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  1. #1
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Default Should Mainstream Superhero Comics be Aimed at the Intelligent Ten Year Again?

    I think it's safe to say the assumed comic book audience has changed drastically in the last two decades.

    Where the best comics were once aimed at 'the intelligent ten year old,' there is now an overwhelming trend to write toward the middle-aged man.

    The problem is that comics that didn't insult kids' intelligence always brought in an older demographic, too. Maybe it wasn't cool to admit it at the time, but all that changed with Stan Lee. Soon college kids were writing in talking about Peter Parker and Jean Paul Sartre. But the most important thing to note is that Peter Parker never talked about existentialism, at least not directly. Stan Lee's characters waxed philosophical, but in the most poetic or melodramtic fashion possible. In other words, the comics were written in such a way that fans could bring weighty philosophical issues into the mix. Or they could just turn their brains off and enjoy the action and soap opera.

    Some comics seem to still walk that line quite nicely, like Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, Hickman's (sadly over) FF run, or Waid's Daredevil. And yes, they can go to extremely dark places, but children's narratives always have. I'd even go so far as to argue that children's narratives are traditionally darker, because when everything is larger than life so are the monsters.

    When the assumed audience was ten, you had to move the action along quickly to keep their attention. But when you're dealing with individuals who consider the newspaper light morning reading, everything changes. You can frame Avengers Disassembled through AvX as a decades long 'mega-arc' and your audience will buy into the idea with pleasure.

    This could be seen as the logical continuation of what Stan Lee did when he gradually moved from one-shot stories with ongoing subplots to two and three parters. But I would argue that things have progressed to illogical extremes that undermine the immediacy of the superhero comic book narrative. Even in larger arcs, every individual issue had its own conflict that was brought to a head by issue's end (even if it was a cliffhanger).

    It also reflects the way comic writers break into mainstream superheroes now. Historically, comic writers and artists learned their craft with shorter pieces that shared space in an anthology title. Up through the 80s, comic companies expected creators to know how to tell a five-page story before they could tell a twenty-two page one.

    Now writers tend to either break in via work in another industry (i e animation, film, television or novels) or an independent comic book project. So it's more likely that the creator has already tackled a mega-arc or self-contained graphic novel without the traditional 20-22 page format. That makes a big difference in terms of how one approaches pacing. Animation and novels can afford longer conversations than comics.

    This also impacts the visual focus of the comic IMO. In a Lee/Kirby comic, characters are always acting. If Hawkeye questions Captain America's leadership, he doesn't do it over coffee. He does it during a training session, while Cap dodges projectiles and he practices trick shots on dummies.

    The conventional wisdom seems to be that slowing the narrative down allows writers to flesh characters and their motivations out more. In reality, all it does is draw attention to the inevitable logical inconsistencies involved in superhero drama. It's easier to gloss over those inconsistencies in the middle of a firefight than the Avengers breakroom, or when they happen in passing rather than being emphasized repeatedly over the course of a year.

    A superhero comic is a sleight-of-hand trick, and there's a reason why those don't work in slow motion.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  2. #2
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    Their are a lot of Superhero comics aimed at ten year olds, they just don't sell very well. I think the Ideal age demographics for superheroes is Junior high aged kids.
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  3. #3
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mathew101281 View Post
    Their are a lot of Superhero comics aimed at ten year olds, they just don't sell very well. I think the Ideal age demographics for superheroes is Junior high aged kids.
    I tend to think 'the intelligent ten year old' encompasses that demographic, too.

    Basically, a comic that's high on action, big on story, and doesn't talk down to the reader.

    I'm also speaking more to the idea that mainstream superhero comics should be aimed at the 10 year old, which wouldn't exclude older readers.

    But it would, IMO, make for better superhero comics.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  4. #4

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    I volunteer in a reading program with children--although the oldest would be nine, not ten--and they tell me they read graphic novels. But what they mean when they say that isn't the comic books from DC and Marvel, but actual books with new stories in comic book format aimed at their age group.

    For example this weekend I bought four of the five novels in the Lego Ninjago series from Papercutz (wasn't able to find no. 4 in the series--hopefully I can track it down somewheres), as I know one of the boys I work with wants to read these books.

    I also picked up Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon--as I thoroughly appreciated their 9/11 Report. That's for my own reading pleasure, but it seems like a book that tween-age children could enjoy. And if I ever find myself working with that age level, I would share this book with them.

    There's a wide range of GNs out there that are suited to children around ten years old. Other publishers are able to reach this market, but DC and Marvel are out of touch.

  5. #5
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by An Ear In The Fireplace View Post
    There's a wide range of GNs out there that are suited to children around ten years old. Other publishers are able to reach this market, but DC and Marvel are out of touch.
    Not entirely out of touch. There are Marvel and DC Comics my ten year old son enjoys, and there are others that bore him to tears.

    But on the whole, there's just not that same...energy. The old comics were bursting with action and ideas. The current trend stretches one idea out for a long time rather than leaping to the next one.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  6. #6

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    There are some DCs and Marvels I'm tempted to share with the kids, but they're too continuity intensive. My primary aim is to teach reading skills and trying to understand the concepts gets in the way of reading during the small time we have. And I need to have well bound books. I would never share regular floppies, because kids are rough with these books and those comics can't stand up. I find that other publishers do a better job of packaging the DC and Marvel heroes--so there are some books featuring DC and Marvel characters, but they're put together by another publisher. Kids would rather read a book about Lego Batman than New 52 Batman.

  7. #7
    Senior Member MDG's Avatar
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    This argument's been going on for almost 30 years, probably, but it's a shame that the flagship characters of the big two aren't aimed at getting new readers.
    "It's just lines on paper, folks!"

  8. #8
    what happens next? tolworthy's Avatar
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    The fact that superhero comics now need separate kids' versions is an indictment of lack of creativity in the medium, IMO.

    The best stories work on different levels, just like Pixar movies. Nobody would define a Pixar movie as aimed at ten year olds, yet ten year olds love them.

    I am also tempted to comment on the fallacy that adult must equal sex, blood, and opaque stories. or the even more common fallacy sex blood and opaque stories are the only way to tell adult themes.

    All great national epics work on multiple levels. From the Bible to the Iliad, from the Thousand and One Nights to the Brothers Grimm. They can work as pre-school stories, horror stories, subjects for scholarly debate, and everything in between. As for examples of comics that work on multiple levels, well I don't want to be boring and predictable, but see my sig line. :)

    In my opinion, anyway.
    Last edited by tolworthy; 11-19-2012 at 01:38 PM.

  9. #9
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    Comix used to be for kids, they also used to cost a dime. I remember being able to buy a 1/2 dozen and have change from a single buck! The comix industry couldn't survive if they aimed their product at kids again, kids can't afford them!

  10. #10
    Senior Member dr chimp's Avatar
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    in general superhero comics seem pretty tame today to me
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  11. #11
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by An Ear In The Fireplace View Post
    There are some DCs and Marvels I'm tempted to share with the kids, but they're too continuity intensive. My primary aim is to teach reading skills and trying to understand the concepts gets in the way of reading during the small time we have. And I need to have well bound books. I would never share regular floppies, because kids are rough with these books and those comics can't stand up. I find that other publishers do a better job of packaging the DC and Marvel heroes--so there are some books featuring DC and Marvel characters, but they're put together by another publisher. Kids would rather read a book about Lego Batman than New 52 Batman.
    That makes sense. Continuity-wise, if my son has any questions he just comes to me. And if I don't know, I look it up. But that's not exactly a new reader-friendly model.

    Quote Originally Posted by MDG View Post
    This argument's been going on for almost 30 years, probably, but it's a shame that the flagship characters of the big two aren't aimed at getting new readers.
    It's funny, because thirty years ago the argument was, "It's a shame that people don't take comics seriously."

    I'm not sure that the general public takes them any more seriously now than they did then. Seems like we mostly succeeded in pushing kids away, but not necessarily 'legitimizing' the art form. The people who believe in it grew up on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by tolworthy View Post
    The fact that superhero comics now need separate kids' versions is an indictment of lack of creativity in the medium, IMO.

    The best stories work on different levels, just like Pixar movies. Nobody would define a Pixar movie as aimed at ten year olds, yet ten year olds love them.

    I am also tempted to comment on the fallacy that adult must equal sex, blood, and opaque stories. or the even more common fallacy sex blood and opaque stories are the only way to tell adult themes.

    All great national epics work on multiple levels. From the Bible to the Iliad, from the Thousand and One Nights to the Brothers Grimm. They can work as pre-school stories, horror stories, subjects for scholarly debate, and everything in between. As for examples of comics that work on multiple levels, well I don't want to be boring and predictable, but see my sig line. :)

    In my opinion, anyway.
    I do think the best stories work on multiple levels. Aim a story at an adult, you've not only cut off kids but, um, most adults.

    Adults need children's narratives more than kids do, because they tend to value hope over whatever brand of cynicism is in fashion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chazro View Post
    Comix used to be for kids, they also used to cost a dime. I remember being able to buy a 1/2 dozen and have change from a single buck! The comix industry couldn't survive if they aimed their product at kids again, kids can't afford them!
    Well, kids put money down on video game rentals and the like. But there is a cost to value ratio, and it's hard to make 22 pages compete with hours of game play.

    The DC digital comic "Lil' Gotham" is great so far and it's .99 cents--but admittedly a little shorter.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  12. #12
    Hardcover addict dupont2005's Avatar
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    There would be a bit of a transition period, and I think the way comics are marketed and distributed would also have to change, but in the long run I think returning to kid friendly comics is the best thing mainstream super hero publishers could do. The market they are after, whicvh seems to be the die hard lifelong fan adult completionist, is going to buy it no matter what. Expanding the market to thirty somethings who have never before been insterested in super hero comics is absolutely not realistic. Hoping the children can be hooked on the characters through cartoons and video games and become comic readers later in life is highly unlikely. You really have to do what used to be the norm. Make them cheap, put them in grocery stores and gas stations, and make them kid friendly.
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  13. #13
    Hardcover addict dupont2005's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Walton View Post
    Well, kids put money down on video game rentals and the like. But there is a cost to value ratio, and it's hard to make 22 pages compete with hours of game play.

    The DC digital comic "Lil' Gotham" is great so far and it's .99 cents--but admittedly a little shorter.
    I grew up poor. I don't remember dime comics but I remember dollar comics. I remember mom being willing to buy me one a week. They did give me hours of enjoyment. Years of enjoyment actually. They were read and reread and traced and retraced until they were falling apart.
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  14. #14
    Cute.5 Aaron King's Avatar
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    I've worked at bookstores and comic stores and libraries for years now, so I can say that a lot of kids still read comics. However, as has been noted, it's not superhero comics: it's manga or Ninjago or Wimpy Kid or stuff like Anya's Ghost.

    I don't think it's a problem with publishers. There have always been lines of kids comics (Marvel Adventures, DC Nation, etc.) along with in-universe stuff that's all-ages or tries to recapture Silver Age mentalities (Waid's Daredevil, Wolverine & the X-Men, etc.). I think that most superheroes have just acquired a haze of "old stuff" or "confusing stuff" or "not as fun." There are obviously kids that dig them, and things like Superhero Squad seem to do well.

    I don't know. It's weird. Maybe with the Disney purchase, we'll see more good superhero comics getting into kids' hands.
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  15. #15

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    Absolutely! Look at Atomic Robo. While it's maybe not aimed specifically at intelligent 10 year olds, it certainly can be enjoyed by them. I enjoy it and so do all of my kids (11 year old girl; 18, 9 and 7 year old boys). While some issues are "to be continued," each is still a satisfying read. I've never heard anyone say Atomic Robo was "too grown-up" or "too kiddie." Everyone just enjoys it at whatever level they happen to be at. That's how I remember super hero comics being when I was a kid.
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