You don’t see kids in comic stores much anymore. For the most part, if you walk into your typical comic book shop, you’re much more likely to find middle-aged men reading and buying comics. New comics and old dudes. That’s the dirty little secret about comics these days. Kids really aren’t buying the actual books. There are exceptions, of course, but I can’t remember the last time I ventured into a comic shop and actually saw a kid with his head in an issue of anything. They are present in shops on occasion, but they’re usually buying something other than comics; usually they’re buying cards of some sort or maybe they’re just loitering. Maybe they’re all home reading digital comics on their digital devices or maybe comics are just too expensive for the average pre-teen, but I suspect that kids today like the comic book characters they see in movies and videogames a lot more than comics themselves. Not much reason to pick up actual comics when videogames and feature films are bringing the likes of Iron Man and the X-Men to life right before your eyes in super-awesome-mega-cool-better-than-paper 3-D.
As a parent of a seven-year-old boy and a collector for many a decade, I’ve often found myself imagining a world in which my son embraces the hobby the same way I have. Simply put, I think comics have the ability to do things other art forms can’t and I’d love for my son to experience them and all they can be. But having been the target of a father who was determined to get me into his personal hobbies (model trains!), I’ve been reluctant to bombard my son with comics and talk of their greatness. Basically, I’ve held back and taken a less aggressive approach when it comes to indoctrinating my son into the great world of comics, even though there’s a part of me that would love to see him get excited about them as I do. Simply put, I want his interest in comics, if it’s to exist at all, to come naturally. I remember my dad trying to get me all pumped for stamp collecting back in the day, and as a result, I genuinely dislike stamps and stamp collecting to this day. That’s not going to happen to my kid and comics. No way.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t made some effort to make the boy aware of comics. He’s certainly seen me reading comics each and every week, and sometimes he does show a passing interest. And he’s well aware of the fact that the massive stack of long boxes in the garage contains a certain kind of books that the old man holds very dear. In addition, I’ve dragged him to various comic shops around Los Angeles, as well as to different Free Comic Book Days the last two years. Okay, maybe I’m not as hands-off as I thought I was. Does the fact that I occasionally leave old issues of comics lying around his room make me a bad father? Is it so wrong to want my kid to see what I see in Batman? I’d argue that I’m simply putting it out there for him to discover and am by no means forcing it on him. I’m creating accessibility and the opportunity. If, in the end, he wants nothing to do with comics, then I’ll be okay with that. Really.
So with all this “play it cool” strategy going on, it’s clear that my biggest fear is that I’ll scare the kid away from comics. I’m sure there will be a day that he essentially gives the skunk-eye to anything I’m the least bit interested in, but for now, to my seven-year-old, I’m a God and I have the keys to the kingdom. If I suggest we do something, he’s down for it. Still, I’ve been biding my time with the comics; planting subtle seeds, waiting and hoping. All this is leading to a bit of self-congratulation on my part, as I think that the seeds of comic book fandom that I’ve sewn these past years have finally begun to bear fruit. It happened this week. It was a pretty typical night in the household. It’s Wednesday. We’re bringing the day to a close by watching The Voice. I’m finishing off the second of what I like to call my “weeknight beers.” I look over to my son in a nearby chair and notice, much to my delight, that he’s nonchalantly thumbing through a comic book. Specifically, it’s New Mutants #5 from the original series. Now I’ll admit to throwing this book his way many months ago, but he basically ignored it then. Now he has it in hand, unprompted and seemingly motivated by his simple desire to read a comic book. I do my best to play it cool, but inside I’m elated. My cunning plan has worked. My progeny will be a comic book fan.
He’s reading intently and with a purpose, so I hang back. He smiles a bit, apparently pleased by what he’s reading. Is it the Claremont dialogue he’s digging? The Buscema art? I’m excited. It’s happening. He’s actually reading a comic book of his own volition. My plan has worked. Upon realizing that he’s reading issue #5 of New Mutants, I immediately offer to dig him out issue #1, which I’m pretty sure I have five or six copies of because it came out when I was still under the mistaken impression that number one issues were destined to become big ticket items in the future. He seems amenable to the idea, though I have to admit that the thought of rummaging through my long-boxes in search of the book seems a bit daunting. As a result, I switch it up and offer to download New Mutants #1 to his IPad (yes, my child has an iPad, thanks to his doting grandparents). He’s says he’s fine with either, though it’s clear that the actual analog comic book is what he’s after.
As I’m about to get up and head for the archives, my son hands me the comic and points out the thing that’s got his attention. I take the book and have a look. It’s then that I realize that what’s actually caught his attention (at least at this particular moment) is the fake comic Cracker Jack advertisement on the inside cover. This is what he’s excited about. An ad. His smiles aren’t for Wolfsbane or Sunspot or any other mutant for that matter. I’m slightly deflated, but I don’t show it. I read the ad and feign amusement because that’s what fathers do. He takes the comic back from me, peruses a few more pages; maybe it’s for my benefit, maybe he’s actually into it. I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s not exactly how I envisioned my son’s comic book obsession commencing, maybe it’s actually a false start. Tough to say. What I do know is that, despite TV, movies, and any number of gizmos and gadgets, my son opted on this night to intentionally seek out a comic book and give it a chance. There’s something to be said for that.
Gabe Roth is a father. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.