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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Could Comic Books Become A Family Affair?


When I was doing my research about the comic book industry the thing that broke my heart the most was hearing the stories of Dads who desperately wanted to share their love of comic books with their children. Dads who couldn’t share their love of reading with their children because the comics today don’t feature the same all-ages content they grew up with as a child.

I have read and heard countless stories from fathers who said they were willing to introduce comic books to their children. But because the content in comics today features extremely graphic violence nudity, (full frontal in some cases) sexual situations and characters using profanity, they can’t share the joy of comic books and the gateway to reading with them.

Due to the extreme and graphic content in today’s comics, many a father has said they had to give their kids Independent reader fiction or young adult fiction. While the Independent Reader and Young Adult fiction markets have exploded over the last two decades with million-selling franchises like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Twilight, the comic book industry has been mired in a slump it can’t seem to shake itself out of.

From the 1930s up until the late 1990s, the primary readers of comic books were children. The low price was cheap enough for a child to pay for out of their allowances, and the material featured characters in fantastic adventures they could relate to. Today a comic book costs $4 and features characters in stories no one but the most diehard comic book fan can understand.

I believe the key to reversing the two decade slump the comic book industry will be getting kids reading comic books again. This is the biggest baby boom since the 1940’s and not a single comic book publisher has made a serious effort to capitalize on it. Over twenty million kids are growing up with chapter books and passing comic books by.

Today, there are two generations of fathers who grew up with comics. They’re eager to share their experiences with their children. These customers want to turn comic books into a family affair. The only thing stopping them are comic book publishers who continue to cater to an over 35 crowd instead of the growing audience of younger readers.

Most American publishers are still trying to produce “dark” type comics featuring brooding heroes and ultra-violent adventures. While these types of comics were popular in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s clear their time has passed. No one wants to share death, violence, sex and coarse language with their young children in 2013.

Fathers trying to introduce comics to their kids want the kinds of characters they grew up with, heroes that taught right-and-wrong in a Black and white way. Worlds of clear good and evil and clear moral messages. Comics that are fun to read and fun to share. Books that are so enjoyable that people read them until the covers fall off.

But they can’t find those comics on the shelves at comic shops or at the bookstores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Outside of Archie Comics and Manga, there aren’t many comic options for young readers in the comic book sections. Most of the comics today are targeted towards older readers. Most publishers today think 18 is the age kids should start reading comic books.

I’d like to bring that age back down to 13. 10 if possible. And create easy-to-read content for kids 4-7. Writing for younger readers doesn’t mean dumbed down. A good writer can write the same types of rich complex stories, but tailor the content where it’s tastefully appropriate for younger readers and their parents too.

I’d love to see comics become a family affair. When I hear the stories of Dads (and some moms) who desperately want to share comics with their children I wish I was the editor-in-chief at Marvel or DC Comics or had the resources to start-up my own comic book company. I’d make every effort to produce comics so those parents could share comic books with their kids and pass their love of comic books down to their children. I believe there can be comic books for everyone. There’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing a child with a comic book. Because that child has just entered the gateway to reading.

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