One of the coolest milestones I’ve had as a parent is when my kids learned to read. Not having to change diapers anymore was great, but seeing the pride in their faces as they read to you is something no parent should ever forget.
When I was a kid in the 70s, I read comic books long before I read novels. Scooby Doo fought Dracula at age 5- a prize I won at a birthday party. From there I moved on to better stuff: Green Lantern and Green Arrow battling aliens on the moon.
I was an avid comic book reader for almost twenty years, finally fading away from the comic scene in the 90s when I was stationed in Germany and didn’t have much access to them anymore. When I returned to the U.S. I dabbled in comics again, but they just weren’t the same. With only a few exceptions (The Badger and the Punisher) I moved on to other media and eventually the time-consuming responsibilities of family life.
Until my kids started to read. Then I quietly introduced them to comic books.
For my eldest, now 13, we started off with Comic Book Day- letting her score some freebies from a local, family-run comic book shop. She eagerly read her Super Friends, Wonder Woman and Supergirl issues, and we made several more visits to the comic book shop for a few years, until she discovered novels.
My seven year old is now on the comic book discovery path- not only reading, but collecting. We attended the Derby City Comic Con in Louisville, Kentucky in 2012 and I introduced her to the thrill of the quarter boxes- cheap comics from years ago. Now she’s on a quest to collect all the back issues of the Supergirl run she has, from around 2000, eagerly reading and re-reading them.
To that end, we sought out the local comic shops again- our family shop being closed now. So far, it’s been discouraging.
The larger shop in the area has been around since I was a kid. It’s across the river in Kentucky, a short drive from our southern Indiana home. And it has back issues. But nowhere near the amount they had when I was a kid. Very few discounted, old issues either. Instead, the shop now shares space with role playing games, music and toys.
So we tried another shop- closer to home. Smaller and more run down, it had no discount boxes. And it was dirty and cramped and filled with far more adult-themed material than I liked. And that’s my complaint about comics these days: they’re not for kids anymore.
When I was thirteen, I appreciated seeing Tigra’s furry curves, or the shapechanging Shakira in her skimpy black bikini cavroting with the Warlord in Skartaris. I was a hormonal teen and I found girls interesting. Before then, I was more interested in fighting or the clever humor Spiderman spouted at his enemies. I didn’t care about Tony Stark’s drinking problem or Peter Parker’s money problems.
When I was a kid, I could jet down to the local Kmart and buy Whitman reprints of older comics. Or I could take a break from the super action and read the latest exploits of Hot Stuff, Richie Rich or Baby Huey.
Today, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much of a choice for kids. I didn’t see any Looney Tunes or Hanna Barbera titles at either comic shop. And the superhero comics have more than curves, alcoholism and poverty. Now they are overloaded with sex.
Adult themes run rampant in comics. Fighting and clever dialogue have been replaced witn drama and sex talk. Even the covers are pushing the envelope- one of last month’s titles featured a woman sprawled spread eagle on the cover in her underwear. Maybe it was a tribute to the pinups of the 40s…
Putting aside the PG-13 side of comics though, there’s still the complexity of the stories. They just aren’t for kids anymore. My seven year old doesn’t understand a lot of what she reads. When I was seven, I never asked why Superman had to fight someone- the simple stories made sense to me. Lex Luthor was the bad guy, Superman was the good guy, a fight must ensue. Now everybody wants to develop complicated plots that would be at home on shows like Fringe.
It’s fairly obvious the comic companies are catering to an older crowd these days. I get that older folks still like comics, and generally want something more from their stories. But why have the comic companies forsaken the little ones? My kids love the superhero shows like Justice League, Batman, etc. They’d love to read about those characters in the comic books they came from.
I’d love to see comics return to their roots and start making kid-friendly stuff again. Simple plots, bright colors and nothing sexual. That isn’t so much to ask. And surely the comic book industry realizes the market for kids. Cartoon network, Disney, Boomerang, they do. Just look at all the shows on these days for kids, that don’t feature sex-crazed characters, or deep philosophical arguments.
Maybe we’re just unlucky and the comics for kids are out there- just not being stocked locally. In any event, we’re saving our quarters now for the next comic convention that comes to town, when we can stock up on some old stuff that isn’t full of smut.