #18 (see my review if you don’t believe me).  It was hilarious!  For quite some time after the issue came out my daughter and I could quote whole sections of the issue from memory.  Unfortunately, DC cancelled the Super Friends last month – what a bummer.

  18. powerdad powerdad says:

    Although on the learning front (and just a tadbit off topic), I was hoping to find Spanish language versions of Tiny Titans (she LOVES the Tiny Titans – as previously stated).  Her elementary school has a Spanish program (which really isn’t so great unfortunately), and I’m hoping some Spanish comics would give her another hook into the language.

    I remember reading German versions of some comics (you’ve never truly read John Byrne’s Superman, until you’ve read it in the original German — hahaha!) and this helped me with second language development (or at least at the time, my German is pretty bad nowadays — lack of use).

    Non-English comics might not be a huge market, but they are a great learning tool, and I think introduces the art form in a great way as well. So get Scholastic to sell these to language classes, and you could have a real hit on your hands. 

  19. powerdad powerdad says:

    Oh, and I think I should spread a little love here.

    My daughter has a very long standing order to get any Franklin Richard comics.  She routinely asks me if the store had a new one.  

    Good going Chris! The Pet Avengers and Franklin Richard comics are gobbled up with glee.

  20. powerdad powerdad says:

    I wish no ill to my local comic shop, but comics must make it to other sales locations if this market is going to stand a chance of surviving.

    I would hope at the very least the local comic shops can become more the Connoisseur experience, where you can locate lesser known works and provide chances to meet the creators, which your standard book store / drug store / grocery store isn’t going to carry.

    My local store routinely has creator events, and just last month had a Ladies Night, which I believe came off well.

    Of course, if/when digital comics take off, the local shop might have to more exclusively focus on that how face-to-face experience of events and provide physical social hang-out time.  (Perhaps becoming more of a coffee shop with a theme experience.)

    Okay, I’m just speculating idly here.

  21. powerdad powerdad says:

    One last thing I like to encourage my daughter to do is pay attention to the comic art, since it’s such an essential part of the comic experience.

    I like to spend time with her drawing our own pictures based on the comic characters.  Right now she’s been drawing Astro Boy, and of course, Tiny Titans.  Plus she’s writing her own story she wants us to illustrate together.

    I think it’s just another great way to make the comic experience that much more creative, and interactive for a kid.

    I’ll admit these comments are a tadbit off topic, but I feel this just another way for kids to have fun with comics.