What’s the matter with KIDS COMICS these days?
One of my focuses while working in a comic book store (shout out to Rock Shop just north of Atlanta!) is the next generation of comics buyers. I have three nieces and a nephew ranging from ages 6-11. I’m “Cool Aunt Hope” that gets them all the comics. But with every birthday and Christmas that rolls around, I keep running into the same problems when buying presents for them.
The Big Two, Marvel and DC Comics, have no ongoing series
The problem is the Big Two don’t have any real ongoing series for kids. I don’t understand why there’s not a priority to focus on children. Don’t they realize in three, five, ten, fifteen years the age group my nieces and nephew are at will be their new buyers? Why not focus on helping kids find a love for comics? It’s been statistically proven that comic books help boost a child’s literacy skills. Heck, we even have a customer who enrolled his son into comic reading program. The son has dyslexia, and comics are much easier to read instead of rows and rows of text in a book.
Okay, I do have to give DC Comics some credit. They have Teen Titans Go! The problem is that it’s bi-monthly meaning only six issues come out in a year. That’s hardly enough to satisfy any child. This is an insanely popular show. I don’t understand why they don’t run it monthly. Every time we get Teen Titans Go! in our store, we always sell out of it. We also sell out of Tiny Titans and Lil’ Gotham in trade paperbacks. Sales the last few months have proven that Batman is DC Comics’ bread and butter. Titles that tie in to Batman tend to do better than those that don’t. Why not give children an ongoing Batman series?
Marvel’s not doing much better. They’re running their Marvel Universe comic books based on their television shows on Disney XD. Wait, did I say “based on the shows?” I mean they take screen shots of the episodes and print them as comics.
Why? Why do this? This is lazy on Marvel’s part. I bought one of these for my nephew. He opened it and said, “Aunt Hope, I’ve already seen this episode.” He ended up not reading the comic, and I wasted my money getting it for him. Our store carries all of the Marvel Universe comics. They sit there as other titles get bought up. Usually, our kid customers buy them if there’s nothing else to pick.
What do I mean by “nothing else to pick?”
When we had in Marvel Super Hero Spectacular and Avengers: No More Bullying, we sold out of both before any of the Marvel Universe comics that month. It’s because they were fresh new stories with characters that kids love. They featured children meeting the superheroes to encourage them in life. They had the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man teaming up to save the day. This is what kids wanted. I held up No More Bullying and a Marvel Universe’s Avengers comic to a child customer. They chose the original story over the screenshot cartoon comic.
DC Comics has been struggling the last few months with only Batman and Harley Quinn hitting the top 20 comics in September 2015. An ongoing Batman or a kid friendly Harley Quinn series could help boost their sales and get more female readers.
Then there’s Marvel who needs to stop being lazy. Stop with the screenshot comics, because your original material is selling to these young readers.
Why am I harping on this so much? That’s because Marvel and DC Comics has some strong competition in the kids market.
What the kids are reading
In my comic store, our best selling kids comics are Steven Universe, My Little Pony, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Teen Titans Go! when it comes out. These are all original stories based on popular kids show. Unlike the Marvel Universe comics, all of these titles have new stories exploring the characters. It’s their lives between episodes that only adds to the the show.
Boom! Studios, IDW Publishing, and Archie Comics are making a killing on these titles. We tend to order the first volume of Steven Universe ten at a time. We usually have all ten books sold in a week or two. By then, we’ve already ordered another ten to start the sell cycle over.
These comics are especially important for young girls. My Little Pony is a hit show with six female leads. Steven Universe has three female protagonists. In a heavily boy dominated field, it’s hard to get young girls interested in comics. These little ladies tell me all the time that comics are for boys. But when they see My Little Pony as a comic, they have something they know that’s for them. I’m not saying that these aren’t for boys as well. We sell My Little Pony to them too. But for a little girl, she knows it’s tailored for her if she’s a fan of the show. My eight and eleven year old nieces love the My Little Pony comics and always ask me for them for Christmas.
The search for young readers and preteens
My youngest niece is just now learning how to read. She’s been struggling with it for awhile now. It doesn’t come easily to some children. As I mentioned above that comics can help boost literacy skills, I’ve tried to pull comics that might help her out. The issue is there aren’t a lot of titles for new readers. I’ve only really found two. The Minions comic is wordless. It still builds those cognitive skills to help a child follow a story even if it’s all pictures. It lays down the base of what she’ll need to learn. The other is Tiny Titans which I absolutely love. Unlike other children’s comics, Tiny Titans makes their lettering HUGE so it’s easy to read. The art is welcoming in a very cartoon style that’s fun for them. Plus, it has characters like Batman and Robin which kids love. Tiny Titans is for new readers, which gets us back to the problem I had above. I would only get this for my six year old niece. Her older sister has moved outside the range of this comic’s demographic. Stating again, there’s no real ongoing superhero series for the older sister.
Take a moment to check out how awesome Tiny Titans is for a new reader!
The other issue I have is on the opposite side of the age scale. My oldest niece is eleven and is officially a preteen. She’s moving into that age range where only a few children’s comics interest her. She’s still a fan of My Little Pony, like I said. A vast majority, though, are now too young for her. She finds them boring or too kiddish since she’s getting outside that demographic. This is a difficult age, because every preteen is different. You have some that mature faster than others. They can handle some of the older books. Other preteens can’t yet, but they’re too old for the kids’ section. Sadly, there’s aren’t a lot of titles out there for them.
One option I’ve found is Lumberjanes. It’s a great book about five girls that are my niece’s age fighting the supernatural at summer camp. She really fell in love with the story since the girls are a lot like her. The only thing is Lumberjanes had its share of news. Two of the girls end up dating. While it’s not a problem to me, I can see where some parents might not want their children to read it yet. That’s for the parents to decide.
There are some teen books that work in the preteen demographic. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a hit in my family. Thanks to Erica Henderson’s art, it has the tone of a cartoon while tackling more mature themes like body image, fitting in at a new school, and the fun of a superhero comics. My niece also enjoyed the smash hit Ms. Marvel. Regardless of Kamala Khan’s religion, it’s a story about a girl wanting to be accepted in school only to get weird superpowers. She must decide what to do with them. I’ve also contemplated Gotham Academy for my niece, but I don’t think she’s quite ready for some of the darker overtones of the book.
Notice that all of these titles have female protagonists. While I do know preteen boys who have bought these, they’re hard sells. It takes some coaxing to get them to read it, because they want male superheroes. Remember, representation is everything. There needs to be more books for preteen boys. Many of the adult books from DC Comics and Marvel are rated for teens, but there’s still violence and sexual situations a preteen might not be ready for. Parents, check any teen rated books before buying for your child.
DC Comics, what the heck are you thinking?
Sometimes the Big Two just don’t think things through. Back in July, DC Comics ran a series of Teen Titans Go! variant covers. It seemed like a good idea, right? It’s a popular show. Why not feature it?
Because they were on all of the adult comics!
Do you know how many hearts we had to break? Little kids would come up to the register with the Batman issue with the Teen Titans Go! cover. We would explain to the parents that it wasn’t suitable for children. This is the same series Joker let his face get cut off his body! And DC Comics stuck a children’s show cover on it!? The parents would refuse to buy the comic. Several of the children cried right in front of us. It was heartbreaking to watch! We lost a few sales from this. Here are children excited to buy their first comic, and we had to say no. It could ruin their comic buying experience in the long run!
I don’t understand what executive thought this was a brilliant idea. With the Looney Tunes variants coming in November, I’m dreading if we’re going to have to repeat all of this.
What do kids want?
Now that I’ve covered my big issues with kids comics, how can this be fixed? I get a lot of parents and kids asking for particular comics that aren’t in the market at the moment.
I’ve covered a lot of what DC Comics could do, so I’m not going into that anymore. Marvel, on the other hand, has some work ahead of them. Since Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars, I’m looking at the Big Mouse for answers. Ready, Mickey? Let’s rumble.
Deadpool isn’t just popular among adults. We get about three kids a week asking for his comics. Since he’s in video games and there’s a clean trailer of the R-rated movie out next year, the Merc with a Mouth has exploded in popularity with the little ones. The problem’s the same as above. The Deadpool comics aren’t appropriate for kids. There’s violence and swearing everywhere. Deadpool is such a fun character! If toned down and portrayed as an anti-hero or team him up with various Marvel characters each issue, I think it would do really well. For the moment, we have to warn parents before their kids buy Deadpool comics.
I lost count at how many little girls come in asking if there are Disney Princess comics. In fact, IDW Publishing, not Marvel-Owned-By-Disney, has the Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and Mickey Mouse comics. Marvel has rolled out a few titles like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Figment. Both have great reviews, but they’re hard sells if you miss the first issue. They did much better in trades. Even then, I have kids asking what they’re based on if they never been to Disney World. Everyone loves the princesses! Both adults and kids alike grow up on Disney movies. The 800 page Disney Princess Comics Treasury is a common sellout in our store.
With Disney and Marvel as one company, they should roll out a monthly comic! Each issue features a different princess on an adventure. These little one shots wouldn’t need to be read in order so you could pick it up at anytime. They could feature everyone from Snow White to Rapunzel. Christmas themed issues could have Elsa and Anna. There would be something for every Disney lover out there. Disney Comics have done this in the past, with original stories that weren’t just repeats of the movie or television series they were about.
It’s the year of Star Wars except in the kids comic section. There really aren’t children comics for Star Wars outside of Jeffrey Brown’s books like Star Wars: Jedi Academy.
Yes, there is Kanan based on the Star Wars Rebels television show on Disney XD. The problem with Kanan is the same with Squirrel Girl. It’s rated T for teens. While it would be great for the preteen market, there might be parts not suited for children. Unless you want you little one reading about Kanan’s master beheading clones before getting gunned down, there aren’t many options out there. Star Wars Rebels Magazine runs little comic strips. Those are perfectly okay for kids! Maybe they could collect them in one book to sell in trade paperback? I hate to say all this about Kanan too, since I’ve reviewed it as the best of Marvel’s Star Wars line.
Marvel has so much potential to dominate the market for kids comics. They could be a powerhouse if they rolled out original superhero content, Disney Princesses, and Star Wars comics for younger readers.
From what I can tell, the market for kids’ comics needs a heck of a lot of work. Boom! Studios and IDW Publishing know exactly what they’re doing. Oni Press is throwing in the gauntlet with nostalgia titles like Invader Zim making a comeback. The Big Two really need to get their stuff together. They’re making huge mistakes and missing golden opportunities to rake in some serious cash.
Until then, I’m going to enjoy the My Little Pony comics! The Siege of the Crystal Empire arc is AWESOME.