Don’t Give These to Your Kids!

Holy misperception Batman!

The comic industry has one of the worst image problems I have ever seen. It has been my observation that most people view comics as something “for kids.”

In no uncertain terms, they aren’t. The overwhelming number of comics published since the 1980 are for people in their late teens at the earliest. The plots and themes are mature in nature. They aren’t designed for a kid to read and then simulate with an action figure. 

I didn’t start reading comics until I was in college. I thought they were dumb kiddie books. Then my college roommate read them compulsively and kept telling me, “You should read these, they are really well-written and the art is great!” I begrudgingly read an issue because I had concluded that I couldn’t think something was stupid until I gave it a try. My roommate was right. Next thing I knew I was reading four different titles, then eight, and then 12.

Here’s the problem. People who read comics know that they aren’t for kids… but no one else does. When you work in a comic shop you see all sorts of different people come in and out of the store, male, female, young, old, wackos, and professionals in suits and ties. The age range is what is so interesting. There are so many lifelong readers. Yet there are so few new, young readers.

Wonder Woman painted by comic writer/artist Alex Ross.
Wonder Woman painted by comic writer/artist Alex Ross.

In spite of the massive Hollywood success that comic-based movies have seen, the comics that these movies are based off of haven’t seen the gigantic influx of new readers that one would expect (This observation comes from things I’ve read and comic shop owners I have spoken with).

So, what’s the disconnect? The Dark Knight was a great movie, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to Batman at his best in the comics. The Spider-Man movies suck compared to some of the classic stories. V for Vendetta was a great movie, but it wasn’t even in the same league as the book. Sin City was basically a page-by-page remake of the comic. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a steaming pile of poo, but the original series was exceptional.

Here’s the problem. Comics have become completely inaccessible for new readers for two reasons:

1. Stigma – “Comics are for kids!” Adults who enjoy the movies and feel an attachment to the characters are deterred from reading comics because they are actually embarrassed to do so. It’s sad but true.

I know a lot of comic readers who walk into their local comic shop looking over their shoulder and don’t tell their friends where they are going like there are about to meet with a prostitute or buy drugs (now that I think about it, I think that the potheads I know are more open about their drug habit than most of the comic readers I know are regarding their penchant for superheroes).

Let me be clear. These books are good. They are intelligently written, and the characters are relatable.

Reading comics has helped me gain perspective, and improve my life, and I am not ashamed to say so. A few years ago, I had a really rough stretch and I couldn’t find happiness in my life until I read a conversation between Peter Parker and Aunt May (I’m not even a fan of Spider-man… I read that book because a friend insisted that I do so). That dialog literally helped me find my way back to happiness.

2. The stories are inaccessible for new readers – Most of the major titles from Marvel and DC have been woven into this very complex tapestry. The stories are all interrelated, and cross paths with each other. Not only that, but they have extensive histories to boot.

So let’s say you want to read Batman. If you picked up last weeks issue on a whim without knowing anything else about the current Batman series or the greater DC Comics Universe, you would be completely lost. The story that is about to wrap-up has been brewing for a couple of years! On top of that, it ties into the current overarching story (or event) for the DC Universe known as Final Crisis.

Final Crisis is an extremely extensive story that spans over countless titles, and it is the result of years and years of buildup from other event stories.

Basically, it’s become hard to just pickup a comic and read. That being said, if you are willing to go back and read this stuff from the beginning, it will be very rewarding. Give it a shot, read the graphic novel Identity Crisis (in my opinion, that book gave birth to the modern DC Universe). It is an extremely compelling crime drama.

Anyway, a comic creator named Robert Kirkman sparked debate about the future of the comic industry with his Kirkman Manifesto video.

He raises a lot of points, some I agree with, some I disagree with. If you want some counterpoint check out the debate between him and comic creator Brian Bendis.

What matters here is the point that most current comics aren’t for kids, and that the industry is supported by an aging readership. A way to start reading is to pickup some creator owned work. Over the coming weeks I am going to begin writing about some of the titles you could pick up if you want to give comics a shot, but don’t want to jump into a robust universe that will require homework and study to fully appreciate.

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