Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Comments on Comics Confusion: A Mister Fanboy Comics Commentary About Younger Readers

Mister Fanboy Comics joins us today for a brief commentary on the accessibility of comics to younger kids.

This past week I traveled to my adoptive hometown for a good friend's wedding and to spend the 4th of July holiday with a gaggle of friends. Yesterday, I spent much of the day helping watch two girls while their mom was off at work. Hortense is 12 and Georginia 8 (names changed to protect the guilty). I stepped outside momentarily and when I came back they were having a pillow fight pretending to be characters from the X-Men movies. At one point, one of the girls said she wanted to be the girl version of Wolverine. I said, "Oh you mean X-23?" That little comment opened up a 30 minute tutorial on Marvel's mutants, females at first but then the males as well. During this time I described and commented on their powers in general. Here's an example:

Dazzler: Transforms sound in light waves. Can shoot lasers, make laser light shows. Now her powers seem to allow her to fly.

Husk: She can make her body into any material she chooses and then peel it off when she's done with it, leaving a new layer of skin beneath. I think it's a lame power.

We were struck by some similarities between powers, something I knew but never really considered or articulated. I mean, how many telepath's or super-strong persons do we need? Look at the roster of mutants in books and the answer, apparently, is a lot.

Throughout this discussion of powers, the girls repeatedly tried to comprehend all of this through the context of the movies. Since they were unfamiliar with the comics this makes complete sense. I found myself clarifying this or that and making the distinctions between film versions and the original comics.

Then it occurred to me that I had happened to bring a number of comics from last week with me that I could share with them. Once I pulled them out, none of which I had actually read at that point, I realized that I had the most recent issues of X-Men (writer Milligan's final issue of the series), Exiles, NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Daredevil, and Shadowpact. I thought that NextWave with all of its inside jokes wouldn't be too easy for them to comprehend. Daredevil was destined to be inappropriate for them (it was the issue where hundreds are killed in prison after all). Shadowpact would be too difficult to explain and since their mother practices Wicca, I wasn't sure what, if any, objections they might have to the books discussion of the use of magics. That left me with the X-Men and Exiles. Considering how we started the discussion, this seemed like a good thing.

I quickly described what had been going on in the books up to this point. Again, remember I hadn't read the books. That went well enough. The problems started when they actually sat down to read the issues. For one, the girls were mightily confused about the switches back and forth between given names and codenames. It was noticeable that X-Men lacked the recap page. That's too bad. Milligan's run on the title was discombobulated to say the least and he clearly was rushing this or that to wrap up some of the dangling plotlines. The 12 year old said it was like watching a soap opera on a Wednesday were nothing much really happened, with one exception (Polaris/Lorna). I would agree with that assessment. I am left wondering, however, how comics were able to speak to me at such a young age? I was confused initially, but somehow powered through it and figured it all out. Are the comics stories that much different? Since so many readers are older, have the interests of younger readers been jettisoned?

Meanwhile the 8 year old was reading Exiles. Unfortunately, I had not peeked at the book to warn her on what to suspect in this supposed stand-along issue. The story focused on the return of various fallen heroes and villains to their homes for burial (or retribution in the case of an alternate version of Tony Stark/Iron Man). It was the absolute worst story for her to read. Lots of exposition and angst but not much else (I enjoyed it, on the other hand). Oh, and she thought, and I agreed, that the name of Power Princess was stupid. She was so confused that she didn't want to read X-Men. I can't say that I can blame her.

So already we have two GIRLS who are interested in comics and yet they are still inaccessible to them. There's lots of talk about bringing in new younger readers as wells as girls. Here we had a perfect opportunity to discuss it with them and it fell flat. I know that the selection of comics I had to show them was not best. They just happened to be the ones I had with me. If I had planned on doing this, I would likely have brought in Runaways for them. For me, that's a comic that would speak to them (and I love it to boot).

I know that there has been some success with digital comics. Are the publishers capitalizing on that by marketing directly to the young? Are they moving beyond me -- the early 30-something demographic? Comics appear to be for the very young, such as the range of Disney Titles and DC Adventures, or the older teenager/older set, such as the Vertigo titles, recent large-company wide crossovers, etc. There really is no point to this other than to relay the first hand account of one man's attempt at making kids fans of comics. On the plus side, they initiated the whole conversation, so there is clearly some interest in characters that appear in comics (vis a vis movies). Who knows what this really augers for the industry.

-Mister Fanboy Comics


Blogger Ralph Dibny said...

I think you should have included Nextwave in the reading selection. It's big, it's loud, it's juvenile in a way that's quite hip rather than horribly patronising, there's the appearance of extreme rudeness without there really being any rudeness - it's the superhero comics version of Ren And Stimpy. It misfires with me, but if I was eight-to-twelve I'd be devouring it and hiding it away from my parents. And it comes with a recap page!

6:53 AM  
Blogger The Fortress Keeper said...

Honestly, I don't let my 7 year old read any "mainstream" Marvel or DC titles. Too convoluted, and you never know when somebody's going to be dismembered or raped at any given time.

It's a bit disconcerting, given that I was reading Superman and other DC titles at the time.

The only comics he likes are Teen Titans Go! and Archie. Some of the Marvel Adventures line is pretty good as well

The 12-year-old probably would have liked Nextwave, for the explosions and rudeness if nothing else.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Fanboy said...

Perhaps this is sexist, but I would't have assumed that a 12 year old girl would have like Next Wave, due to its bombastic nature. But hey, i'll give it a try next time I see them.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:34 AM  

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