I’ve read the following statement from numerous comic fans on message boards and their blogs:
“Comic books are supposed to grow up with me.”
That’s the most selfish statement I have ever heard. So when you turn 40 Spider-Man is supposed to do an entire issue on how he invests his 401K at the Daily Bugle? When you turn 50 Superman is supposed to be flying out in space looking for Viagranite™ to deal with his erectile dysfunction? And when you turn 65, Batman riding around in his Bat Hoveround™ is supposed to stop the Joker from stealing Ensure cases at the drugstore?
I’m sorry this is STUPID.
Comic books are not supposed to grow up with you. They are a children’s medium meant for Independent readers ages 8-12 and Young adult readers 13-18.
It’s this type of wrongheaded thinking that has the comic book industry stagnating for the past 20 years.
And it has many a comic fan stuck in a stage of arrested development. It’s why a group of 35-46 year-old men want superheroes and characters they grew up with to remain a part of their lives.
I’m sorry but that’s trying to shoehorn a square peg into a round hole. Something that’s part of your childhood is not going to work in your adult life.
Comic book characters are meant for children and teens. They’re not supposed to grow up with you. They’re not supposed to be complex. They’re not supposed to be deep. They’re not literature.
The reason why an adult can read through a stack of comics in a few minutes is not just due to the content, it’s because their brain has evolved. As we grow into adulthood, our brains process material faster.
That’s why an adult can read through a 300 page novel in two days and a child needs a half-hour or forty-five minutes to read a comic.
Here’s the horrible truth many comic fans don’t want to hear: We’re supposed to grow out of comic books and superheroes. It’s a natural progression of life.
The commercial product known as the 32-page comic book is intended for CHILDREN. Superheroes and cartoon characters are the stuff of escapist fantasy for tweens and teens.
One of the reasons why the industry has been going nowhere for the past twenty years is because people keep trying to make a children’s medium into an adult one. Trying to make fantasy more real. Projecting their personal issues as adults onto fictional characters. Finding catharsis through fantasy.
Comic books aren’t supposed to be real.
Sure we relate to and identify with the characters, but their lives aren’t supposed to be our lives. We read their stories to get away from our lives.
We’re not supposed to want their lives to be like ours. No one cares about Batman or Superman’s sex life. We’re not supposed to know if Lois Lane is getting banged in the Daily Planet bathroom stall by a dude on her lunch break. We’re not supposed to know if She-Hulk slept with Hercules. We don’t need to know Bruce Wayne’s feelings on the George W. Bush’s Tax cut policy or Spider-Man’s skill at cunningulus.
That’s not their job. Their job is to stop bad guys and fight crime, and brighten up a part of the reader’s day by showing that good always triumphs over evil.
Now I know the medium known as comic book art can be interpreted in many ways. And if writers and artists want to go these adult routes I suggest they head over to another imprint and create a graphic novel where they can explore more adult themes and adult-oriented content.
And there are tons of older adult-themed strips with mature content for older readers. I’m urging the over 35 crowd to go find them. Stuff like Something*Positive, Girls With Slingshots, Quiltbag or Shortpacked! will satisfy an older readers fix for comic strips and provide them with the content more appropriate for their age.
But leave the 32-page comics and their related characters to children.
My brother grew out of comic books at 18. I grew out of them at 23. While we both love the characters from Marvel and DC Comics, we found other forms of entertainment more appropriate for our age.
I wish many more older comic fans would do the same.
As we get older we’re supposed to put down the comics. Usually when people graduate high school and head off to college, they’re exposed to literature in core classes. As young adults study the novel in college their minds expand. These different perspectives make them want to seek out other forms of literature.
Some move onto genre fiction like fantasy or sci-fi. Others move on to political intrigue stories like Tom Clancy, the Bourne series or romance novels. Others move on to Contemporary commercial fiction. A few move on to literary fiction and literary criticism. And a handful of us become writers and screenwriters.
But eventually, most of us move on to read larger and more complicated forms of literature.
Now I’m a fan of comic books and superheroes. But I understand that there was a time for me to put them down and move on to other forms of literature.
After college, I discovered African-American fiction. As I read dozens of Black authors I came to a greater understanding of African-American culture. The fiction I read was so fascinating I started reading more and more novels.
Along with novels, I also discovered the joy of great African-American nonfiction. Books like Black Bourgeoisie, Our Kind of People, Manchild in the PromisedLand, Think and Grow Rich and Free at Last? Gave me some perspective on African-American history that helped me out when I became a serious writer.
In addition to those literary classics I read magazines like Essence, Ebony and Ebony Man. Sometimes I’d pick up a GQ or a Playboy (The articles are actually better than the pictorials if you take a moment to read it) or I’d peruse the articles in the Sunday New York Times.
As I grew older my life wasn’t just comic books. As I discovered other forms of literature and its richness and complexity I began to distance myself from them. By the time I was 23-24 I was barely picking them up.
At 38 I still enjoy comics. But as I get older I realize how important it is to share comics with younger readers. I want them to see how great these characters are
I want to see the medium of comic books overcome this dark period and move forward. And the only way for it to move forward is for older readers to realize that comic book characters are a unique to their medium. They’re not supposed to grow with the reader. They’re supposed to remain the same so as one generation of children outgrows the characters another generation can pick them up and pass them on to the next.