The talk-back section at industry-watching website ICv2 has been abuzz over the past week about the contentious issue of how few ‘all ages’ comics there are. Some retailers take time out to decry mainstream superhero comics as being too violent and over-the-top for young readers, and anything actually aimed at children as being “too kiddy”, meaning that it’s for the youngest kids while ignoring grown-ups who might want to introduce their kids to the material in the first place. The issue of location also cropped-up, with retailers in the bible-belt complaining that what flies as all-ages in one store might not in another (which while in general is perfectly accurate as a statement, I just can’t think of how that applies to the comic books under discussion today… anything labeled ‘all ages’ in comics is generally entirely kid-safe).

At The Beguiling where I work, we’re notorious for carrying challenging, risqué, and adult material. It’s how we built our name. But we also do a solid business in comics for children, in all kinds of formats. We work with school and public libraries to develop age-appropriate collections, and we have kids of all ages in here all the time. I’m also personally quite fortunate to have worked with all kinds of experts in reading material for children. One of those people is Mr. Scott Robins, a children’s publishing industry professional and blogger at Good Comics For Kids currently studying to be a librarian here in Ontario. He ran a blog called “All Ages” for a little while, talking about comics for kids, and this was how he capped off his very first post back in 2004:

“Have you ever looked at the word ‘shoe’ so many times that it just doesn’t look right anymore? I’ve called my blog “All Ages” to hopefully do just that — diffuse its meaning and steal that term away from everyone who uses it. Considering that every aspect of children’s publishing is so extremely focused when it comes to AUDIENCE–who the book is for, there’s very little use to the term ‘all ages.’ It’s totally noncommittal. I know this issue will come up again and again but I just wanted to put it out there to get the ball rolling.” – Scott Robins

So Scott thinks that, right out of the gate, the term ‘All Ages’ is a farce—it means nothing. I’m going to agree with him here, as it’s a term most often used within the comics industry (full of hucksters at the best of times) to try and sell the same product to as wide a range of people as possible, specifically college-aged and grown men who still read superhero comics. That and in circus tents, where ringmasters bellow “Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages!” hoping to engage that special part of the brain and heart that retains its childlike capacity for wonder. It’s a nice thought, but really it’s designed to put asses in the seats and keep them there. It’s a con, that term, and the idea of it is at best outmodded. I would love to order 10,000 copies of the same comic or book every month, instead of 10,000 copies of varying quantities of different books–it would make my life much, much easier. But that isn’t the industry we’re in, we’re in one of micro-niches, trying to hold the tide against the internet which is an industry of nano-niches; information and media customized down to the individual and their specific mood at any given time. Anyone who wants ‘all ages’ anything may as well go looking for a unicorn–all ages never existed. Arguing otherwise is naive.

Let’s instead use the term “Family”, as in “Family Entertainment”, or products and media designed for kids and parents to participate in together. I like the idea of that. I mean, I’m totally cool with material being designed explicitly for children as well, and for ‘children’ as an audience to be subdivided between babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, kindergardeners, early-readers, etc. etc. Go to a bookstore some time, look at how they divide the books into 2 year age gaps until you get to be 11 or 12. That’s the reality of contemporary media. But there is a market for family material. Sitcoms, movies, board games (family game night!), broadcast sports, those sorts of media that are participatory, shared experiences. One-to-many, instead of one-to-one. Books, generally, aren’t like any of those things. Oh sure, there’s reading aloud to kids, which is something that generally tends to disappear after the second or third grade. For the most part, reading, and especially reading comics, has been a solitary pursuit, not a family one. Comic books have not historically or even recently (through the 70s and 80s) been a ‘family’ product; comic books were a niche product with an age- and gender-targeted audience, that happened to bleed up and down and sideways a little.

In the 70s and 80s, according to retailer Joe Field of Flying Colours, “more comic titles used to be accessible to a much wider audience of all ages without having to write down to younger readers and without having to be over-the-top for older readers.” This is a true statement, and a balanced one I think–but I think you need to consider the time period as well. It’s worth noting though that looking backwards from the mid-80s, there was considerably more of a mono-culture in North America–far fewer entertainment options in general, fewer genres of popular music for example. There was music that was played on the radio and music that wasn’t, often with clear divisions down age, gender, or even racial lines… Some of the retailer and reader proponents of the idea of All Ages lived not just through the 70s and 80s, but the 50s and 60s too. Entertainment has become both more diverse and more complex–complex in delivery if not in content–since the birth of comics in the 30s, and the rebirth of superheroes in the Silver Age. It’s a different time.

Many of the retailers at ICv2 in favour of ‘all ages’ comics attack the violent over-the-top superhero comics of today for being for adults, even though they’re not particularly ‘adult’. I’d agree with that, because honestly most commercial comics are crap anyway, there’s nothing particularly literate or adult about most of them. But the thing that can’t be argued is their complexity, complexity often in lieu of any real literary or artistic merit. If there’s a lot going on in the story, even if it’s all awful, it must be adult! If there’re a lot of lines on the page, even if the work is awful, it must be accomplished! If it’s a 50-part crossover it must be literary! What we’ve had in superhero comics, and this matches most entertainment, is an increase in complexity. And flat-out, that sort of complexity is what’s demanded by readers of superhero books. They clearly don’t care if a work is mature, or literate, or even good, but Goddamnit if it isn’t complex, if it’s simple or straightforward or (Lord help’em) FUN, then that sucker is going to get cancelled as quickly as humanly possible. ‘Fun’ comics aren’t mature or literate or sophisticated; ‘sophisticated’ things are respected; comics crave respect from the world at large; divorced, hero’s wife kills her best friend and we all cry about it. No one is as defensive about their chosen hobby as superhero readers, and anything that lends them legitimacy is defended… vigorously.

Which brings us to the next generation of superhero readers, what this is really all about. Because this whole kerfuffle isn’t about ‘comics for kids’ or ‘all ages material’ or any of that. If a mom brought her daughter into the store and wanted the comics she read as kids, which might be Archies, Romances, etc., we’d have no trouble grabbing something appropriate off of the stands. Archie still publishes, there and dozens of new romance manga out every month. There are lots and lots of books and comics coming out for kids, all the time, even if you live in the bible belt. This is about certain readers, and certain retailers, wanting to introduce very specific comics to young kids. The language hints at it:

“When a man walks into our comic store with his 8 to 10 year-old kid and wants to buy some comics like those he read as a kid–SupermanSpider-ManBatmanFantastic Four, etc.–we have a real problem.  We have no new comics to sell him.  The kid line of comics from Marvel and DC may be for kids, but they aren’t like the comics in the 60s and 70s and 80s that anybody could read.  They’re aimed directly at young, little kids.  Meanwhile, the regular comic lines contain material that simply isn’t appropriate for kids that age.” - Rembert Parker “Reader Copies”

(As an aside: Rembert is bending the truth more than a little. Read my description of “Marvel Adventures” below.)

Now let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. I’ve seen this happen myself, and with both moms and dads and daughters and sons, when it comes to getting kids some comics. Sometimes it’s because the parent liked comics as a kid and wants to share that with their children, sometimes it’s because the teacher told them it’ll get them reading. Sometimes it’s just to keep them quiet on a long car ride or plane trip. But the only time I’ve ever encountered someone who wants to buy their kid a comic exactly like they read as a kid? Die-hard superhero fans. It’s that defensiveness again, not only are superhero comics awesome and modern mythology and whatever, but they’re the only comics that they want their kid reading. I’ve seen some pretty appalling behaviour too, parents outright refusing to buy a young reader something they’re actually interested in (Simpsons, Disney, NARUTO) because the parent used to Looooove Spider-Man as a kid and hey you liked the movie didn’t you champ remember we saw all three come on get a Spider-Man comic. It’s upsetting, but it’s how they choose to raise their kid and that’s fine, I’m not going to be paying their therapy bills.

If my dad had tried to introduce comics to me this way, by the by, I probably wouldn’t be here blogging this right now. If he had tried to foist THOR (the comic he liked as a kid) on me at 8 years old, I can guarantee that I would’ve hated it. I didn’t like superhero comics at all until into my teens, and at 8 years old it was TRANSFORMERS & G.I. JOE that brought me to comics, and I saw them on the newsstand, and I knew them because I saw them on TV and I had the toys. My brother didn’t like my comics either, he wasn’t that much of a fan of Transformers of the Joes. He did, however, like Archie’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics, because he saw them on TV, and had the toys. We’re only 3 years different in age, but it’s a big enough generation gap that he had stuff that was just for him, and he loved it. 3 years apart, not 20 or 30.

So let’s really, really narrow this discussion about “all ages” comics to what it really is: Superhero Fans Want To Buy Superhero Comics For Their Kids That Are Simultaneously Exactly What They Read As Kids AND All New At The Same Time. They want all the comics on the stands to be ‘safe’ for children, while still engaging them on an adult level like all of the other media targeted at adults. They want the stuff they read as kids and teenagers in the 70s and 80s (or hell, the 60s) to be the same as what’s published today for their kids. They will accept no substitutions, and most importantly they need it to be CANON. That’s right, even if the Superhero comics meet every other criteria, they can’t take place in their own “universe” or be the “for kids” version (even if it’s for ‘all ages’), it has to be part of the 616 or DCU continuity or else it isn’t ‘real’. Superhero fans want validation for their tastes and interests, just like the OCD football dad who couldn’t make it to the NFL and is going to live out his dreams in his son. Exactly the same sentiment, but without a million dollar paycheck at the end of ‘reading superhero comics’, so waaaay less pressure.

And that’s what Retailers, older retailers in particular, want to sell them. Because it’s what they read, and it’s what they know, and they have the same nostalgic feelings for and biases towards that material.

Again, I’m sympathetic. I want to sell more of the same product to the most possible people, rather than fewer copies of different products to those same people. It’s just good business sense. I also think it’s nothing short of ridiculous that “Captain America” and “Spider-Man” are titles intended for people in their 30s and older. Really, it’s insane. “Captain America”. Say that out loud. It’s a great read, but it’s also an international espionage book with dark art and weird mind-rape stories intended for an audience of 30+ year olds. But? That’s the industry. That’s the complexity demanded by the readers of those books, of the accumulated 50 or 60 or 70 years of history of these characters. Any and all attempts at simplifying the stories, making them less violent, less intense, less convoluted, more accessible, all of it is met with howls of outrage from long-term fans. If their problem isn’t that they’re doing it (de-marrying Peter Parker), it’s how they did it (de-marrying Peter Parker) or why they did it (de-marrying Peter Parker). The current audience for superhero books is getting Exactly What They Want from superhero books; sales have been more-or-less consistent or on the upswing for going-on 5 years now. You can argue that they’re “narrowcasting” but they’re making a hell of a lot of money doing it.

So, ultimately, all of the furor and despair is for nothing: These retailers are, by and large, trying to service a clientèle that is, if not unserviceable, then almost not worth bothering with. Selling nostalgia is possible even profitable. Validating that nostalgia is much harder. I understand that it’s tough when that love and nostalgia is why you got into business in the first place, to turn around and put the business before your personal preferences. It’s something I struggle with myself all the time. But let me reitterate: It’s not real, and these isolated and unreasonable customers aren’t worth the aggravation. There are lots of good comics for _actual_ kids out there, and they come in more formats than floppy comic books. There are far, far fewer comics for grown-ups trying to remember exactly what their own childhoods were like. Do the simple business math.

That said, I’d like to address the specific comments made by Michael Tierney of “Collector’s Edition” Comics in Arkansas, as his concerns differ slightly from the main thrust of this article, but I think they further illuminate a lot of the issues at hand:

“I’m glad that Jay has success with the current mix of content, and with “dozens and dozens” of All Ages titles.  Chances are that some of those “dozens” of books aren’t considered appropriate in every market.  There’s probably a big difference between the Bible Belt, where Buddy and myself operate, and other markets with different demographics… The fact is, in my market All Ages titles massively outsell Mature Readers Only titles.  While there are Mature Audience books aplenty, they just don’t sell for me.  This is why having more All Ages material is so important to me, and others in similar markets.  It’s what we can sell.  But we’re only getting “dozens” of them.  And that isn’t growing our businesses… And please, let no one confuse All Ages with Kiddie Books.  Kiddie Books simply don’t sell for anyone.  No reader likes to be talked down to.  All Ages simply means “accessible to All Ages, and entertaining to All Ages.”" - Michael Tierney

First off, if the challenges you face as a retailer are that the type of product that you are selling is by-and-large too extreme for your conservative community, then you have a much deeper and more fundamental problem with your business model than you may think. If you can’t grow your business because the product you sell is unsuitable to your community, diversify, or get into another line of business, for your own sake.

Secondly, I don’t need to tell you any of this as you’ve been in business for many years, but it needs to be said: Marvel Comics has been publishing a line of comics called “Marvel Adventures” (previously Marvel Age) for the better part of 5 years now. These are specifically “all ages” comics in the exact method you’ve demanded, which is to say comics intended for every age. Not written for kids, but written to be continuity-light, fun books with good art and solid stories. The only thing they aren’t is “in continuity”, and the only person that should matter to? An established fan, not a new reader coming into the shop for the first time. These comics sell exceptionally poorly, less than 10,000 copies a piece through the Direct Market. A year ago this time there were four books in this line–now there are two. Honestly? They’re good books with almost-no-audience in periodical format, but we do gangbusters on the sales for the digest collections. Conversely, the top selling Superhero comic books in the industry right now are about evil aliens violating corpses, and bringing those corpses back to life in order to kill more people. It may be that the tastes of the market for the product you’re selling don’t match up with the specific interests of your community. It may be that the number of books that you’re demanding is untenable, and the number of books that fit your criteria that currently exist is all that the market will bear. It may be that The Hulk ripping Wolverine in two was put right onto the cover of a graphic novel this year, because that is what readers of The Hulk and Wolverine want to read, and not the Hulk vs. Wolverine ‘dust-ups’ of the 70s and 80s.

Thirdly, your poor attitude of describing books you don’t like as “Kiddie Books” is probably doing more to hinder the sales of those books than any perceived lack of merit in the content. “Kiddie” books are some of our best sellers, in collected formats. I would strongly recommend that you as a retailer, and other retailers that share your feelings, really look at how your own biases and prejudices about some comics colour the way you sell them–or don’t sell them, as the case may be.

Finally, I really do sympathize with your desire for more salable product, and to grow your business; I think most retailers want to be making more sales, making more money, and growing their investment. I also understand the need to vent, particularly when given a convenient target to vent at, like an off-handed comment that you might be out of touch with the industry because of your complaints. I like to vent, I like to pick easy targets. But realistically, you haven’t presented any evidence whatsoever that what you’re asking for as a retailer from publishers like Marvel and DC (and let’s be honest with ourselves, you really only care about Marvel and DC with this rant) would work. Books like the ones you are asking for tend to get cancelled. Publishing more of those isn’t going to do anyone any favours.

So, that’s my piece said. Let’s stop asking for All Ages books, because they aren’t ‘real’ and the ones that are? No one wants them. Making more existing books “kid friendly”? Well the industry doesn’t seem to be responding to that either. Let’s let those few parents so drowned in their own nostalgia that they can’t see past the end of their comic collection, let’s let them go, and hope that their kids get into comics through the net, at school, at public libraries, through their friends, and then come back to comic book stores and buy the stuff that they might ACTUALLY want to read. I see it happen every day and I’m happy to do it. Just like I’m happy to work with and sell to the parents who truly love comics, and want to share the joys of reading and the medium with their own kids–even if it isn’t exactly the same thing that they want to read themselves.

- Christopher
Edited slightly at 11:15pm, for clarity.

31 Comments on “The Myth Of All Ages”

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  1. Scott Robins says:

    Wow. I was quoted.
    And it still happens. I cringed when I read the interview with Eric Powell on CBR about his new ‘all-ages’ title and how he specifically didn’t write it for kids. Why do we equate ‘writing for kids’ as pandering, dumbing down or sucking the fun and life out of material. A children’s picture book creator doesn’t qualify every interview he/she does with…”well I didn’t actually write this for kids.” Of course they did! It’s a children’s picture book! This is the same problem with children’s graphic novels and why so many of them have been real misses. There is such thing as a smart, funny, exciting book that’s written for kids that will likely appeal to adults too. Heck, I’m reading CALAMITY JACK by Shannon Hale right now. She’s a CHILDREN’S AUTHOR who writes for children and the book is fantastic and packed with stuff that works for kids and works for adults but NOT because she sat there worrying about making sure that everyone is going to like it but because she’s a GOOD writer.

  2. Elin Winkler says:

    You nailed it, totally. I am so loving this post.

  3. Jay says:

    Great post, great perspective.

    One other problem with the “mature” titles is that they mistake boobies and decapitations for dealing with issues and stories that adults can actually relate to. Luckily there’s some great manga for that (Solanin, Oishinbo, Real) but still, comparatively slim pickings.

    Is the idea of a market for anything other than superhero books a myth too?

  4. Simon Jones says:

    I’ve always been under the impression that, more often than not, publishers or creators who first and foremost promote their titles as “all-ages” simply don’t know to whom their books are targeted. That may contribute more to the lack of success of the all-ages “genre” than the quality of the content, precisely because it isn’t a genre, and “everyone” isn’t a useful demographic.

  5. warren says:

    Wow. I’m a geek dad and I’m kinda surprised that this is even considered an ‘issue’ still. There’s tons of comics out there for kids, it seems to me.

    They’re not the same as the ones I’ve read as a kid (you guessed it – superheroes of the 70s/80s), but who cares. I wouldn’t buy the latest Superspider-Manamerica for myself, much less my kid. But then, I didn’t have anything like ‘Bone’, the Dungeon series, ‘Name that Manga’ or the BOOM series of licensed stuff when I was a kid either. Nope, just three to choose from, Marvel, DC or Archie.

    But the thing is? I could find that stuff almost ANYWHERE other than an LCS. I guess that’s where the rub is when one goes to many LCS out there – it must be kinda like going to rent the DVD of The Gritty, Murderous, Misogynist, Mostly Nude Adventures of Mickey Mouse at the store while trying to cover your kids’ eyes.

  6. The Manga Critic » Blog Archive » Sunday Evening Linkblogging, 11/22/09 says:

    [...] more popular than Bleach. Who’d thunk it?… Christopher Butcher challenges the idea of all-ages comics… Brigid Alverson reviews volume two of Yokaiden… and speaking of yokai, David Welsh [...]

  7. Comics for Kids are out there — you just need to look for them. « The Joe Shuster Awards says:

    [...] see that Chris Butcher has written about this exact dust up/debate, and I’d say we’re pretty much in [...]

  8. Evan Dorkin says:

    I agree with a lot of what’s being said here, but I think carping over the phrase “all-ages” is about as useful as getting upset over the phrase “graphic novel”, even if you’re technically right about it, or off the beam, worrying about a phrase usually ends up as a Hulk vs Superman debate that sidetracks whatever else you’re trying to discuss (as you shall see).

    That being said: For me, all-ages is a phrase I became familiar with through all-ages punk shows, everyone knew what it meant, the kids were allowed into CBGB’s for that show, they didn’t quibble about whether 3 or 90-yr olds were gonna show up. I see all-ages and it just tells me it isn’t filled with scenes from Clockwork Orange. I never got the idea it was a sales tool, really. Not in comics. I thought it was a warning that there’s no “mature” (haha, let’s discuss that phrase) material there, kids can look. As an evil marketing tool it’s too damned subtle for lunkeaded, chunkheaded comics, it might be abused more often than “sense-shattering”, perhaps, but I think it does have some meaning and communicates, even if sloppily. The “entertaining to all”, that’s fantasy-land, sure.

    I’ve used the phrase to describe kid-friendly books I’ve done and I don’t care what dummy or huckster bin that puts me in. It’s a term that makes sense to enough people at this point in comics, so, I dunno, I can’t get worked up over it either way, despite these numerous sentences. Sue me, I’m bored waiting for ink to dry on an “all-ages”comic (really), or “family friendly” if you like. Although, in Hulk vs Superman mode — “family-friendly” makes me barf a little because it makes me immediately think of the Ice Capades and I don’t want to, I believe it translates into “namby-pamby” in the minds of most folks wearing Graphitti Design t-shirts, and if you wanted to be annoying and dickish about it, you could argue — whose family is it suitably friendly for? All English-speaking families world-wide? What if some english-speaking families disagree? There’s beer and violence in Bongo comics, but it’s got the code, and it’s considered “family-friendly” — help! What if you don’t have a family? What if you can’t have a family, please don’t remind me I’m sterile, I hate you, stupid comic phrase!” Okay, dickishness over — but it’s easy to sound silly knocking phrases, because if you’re looking for a perfect one, you might as well go looking for a unicorn or something.

    Anyway, see, I wrote about phrases and sidelined the debate, let it go, man, let it go. The behavior’s more important than the comic book terms. Besides, when you’re in a multi-genre medium called “comic books”, you’ve pretty much already lost the war as far as professional terminology goes.

  9. Chris says:

    Evan said: “I agree with a lot of what’s being said here, but I think carping over the phrase “all-ages” is about as useful as getting upset over the phrase “graphic novel”, ”

    Probably. :)

    To address your point about the nature of ‘All Ages’ rather than the terminology, I think it works great in a punk show context, it very deliberately means that you don’t have to be drinking age to show up. I think even the idea of it is stupid for comics, it means arrested development because too many grown-ups in comics are ‘sensitive’ about buying shit labeled as ‘for kids’, even if they enjoy it. I think that as a creator you can write a book for anyone you want, but it’s the job of publishers and retailers to sell that work and saying shit like “It’s for all ages!” doesn’t do a very good job of that. Think of the media you love the most, then think about whether or not it appeals, clearly and deliberately, to a particular audience. Whether that’s little kids, teenagers, monster fans, whomever. That it found an audience outside that particular target group is great, but if it had tried to appeal to all people, all ‘ages’ at once, do you really think it’d be your favourite?

    As for “Family” dickishness, Murphy Brown already explained and defended different usages for the word family back when Dan Quayle got on her case. Anyone who’s still got a problem with the word can take it up with the 1990s.

  10. Eva says:

    The biggest problem for me with the all-ages label is that it doesn’t actually tell you who the book is for. Is it for an eight-year-old? A twelve-year-old? A forty-year-old? As a tool for getting the right book into the right hands, it’s pretty flippin’ useless. The majority of the all-ages books I’ve seen really have been aimed at kids, but which kids? Using the children’s section of a bookstore, or of a library, for that matter, is a great example. There is a reason why publishers of children’s books market to specific age ranges. The changes a child goes through as he/she develops and matures happen rapidly and what is great for a six-year-old is completely different from what is great for a ten-year-old.

    If all children’s books were marketed as “all-ages”, you’d see everything from Curious George to Gossip Girls all shelved next to each other. And that would be dumb. Marvel and DC have never cared much about marketing to bookstores and libraries. As you said, they’ve got a core audience. They don’t really need the rest of us. But it wouldn’t hurt for other comic/graphic novel publishers to take a look at how prose books are marketed to that “all-ages” demographic. They’re marketed according to reading level and content to make them easy to sell to the intended customer. And that intended customer is, of course, the moms, aunts, and grandmas who buy books for their kids, and who probably don’t know a whole lot about superheroes. (Sure, dads buy books for their kids, too. But not nearly as often and not nearly as much.)

    Making books easy to sell. Wow. Crazy talk?

  11. Bitter Matt says:

    It’s back! Comics212 strikes again! Awesome post. :)

  12. Jamie Coville says:

    “Family Friendly” says to me “Christian Family Values” and in particular the ones I don’t agree with. I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but sadly the word “family” in terms of appealing to a demographic for entertainment purposes has become a loaded word.

    For “All Ages” the best off the cuff example would be Star Wars. The violence is there but isn’t graphically portrayed and thus acceptable to most parents. There is no sex, the most dangerous thing you see is a kiss between an unknowing brother and sister. The over all tone is a mix of serious and fun storytelling. Kids and adults alike can enjoy it. That’s probably what publishers are going for with the term, and failing badly with the content.

  13. Tim O'Neil says:

    Maybe there’s more context that I’m not privy too – but in that quote I think “All Ages” can mean the Marvel Adventures-type stuff, and the “Kiddie Books” are stuff like Super Friends and Super Hero Squad, which I honestly have no idea if there’s any audience for or not.

  14. Dirk Deppey says:

    I’m too lazy to go back and find the link, but I recall seeing (and linking) circulation figures that showed subscription-by-mail sales for the Marvel Adventures Spider-Man series to be something like 30-40,000 copies or something like that — which still isn’t gangbuster sales, but we’re nonetheless talking three or four times the sale of such books to Direct Market retailers. Make of that what you will.

  15. Jay says:

    Good point by Eva about how bookstores are broken up.

    The industry has long decried a ratings system as being a form of censorship, but could it be useful as a sales tool?

  16. Evan Dorkin says:

    Murphy Brown –? How the heck can I take it up with the 90′s when I don’t even remember the 90′s? That’s some reach, there, to defend a term. I stand by my statement that all phrases fail to a degree, so tossing out the bad one everyone mostly understands when not splitting hairs for one that doesn’t really work either is not worth all the virtual ink spilled here. The right has made “family” a word that starts arguments, and Disney has practically trademarked it in terms of the entertainment industry. I’ll quit discussing it so the conversation can continue undeterred.

    For what it’s worth my 5-yr old is reading Bongo Comics, the John Stanley library books, Little Lulu, the Toon Comics Treasury, various Disney comics, the DHC Harvey Comics reprints, the first Cul De Sac collection, Nickelodeon Magazine’s comics section (for another month), the Supergirl section of Wednesday Comics, Polo, some of the Toon Comics releases, 50′s Felix the Cat comics, a few Tiny Titans issues and a bunch of other all-ages family-friendly comical books. And that scratches the surface, I have no complaints with anything other than the usual pipeline/delivery mechanism/stigma/stupidity issues everyone’s had since the newsstand died and the DM started.

    Isn’t Yotsuba an awesome comic?

    Wanted to end positive and geeky.

  17. THE BEAT » Blog Archive » Children’s comics: a not-so-phantom menace says:

    [...] post. Butcher has mostly been on blogging hiatus of late but he comes back with a 40 megaton bomb on the recent retailer discussions about whether there are enough kids’ comics. The entire essay must be read in full, but Butcher’s main point is that what most retailers [...]

  18. Scott Robins says:

    Jay – I don’t think Eva is referring to a rating system. For children’s books there are many clues as to what age group a book is appropriate for, whether it’s format (picture books vs. novels), “look n’ feel” or the age range smack dab in the publisher’s catalogue.

  19. Douglas Wolk says:

    I’ve heard–and this is multiple-hand, anecdotal, and unverifiable, so all the usual disclaimers apply–that Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, thanks to its subscriber base, is actually the best-selling ongoing Marvel periodical at the moment. It would’ve had to have made a significant jump for that to be true, given that its subscription numbers a year ago were around 30,000, but that’s still a pretty healthy number.

    (It’s also really enjoyable, which doesn’t hurt.)

  20. Chris Duffy says:

    What a great debate! I sort of can get on board with everyone’s point of view to an extent. But here are my two cents:

    About 5 years into my time at Nick Magazine, I used to get similarly rankled about “All-ages” comics. There I was at a magazine that spent money and time figuring out what kids of a specific age range ACTUALLY like by getting surveys out there, doing school visits, reading thousands of letters (well, the interns did) and yes, doing focus groups. (Those things get scoffed at, but as long as you don’t take everything you hear as gospel, they can help create real view of your readership.)

    But Marvel, DC and whoever else would just stick a label on a comic and say “it’s for kids!” Grr… I too would rage that “all ages” is sloppy wishful thinking in an industry that doesn’t actually make much money off of kids.

    But nowadays I’m more towing the Dorkin line–I shrug when folks object to the term. For a couple of reasons: as is universally acknowledged, kids are not the core business of most companies making comics for the direct market. When Marvel and DC produce stuff for kids it’s them throwing pasta against the wall. If it sticks, it sticks. They don’t know why. I doubt they could replicate their own successes in these areas. (Batman Adventures was great! The latest tie ins? Not as good.) Top talent isn’t looking to work on those books, and talent isn’t brought in with the idea that they will create a best-selling kids comic. Until these companies get serious, what they do isn’t all that bad. Or mostly not. It’s a “shrug” response, but until Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, et al spend time and money creating great stuff for kids, it’s the best they’ll do. In the long run, they should really do this–but I don’t begrudge them the term “all ages” anymore.

    The bigger reason I’m not upset about “all ages” is that everyone else other than Marvel, DC, and “big” direct market companies, are filling in the gaps in kids comics quite well. Tons of manga, Dungeon, huge swaths of books from Scholastic, First Second, Hyperion–we haven’t seen the end of “graphic novels for kids” (a phrase that makes my head spin) by a long shot. And they are often being produced by companies that are more sensitive to the subtleties of the kid audiences in a market (bookstores) that traditionally sells to kids.

    And, yes Yotsuba is a pretty amazing comic!!!

  21. wayne beamer says:


    Thanks for the wonderful riff on the state of retailing comics for kids. The only somewhat fresh perspective I can contribute to the discussion is my role as a father and grandfather of blended families who couldn’t wait to take his kids and grandkids to the funny book store. Let me report that their reactions to comicdom were decidedly mixed.

    My daughter and youngest son — future brainiac doctorates in medicine who were introduced to comics when they were 12 and 8, respectively — love to read but couldn’t be bothered with comics. (Still bought my youngest — now a 30-year-old Tori Amos fan — a copy of Comic Book Tattoo for his last birthday, a Xmas present that he claims to have enjoyed.)

    Caught my oldest son — now a 32-year-old soldier heading for either Iraq or Afghanistan — and my granddaughter — a 6-year-old living in Dubuque, Iowa — just in time, however. Both fell in love with comics — separately and 25 years apart — before they started learning how to read.

    John grew up on “quarter-box” comics at Roy’s Memory Shop in Houston, consisting largely of old mid 70s DC horror, war and largely continuity-free comics (House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Our Army at War, Star Spangled War Stories). After asking me one too many times what happened to HOM and HOS, I bought him some DC Showcase B/W reprints for Xmas presents. Shock and awe indeed…

    In the case of granddaughter Zoe, I took her to the only comics shop in Dubuque this past summer for the very first time, pointed out what I thought to be age-appropriate comics that I thought she’d be interested in (unfortunately two very small but wide racks crammed with Marvel Adventures, Simpsons and Tiny Titans) and left her alone to make up her mind. She sat for the longest time — maybe a half-hour — looking and reading…

    Two books caught her attention:

    1. Finding Nemo, the only Boom Disney title the store stocked.
    2. Issue #2 of Power Pack and the Fantastic Four miniseries.

    Those, along with the Spongebob Squarepants comic I bought at a local Borders, got her hooked. So much so, that Zoe’s not allowed to read comics in the bathroom anymore. So much so, that Zoe explains to her two-year-old brother explaining the intricacies of Power Pack and these kids who are her age. So much so, that I found and mailed a trade of the first FF/PP collection to her in October. So much so, that Zoe keeps her copy of Spongebob Squarepants in my daughter’s car so she won’t get bored.

    So, I agree with you wholeheartedly that adults who want to pass along the comic book habits shouldn’t push their superhero fix onto their kids. Let them discover what they like, if anything, get them hooked early…

  22. Chris Howard says:

    If parents want their kids to read the comics they grew up on, then hand them to them. Open up the damn mylar and hand ‘em a Spiderman comic from the 80′s. (Maybe not a Leifeld New Mutants though…)

    My five year old loves Tiny Titans, Owly, Batman Adventures, the little Chirp strip in Chirp magazine and when we’re not careful, whatever is left in the can. He doesn’t differentiate between genres, it’s comics. He even makes his own. Or he ‘helps’ me work on mine.

    If you present them with varied material, they won’t grow up with the Marvel DC single mindset. And something like Frankie Pickle is really great, it bridges between novel and comics.

  23. Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Nov. 23, 2009: Slippery justifications and excuses says:

    [...] Christopher Butcher plows through the latest argument over all-ages comics. [...]

  24. It’s Time To Talk Shop says:

    [...] Butcher (co-founder of TCAF) writes about whether or not the concept of an “all-ages” comic is even a real idea, or just a meaningless buzzword. This is more pertinent to the idea that [...]

  25. Manga Xanadu » Blog Archive » This Week in Manga 11/21-11/27/09 says:

    [...] Butcher of the Comics212 blog has his say about a debate that been going on at the iCV2 site about all ages comics.  He makes some good [...]

  26. Tom Speelman says:

    Wow, this hits the state of comics right on its head.

    Disclaimer: I’m 17 years old, and I just got back into comics over this past year when my friend loaned me a copy of the Daredevil “Guardian Devil” TPB. I loved every minute of it, as it was accessible to new readers, yet adhered to established fans.

    Conversely, when I tried reading “Final Crisis”, I hated it. It was full of nothing but allusions to decades-old stories and obscure characters that no one I knew had ever heard of. More often than not, I found myself looking up some people, like Libra and whatnot, because I had no idea who they were or why they were important!

    My point is this: if comic companies want to hook new readers in, they’ll have to make it accessible. And the only way they can do THAT is to make engaging stories that don’t shy readers away.

    My idea for them to do this? STOP. THE. CROSSOVERS. There are far too dang many of them now and it’s infuriating. The biggest offender: the house of ideas themselves, Marvel. It seems like every 2 months they issue ANOTHER line-wide crossover. If it’s not Avengers Disassembled, it’s House of M. If it’s not House of M, it’s Civil War, which is running concurrently with Planet Hulk, which turns into World War Hulk, and let’s not forget the Ultimate line of stories, which is set in modern-day, BUT it has crossovers of its own. It’s ridiculous!

    I’ve chosen to wade through the kerfluffle of the Superhero comics, concentrating on “Batman” (and JUST “Batman”, mind you)for the most part. But I’m also exploring IDW’s backlog of “Transformers” TPBs, and they’re equally good.

    My best bet for young readers? The Disney stuff put out by BOOM, Marvel Adventures, or even the Simpsons title Bongo does. Why? Well, I’ve read some of the stuff, and while it’s much less complex and doesn’t tie as many threads together as a good modern-day comic, it’s still fun and enjoyable to read.

    That’s all I really have to say.

  27. Comics For Kids: ‘Myth of all-ages’ follow-up at Comics212 says:

    [...] I wrote a post a week back called “The Myth of All-Ages” and people seemed to really respond to it, to which I am always grateful. I’ve read [...]

  28. There Are Too Plenty of Comics for Kids! » Comics Worth Reading says:

    [...] Butcher posted, a week or so ago, a wonderful piece about the myth of all ages, as he called it. It seems that some comic retailers had been bemoaning how there weren’t any [...]

  29. tam says:

    I notice no one has mentioned the longest running and most accessible (and not to mention probably the best) ‘All Ages’ title still being published. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like Groo

  30. Tom Dell'Aringa says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, but one place you’ll find some good quality comics suitable for all ages is comics on the web. I see someone mentioned Smash already.

    I do as sci-fi humor all ages comic called Marooned – A Space Opera in the Wrong Key. Steve Ogden does another one called Moon Town.

    We recently just began a publishing studio called Wishtales, and our stories will cater to the all ages market. In fact, we just published a kids book by my daughter called Gertie, a Guinea Pig’s Tail.

    Good stuff is out there, it just may not be on the big stores/comic shop shelves right now.

  31. Are There Actually Enough All-Ages Comics? – My Week in Comics September 12–18 « The Wright Opinion says:

    [...] were publishing more of (there is an argument that “all ages” is a meaningless term, and this piece prefers “family entertainment,” but to be honest I don’t see a meaningful distinction between [...]

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