Comics for kids : a lost art?

slashgirl writes "'Uncle Scrooge. Little Lulu. Mighty Mouse. Captain Marvel. For years characters like these ruled corner store comic racks across North America, earning a loyal fan base and selling hundreds of thousands of copies each month. ... Thing is, as you’ve probably read over the past few years: comics aren't just for kids anymore.'

Article discussing the lack of true children's comic books and what it might mean for the future. Full article here."

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Good Grief

I think that the people lamenting the lack of kids comics are so gripped with nostalgia for the comics of their youth that they fail to pay attention to what some kids are reading now. Saying that there are no comics racks in the corner stores also ignores the explosion of manga in bookstores.

Re:Good Grief

It also ignores the timely demise of the Comics Code Authority. Comics became safe, predictable, and boring. Stepping outside the box has given comics new life. They are now edgy, literary, and more fun to read. There are still badly written comics, of course, but at least they have finally been allowed to grow up.

For a historical perspective, see the Standards of the Comic Code Authority

Re:Good Grief

Yeah, and thank goddess for that too.

When the CCA came into power and tightened up on what comics could do, say, and depict the art of the comic really stagnated. I remember seeing a comic featuring Plastic Man that got blasted by the CCA. For those unfamiliar with the comic world, even in the gritty DC universe, Plastic Man stands as comic relief. He's a long standing member of the Justice League and, strangely enough, is one of the most powerful superheroes in the DC universe. Nevertheless, he's funny and does funny things even when he's nabbing the bad guys.

So yeah, we're not talking hardcore anti-hero here. In one story back the CCA days, he and his sidekick fought a villian with the power to turn into water. When the battle started going against the villian, he hid himself in a pitcher. (Well where else?) The sidekick, being all tired and thirsty, unknowingly picked up the pitcher and drank the villian.

Sounds pretty benign right? Yeah, except the CCA forced DC to change the script to say that the villian had drowned. Why? Because the CCA felt that the sidekick drinking the hero was akin to canibalism. No, there's no one at the CCA with a sense of humour that we're aware of. Keep in mind, only the wording was altered. The art remained the same. So the story and the art didn't match up worth a damn.

Comic books publishers took a big chance when they started printing comics without the approval of the CCA. No one thought they'd sell. But, like most librarians know, it turns out that when you kick off an oppressive censoring body and tell them to naff off things tend to get better.

It was also about this time that publishers realized that adults liked the "funny books" too.

Re:Good Grief

Manga is cultural, it hardly replaces what used to be. Its very much an acquired taste that's hard to follow and hard to get into.

As for comics not being for kids that requires a rant too long and too full of swear words to bother posting at this time. The cliff notes version is this: DC Comics major storyarc (Identity Crisis) this past year had one of the last happy marriages in the DC Universe broken apart by a brutal murder in issue #1 followed by a flashback to the victim's brutal rape shown in issue #2. That's what passes for comics these days.

Re:Good Grief

Makes you wonder how Two-face got past the CCA... or was he a later addition Seems like there is a lot of moral ambiguity there.

Re:Good Grief

Actually, Two Face got "grandfathered" in. As I recall the CCA came into being during the fifties. Two Face made his first appearence in Detective Comics #66 in August 1942.

Forties era Batman comics were actually pretty gritty. They shared a lot in common with pulp mysteries.

Re:Good Grief

You lose a little, you gain a lot. I can't imagine under the old CCA that you would end up with fine works like the The Watchmen or V is for Vendetta.

Re:Good Grief

DC Comics major storyarc (Identity Crisis) this past year had one of the last happy marriages in the DC Universe broken apart by a brutal murder in issue #1...

True, though in 1939 a brutal and senseless murder of a happy married couple led to the introduction of one of the biggest characters in the DC Universe, the Batman. Murder and violence and yes, even rape, has always been a part of the comic book world. It's nothing new. Seventeen years ago, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl and the head of the Gotham Public Library) through her spine. He did this purposely as it was not his intent to kill her. It's also pretty well implied that he raped her after shooting her, though this is still a subject of discussion. At the very least, he photographed her in the nude soon after the attack.

That was seventeen years ago.

The thing about most comics, especially DC, is that the villian still gets it in the end. Even after her paralyzing attack, Barbara Gordon became stronger. She's in a wheelchair, but functions as the intelligence officer and data cruncher for the JLA (Justice League of America). Joker got the hell beat out of him and sent back to prison. There's a new Batgirl in town, who's just as dangerous as the Batman- if not more so.

DC has always been the gritty side of the industry. Look at their major heroes and their origins. Superman's parents and his entire planet was destroyed. Batman's parents were murdered. Robin's parents were murdered. Wonder Woman was created from dirt by a woman desperate to be a mother. The list goes on... Compare this to the other giant, Marvel. Captain America was just a scientific experiment. Fantastic Four came about due to a scientific mishap. Same with the Hulk. Same as Spider Man. Thanks to the popularity of the mutant heroes like Wolverine, now Marvel superheroes are just born with their powers.

Manga is cultural, it hardly replaces what used to be. Its very much an acquired taste that's hard to follow and hard to get into.

Seeing what I see around the library, and observing Japanese Pop Culture, and watching the kiddos snap up manga while totally passing over Batman, Superman, and Green Arrow, I have to disagree with that. They have no problems getting into manga and the taste seems to be about as acquired as chocolate.

What drives people to manga is that, in a sense, it's even darker than American comics. Look at what happens in American comics. Batman suffered a broken spine, but now he's back. The original Batgirl suffered a paralyzing gunshot wound. But she's back. Superman died. But he got better. Hal Jordan (Green Lantern II) went mad, damn near destroyed everything, but came back as the Spectre. Kyle Rayner (another Green Lantern) died, but came back soon after. Flash (Wally West, not Barry Allen) died, but he's back. Green Arrow died, but he's back. Flash (Barry Allen, not Wally West) died, but he came back, and died again.

Anyone seeing a pattern here?

Meanwhile in manga, especially young adult and adult manga, bad things happen to good people. It is quite conceivable that a character will die. And usually, when a character dies, they stay dead. Many popular anime and manga end in tragic death. Many manga and anime do not have a happy ending. Just watch Neon Genesis Evangelion or pick up a copy of Berserk.

People, and kids included, pick up on that tension. They know that, even if Batman dies, he'll be back. They'll always find a way to get him back. While in manga, there's a genuine tension created when the reader knows that a beloved character could die, and really be dead.

Re:Good Grief

Don't forget Lone Wolf and Cub both Itto and Retsudo die. If you're reading the series, I really apologize for the spoiler. ;)

Manga is not cultural

"Manga is cultural, it hardly replaces what used to be. Its very much an acquired taste that's hard to follow and hard to get into"

Manga might be an acquired taste for superhero fans of a certain age, but when you are talking about a generation of kids that grew up with Pokemon, Cardcaptors, and Sailor Moon on Saturday morning TV and tons of anime on Cartoon Network, it ceases to be an acquired taste that's hard to get into for kids.

What might be hard for them to get into is traditional superhero comics...

Not just "dark" stuff

While having series with real dramatic tension explains some of the appeal of manga, I think one of the reasons that it appeals to such a wide variety of people is that manga has so many genres.

You can read manga about a basketball team or a punk fashion design group or two teens falling in love -- these are storylines that you don't see very much in mainstream American comics.

Re:Manga is not cultural

I have to agree, the american comics are now "older" and more densely packed with information. This can be tricky for new users or for the young. I love Jeff Smith's "Bone" but the story is very dense and rich. Joe Straczynski's run on spider-man is great, but it is too story arc-heavy for a new reader.

What I like is the new Ultimates run from marvel. The comics are collected into trade paperbacks which then can be added to the collection.

That being said, I do wish there was a classic Carl Barks-style comic for kids. I loved the old Disney comics. They were just good, fun comics. Barks--and the style of comics he did--are as important to the history of comic books as Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Will Eisner.

Re:Not just "dark" stuff

To paraphrase Paula Cole:
"Where Have All The Cowboys Comics Gone?"

Re:Good Grief

Hey thanks a *lot*! <mutters under breath> "spoiler-yelling bastard"
I keed, I keed :)

Re:Good Grief

Well, I'm sorry, but you should know better than to read ANYTHING I write. The apology was purely pro forma and was not sincere.

Re:Good Grief

Always *always* put spoilers in front of that kind of information

overall reply

1. Books like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The Killing Joke were not sold on the regular comic rack in your local drugstore. They were adult books from the getgo. Identity Crisis was and is considered mainstream and numerous DC titles now having storylines stemming from it.

2. The Comics Code Authority would not have applied to any of the above. In fact the CCA had no legal authority. It was a way for parents to identify what was appropriate for kids (funny how people who always argue that its the parents responsibility don't mind undercutting the tools parents use to make those kinds of decisions). Newsstands that sold comics (we're talking back in the 50's) would avoid non-CCA titles because they would catch flack from people for selling what looked like a kids book but wasn't really. That didn't stop numerous 'underground' titles from being printed and it wouldn't have stopped the above titles.

3. Yes, Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered. Tragedy is a legitimate subject for a story. But it wasn't and usualy isn't shown in a gratutitous way. A gun, shots, shadows, broken pearls, simple images that tell what happened quite clearly. The murder and rape of Sue Dibny was each 2-3 pages of gratuitous violence. And no the villains do not get their due. Joker's still alive, more often out of jail than in, and Doctor Light, who raped Sue, is still around as well.

4. There is a style and a viewpoint in manga that is very much cultural. Obviously I haven't read all that's out there but I've read and watched enough to know there is a distinct difference between Japanese and American storytelling.

Re:overall reply

When you say about manga that it is cultural and, "Its very much an acquired taste that's hard to follow and hard to get into."
Were you referring to the differences between Japanese and American storytelling or that you have a hard time getting into it, or that you think readers in general have a hard time getting into it?

Comics a lost art?

Comics for those who read them were never lost. Many have collections they kept reading and found ways to locate comic books for their own children--I gave Bat Man, Green Hornet, etc. comic books as birthday-party favors one year to my son's friends (he is now thirteen and an avid Manga reader). Every year I give comic books to my brother-in-law for Christmas. Now comic books are being promoted as graphic novel collections--and are widely read by teens, younger--and adult library patrons. Yes, Manga is different. But the teens of today know how to read them. My daughter (14 yrs.) has numerous collections and devours them--both for the stories and the art. I don't think adults should pass judgement or devalue the rise of Manga simply because it is not what they know. Studies have shown that Manga and comic books provide higher level reading--so those who are "hooked on Manga and comics" hopefully won't need "hooked on phonics". To the adults that can't get a handle on Manga--let it go. Some are quite good, kids love them--and they are to them what comics were (are) to us.

Re:overall reply

Well, actually those are all individual arguments. There is an outlook, a viewpoint that is different. Our comics have certainly gotten more jaded and probably more comparable but the majority of American comics over its history has been more a positive outlook then not.

Naturally, speaking to an earlier point of yours, teens adapt quicker but to me that's a cautionary note. They adapt because they are still malleable and I'm not sure the bleak overtones in a lot of comics today is the direction I'd want them to go in.

Added Point: I forgot to say this in my overall reply but to the lament about Uncle Scrooge, Gemstone Comics still prints out that and other titles, they're pricey ($6.95) but available.

Re:overall reply

OK, I wasn't sure if you were saying that everyone was finding manga hard to read or if it was just you :)

I'm not sure what manga you've read, but some of it really isn't bleak at all -- I think one reason for its appeal is that many titles aren't that grim. I'm not talking about some of the historical samurai stuff like Lone Wolf & Cub -- many of the manga titles written for girls are just really cute and sweet and not cynical at all.

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