Today's Train Of Thought On Kids' & YA Comics

By | Sunday, February 07, 2010 8 comments
Bear with me. This post is mostly me thinking out loud...

Shortly after Nick Magazine announced it was closing shop, comics section editor Dave Roman generously offered to send out some file copies of their magazines to whoever asked free of charge. A week or two later, I received a box with about half a dozen issues. They got set aside with holiday craziness, but I just got a chance to sit down and read through them. And you know, there's some really good stuff in there. Granted, I have zero interest in learning what Dwayne Johnson thinks of his burping ability, but the comics portions were quite good. Had I known just how good, I would have been an earlier/stronger support of the magazine. (Although I understand it's cancellation had little to do with sales.) But that's where this post stems from.

The past year or so, I've seen several really good comic stories that have gotten very little press coverage in "traditional" comic book circles. Babymouse, Malice, Nick Magazine... Even the "big hits" like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Invention of Hugo Cabret seem to get quickly overwhelmed by "Blackest Night" or "Siege" or whatever the crossover du jour is.

On the one hand, it makes sense. After all, what we would generally call "traditional" comic circles consist primarily of folks primarily interested in the superheroics of Marvel and DC characters. And the largest group of fans behind that would be those looking for "adult" stories like those published by Fantagraphics. These comics aimed at a younger audience -- those who don't steer the direction of comics discussion -- and it should come as no surprise that they fall under the collective radar of many comic book fans.

On the other hand, there are, as I said, some quality books regardless of who they're aimed at. Furthermore, there's some name folks working on them. Dave Roman, as I said, was an editor at Nick Magazine and has turned in some fine comics of a more slightly more traditional vein. (I'm still trying to hunt down the last three issues of Jax Epoch!) In the handful of copies of Nick that he sent, I've seen the work of everyone from Gustave Verbeck to Scott McCloud to Karl Kerschl. I found myself recognizing the drawing styles on almost every other strip, and jumping to the back of each issue where they listed all of the contributors. Even if you were to dismiss the content out of hand for assuming it was "too juvenile" (or whatever) I would've thought the name power alone would draw over more folks. Johnny Ryan and James Kochalka for cryin' out loud!

Plus, don't many comic book fans have kids? Or know some at least? Did you know that six of the top ten kids' graphic novels to be checked out of libraries in 2009 were from the Babymouse series? (The other four slots were Bone and Pokemon books.) I'd think more of this would filter back through the blogosphere and whatnot.

But the only people that seem to be discussing any of these types of books are librarians. They've become a significant force for espousing the benefits of sequential art to/for children and young adults. More power to them for that! And kudos to Scholastic for focusing more on that type of work in recent years too! Not to mention the work they put into their sites to promote comics. Have you seen the website for Raina Telgemeier's Smile? It includes a nice, Flash-based comics creator. Nothing spectacular about it per se, other than they took the time to put it together. (The results of my playing around with it at the left.)

But the only place I've found of that regularly covers this type of material is Graphic Novel Reporter. Kudos to them; it's a great site, and they've pointed me to some wonderful books I would've otherwise missed. I've seen some decent things crop up on library sites as well, but those tend to be focused on the oeuvre of children's literature. Which is great, of course, but not really a go-to resource for comics information.

This kind of thing, I suppose, points to why comic fans still bring up the "why aren't there comics for kids" argument. It's a silly discussion precisely because there ARE a lot of comics aimed at younger folks being produced. But the comics community on the whole seems to be willfully ignoring them. No, they don't show up in the same format as they did back in the 1950s, nor are they published by the same publishers. But they are out there and available in ample supply if people would just look beyond Marvel and DC. Kids' comics is NOT the same as a kind of cutely drawn Batman.

I don't know that there NEEDS to be a place exclusively for the discussion of kids' and YA comics. It'd be nice, sure, but necessary? Maybe not. But I think it would be nice if the places that allegedly talked about comics AS A MEDIUM included more than occasional lip service to something other than Marvel and DC. There's nothing wrong with a site that wants to focus on just that, of course; I'm just saying that they probably shouldn't purport to be a destination for information about comics in general.

Not sure if all that made sense but, as I said, it was mostly just me thinking out loud.
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Johanna said...

To toot my own horn, I'm not a librarian, and I regularly cover graphic novels and comics aimed at the younger set. For instance, Babymouse was talked about as part of a great graphic novels for kids roundup I did last month, and I try to cover most of Scholastic's Graphix line. So maybe you're just not reading the right comic sites?

I try to keep up with your stuff, Johanna, but I've clearly missed over your kids' coverage. (Checking the dates, I can at least claim the excuse that I was travelling when you put that post up in January.)

But thanks for highlighting your efforts there. I'll admit that part of the reason for my post was to be proven wrong and to try to illicit links precisely like that!

Johanna said...

Oh, I'm glad I could help then. (I try not to assume I have particular followers.) It's difficult these days to keep up with just who's talking about what, and you are right, discussion and types of coverage do seem to fragment into particular audiences. I'm glad you've brought this topic up to find out more.

Brigid said...

I came to pretty much the same conclusion you did about two years ago, so I started the Good Comics for Kids blog, which is a group blog covering comics, webcomics, and graphic novels for readers up to age 16. We started as an independent blog but moved onto the School Library Journal site about six months later. Four of our nine bloggers are librarians, but we are all comics fans first, and the site is written as much for the general readers as for librarians. Stop by and check it out!

Will do! Thanks, Brigid!

Chad said...

Not only is it a silly thing to say for the reasons you cite, but if folks just HAVE to have kids' comics produced by the big two, DC and Marvel put out more kids' comics now than they have in a loooong while, and they've been doing so for several years now.

Jesse Post said...

It might be an interesting journalistic/blog-istic exercise to compile a list of current regularly-occurring kids comics and put out a "discuss these if you please" challenge!

Head start: our Disney-branded line of periodical comics currently numbers 10 monthlies.

Brigid said...

Lori Henderson posts the week's all-ages comics and manga every Friday on our blog. Here is the latest edition.