Are comics for kids?

comics-for-kidsIn my part of the world, comics are often considered something for kids. The colorful, cartoony style often associated with comics is one reason, another is the subject matter and the stories themselves.

But what about graphic novels such as Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan or Blankets? That’s not for kids. Yet I often find those books on the shelves of the bookstores next to Naruto and Dragonball, or at the kids literature section at my local library.

In my podcast interview with indie comics creator Jason Little, he talks about his experience with US readers slamming his brightly colored Bee books shut when they realize there’s sex and drug abuse in them. In France it seems they are much more open to adult subject matter being tackled in a cartoony way.

The whole explicit language thing is not something I ever gave much thought in my Danish career, but in the US there are certain words (see? I can’t even write them HERE in fear of getting in trouble!) that will instantly narrow down your reader segment. Some stores won’t even order a book with explicit language! Yet the US comics scene seems to have no trouble with explicit violence! For a foreigner it’s kind of hard to figure out. I can draw a naked breast from the side – a “side boob” (is “boob” a dirty word? I don’t even know!) – but not from the front.

I can understand the want to protect our kids from foul language, but surely foul behavior should be included in this? I can chop someone’s head off in a comic, but I can’t say “shit”.

Oops, just did.

The funny thing about the US scene is that the colorful superhero comics that many associate with kids, are mostly being bought by adults(!). In Denmark, the mantra for many years has been “you want to have a succesful comic book, you have to target kids”. I never bought into this. I always followed my heart in terms of what stories I wanted to tell, then worry about the audience. Slightly naive, I know. But in my mind, comics are NOT for kids. At least not the ones I read – and certainly not the ones I make. And I wish people wouldn’t automatically assume I make stuff for kids, when I say I make comics.

So, I have a question for you: How are comics perceived where YOU’RE from?

Related podcast: Colorful Sex with Jason Little

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12 Responses to “Are comics for kids?”

  1. Carlo Vergara March 17, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    Hello, Palle! In the Philippines, comics were made for general audiences. There were kids’ comics, but there were also a lot of comics of various genre, from domestic dramas to horror to action (even pornography!). I say this in the past tense because the Filipino comics industry collapsed in the 90s after enjoying decades of popularity. Despite that collapse, I believe that comics in the Philippines is still seen here not as an exclusively kids’ medium. 🙂

  2. Amy Vander Vorste March 17, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Being from the US and also a mom of young ones, I feel I have to carefully go through what comics make it home for all of us to read. Especially with a young one that’s pretty sensitive. If I want to read something more “adult” (for a lack of better wording, since I don’t read anything that’s got tons of swearing, sex or violence in it), I only read it digitally like I did with “The Mire” and Lady Mechanica. I’ve been thrilled to see the age suggestions on places like comixology. I don’t always agree with the suggestions, but it’s a start. It’s a hard call, because there’s some stories I’d like my kids to eventually read that will bring up topics that we can discuss as a family (such as Think Tank). But I have a hard time seeing why The Mire and Think Tank are rated differently. Even Lady Mechanica is more violent than The Mire and rated at 12+ while the Mire is 15+. Go figure. It makes no sense to me.

    It’s also kind of weird because kids these days have access to all sorts of things, such as YouTube. How can I “censor” comics coming into my house when they can easily look up videos for Minecraft tutorials with tons of swearing in them? We’ve been working on this in our household. I don’t want to limit information for them. But I’m also asking them to not watch videos full of such words, to have some judgement. Videos with swearing here and there – well even I slip up time to time. We’ll see how much I can trust them and go from there. Content filters only do so much for this kind of thing.

    Adult vs. for children in the comics, game, and entertainment industry is just weird. We parents just need to research or read it first if they want to limit what their kids see. (Oh darn, I’ll have to read more comics this way…)

    • Palle Schmidt March 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Amy. I have two girls of my own, and quite often are faced with the dilemma of what they can watch – but they rarely seek out any of the gnarly stuff, they just YouTube for princess videos..!

      What I try to teach my kids is that some words offend or hurt – not me, I don’t rightly care, but others might. And I do try to get my oldest to watch her language around her sister (who’s 4) as she just soaks up everything!

      Where getting a bit off topic here, but I just think the world has bigger problems than nudity and harsh language. And like you say, the censorship rules are pretty confusing. I brought my eldest to Comic Con an afternoon two years ago and she was banned (by the salesperson) from touching a Hello Kitty thingy that was apparently a sex toy! How could a six-year old possible grasp that notion? We do expect a lot from our kids these days…

  3. Amy Vander Vorste March 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    P.S. One more thought. I think it may be an issue of what’s easier to “label”. Swear words may just be easier for an editor to catch IT’s a harder call to say if a picture of a person fully or partially naked is “adult” or not, acceptable or not. It’s very situational. It’s kind of like taking my youngest to the art museum and trying to explain about the copy of the naked statue of David. Nigh impossible to explain and hard for my daughter to accept at a young age that nudity can be in art and it’s not always covered up. But that’s just my $.02.

  4. John Edingfield II March 17, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    The U.S. has been slowly evolving in its view of comics in general. Prior to the 1970’s Comics were view primarily for children. Then in the later part of the 1970’s early 1980’s Will Eisner published his Contract with God Trilogy etc which showed just how sequential art could be used to tell a truly compelling story that held (for lack of a better phrase) “adult themes”. And we have evolved from there.
    Unfortunately the U.S. tries to do the job of the parents by policing what is appropriate for younger views and places restrictions and limitations on what is and isn’t suitable… so it has always been left up to a small group of self driven, self published artists to push the envelope of what is acceptable in society.
    Comics here are still viewed as either for children or the geek community (we know who we are) – but that too is slowly changing and perhaps in the near future we will see a renaissance of sequential art taking place.

    • Palle Schmidt March 18, 2014 at 6:53 am #

      “A renaissance of sequential art”. I’m all for that, hope you’re right!

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

  5. Jay Woodruff March 18, 2014 at 12:51 am #

    I think that as “comics” continues to evolve as an art form and medium, people will have to be come more aware. If you go to Barnes and Noble, everyone knows that there are some books written specifically for children, and some in other sections that may not be appropriate.
    Animation still suffers from this, “Cartoons” are viewed as only for kids. I once lost a lot of respect at an IT job I had when I asked my boss if he had seen Wall-E, A great movie, and not just for kids. But my supervisor thought I was childish for bringing up a “children’s movie” in conversation.

    • Palle Schmidt March 18, 2014 at 6:56 am #

      Wall-E is a GREAT movie. One of the sharpest critiques of western civilization I’ve seen. The trailer did give the idea that it was a quite kids-only film. Luckily I have kids, or I might never have seen it!

  6. Michael Freely March 19, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    I think in America it is largely an age separation. It you are under 40, you are much more likely to think of comics as a versatile medium, capable of a wide range of expression. But only if you call them graphic novels. Comics are what man-children read (sarcasm). That said almost everybody (but my Nana, who wonders why the heck I haven’t gone back to school for something sensible) thinks that comics are cool and get very excited when I tell them I am learning how to make them.

    When I was growing up, cartoons were only for kids. They are now well accepted to be for both kids and adults, though there is still a sense that rude cartoons like South Park are some sort of perversion of a wholesome medium. My Dad thinks “Porkies” is hilarious and totally appropriate for Adults but he will never watch South Park, even though South Park has well developed message and theme and “Porkies” is like a glimpse into a drunken fraternity boy’s daydreams.

    Last thought: For a work to be adult, it is not what the subject material of the piece that is important but the quality of it. My Neighbor Totoro is a simple story with children’s themes but an adult can watch it and be moved because it still captures part of the great scape of human experience. Even if that experience is just about being a child.

    • Palle Schmidt March 19, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

      Great insights here, Michael. It is truly great when stories can touch kids and adults alike. Jeff Smith’s Bone springs to mind.

      I think the divide you speak of is almost universal. If you grew up with Alan Moore and Frank Miller, you are able to see comics as something for adults too. You might be off by a year or two though – I’m 41!

  7. Michael Freely March 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Aw, jeez Palle. I can’t believe I’ve been listening to you this whole time and you’re too old to be hip! Hahaha!!
    But seriously, it looks like you hit on a topic near and dear to people’s hearts.

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