Kids and Comics: Passing Down a Family Tradition

images-5You 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 worldimages-3 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.

imagesSo 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.

images-1As 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.

Comments

  1. JesseCuster says:

    What do you call it if the habit/hobby was started by a parent but its not an interest of the parent?
    My father was like that. When I was a kid, he turned on re-runs of Star Trek. Not because he liked ST, but because he thought it was something a kid would like.
    He bought me comics… not because he read comics, but because he thought it was something a kid would like.

    It never bugged me that he wasn’t into these things. It never bugged me that it wasn’t something that we could ‘share’ together. In fact, I appreciated that this was a hobby I made my own, and I appreciate that it never would have been if my father hadn’t been willing to buy me comics in the first place.
    The thing is, this isn’t some ‘I want that toy’ syndrome where I saw a comic on the rack, wanted it, asked for it, and he bought it. I would have never thought twice about comics if my father just hadn’t shown up one day with a couple and handed them to me.
    And even though he wasn’t into those things, we still had things that we did share and had common interests in.

  2. My daughter really likes Star Wars: The Clone Wars and recently I’ve gotten her a few of those digests from Dark Horse (a few even from the library). She really likes them. Been hard to get her into floppy comics too be honest, she liked the odd issue of Tiny Titans I used to get her. She really likes the Scooby Doo animated dvds we get from the library, so I got her a DC Scooby comic for her recently…but oddly not into that. Oh well she does read a lot of books, and is way ahead in her expected reading level in school. So I should be grateful for that :)

  3. flakbait flakbait says:

    My daughter is only two, but I’m doing much the same. I have a whole set of shelves in the office full of trades (most of which she will be waaaay to young for for a long time, hah!). I may at some point move my long boxes to somewhere more accessible for her. I mix superhero and robot toys in to her play options occasionally (she seems to dig her Little People Wonder Woman invisible jet). In what seems like an especially sneaky move, we got her a Spider-Man booboo buddy.

    A lot of this is to just try to minimize the pink princess nightmare I see developing in friends’ daughters rooms.

    She seems to like superheroes as a concept. She calls them all Superman! regardless of who they actually are. We’ll see if that lasts.

  4. stevenpirie stevenpirie says:

    I was buying my boy (7 at the time, 10 now) the Batman: Brave and the Bold series that tied in with the TV show. When it was cancelled and DC switched us to the green lantern tie in comic, we went with the flow. he enjoys it. I recently took him to WonderCon and he hunted down Avatar trades at the Dark Horse booth, having plonked down a substantial chunk of his hard earned allowance for the Avatar deluxe Omnibus that recently came out.
    I also got him the recent “Thor: the Mighty Avenger” trade, which he is currently reading.
    He has his own tastes, they don’t extend as deeply into ‘capes’ as mine do, but he does have his interests. My 5 year old adores SpongeBob comics.
    I feel that my kids are looking to comics to expand their much loved TV show universe.
    we regularly visit comics shops for ‘treats’, i notice that my eldest also picked up some “adventure time” comics recently.

  5. smars smars (@smars) says:

    as a kid i didn’t get my comics from comic shops, i got them randomly from the corner grocery store.
    that’s not really an option anymore. if it was, then more kids would probably pick them up. the whole thing is too specialized right now, kids have to know someone who reads comics.

    when i was the age of your son i didn’t fully “grasp” comics. I had no idea of what continuity was nor did i care and i didn’t know all those characters were from different companies. it just didn’t matter. what mattered was this art is cool. i like to draw. this is made for me. i didn’t get hardcore into comics until i was like 7th grade.

    in all honesty, i wouldn’t press it.
    just leave a bunch of comics around where he can get to them anytime he wants, without the hassle of understanding polybag procedures (if that’s your thing)
    and not in his room, be less pressing than that.
    have a box or something that HE can pick what HE likes from them.

    he’s at the right age to take a passing interest in them, and maybe take them more seriously as he begins to take the world more seriously around him.
    kids at that age don’t generally have dedications or deep attachments to any particular things.
    they like what is interesting at the time and move on.
    it’s later when we grow up that we start finding significance in certain things, and create attachments and fandoms form and so on.
    but not really as a kid.
    not at that age.
    some stuff can be cool one day
    and not cool the next.
    we forget that a lot as adults.
    what it was like to be 5 or 7 or 10.
    but if they’re always around as he grows up
    trust me they’ll be sitting in the back of his mind.
    C:

  6. Firestormfan Firestormfan says:

    I have been trying to plant seeds as well with my children. My son has taken to it quite a bit more than my daughter, but she still likes her Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures. For me, one of the biggest issues is trying to find appropriate material. I have been buying the kids books for them, but they are few and far between. To help us develop the next crop of comic book lovers, I think we need to see more kids comics at a cheaper price point. It’s about making chrachters more accessible to the younger generation.

  7. daddy_ak74 daddy_ak74 says:

    Great article for us comic loving dads. My son is only four, but he is well aware that his dad likes comic books. Will I push the hobby on him? Certainly not. But if he does pick up one of the thousands of issues I have and reads it (when he learns to read) I will be happy to share the hobby with him.

  8. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    I appreciate the Batman Family cover. I bought that very book at the newsstand.

    • BionicDave BionicDave says:

      +1 :)

      I own that Batman Family comic, too. Got it at a used book store – for a dime, I think! Amazing how I can own thousands of comic books over decades of collecting and yet I still know every cover, plus where I got the book.

      If I ever have kids, I’d love it if they loved anything like that.

    • dkbrain dkbrain says:

      Bionic Dave:

      I had to laugh at your post because I too can recall where I bought the books from when I was a kid.

      Yes, when you have kids, it will give you great joy to read them your favorite books.

  9. Grandturk says:

    I didn’t really like “superhero” comics as a “kid” – it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started reading traditional cape comics – up to that point it was war comics – GI Joe, Haunted Tank, Sgt Rock, The ‘Nam. But I was interested in military stuff as a kid – so that’s naturally what I gravitated to.

    Then I got into Sci-Fi and Fantasy, D&D, etc – so I liked Conan comics and D&D comics and stuff like that.

    Comics are just a medium – they should SUPPORT what you like – not necessarily BE what you like. For instance, I don’t read Brubaker crime stuff because I like comics. I read it because I like crime stuff.

  10. flakbait flakbait says:

    I think this might actually go for reading in general. Make it clear that reading is important and make it available. With luck the rest will sort it out.

    It makes me wonder how things will play out as everything goes more and more digital. I know a huge part of my childhood was just seeing that there are shelves of books there, things I could look at any time I wanted. With an eReader, you really have to seek it out a little bit more.

  11. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    I remember when I was a kid my father tried pretty hard to push me into science stuff, but I didn’t take to it until years later. Before that I remember my parents buying me some comics at a sale (50 for $10) and later on my brothers gave me their vintage GRs and “Batman and Spider-Man”. That was all years before I started collecting tho. The very last comic my father bought me was a Spawn comic at some gas station somewhere in California (it was medieval Spawn, and I’d watched the movie 2 days before). Unfortunately I left it outside and it deteriorated in the rain. I think the thing to remember is not to push what you like, but what your kids will like. If possible, let them choose for themselves. My brothers really pushed towards the X-men comics because that’s what they liked but the first series I started reading was ASM and the first comic I bought for myself was Ghost Rider. Sometimes it can take awhile to pass on a hobby/interest, but as long as you’re not too aggressive the kids may get there on there own.

  12. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    “You don’t see kids in comic stores much anymore. ”

    That’s funny, I see them EVERY time i go in. Last week I even saw a little girl no older than 9 asking for the back issues of Thor

  13. theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

    My daughter (6) loves books, including comics, and is always juiced when I get her a new one, and if its been awhile, asks me when one’s coming (much to.the dismay of my wife). We tend to read them together. My son on the other hand (3) watches almost nothing but Superhero shows (whether TV or YouTube- he loves Batman the Animated Series and Beyond, and today found an old She-Hulk cartoon he liked), wears a Batman shirt EVERYDAY, plays with Superhero toys, I’ve given him some Batman comics that he flips through on his own or asks me to read, today I came downstairs to Li’l Gotham, out if the plastic on the floor, and when I picked it up to thumb through it he yelled, “that’s mine!” I think its all about doing your own thing and sharing what you love with them. Ultimately, they will all decide on their own, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job.

    On another note, ads and coffee table access are two things digital doesn’t offer. When it comes to passing along your memories (ads included) floppies are a must. I love my kids and love talking about them. Great article, thank you!

  14. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    We’ve discussed this topic a little here before. Ultimately, one probably isn’t going to get their kids interested in comics unless the kids actually want to read them. I take my 7 and 9 year olds to the shop every FREE Comic Book Day and on the occasional Saturday. They’ll get a few things, flip through and put them down, never to reopen them. That’s just them. I’ve showed them a variety of books (yes, kid-friendly), and they simply don’t bite. But I’ll keep trying. Maybe when they’re older. Se la vie.

    I wish the kid market WAS still viable, but the direct sales market/comic shop absolutely KILLED it. Slaughtered it. In the old days, every store had spinner racks with dozens of books, from Richie Rich to Pink Panther to Archie to Spider-man to House of Mystery. Today, kids go into grocery stores, pharmacies and Wal-marts all the time with their parents or on their bikes to the corner. Comics presence in there? Not likely. Not like the spinner racks. A comic shop? Some shops require kids to be at least a teen or with an adult. Comic shops also don’t have other things kids might want to spend their “hard-earned” money on, like candy, ice cream, drinks, other magazines, toys (like Legos, not Star Trek lead figurines), etc. And many kid comics are top dollar. I myself would buy Peanuts among others if it wasn’t $3 frickin 99. M&Ms are only a buck!

    Wishful thinking, but I believe the kid market would bloom if the big two (and companies who publish kid-friendlies) worked to cut prices on age-appropriate books (ha ha), put more books back out to retail stores like the ones mentioned above, and spent some real time, money and effort to market to that crowd. Brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million should be credited for keeping a supply of good comics out for general customers, but more could be done. Thus endeth the lesson.

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      I have an LCS with a great kid section, but the price is a deterrent for sure, as they are almost all 3.99 (my daughter loves Peanuts. Big props DC for the 2.99 all agers. Another shop I frequent keeps a decent supply of kid-friendly comics in their 50 cent boxes (parent-friendly). But you would think comic companies would lower the prices of these titles so that their sales don’t die alongside their readers. They would definitely up their readership at 2.00.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      ” Comic shops also don’t have other things kids might want to spend their “hard-earned” money on, like candy, ice cream, drinks, other magazines, toys (like Legos, not Star Trek lead figurines), etc”

      My LCS literally has all that stuff and I still see maybe 5 kids on a given Wednesday when I’m there. I have noticed more and more women in there buying stuff. That’s interesting to me since I read an article claiming 60% of comic readers were female. But back on point; I’ve never been to a comic shop that sold JUST comics and related figurines. I think by necessity they have to diversify their stock to include trading cards, snacks, skate boards, video games, board game dice (tho this is all stuff my LCS sells).

  15. hanson724 hanson724 says:

    I didn’t have much of a problem getting my kids into comics. i got back into comics the same time they were first introduced to them 2 years ago and it has just taken off with them. My son who is 6 likes to buy the Simpsons alot and Adventure Time, and my daughter who is 5 looooooves TMNT( I have no idea where this came from since I have none of their comics,movies, t-shirts…nothing but she cannot get enough.I know its not exactly appropriate for a 5 year old girl but what’re you gonne do? Better than Disney Princess stuff every where…which there is ) and My Little Pony comics. They both have their own short box by their beds that they’re slowly filling up and they read them on their beds before going to sleep just like I do and they love going to the LCS. I try to take them as often as I can.There’s also a convention here every 3 months and I take them to that. At first they were a little overwhelmed by all the choices but now they know what they like and what part of the store its in. Its cool taking them there and watching them search out their favorite stuff. My son is slowly starting to look at my comics now ( Fantastic Four and Aquaman specifically) and its a great thing. I can see there interest only increasing.

  16. Djinn says:

    I started my kid on JLAnimated comics, a copy or two, he cherished it but still wasn’t interested at age 7(the age I started), I saw a Green Lantern book about-something to do with learning, can’t remember what it really was about, one of those DK books, still didn’t work.
    One thing for sure he will play the games and watch the movies, and he certainly loved the last Cap. America movie, so I gave him an issue of CA (me,not a Cap fan) , still haven’t worked, and he’s going into age 15, I taunt him a bit out of fun about reading comics instead of doing other stuff, he knows what I’m trying so it still hasn’t worked.
    I’m still cool with his decision, maybe I will get buried with my comics after all…..

  17. boostergold4 says:

    Ill never forget taking my son to the LCS for the first time when he was 3. (He’s 9 now) Everyone was amazed when he started naming all the members of the JSA that were on a poster in the store. I think he was the only 3 year old we knew that knew who Dr. Fate and Hourman were. I shed a tear that day. He’s definitely more into the cartoons and video games than the books themselves, but with the thousands of comics and toys in our house, I’m sure he will come around.

  18. BigBadBatman says:

    If you desire kids to want comics, then you need to get comics into more stores. If you want parents to buy comics, then you need to make them cheaper.