Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kids Read Comics 2012

Almost two weeks ago, my family and I made the trek to Ann Arbor, Michigan for Kids Read Comics 2012. It was a lot of fun to meet up with old and new Twitter friends and Nerdy Book Club friends. At the event, there were so many breakout sessions for kids to interact with cartoonists. Whether it was wandering Artist Alley, watching a quick draw led by Dave Roman or learning how to turn your ordinary everyday life into a comic with Raina Telgemeier, there were numerous choices and nonstop fun all weekend. You can read more about Beth's experience and see pictures here.

I grew up reading Garfield comics from the library and the Archie comics I would beg my mom to buy me at the the grocery store. My favorite part of the newspaper always has been, and still is, the funny pages. In May, I was excited to learn about Free Comic Book Day. I buckled Peanut into the car and drove to our closest comic book shop. Peanut was excited because there was a Star Wars Storm Trooper at the door. We tried to look for Star Wars comics to buy but most of them were really graphic and honestly didn't seem to tell any of the stories from the movies Peanut was familiar with. We did our best to buy something appropriate for him...the poor man at the shop was pulling comics from different spots, but none of them really seemed just right for a five-year-old. 

**Imagine disgruntled mama-teacher face now.**

This has bothered me ever since. I want to help my kids and my students love comics but it doesn't work if there aren't comics they can read. The comic book store closest to my house just isn't kids friendly. It's a tiny, tiny store, packed with boxes of comics and one wall of comics displayed. It really has zero appeal to kids. I'm serious, zero. (It doesn't even have a website...) In Ann Arbor, while wandering around the night before the Kids Read Comics fun, we found Vault of Midnight. When I walked in there, I thought, "Now this is a comic book store!" I was thoroughly impressed. 
It is colorful. It is big (it even has a downstairs!). It has real shelving...maybe it wasn't hard to impress me after the last comic book store I had been in, but seriously, it was awesome! I still had no idea where to look for kid-friendly comics and we didn't really have a lot of time to chat with a store helper because we had Little Bean with us and he was ready to just run around the store if we let him. All the comics though, and look what my kids are interested in:
That's right, the toys. To be fair though, toys are marketed for kids. The comics we have found in comic book stores don't seem to be. Peanut was interested in some of them, but a lot of them I didn't even want him to be interested in because I could tell from the covers that the content and the artwork wasn't going to be appropriate for him.

During Kids Read Comics, I was excited to join in on Jerzy Drozd's Comics Are Great discussion of kids reading comics with some awesome cartoonists when they asked audience members to ask questions of the assembled panel. My question to them started by me explaining how completely overwhelmed I feel walking into a comic book store. I have never felt so much like a mom who just doesn't get it than when I am in a comic book store. Most of the time, I feel like I can help my kids make decisions and explain things to them...but in a comic book store that is a totally different situation. What I wanted to know was what I should ask for when I go into a comic book store. The answer I got really was suggestions for great books for kids and an amazing resource for kids' comics.

I realized then that it was time to let go of the idea of being able to walk into a comic book store with my five-year-old son. Not that I can't and not that I won't...but I do think that for now, we'll focus on reading graphic novels similar to those we already have from our library or bookstore. There are so many great comics for kids in book form right now to keep us busy until Peanut is a bit older and ready for some of the more mature comics we have seen in comic book stores.
Raina Telgemeier recommended the book A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love. I love it! There are many titles I recognize in this book but also many suggestions for other titles to look for. It gives very specific reviews and samples of the comics. 

In the foreword, it says: "...once you've begun to explore the field, the next step is to let your children to go the library and explore whatever areas they gravitate to." Notice it does not say "go to the comic book store."

In the introduction, it says: "You'll note that our list does not include magazine-like comic books that you may have read growing up. Such comics still exist - but many, if not most, are aimed at older readers." I was right! I finally understood that what I was experiencing in comic book stores was really the case. 

Finally, they also say this in the introduction to this wonderful guide: "...somewhere along the line, in the comics industry's struggle to have the medium taken seriously as a way to tell mature, sophisticated stories for adults, comics forgot about kids."

The exciting part is that recently many people have been working to publish quality comics for kids. Many of these are the books we read at our house. Yay! I am much happier having realized that we are reading comics in the form or books in our house and that's exactly what we should be doing at this point. I've added some of my favorites below but I also recommend checking out our buying A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics and I also recommend listening to the new podcast series by Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd called Kids Comics Revolution

Please share your favorite graphic novels in the comments! 
I love to hear what comics you are reading!

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