Saturday, September 11, 2004

More Kids and Comics

I used to talk about comics with Jill and more than once we said it was strange that I was into them at all, since they seem to be a medium that for the most part passed up kids my age. I mean, folks my age knew what they were, and some even had them as a kid, but I was the only kid at my school who went to the comic shop every Wednesday to load up on new books. Well, once I knew there were such things as comic shops, anyway. Before that, I went to Waldenbooks at Eastgate Mall and raided the rack.

But it's not so strange when you look into it. I was into comics because my brother was into comics. My brother is ten years older than me, so he was a kid in the late 70's and early 80's. The first comic book I remember owning was a copy of Green Lantern he gave to me. The first one I remember buying was an Alpha Flight I picked up on a trip to Waldenbooks with him. He was the one who introduced me Don Parker's Records and Comics, the first comics specialty shop I'd ever been to. We used to trade comics with each other, and I'm pretty sure he always came out ahead on those deals. But I was into comics because he was, and I was into Marvel comics because he was. I kept my comics in a footlocker, because he did too. I started buying white longboxes after he did. I started bagging my comics because he showed me how to get the comics into the bags without the tape getting stuck to them.

He joined the Navy and moved to Florida when he was 20, so my comics interests were left to evolve on their own after that. I got into DC/Vertigo books and indie titles like BONE and MADMAN. I picked up the SPX anthologies and started to recognize names like James Kochalka and Alex Robinson. I found SIN CITY and FROM HELL. As a teenager I wrote my own comic book sagas, plotting out a 300-issue superhero epic and re-imagining the Death of Superman as if I'd thought of it on my own, acting out key scenes with G.I. Joe figures. I didn't really find other people who were into comics until I was in my 20's, and even then it wasn't quite the same thing. I like superheroes, but I don't read about them anymore. But I still think about them, and what they mean and where they're going, and where comics are going as a medium and an art form and an industry. Jill and I used to talk about kids and comics and whether they were reading them or not.

I went to Borders the other day because they're having a manga/graphic novel sale. I don't know if you've looked at the comics section of your local chain bookstore lately, but it's pretty interesting. At the one closest to my house they have two sections of superhero and "literary" Western comics, and about twice that of manga. A crowd of kids descended on the manga while I was looking at the Other Stuff and they were talking excitedly about the new books that were out in their series. A lot of manga titles stretch on for five, ten, twenty volumes, each at between ten and twenty dollars apiece, and kids and teenagers are the ones buying them. And they're buying them from bookstores like Borders, not from the local comics shop. And when I say kids, I mean girls too--the particular group I saw was made up of three girls and one boy.

I think about the people creating comics a lot. Mainstream comics, sold at the comics shops, are still peddling 24 page pamphlets, still about superheros, still written by grown white men. The difference between now and when my brother was growing up is that they're now being bought by grown white men, too. The same dude who followed the adventures of Batman and Robin when he was 13 is still buying them now that he's 33. But they're still being written as if a 13-year-old is reading it--it's curious and it's maddening and it used to make me wonder what would happen to comics in ten or twenty years, when the current audience moves or runs out of cash or dies off.

But in that bookstore the other day I figured out that ten years from now, the people writing and drawing comics will be drawing from a different model than creators my age or my brother's age. They'll have grown up on manga and trade collections and comics sold in bookstores and not comics shops. They'll be open to more possibilities of what comics can be and have been and they won't be as limited by format as the superhero folks are. I'm excited to see how their reading tastes evolve. I bet they'll move to the stuff non-comics publishers are putting out, like PERSEPOLIS and IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS from Pantheon, or publishers like Top Shelf who specialize in trades. I'm interested in who they'll be pitching their own stories to, since the comics they're growing up on are mostly imports from Japan. But I'm sure it'll work itself out, and I'm kind of excited to see the work they produce.

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