Your kid is starting to show an interest in comics and you want to encourage it —comics are after all linked to increased early literacy and general AWESOMENESS —but you know, The New 52 might be just a tad mature for a 6 or 7 year old.
Here’s 5 kid-friendly ways to nurture the love.
Vintage Comics (Bronze Age, Silver Age, Gold Age)
This is where your kid can experience the comic book masters and their incredible creations. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Denny O’Neil —if you don’t know much about comics and want a really good audio crash course, just listen to Fat Man on Batman and let the sonorous voice of Kevin Smith guide you through amazing interviews with some of these giants.
Vintage comics are great for kids because they are from a time where content was still developed with (by our standards) fairly conservative themes. Anything from the 60s, 70s, or 80s, is going to be ridiculously PG thanks to the Comics Code Authority. I say ‘thanks’ ironically, because it was basically a huge censor for artists and writers in the comics industry, but now that I’m a parent I can consider anything with the stamp on it ‘safe’. I’m talking, they would not let Katy Keene show cleavage in a shirt, safe.
There’s nothing that remotely implies sex, no concealed weapons, no narcotics (unless they were portrayed as viscous habits), nothing horrific or gruesome — these are about as squeaky clean cut as you’re going to get. In fact in my opinion they make Disney movies look dirty.
More importantly though, here is where you see the beginnings of Batman, Superman, Hulk, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Spiderman… You name it.
Another awesome suggestion from Heath — so many of the vintage comics are black and white, why not treat them as colouring books for minis?
Super Cheap Singles / Back Issues
So they don’t tell an origin story in the right sequence. So they’re one-offs and you might never know what happens next. But they smell pleasantly musty, they’re usually super cheap, and they nurture curiosity and imagination.
You can grab these cheapies in used book stores that feature graphic novels or that have a comic section, at garage sales, or in sale bins at comic shops. You can also ask your family and friends to keep you in mind if they’re paring down their collections or if they’re giving anything away. You can go through friendly donations like Halloween treats to measure content appropriateness and either read the good stuff yourself, or keep collecting for your kid until you give them a massive box of soul surging, bound newsprint treasure. Ok that just made me misty-eyed.
This is exactly how I got into comics. When I was 7, I was at a fancy party at our family friends’ house, and their boys (a good 15 years older than me) gave me a box of what they thought might be kid-friendly entertainment. Inside was a tattered collection of comics, and I have never been the same since.
Marvel & DC Kids Offerings
If you want to support the comic experience and you can’t get to a store or library, there are free Marvel and DC comics for kids online. You can read these on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
DCcomics.com doesn’t have a ‘kids’ section per say but you can browse through their free comics and check out what’s new. You can also download issues of Tiny Titans —where the elementary school offspring of DC legends play together in short, Archie-style vignettes— via Comixology, a free app that I’ll talk more about in a minute.
In print, Superman’s Family Adventures are pretty big over at DC and my 4 year old loves them, along with the Tiny Titans.
World of Reading has reading-level based books for kids that feature Marvel’s Avengers and Spiderman, while I Can Read (another reading-level based series) has teamed up with DC to bring you kid-friendly stories featuring Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. These are large-type books make learning to read fun, and are a gateway to superhero classics.
Experience the Comic Shop or Library Together
Any comic shop is fun for a kid. There are pictures of favourite, familiar and enticingly new heroes and villains, toys everywhere, and even us older kids find it impossible not to dart from one shelf to the other asking eagerly about issues and artists and inventory.
So don’t worry so much if your kid touches a novel on a low shelf (*gasp*), and let them be a customer and ask questions! In my experience the staff at every comic shop started their shop or works there because um…they love comics. They will not only give you suggestions, but probably tell you their favourites growing up. Your only concern? Having enough time to listen.
Some of our Toronto favourites are:
Little Island Comics is the first and possibly only kids comic book shop! Not only do they have great comics for kids of all ages, they also have tons of artist/author events and creative programs to inspire and educate your mini.
Apps and All That
My love of comics is based in tactility as well as an appreciation for art and love of the stories and content. I don’t know that I would have the same fascination with them now if I couldn’t feel the pleasant grain of a yellowed, dog-eared newsprint page corner; or appreciate the ether-like aroma, freshly cracked spine, or slight sheen of glossy stock of a new graphic novel.
As a parent I love that I can download and stay up to date with whichever storylines I want because of free apps like Comixology, and I also love that I can search kids’ titles to see what content is out there. But it doesn’t replace the simple pleasure of experiencing print, and engaging in the culture of the comics community with other readers and fans.
That being said, there’s no right place to start, and there’s no wrong way to get excited about reading. Where your love of comics stops is up to you, and is as individual as your favourite story arch in the favourite universe of your favourite character.
Want to experience the ultimate primer in comics and all things geek? Fan Expo Canada is on this weekend. Check it out!