Bif! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t
Just for Kids
What are graphic novels and should I keep my kids from reading them? Part 1
“Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” was a favorite slogan for many comic publishers and retailers in the
1990s. Traditionally, comic readers fell into the 8- to 15-year-old category and were 90% male. Beyond that
age, boys began to drive and have an interest in cars and girls. Sure, some older kids continued to read
comics (I was one) but in drastically lower numbers. Publishers recognized that fact and kept the material
targeted at 8-15 year olds. They continued to pick up new readers each year to replace the ones they lost.
Until the middle '80s, that is.
Many point specifically to 1985 and the publication of The Dark Knight series of “graphic novels”
written and drawn by Frank Miller (Sin City) and the inspiration for the recent Dark Knight
Batman movie. After the success of Dark Knight and other works like Watchmen, many
comics took a dark turn in their characters and storylines and began to target an older audience in an
attempt to hold on to the 16 and older age groups. And not just independent publishers, either. Marvel and
DC also created “Mature Audience” lines to cash in on the older market. Their thinking was that this age
group actually had more disposable income than the younger group. These publications often were higher
priced and contained material with adult themes and art.
The problem with this line of thinking was that as Marvel and DC changed the “brand” they began to fail to
reach the traditional target audience. This coupled with growing technologies which competed for the 8-15
year old dollars led to a severe bust in comic sales and in the comic market in general in the middle
'90s. So Marvel and DC continued to tell more “mature” stories. Today parents can no longer trust their
brand; it isn’t good enough to look for the Marvel or DC logo anymore, because that doesn’t guarantee
you’ll get a story suitable for an 8-15 year old.
In fact, many mainstream comic books have become what we could call “soft” porn with characters wearing
revealing and skin-tight titillating costumes. Artists often use Playboy and swimsuit models as
visual reference and the comic art reflects that. And yet most people in the U.S. still think of comics as
being for kids. Even the comics we once considered “safe” have storylines where unmarried characters sleep
together. Characters are more often morally gray instead of obviously good and blatantly bad whereas they
were once decidedly one or the other. Granted, in the past good characters sometimes made bad decisions,
but the negative repercussions were often shown; ie., Spider-Man’s origin: When a crooked wrestling
promoter fails to pay Peter Parker for wrestling, Peter fails to stop a thief who’d just robbed the
promoter. That same thief ends up killing Peter’s uncle—a negative repercussion to a bad decision
Peter made. Currently, however, many of the books reflect the morally “gray” culture which grows stronger
Instead of seeking ways to recover the younger audience, publishers began to chase the older dollar in the
general market. They wanted to attract “non-comic readers” and so sought those outlets. Furthermore, the
financial successes of the PG-13 superhero movies fueled their desire to capture this audience.
All this resulted in the rise of the graphic novel.
Ed. note: See part 2 on graphic novels next month
Roland Mann is currently a freelance writer living in Oxford, Mississippi. Roland is
a writer and former editor for Malibu and Marvel comics, a former University instructor, and a former
newspaper editor. His latest graphic novel, an adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, may be
ordered from www.campfire.co.in for free worldwide
delivery. He has completed two novels, both of which are “under consideration” by people who can publish
them. One of them is also being considered by a local film company as a possible screenplay. He blogs
regularly at www.rolandmann.wordpress.com.