Give Me All Age Comics Or Give Me Death.

Before I start I will say that I am biased. I love all-age comics. I had someone proclaim to me recently: “I wish they would stop calling children comics the future of the industry, I don’t care what children read!  They don't need these stories, they need to be focusing on more important things. I’m in a comic book store for adults not for this s---t”. I am still baffled by what I heard. How can you hate something that creates a new fan base and future comic book readers, rather than yelling: “GIVE KRYPTO A CHANCE!”.

All ages comics are becoming a vital part of the comics industry. In a time when comic book sales are falling flat, the rise of children's comics may be the savior we need.

All ages comics are fantastic for your kiddos. More than ever, teachers, and librarians are spearheading comics in classrooms. For good reason, as research has found that kids who are embracing comics are improving their literacy by requiring young readers to interpret and understand different ways of communication. The more you read, even if it’s comics, the more you understand. Comics and graphic novels are immersive literature, and when a child is interested, they are more likely to take part in the material. Children get invested because they’re willing to comprehend and understand an engaging storyline with cool pictures.

If you can get one child invested in stories such as Spider-Man or DC Superhero Girls, it creates a lasting love for those characters that continues into adulthood. Being exposed to continuous character development over a single issue or a story arc can create emotional investment over a longer term.  Many comic book writers tend to build their stories over time. Dividing a story over several issues coming out weekly or monthly requires readers to suppress that need for immediate gratification and wait a few weeks for the next issue. This affords the reader some time to contemplate and absorb the story while building tension and anticipation.
DC Superhero Girls is fantastic.

This affords the reader some time to contemplate and absorb the story. Even though the text might be shown in a chronological and sequential text-to-image presentation. The story arcs can jump from past to present, and to the future, all in the same narrative. Children will repeatedly see the effect of conflict (internal and external), the influence of setting (time and place), and how the theme develops all through the issues being presented over time.

If a reluctant reader cannot picture specific plot points or scenes they will most likely become lost and set them down a traditional novel. The ability to follow and then comment upon plot is key to the development of childhood literacy. Children who are struggling with reading can easily understand at the same rate peers do, but can do so with a comic book or graphic novel, as they can view and understand the actions of a character through a text-to-image presentation.

So if a comic book turns a child into a lifelong reader, why are those who read “adult” comics so against this? The simple answer  is “I Don’t Know!”, but I have some theory on why comics and graphic novels are still looked at as unserious literature. It all started with a man by the name of Dr. Fredric Wertham who in the '40s and '50s drove many comics publishers out of business.
The cover of the 1954 Publication 

Wertham created through his publications a prohibition and censorship in comics. He believed he was keeping America’s kids from psychological harm. In comic book circles, he will be forever remembered for his 1954 book
Seduction of the Innocent which suggested that comic books were dangerous to children. Wertham's criticisms of comic books even helped spark a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry. Wertham went so far as to conduct flawed research that claimed to link juvenile crimes with reading comic books.   

The aftermath prompted the industry to create the self-regulating Comics Code AuthorityThe Code put restrictions on the type of content that could be published. It imposed a complete blanket ban on the horror genre and anything to do with drugs, sex, and criminal acts were either censored or completely removed.  

Wertham argued that comics were obscene and that the depictions of such behavior in comics led children to act out in similar ways (sound familiar?). Wertham even wrote about “the gay subtext” in the Batman and Robin stories, that Superman was an un-American fascist, and that Wonder Woman was a lesbian. Here’s the main kicker though; he also attempted to link comics to illiteracy.

For many years, Wertham's anti-comic crusade left a lasting mark on American educators who now viewed comics as meaningless funny pages. The accusations that they harmed literacy grew into a widespread concern. It was thought that comics would only weaken readers, and would turn away at the idea of traditional novels while leaving their literary development in the dust. So when did this change?

By the 1970s, the comics industry was writing for older readers who once read these 'edgy' comics as children, but had no interest in the stuffy-collar comics that were being presented. Newspapers would soon write articles in big, bold lettering exclaiming: “COMICS: NOT FOR KIDS ANYMORE!”. As gritty comics became the norm of storytelling while leaving Archie at the bottom of many comic subscriber's short boxes.  When the Comics Code Revision of 1971 helped usher in the comics we know of today for adult readers.

As the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s came to pass, more readers came to love the dark, violent, and gritty comics that rarely get second glances today. The idea of a code that would enforce what could and could not be written about in comics was abandoned mostly during the 2000s when grocery store spinner racks were completely replaced by specialty comic shops. Publishers began creating separate lines of comics intended for mature readers without the prying eyes of the CCA. The Code was officially killed off in 2011 in favor of a more MPAA style rating system. BUT how does this affect children's comics, dear reader?

This shift has created a massive void which we are seeing filled today. The likes of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey and The Babymouse Series by Jennifer L. Holm paved the way early at the turn of the millennium for this now full-blown kid-friendly comic Renaissance. Things really changed when Raina Telgemeier showed up on the scene in 2010 creating a floodgate of interest with her book Smile. She soared to popularity unseen before with wonderfully simplistic pop art style but stories that captured everyday life from sixth-grade to high-school using tooth related motifs. Smile became an insane hit, unlike anything that preceded it in the modern youth-comics market, going on to spend more than 150 weeks on the New York Times’s best-seller list. Her other publications remain top of the charts as well.

These stories are critically challenging kids in various age groups with various interests and identities. Want an elegant account of queer teen romance with a splash of magic? Try the new comic MoonStruck by acclaimed writer Grace Ellis. Looking for sci-fi with Miyazaki-esque monsters and a strong female lead? Check out Zita Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Interested in team adventure with a fantasy twist? Grab the massively successful ongoing series Lumberjanes or The Backstagers. Interested in a solid take on a classic? My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles are the titles you’re looking for. The list goes on and on.

The sheer number of kids books being announced is getting harder to keep up with. New York Comic Con alone announced 20+ new titles, even more, were announced at San Diego Comic-Con for their YA initiative. It seems as though the idea that “Comics are for Kids”  is making a come back and in a very astounding fashion. This new growth is believed to be the tip of the iceberg compared to what the comics industry will be seeing in the coming years. It seems as though the comics industry does have a long-term future. Those who think that we need to back away from all age comics aren’t seeing the bigger picture: all age comics are here to stay.

Honor LaBerge is a 21-year-old student from Austin, Texas. She loves geek-culture, live music, tacos, and spending time playing board games or going on adventures with her best friend. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram but please don't follow her home, that's creepy.
Give Me All Age Comics Or Give Me Death. Give Me All Age Comics Or Give Me Death. Reviewed by Honor LaBerge on Monday, October 16, 2017 Rating: 5
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