Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Just for Kids? (incoherent rambling warning)

Well, this post is going up later than I'd expected. My internet conked out last night, much to my irritation. :-)

I was thinking actually about the argument "comics should be for kids". Because when a (superhero) comic geek makes the argument "comics should be for kids", they're not truly arguing that principle. What they're doing is saying "I don't like THIS, so I'm using children as an excuse to argue that they should get rid of it."

The argument makes sense coming from family groups and politicians, but it definitely doesn't make sense from the standpoint of most superhero comic book fans, as it comes up in ways that clearly don't fit.

For example, "comics should be for kids" popped up a lot when news of the new Batwoman started springing up. Naturally, what provoked this argument was the fact that Batwoman is a lesbian. But when you look at the Bat franchise as it is today, the argument really doesn't make sense. Batman's a dark character and his books are dark. Innocent people die and heroes become wounded both physically and psychologically. Some of the villains are plainly terrifying, conceptually speaking, the Joker and Two-Face in particular. Poison Ivy is a character that blatantly uses sex as well as violence. Most Bat villains utilize mass murder or the threat of it.

And the heroes? Batman is scary, brooding and scheming. Barbara was permanently maimed. Jason Todd (until recently at least) suffered a terribly messy death and Stephanie Brown, more recently followed. Huntress and Batgirl are not really characters designed for children either, given the propensity for violence and the very traumatic, blood-stained backstories.

If nothing else, Dick Grayson's sexlife isn't really geared toward children either.

But Batman is popular. And much as we may protest certain things that happen, most comic geeks are reasonably fond of the franchise. But one would have to be pretty blind to consider the Bat franchise, pre-Batwoman, to be any more child-friendly than post-Batwoman. One lesbian is not going to make much of a difference.

I've seen it argued among JLI fans as well. It's a little more understandable there, as quite a few JLI characters have died and others have developed in far different, darker ways than their origins. But the thing is, the JLI comic wasn't really any more kid friendly either. It was more light-hearted, sure, but there's a notable difference in light-hearted vs. kid-friendly. The tone of often-malicious adult humor during that time frame really isn't something I could see appealling to many younger children.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't complain about the changes, but to use the kid argument doesn't make sense. It's just a low attempt to put more weight on the argument of "Jean shouldn't have killed Sue" or "Blue Beetle shouldn't have been shot in the head."

Now, I have to admit, there are cases where I sympathize a little more. Heck, I've made the argument myself when it came to Supergirl. I do consider both the Marvel-family and Supergirl to be innately more geared toward children.

But the thing is, Supergirl hasn't been geared for children since I was three years old. (Cartoons aside, but the DCAU is different. And it's not like DVDs and comics aren't around to explore that characterization). Peter David's Supergirl was no more kid-friendly than the new version. Shape-shifting alien merges with murderous satanist to become an angelic being and then split and venture with a demonic ex through lots of chaos until ultimately meeting up with her predecessor and making a very hard, morally grey choice?

It wasn't for kids. And as much as a part of me wants to see a Supergirl more geared toward young people, a part of me was just making the argument because I didn't like the way the current Supergirl was going. After all, I did like David's. And I'm liking Kelly's as well. Which is probably why my complaints have petered off. It probably isn't any more kid-friendly, but since I'm starting to enjoy it, I'm not complaining.

I do think it's important to have comics geared toward younger children. Comics like Krypto, Teen Titans Go, and other impossibly cute things. But I think it's also important to acknowledge that most comic fans are adults, and thus, having comics geared toward adults is hardly inappropriate. Most of us wouldn't want all the comics to *actually* become geared toward children anyway. It's just an excuse to try to say "my opinion is more important because I'm thinking about other children."

Honestly, it's silly. And at least for me, tends to hurt arguments more than it helps. For the record, if anyone sees me use it again, please call me on it. It's an embarrassingly dumb argument from someone like me. And I'm embarrassed to have used it.

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16 Comments:

  • At November 17, 2006 8:48 PM, Anonymous jlg1 said…

    (You wanna see incoherent rambling? :))

    Although considering how many cartoon adaptations, toys, and other media aimed at children, it's not really that far off to wonder about kids. I doubt a parent would want their kid who watches The Batman to read that Batman issue where Poison Ivy is brutally assaulted by a monster plant. I'm not too versed on comics history, so I may be talking out my rear, but early on if comics weren't marketed to children, it was at least to a general audience (considering being sold in stores and newspaper stands). And I think that "general audience" attitude has stuck, hence the concern for the children. It's also a quick way to make people think about whether something is way too much. And I've sympathized with the "kids argument," because I came into the DCU proper through the Teen Titans cartoon (which had crossover appeal) and ran smack into Infinite Crisis. And with that series and most stuff, I'm trying to think who it's really being aimed at; it's too graphic for kids, too silly, immature and shallow for adults.

    Which isn't to say comics can't be aimed at adults. It's really a symptom of the weird transitory period comics are facing, I think. There's the goofy, fun stuff from the past meant to appeal to kids, and all the Serious, Dark stuff brought in now. And it can be done well - Moore, Ellis, and Morrison have proven that - but the wide majority of the industry has only latched onto the violence and other dark stuff as the quick, cheap way to legitimacy. People love to kick the '90s for going astray into repulsive excess, but frankly I think the 2000s are just an extension of that but with a coating of nostalgia. People are too busy with wanting to appear "Mature" and "Serious" (Didio's aversion to fun characters and titles, Civil War and Millar's heavy-handedness) and really appearing superficial and juvenile.

    I think people do use the kid argument for something they shouldn't have to. As mentioned before, it's a quick way to ask if things are getting carried away. Batman may be dark and gritty, but it's not like they haven't gone overboard with it. Not every Film Noir or Crime movie has to be like Tarantino.

    And I think a big problem is the lack of variety - you have the very little kid-focused Johnny DC, or you have the dark DCU with decapitations, sexual abuse, etc. spreading across all titles. From my experience, Marvel's been better with this having some titles stand by themselves for the most part (Runaways, NextWave) or exist in a separate universe (Spider-Girl).

    Ack, not only might that be incoherent rambling, but way too negative incoherent rambling... >_<

     
  • At November 17, 2006 8:54 PM, Blogger The Fortress Keeper said…

    "For kids" is a loaded statement in the blogoverse.

    A lot of comics fans equate "kids" with "not serious," and react to such assertions indignation and fury.

    The only thing that sticks in my mind is that most of my favorite greatest characters and stories in super-hero comics were created when comic books were considered kid stuff.

    The Weisinger Superman, Lee/Ditko Spidey, Englehart/Buscema Captain America were created in eras when comics cost under a buck and printed on bad paper and mostly consumed by the 10-16 year-old market.

    Those comics, IMHO, all had much more imagination and depth than many of the more so-called "adult" comics today.

    (Mainly because adult superheroes often translates to little more than cheesecake and super-gore.)

    So, am I saying comics should be kid-friendly? To be honest, Marvel Adventures, Archie and Johnny DC do a perfectly good job for my son.

    I guess, and perhaps this is becoming toally incoherent, I wish the comics industry would develop a more adult or well-rounded definition of "adult."

    After all, plenty of adult fiction is fanciful and imaginative too.

     
  • At November 17, 2006 9:57 PM, Blogger Mallet said…

    The Marvel Adventures line is the perfect Kids line.

     
  • At November 17, 2006 11:54 PM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    I completely agree with my right honorable colleague Mallet, though I think on balance the DCAU books are better written. There's plenty of comics out there that are legitimately "just for kids" so that the rest can be left for us pathetic rapidly aging dorks.

     
  • At November 18, 2006 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I totally agree with this post.

     
  • At November 18, 2006 4:41 AM, Blogger Filby said…

    I guess, and perhaps this is becoming toally incoherent, I wish the comics industry would develop a more adult or well-rounded definition of "adult."

    Amen. I couldn't agree more.

    I really cannot stand any argument that comics "should be" anything. I find the belief that comics should be kid-friendly about as repugnant as the belief (apparently held by Didio) that they should be angsty and dark. I see this in other artistic mediums as well, especially animation. Such thinking represents the death of creativity in my opinion.

     
  • At November 18, 2006 5:25 AM, Anonymous Loren said…

    In regards to Batwoman, people tend to be more accepting of violence, particularly violence toward women, than they are about two women loving each other. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be the case and is a sad state of affairs. And, Dick Grayson's sex life, well...that's because the straight fanboys see him as somebody they can relate to and if he's getting laid, they can get laid, too.

    Mainstream DC and Marvel comics (as well as other publishing companies, but we're talking the main staples here) are not for kids and haven't been for kids since, probably, the late 80s or 1990s when the comics industry realized that the people buying comics were not kids but adults. Adults also have the disposable income that kids generally don't for comics.

    But, both companies have pointed out that they DO have comics geared for kids (Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures). I think we all lament the fact that the comics we all enjoyed as kids ourselves are no longer geared for kids. But, times have changed and in order for both companies to survive, they have to hit their new target audience first. And, that is adults.

     
  • At November 18, 2006 12:19 PM, Anonymous "Starman" Matt Morrison said…

    I've written quite a bit on this subject and I'd say that it comes down to two things.

    Most Comics For Kids are DULL!

    Lot of writers become so worried about their material being deemed objectionable, that they go to extremes and make sure that there is nothing truly dangerous in the book or write on such a level that everything is spelled out five times for the kids.

    Does nobody remember how much it sucked being talked down to as a kid?

    Granted, this has gotten better in recent years with more independent studios putting out children's series (Lullaby, Oddly Normal and Owly come to mind)

    Quite honestly, what the comics industry could use is an infusion of people who DO know how to write for children to spice up certain key books that can be geared toward a younger audience.

    Which leads to the other argument...

    Kids Comics= End of Adult Comics

    There are certain creators who are quite vocal about their opinion that the comic book industry has grown up, that kids don't read comics anymore now that we have video games and that we're all better off forgetting about converting the next generation and trying to focus on creating quality entertainment for adults.

    Two problems with this theory.

    1. All those adults looking for quality entertainment think comic books are kids stuff and are probably never going to be convinced otherwise.

    2. Most of the people parroting this line (I'm looking at you, Warren Ellis) have careers that are dependent on pumping out a steady stream of ultraviolence and cursing, thus requiring them making sure there's a demand for their so-called "adult" books.

    I'm not gonna pretend I have the answers here, but I do know that it is folly to abandon the next generation of potential readers.

    What's the line the old priest had "Give me a child until the age of 7..." ?

     
  • At November 18, 2006 2:53 PM, Blogger Ultrapavo said…

    --when a (superhero) comic geek makes the argument "comics should be for kids", they're not truly arguing that principle. What they're doing is saying "I don't like THIS, so I'm using children as an excuse to argue that they should get rid of it."


    Actaully "comics should be for kids" means "comics should be the way they were when I was a kid"
    Whether they accept this or not, people using the kid argument are just covering up nostalgia

     
  • At November 18, 2006 5:32 PM, Anonymous Ununnilium said…

    The way I always argue it is not that all comics should be for kids, but some should. And not just this ghettoized animated-series-adaptation stuff, either.

    There should be kids' comics, teen comics, young adult comics, adult adult comics... There should be action-adventure comics, drama comics, comedy comics, soap opera comics... There should be comics where every issue is a separate story, there should be comics that have huge epic everlasting arcs, there should be comics that wallow in continuity like a pig in slop, there should be comics where a total neophyte can pick up an issue and never have to pick up another, there should be comics full of dazzlingly complex Morrisonian concepts, there should be comics about two people talking in a single room...

    There should be as many kids of comics as physically possible, and then some. That'd be a pretty damn awesome world to live in.

     
  • At November 19, 2006 6:01 AM, Anonymous Jaap said…

    However, I think it needs to be said that Batwoman or no Batwoman, there just are not enough comics that ARE for kids anymore.

     
  • At November 19, 2006 6:35 AM, Anonymous vileboy said…

    One of the major problems is of course the name 'comic' and the associated assumption of juvenile content. It's interesting to note that when the form throws up great writing (which it often does) there is an attempt to relabel it with some more 'grown up' moniker such as graphic novel. Art Spiegelman has already made this case far better than I could in his introduction to City of Glass but the main thrust of the argument is still that the form as a whole still labours under the popular belief that it is juvenile in nature simply because it uses pictures. So as long as the man on the street thinks its for the kids they are going to be annoyed at what they perceive as a corrupting influence.

     
  • At November 19, 2006 9:47 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thanks for commenting, everyone!

    I'm sympathetic to the desire for more kid-friendly comics personally. I just think it's a mistake to want to make ALL comics kid-friendly. Especially as all of our definitions of "for kids" are pretty different.

    I do think the Animated Universe comics and Marvel Adventures are a good start though. :-)

     
  • At November 19, 2006 5:36 PM, Anonymous jaap said…

    If I had my way, Johnny DC would not only be bigger, there'd be a Billy Marvel.

    KIND of like the silver age, oneshots, 2 shots maybe, and pretty loose, continuity-wise.
    Open art style, and there are plenty of writers who do write kidfriendly but absolutely non stupid comics.

     
  • At November 20, 2006 3:32 AM, Blogger Marionette said…

    My take on Supergirl was that relaunching a new version when they did would have been a perfect time to produce a version to appeal to the new teen girl fans who were throwing money at Tokyo Pop. Instead they chose to produce something that only hardcore fanboys would be interested in, or even be able to follow.

     
  • At November 20, 2006 5:18 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    It's an embarrassingly dumb argument from someone like me. And I'm embarrassed to have used it.

    Re: Supergirl, I wouldn't feel so self-conscious about the argument you made. IIRC, your argument was along the lines of "Supergirl should be innocent and spunky, not this angry Goth lolita jailbait! She's a teenage girl, she should be someone teenage girls can relate to!" There's a difference between saying a character is naturally wholesome and that a particular creative team has the "wrong" idea how to handle her; versus saying that character needs to be "dumbed down" until her book is kiddie fare. Furthermore, aiming for a teenage audience doesn't have to mean you eschew dealing with serious issues or storylines.

     

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