Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Where Did All The Kids Go?

I was sitting on the subway train trying to finish up the second issue of "Desolation Jones" that I copped off Ebay before I got to work and stepped into reality again and I began to reflect (which really screws you up when you are trying to finish something)...

Kids still don't read comic books anymore.

When did that happen? How did I get hooked into like this when I was a kid and children today only know about Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh or whatever the latest “if you like the cartoon, then buy the cards” phenomenon is ?

I remember going to the comic shop with my boys and looking for that 18th cover of X-Men #1 or Spider-Man #1 waiting to see how long it would be before which X-Men had recently died would magically return or how McFarlane would find a way to get Mary Jane Watson-Parker into lingerie. Before we were allowed to ride the bus, we walked some 6 miles to get to the closest comic shop. That was my childhood.

Out of all of my friends, I am the only one who still hits up the comic shop every week for the latest releases but they will ask me what's up with their favorite X-Men and did they ever say what Wolverine’s origin is (to which my response is usually “They’re dead” and “No”)

Sorry, I digress...

Did Marvel/DC price kids out of the market? I mean I have a decent job and pay rent and I can barely afford all the comics I have but a pack of Pokemon cards cost $3.50.

Maybe it was the sex and violence that finally turned the kids away. I will admit in the 90’s things did get a little bloody. I remember seeing Batman carrying Robin’s bloody body out of the wreckage and seeing McFarlane’s bloody Spider-Man face off against Calypso but that was nothing compared to what I saw on TV then and what I see on TV now. And since when did sex and violence turn away children. (Side note, a little kid tried to look over my shoulder while I read Desolation Jones and I covered up faster than…well, Desolation Jones in sunlight. Wasn’t my place to expose that little boy to things he wasn’t ready for.)

It could be availability. When I was a kid, while my parents went to the supermarket, I went to the cigar shop and bought Batman comics with my allowance or whatever loose change I stole from my brother’s room (Sorry, bro). Only recently have you seen comic books getting back into 7-Eleven’s. Virgin Megastore and B. Dalton, on top of carrying a lot of trades, regularly have a comic book racks.

Maybe it's that kids these can't read. What a lot of people who knock the art form don't understand is that it is written by adults for a semi-intelligent constituency. I mean, reading comic books when I was nine years old and going to the dictionary trying to figure out what Reed Richards, Dr. Doom or Thanos was babbling on about helped my vocabulary greatly. Most of the malapropisms I made in grammar school, for better or worse, I got from Frank Miller, Jim Stalin, Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Peter David. Today’s kids don’t read anything that isn’t on a website.

It can’t be that kids have outgrown superheroes. According to Box Office Mojo, 9 of the 100 top grossing films of all-time are comic book adaptation or based on comics (Yeah, I counted The Incredibles). We currently have cartoons for Justice League Unlimited (R.I.P.), Teen Titans (R.I.P.), The Batman & Krypto The Superdog (seriously, who greenlighted this?) and, coming soon, The Legion of Super-Heroes and another Superman cartoon (like The Batman unfortunately so Lex Luthor will probably be president of Google or something). Smallville is the only real hit the WB has and it is spawning an Aquaman spin-off (stop laughing). I’m sure Marvel and DC thought “This will get the kids back into the comic shop”. Maybe they need to have Levar Burton in the Reading Rainbow studio at the end of each of these shows and say “If you like these adventures, please check out ____ in your local comic book store).

Maybe it’s our (the comic book fans) fault. Are we too insular? Are we not reproducing and handing down our collections to our offspring? There are two people responsible for my comic book addiction: my older brother and a family friend, Dan. My older brother would constantly be leaving comic book around the house and I would read them here and there, mostly Batman and X-Men comics. Then one BBQ at Dan’s house, I went into Dan’s room and went into his dresser and started reading his comic stash. Dan, who was 25 at this point, asked me “Yo, do you want all of those? I’m moving out and my mom is just going to throw them away.” I just sat there stunned because it had taken me 3 years for Dan to actually ALLOW me to read his comics and now here he was giving them to me. I ran downstairs with the box of comics (probably 200) before he changed his mind (or sobered up). In there was all of the David/McFarlane Hulk run, a bunch of Silver Surfers, a bunch of Wolverines and other stuff I didn’t know existed up until that point. To this day, I will always buy a comic with Silver Surfer on it.

Do these geeky rights of passage still go on? Or are we telling kids “If you touch my comics, I will kill you” when they come over for family functions? Are we handing this down to the next generation?

I guess were aren't sharing because when I go into the comic book shop, all I see are grown adults...adults who 18 years ago were getting yelled at by the Comic Book Guy to not read the comics in the store and you bend, you buy. The same guys who had posters of Punisher drawn by Mike Zeck and Wolverine drawn by Frank Miller.

Well, not me. When (if…I still have a framed Batman poster on my wall, it’s gonna be a while) I have children, I’m going to buy them some children friendly comics with Batman and Wolverine in it and I’m going to watch my Batman: The Animated Series with them. Because I want to ground my son and have him tell me, “You will rue the day you grounded Sean Andre Campbell the Second!”

Whatever it is, the powers that be better figure out something soon. As it stands now, comic has until my generation dies out. Whether it be digital comics or more Free Comic Book Days, something's got to happen. I want my great-grandchildren to come to my tombstone and let me know if they ever sorted out Wolverine's origin.


PlatonJK said...

nice read. what i dont understand is how kids dont read comics anymore but they are way too into magic cards and yu-gi-oh.

this is the best time for kids to get into comics, because nothing is a collectors item anymore. X-Factor #1 that came out a few months ago isn't going to be worth a few G's in 20 years. so there no guilt when their nice and glossy pages get torn.

i know for me i picked them up because i was into drawing a lot so whats better than books with pictures in it? and i used that logic in a lot of "mom can i have 2 dollars!" arguements at TJ Maxx(there was a walden books right next to it back then).

i dont know what it is. im pretty sure retailers ruined the sports card industry and drove kids out of it, but why comics?

Kwasi said...

I was actually planning to make a post about why comics are losing out to manga so badly these days at some point.

Its not that the kids aren't reading, its that the industry made itself insular and inaccessible to anyone but fanboys a long time ago IMO

JiggysMyDayJob said...

I r sory. I kanot reed wat u rote en da blaug becus I dident reed komiks.

DrNO said...


Great post.
Interestingly, I think, the comics sections at the major book stores I go to are all aimed at the adult crowd.

Melanism said...

Touché, Jiggy

buckshot said...

Awesome post. Where to begin?

First off, I'm glad for your sake that you didn't expose a minor to Desolation Jones. In some states, that's five to ten.

Second... I have many, many thoughts on this subject, so I'll try to be as pithy as possible.

Why kids don't read comics anymore:

1. Accessibility - I grew up ina rural town hours away from the nearest comic shop (which was really just a small glass booth in a mall food court) If it hadn't been for the local grocer carrying a handful of titles, I might have never discovered comic books. Now my parents were cool enough to drive me to the comic shop every now and then, but a lot of parents aren't. So how in the hell do kids even get their hands on these books to begin with? Their options are truly limited.

Obviously not ALL comic books belong on a spinner rack at the Piggly Wiggly. But by that same token, there's an awful lot of kid-centric books collecting dust at the LCS... So what gives? This seems like a fairly easy problem to fix.

2. Price - I don't know what the average allowance is these days, but I can guarantee you that 3 dollars is much too large a percentage of it to squander away on one sixth of a story. Plus, there are so many damn options. When I was little, you were either into comics or sports cards. Yeah video games were cool and all but they didn't seem to come out that often so rarely were you getting more than one or two of those a year.

I think a lot of people ignore all of the non-comic factors because as long as they keep the "problem" relegated to things like price, decompressed storytelling, etc. then they can maintain the illusion that they still have some control over the situation. But the bottom line is, the golden age isn't coming back. The world has changed drastically, let alone the medium. Now we need to just accept that fact and proceed accordingly.

3. They are reading them, stupid!!! - This one has taken me a while to come around on. Basically, I think this "problem" has a lot more to do with our grumpy old fart POV's than anything else. Just because you don't see any 12 year olds chilling at the comic shop during your lunch break doesn't mean they aren't reading comics. You're just older now and you travel in different circles.

And as a Part B to this one--- Let's stop all this manga vs. comics business. They're the same thing! Don't get froggy just because the kids aren't reading the exact same books you grew up loving. Hey, you don't like big eyes? I don't like big eyes. But, by golly, comics is comics. Just be glad that they're still supporting the medium. Comics are far too small a landscape to be doing all this marginalizing anyway.

invisiblist said...

I didn't start reading comics until I was 22, so I can't call it. If I had to speculate, though, I'd say accessibility, price, and the general manner of entertainment nowadays of having no continuity.

I agree with Kwasi, though. It's the reason I mess with Marvel much moreso than DC, because even though they have a deep past, Marvel seems to make a point of giving you oppurtunities to jump in. DC doesn't do that good of a job on this.

Also, I like the Levar Burton point. I really don't understand why they DON'T try to get readers from successful shows like Smallville.

Kwasi said...

For the record, I'm not hating on manga at all. I'm actually a fan myself.

I just see waay more kids reading manga these days than I see reading comics by the big 2. Which pretty much means that the market for the art form is alive and kicking but fundamental mistakes are being made in the attempt to grab it

MR. MAJOR said...

Great post Mel. I think accessibility is one of the big factors keeping kids from getting hooked on comics. When we were kids like you said, you could find comics almost anywhere. Couple that with the fact that (some) comic shops arent the most kid friendly places and the problem gets worse. For every cool comic shop owner there are 5 asshole owners. Sadly the Comicbook guy from the Simpson is less a parody tand rather close to reality.

Melanism said...

They are having a rountable at the New York Comic-Con. I'm gonna try and check it out.

What About the Kids?-- All-Ages Comics Roundtable
Feb 26, 2006 - 3:00PM to 3:50PM - 1E02

Wonder Woman snaps a man's neck; Spider-Man has an eye ripped out and is beaten practically to death; G.I. Joe deals with real world terrorism and 9/11-style acts of wanton violence... Are these the same characters smiling at kids from the shelves of Toys 'R Us? Our roundtable of all-ages comics creators discusses the apparent maturation of comics content over the years, and what's being done about reaching the next generation of comics fans.

JRennoldz said...

Comics are either too smart or the kids nowadays are too stupid. Either way, 20-35 year-olds are keeping this industry afloat.

Great read!

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