Destroying Comics: Comics For Kids

Marvel's late "kids" line, Star Comics
Every the comics' gadfly, I thought I'd chime in on a little tidbit that bounced around the virtual talk box yesterday, bleeding into today, even.

Roger Langridge, popular writer of Thor the Mighty Avenger, got things rolling with this quote from his blog, which was later reposted by Robot 6 on CBR:

I really don’t think Marvel and DC are helping things by having gritty, R-rated versions of their superheroes in their main comics – what they sell as the “real” versions – while simultaneously selling those exact same characters in kids’ comics and plastering them all over lunchboxes and animated cartoons… Casual readership by kids, or by parents for their kids, is effectively impossible the way things are currently structured. And I think the waters are muddied too far now to claw that ground back. I think it’s insane that DC have spent 70 years making Superman as big as Mickey Mouse, and branding him to be understood by parents as being pretty much as kid-friendly as Mickey Mouse, only to piss that brand away in a decade. Nothing wrong with doing mature content in comics – in fact, it should be encouraged as often as possible – but doing it with characters who are on your kids’ lunchboxes is kind of moronic. Take a lesson from Watchmen and come up with new characters for that stuff. And then go back to Superman and Batman and put the same kind of love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve been putting into all those rape scenes and body mutilations into something kids can read, and adults can also be proud to read because of all the love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve put into it, and make those the “real” versions.

People who both a) read comic books and b) like to post their views online ran with this quote.  Many, of course, agreed with Langridge, and pointed towards things like death, violence, rape, vomiting blood, sleeping with Norman Osborne, what have you as examples that, hey, those aren't the people on my kids' sheets!  It's crazy that the Big Two are marketing two different versions of the same characters!

Others responded with "I like my adult superheroes doing adult things and I don't want Batman patting bad guys on the head just because some brat out there wears Batman Underoos."

The next morning, Milk and Cheese creator Evan Dorkin added this on Twitter:

No one is going to try to pussify your goddamned Batman. The pool's already been pissed in, for good or bad. You've won. You can sleep well.

There are a lot of things about this discussion that, I think, have been left unaddressed.  First and foremost, it's not strange for any company that produces anything to modify their product for a market.  Every company does it.  Coco-Cola does (you know they still make OK Soda in certain markets?).  Hollywood does it (or do you think they actually show everything in an R rated movie on a plane?).  Heck, a few years ago venerated fantasy fiction franchise Dragonlance came out with series of Young Adult books that were just re-writes of the original books for a younger audience.  This is not new or different and it's certainly not bad.

I also can't imagine most creators would embrace the idea that only certain types of stories can be told with specific characters.  It would be pretty awful to think that we would never have Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns because Batman's in a Saturday morning cartoon, and all versions of Batman must be the same.

But what I find most interesting is the theory that there's a demand for the character who appear on lunchboxes and backpacks or even in the cartoons.  The idea that said demand not only exists, but is greater than the demand for "R-rated" superheroes is even harder to swallow.

I made comments in that vein on Twitter, and got a response from friend of the blog, Chris, who works at Hollywood's own Meltdown Comics:

@ : Kids, unless they are really young (<6 or so), may like "kids comics", but they love @ books, in my experience

The short lived Legion comic based on the cartoon
And I think he raises a good point.  As I mentioned in my last blog about comics, the first time I was ever offered a comic book, I was given a choice between Elfquest and a Disney duck book -- I took the one with the fighting (and implied sex, although I didn't realize it at the time).  The ducks were for kids, as far as I was concerned, and I didn't want something that was for kids.

Which begs the question: Do kids even want kids comics?

I don't think so.  I know I didn't.  The movie version of Thor is rated PG-13, but if the all ages version of that character is more popular, than why would the studio go with a PG-13 version?  Answer: because the all ages version isn't more popular, it just shows up in more places.

Yes, there's a lot to debate as far as why "kids" comics aren't more popular.  Every single time Marvel or DC get a new cartoon on the air, there's a comic book version of that cartoon on the stands to match it...and yet those titles are usually canceled after only a few months because they simply don't sell (DC's foray into cartoon based anthologies seems like a good one, though, but that's an entire other discussion about format and demographics).  Is marketing to blame?  Retailers? Parents? Maybe.  It's a good discussion to have.

I think it's a desire for a happy medium, a desire for balance.  Those demanding more "kid friendly" fare point to all the gruesome moments in recent comics history that are used more for shock value than anything else, but those titles are on one end of the spectrum.  No one was raped, eaten, or stuck in a refrigerator in any of the comics I bought yesterday.

But that tone seems to be a dominant element in superhero comics these days.  And so one extreme is met by another in an effort to produce balance.  In a rather perverse way, it seems like Hollywood might actually be right about something: PG-13 is a happy medium for a product that's meant to appeal to the movie going masses.

In the end, Marvel and DC are going to market versions of their characters that sell, it just so happens that different version sell in different forms.  But the idea that one version should be sold across the board seems bad, no matter which version it is.