#47: Taking Comics Out of Kids' hands
Make no mistake about it, I love Mark Millar's comics. With The Ultimates, Civil War, and Old Man Logan, he's written some of my favorite Marvel books in the past decade. And as great as his stuff for the House of Ideas has been, he's been absolutely killing it with his creator owned stuff. With Wanted, Kick-Ass, Nemesis, and his latest, Superior, Millar has hit on a formula for success in comics that has translated surprisingly well to Hollywood. What's his secret? Much of Millar's work has the following characteristics:
- A simple but clever high concept that has mainstream commercial appeal and accessibility.
- Collaboration with top art talent.
- Strong, pop-culture infused dialogue.
- At least one (but usually more) major twists in the narrative.
Granted, boiling anyone's craft into four short bullet points doesn't do it justice, but for an overview of Millar's work, I think the above list is pretty solid. As far has his creator owned work goes, I'd add another element...it's not for the kids.
And I'm fine with that. Usually. Wanted and Nemesis needed to be R-rated books, and while Kick-Ass probably could have been toned down a bit, some might argue the gratuitous violence and excessive expletives are a part of its naughty charm.
Now, clearly I'm in no position to tell Mark Millar how to do his job or what kind of books to write. With solid numbers sold for the first two issues and strong interest from Hollywood, Superior is already another hit for him. However, I think with THIS book he missed an opportunity to create a new comic and character that could be accessible to a younger audience. In interviews, Millar has said that he wants this story to resonate in a 1980's Spielberg movie kind of way, as he describes it as Big meets Superman. And in a Word Balloon interview, he said he expected the content might be toned down to a PG or PG-13 audience for a film version to reach that broader audience.
But if all that is true, leave all the F-bombs in the comic? Why take this comic out of kids' hands?
As a creator and a comic book fan, I realize we're an odd little niche. The past several decades have seen seminal works that have done a tremendous job of changing the perception of comics as "just kids stuff." However, I worry we've swung a bit too far in that direction.
I'm hardly the first person to bring this up lately. Robert Kirkman lamented that the level of violence and adult content in mainstream comics is hurting the industry recently. Yes, some saw this as ironic, given the graphic violence in his two most popular independent titles, but I understand his point. Most lifelong readers of comics start their love affair with the medium early on, and with the popular icons on the medium. If there isn't appropriate and quality content out there to hook readers when they're young, the industry's future will be in jeopardy.
And it's a real shame. Talking to Matt Zolman about bringing his young children to the recent Mid-Ohio Con, Matt expressed real uneasiness about the content he was exposing his children to at the show. As a comic creator and fan, he's in his element, but as a father, he faced the realization that so much of what was on display, from the bigger publishers down to the indy guys in artists alley, simply was not appropriate for kids.
"Are there any comics here for us?"
And that's unfortunate. I don't have kids presently, but I'd love to share my enthusiasm for the comics medium with them someday. I'd prefer not to have to wait until they're in their teens to do it.
Now, I'm not interested in getting on a soapbox and telling the Big Two how to run their business. And I'm certainly in no position to lecture Mark Millar or anyone about the content of their books. But I'd just like to ask YOU the comic creator, and/or YOU the comic fan, to think about this when deciding about the comic projects you choose to work on and the books you choose to support with your wallet.
As a creator, I understand the dilemma here. I clearly work on some mature material, having just completed a 180 page graphic novel with plenty of sex and f-bombs. And Matt and I have had long discussions about our new book, EPIC, which clearly has high appeal to younger readers thanks to Matt's super clean art style and character designs. (What 8 year old WOULDN'T want to pick up a book with a giant half-gorilla/ half T-Rex on the cover?) Still, it's not an all-ages book. The protagonist is in high school and high schoolers deal with issues that aren't appropriate for all. But there are some lines we aren't going to cross in order to make sure our book is accessible to a broad audience. Originally, I said the TV show "Glee" would be the benchmark for what we could get away with, but even that might be a little to risque. Again, these are tough decisions to make, and they have real ramifications on who will read your book.
I had a conversation a while back with writer Stephen Lindsay after picking up his book Massive Awesome at the Baltimore Comic Con. Massive Awesome stars a commando strip of bacon and his best friend, a pickle who thinks he's a Zombie (but he's not.) It's a fun book, and one that came out of telling a story to entertain his own young children. Now to me, zombie pickles and butt-kicking bacon sounds like a book that pre-teen boys will eat right up (pun intended.) But, publisher 215ink felt it was in the best interest of the property to pair the Massive Awesome story with an expletive laced Jesus Hates Zombies short in the back of the book. So, unfortunately, Massive Awesome, a property I feel could have Ren & Stimpy type appeal, is a another book taken out of kids' hands.
So, let's put some books back into kids hands now, shall we?
The good news is, there are plenty of examples of top talent doing strong creator owned work that IS appropriate for younger readers, and may spark that early love affair with comics.
- Mouseguard continues to be exceptional book, enjoyed by children and adults.
- The Stuff of Legend is amazing.
- Boom's kids line of books has been very strong.
- Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming are now working on Takio, an all-ages titles about a pair of siblings with superpowers which launches in February.
I'm trying to keep an eye on the indy world as well. There are a number of kids on my xmas list who I'd love to give comics to, and at the same time support indy creators. In fact, I picked up Josh Alves "The Arachnid Kid" for a 9-year old on my list who I think will enjoy the cool picto-puzzle word balloons that appear in the book. Great idea, and a strong product. Check it out, and if there's more great kid-friendly product I'm missing, let me know in the comments below.
Again, this is just food for thought, but as creators and as comic fans I encourage you to put at least a little effort into getting comics back into kids' hands. ';Tis the season, and all...
Tyler James is a comics creator residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He writes and draws Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also writes Tears of the Dragon, an epic fantasy webcomic, and EPIC, a new superteen comic. His work has been featured at Zuda Comics, and includes Interrogation Control Element, a political action thriller, and Super Seed, the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic. When not making comics, Tyler works as a game designer and content producer for a software company.
1: Big Goals
3: The Great Idea
4: Research Part I
5: Research Part II
6: The Killer Pitch Part I - The High Concept
7: The Killer Pitch Part II - The Synopsis
8: Pay Your Artists
9: Zuda Comics- A Tale of Five Submissions
10: Creating Great Characters Part I (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
11: Creating Great Characters Part II (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
12: Structurally Sound- The Beginning
13: Your Reputation
14: Structurally Sound- The Middle
15: Structurally Sound - The End
16: Your First Con
17: Beat It
18: Memorable Scenes
20: Comics Dialogue - Part I
21: Comics Dialogue - Part II
22: Baltimore Comic Con - Part I
23: Baltimore Comic Con - Part II
24: Is It Worth It?
25: The Re-Write Part I
26: The Re-Write Part II
27: The Re-Write Part III
28: Taking Initiative
29: Setting the Table for a New Year of Creating Comics
30: Ready to Script
31: An Artist Ready Script
32: Going All In
33: The Dip and Being the Best in the World
34: Patience Pep Talk
35: Tools You Should Be Using: Viddler
36: Zuda Says No More Competitions
37: Business Mailbag
38: 30 Characters Challenge Post-Script
39: Google Wave - 5 Uses for Comic Creators
40: What May Be Holding You Back, and What Definitely Isn't
41: The Danger of the New Idea
42: When Collaborations Go Sour
43: The Lagniappe
44: Sharing Space at Conventions
45: Cart-Before-the-Horse Syndrome
46: Tweetdeck Love
blog comments powered by Disqus