Friday, 11 September 2009

Komiks for Kids

Apropos of my previous post on Wayne Osborne's FX, I have been thinking a bit about the preconceived and often mistaken ideas many people seem to have with regards to comics. The most frequent one being the age old notion that comics are for kids. Needless to say, perhaps, I find this a rather brusque way of pushing an entire medium off the table, as it were.

Don't get me wrong. There have been plenty of comics written and drawn specifically aimed at kids. But there has also, for a long time, existed a notion of an audience group entitled All Ages. That is, material neither aimed exclusively at kids nor at adults, but one going for a broader market encompassing both (early Marvel comics at the hands of Stan Lee et al surely refined creating comics for that particular group). And then, of course, there are also an array of comics aimed directly at adults, both in the sense of adult material and material for mature readers (terminology which I'll deal with further in a forthcoming post).

In my mind, there is certainly room for all of these categories in the spectrum and it is sad that there exists such an at least seemingly large group of the general public who still see the medium itself as aimed only at children.

The latter is also somewhat ironic, seeing as how there's been an ongoing trend lately (basically since at least the mid-90s onwards) at the Big Two in the US (i.e. DC and Marvel), both of which have slowly been moving more and more into publishing aimed at mature readers. Very much so, in the sense that I would not easily pick up a mainstream superhero comic for kids I know, without first really, really making sure that the content is appropriate. And more often than not... well, let's just say that you can toss a great number of them out the window as inappropriate just by looking at the covers.

Now, the reasons mostly cited for this move state that the companies follow their readership. There have been a number of long time fans developing over the years (and yes, to certain degrees I am certainly in those numbers), readers who have followed the comics (or, in some cases, at least returned to them) rather than abandoning them when exiting adolescence. This in and of itself is probably not new, but in the wake of the Direct Sales Market's impact on the overall market and a lessened availability of the comics themselves, a younger, new readership simply isn't exposed to comics as easily as once it used to be. Consequently, the readership by and large has tilted, giving way to an older audience, at least part of which has quite different demands vis-a-vis requested material, and the companies respond to the readers whose voices can be heard (i.e. the readers already there).

Much as I can see the gains of having specialised comics stores (speaking as a Swede, I sincerely doubt I'd have made the shift to reading my comics primarily in English if not for the existence of a local comics store selling US imports), the market punishes itself if those outlets are the only ones carrying the material. Because the problem with any specialist store is that it requires that people have a reason to go there in the first place. With some types of merchandise, say tools or the like, needs may arise that force potential users to find the tool store. But there is no such natural need for a comicbook. It needs to be introduced and the interest then nurtured in some sense. Much like reading and literature.

And there is the insanity of it all, because if the companies don't tend, not only to the dwindling audience they have, but also to the potential new audiences out there, they will end up losing it all.

It seems fairly clear that people who read comics when they were young are more likely to pick up comics as adults than those to whom the language of the medium is as foreign as... well, a foreign language. And it is well known that we learn languages more easily when we're young.

I maintain, this should not have to be an either-or situation. As I stated early on in this post, there is room for all the categories under discussion, but it is ever so important that the stuff specifically aimed at (or at the very least inclusive of) kids cannot be taken away. Such a move is counter-productive.

Children's literature has not been pushed out to make room for literature (for adults). Rather children's literature is what we use to help children, not only learn how to read, but to appreciate reading and reading for its own sake. It is what publishers and the literary market use to get new readers hooked on the concept of books itself, to secure new generations of readers.

Comics being a medium in its own right requires the same introduction. Comics must be readily available to children, both as an additional useful tool in the quest to acquire reading skills and as a way of introducing not only the medium itself but its language of sequential images and text as well. Because if that isn't done, where is the next generation of comics readers going to come from?

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