Comic Book Day

January 9th, 2007 | Posted in General

Between the lovely Anna and three teenage daughters, our house is a little heavy in the estrogen department. It’s just myself and my 10 year old son Tommy to hold up grand man traditions like belching out loud, scratching our privates at will and trying to pretend we heard everything the women were saying when we were really watching TV and didn’t even realize they were even talking to us. No easy task but the boy and I do our best.

It occurred to me recently that Tommy and I don’t get enough man time, especially in the winter when we can’t go outside and play catch, work in the garage or do some other manly things. Tommy’s not a big sports kid anyway, preferring to skateboard and scooter around instead of play soccer or basketball. My skateboarding skills suck, so that’s out. He spends a lot of time playing “World of Warcraft” on his computer and collecting the cards and other stuff related to that game. I’m not big on computer games, an my eyes quickly glaze over when he starts talking about MMORPG, dual wielding Rogues, Warsong Gulch and such. I wanted to find something we could both do and enjoy. I took a page from a friend of mine’s book and started taking my son to a comic book shop once a week, and then to lunch to read and share our comics. It’s called Comic Book Day.

Our first Comic Book Day was a month ago or so. Comics are definitely not what they were when I was a kid. I knew that, of course, but the extent of it still surprised me. Even in the eighties, when I was in high school and college, most comics were still basically PG rated. More “adult” storylines and themes were special format mini-series, like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, and the “mainstream” comics like Spider-man, Batman or other ‘cape and tights’ comics seem to maintain a reasonably kid friendly element. Yes, there was a lot of punching and violence, even deaths, but they were done without a great deal of graphic gore. Today? Hoo boy. In one Batman comic we saw, Batman takes in his illegitimate son (by Talia, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul) briefly. This 12 year old kid precedes to put Robin in the hospital, beats up Alfred and starts beheading people in Gotham. Uhhhh…. I had some explaining to do to my son. Ditto lots of other titles, where gruesome killings, sex and rampant drug use were everywhere… not to mention guns, guns, guns.

Fortunately, both DC and Marvel apparently understand there are kids under the age of 17 who are interested in reading comics, and who have parents responsible enough to want to limit their exposure to gratuitous graphic violence and adult themes. Both have lines of kid friendly books that are very well done and worth reading. Tommy immediately took to Teen Titans GO! and Justice League Unlimited, both well drawn and well written. He doesn’t care much for Batman Strikes!, as he dislikes the character designs (the Joker looks like Killer Kroc with a green wig and makeup). I miss the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series comic books. Marvel also has a line of kid-friendly books like Spider-man, Fantastic Four, etc., but Tommy isn’t too interested in those right now. We do buy Batman and Detective Comics, but we read them together and we talk about the things that are bad. I’m not big on trying to keep my kids in a bubble… I’d rather they see the world as it is (within reason), learn right from wrong and how not to be afraid.

Personally, I’m having trouble finding comics I have any interest in reading. I am surprised at some of the really poor artwork in a lot of the books out there, especially when it comes to drawing faces. So many artists can draw massively muscled bodies and big breasted women, but the faces on these figures look deformed and bizarre. I’m not going to run any specific artists down as I know how hard they work, and they deserve some respect for that. However, the editors on some of these titles need to point out problems in their art team’s work. Anybody who can draw as well as these guys obviously can should be able to draw a convincing face… or shoe… or chair. Comic book storytelling isn’t just muscles and boobs.

One title I am enjoying is Matt Wagner‘s Batman and the Mad Monk, a special format series set early in Batman’s career. I’ve always loved Wagner’s solid storytelling and plots, and his stylized art reminds me a little of Dave Mazzucchelli‘s Batman: Year One work. Nothing groundbreaking here… just a good, entertaining story and art that compliment each other. Basically this is a ‘reimaging’ of a story from the very beginning of Batman in the late 1930’s, including homages to famous cover images… A cool concept. I also bought and read an earlier effort of Wagner’s called Batman and the Monster Men. Yes, these stories involves some gruesome murders and the suggestion of sex, but they are handled more subtly. Still, these are not books for little kids.

Tommy and I enjoy our Comic Book Day every week, and just wish the publishers would get their products out on time and more often. It’s nice father/son time. Now all I have to do is figure out how to summon a demon familiar so my gnome mage can kick some Horde butt on World of Warcraft.

Comments

  1. mengblom says:

    Hey, Tom! Great story about you and the lad!

    My own kids, while always being entertained by superhero movies and such, just never came around on getting into reading them. That might have something to do with dad’s tense body-language anytime they hold the fragile older ones (though it’s better now that they’re older).

    Another part of the problem was exactly what you mentioned in your post: Most comics simply aren’t aimed at a young teen (much less a child) audience. In fact, there’s a few stories I come across that I don’t think are particularly appropriate for *anyone*, they’re so nasty and/or stupid.

    As you know, I’ve stayed pretty hooked on comics all these years, so I *do* have some recommendations you might want to check out.

    For Tommy:

    1. Superman: DC’s Superman line is still a pretty safe bet for pre-teens on up. There’s been a recent change in creative teams, so it’s still fairly easy to catch up on back issues. On “Action Comics”, a fan-favorite writer was just joined by Superman director Richard Donner as co-writer, taking the story into some interesting directions (not to mention integrating the movie’s Kryptonian crystal-tech). My favorite of all the Superman books is “All-Star Superman”, a story unconnected to DC’s “regular continuity” written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely. Quitely’s art takes some getting used to (very “European” looking), but the grandeur of the story overcomes it.

    2. You mentioned that Marvel has some kid-friendly titles, so I’m assuming you may already be aware of the “Marvel Adventures” line, where classic stories are retold in a more modern style and setting.

    3. With Tommy so into the world of fantasy, he might enjoy Jeff Smith’s “Bone”. It’s no longer being published, but there are many trade paperback collections of the series.

    4. “Invincible” by Image Comics is a very enjoyable series for both younger people and adults. It really captures the spirit of early 60’s Spider-Man, in that it’s a teenager learning to deal with his powers and life as a superhero. Some of the material skews higher on the PG-13 scale, so you might want to read the first trade paperback yourself, but I think a 10 year old could keep up (especially one with a mind for a fairly large cast and a variety of story threads to track).

    5. “Tom Strong”, from ABC Comics (an imprint of DC’s) by Alan Moore (yes, THAT Alan Moore) and Chris Sprouse (and others). Solid adventure stories whose influences older fans like you will spot and appreciate, but definitely enjoyable as their own thing as well. Moore is no longer writing the series, which has obviously suffered because of that. Because of that, I would seek out trade paperback reprints of the series, starting with the first one (the set-up is somewhat important, though certainly not manditory).

    6. Of course, there’s a zillion Anime comics out there, but you won’t catch me recommending any of ’em. God bless the comics and the kids who can’t get enough of them, but as a whole, I just don’t connect with that stuff.

    For you (all recommendations are for trade paperback collections, unless otherwise noted):

    1. Any of the “Astro City” trade paperback collections put out by Wildstorm publishing (another imprint of DC Comics). Fantastic stuff I can’t recommend highly enough. One I think you’d especially like is a collection titled “Confessions”.

    2. “Fables” from Vertigo Comics (yes…another DC imprint). Start from the beginning on this one. It’s the saga of real-life fable, fairy tale and nursury rhyme characters who live in “Fabletown”, though it’s not as light and cheery as you might imagine. A sprawling saga with a complex, yet very interesting cast of characters.

    3. “Y: The Last Man”: Yorick Brown is the sole surviving man after a mysterious event kills every male mammal on Earth. Equal parts suspenceful and humorous, it’s a pretty unique book.

    4. “Justice” by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger: An out-of-continuity story featuring DC’s iconic heroes against their equally iconic villains (sort of a grown up version of “Super Friends”). Beautiful artwork, compelling story (despite bobbling the ball in the most recent issues). The first several books are collected in trade paperback form, but since it’s published every two months (due to Ross’s fully painted artwork), it’s going to be awhile longer before the whole thing is done.

    5. “DC: The New Frontier” A sweeping story of DC’s Silver Age characters set in that very era (late 50’s, early 60’s), with marvelous writing and retro-cool, semi-cartoony art by Darwyn Cooke (broken into two separate trade paperback collections).

    So, there you go! Some stuff to check out if you’d like.

    I think what you’re doing with Tommy is a great thing. I’m sure he’s enjoying the heck out of it and will treasure the memories.

    -Mark

  2. Matt. says:

    I’m not really into comic books, or really know that much about them, but I am enjoying the fairly new Marvel Civil War series.

  3. mrbill says:

    Good post Tom. I had similar issues as my two guys were growing up. We found animated movies as a good joint experience.

    Your blog is rich and deep. Wanted you to know we appreciate all the effort you put into it.

    Carry on.

  4. Tom says:

    Hey Mark! Many thanks for the great list of comics to be on the lookout for. Tommy and I will definitely be on the lookout for them! Yes, I believe it’s the Marvel Adventures line I was referring to.

    Thanks for the comments, Matt and Bill…

  5. Keelan says:

    Tom,

    Comic Book Day rules, doesn’t it? Brady (my daughter) and I have been doing the same thing since she was, like, two or three maybe? VERY early on.
    We’d go to the only decent comic store her in Orlando, pick up some books for me and one for her (back then it was PowerPuff Girls by DC), and then go to our favorite burger joint and read. Actually, when I got done with my books, I’d read hers to her. These days, though, she’s a full partner in this….she reads her books cover to cover on her own (she’s eight now and has a three book limit that I’ll buy her), and then we’ll discuss them. I’m still not used to that change, ehr reading her own books…she’s growing up too fast!

    Sounds like she and Tommy read a lot of the same books. She also likes the Totally Spies trade paperbacks from Tokyo Pop (don’t think Tommy would like this one) and the new trade compilations of the Disney Adventures comics (Lilo and Stitch, Kid Galaxy, etc…). There’s also the PowerPack miniseries Marvel is doing, teaming up that group with Spiderman, Xmen, etc. Finally, we both really like Marvel’s
    “Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius” miniseries by Chris Eliopoulis.

    As for me, I mostly read Previews catalog, deciding what trades and art books I’m gonna drop a load of dough on, and Wizard magazine, so I know what’s going on in the world of comics, without buying them all! The last mainstream titles I read and liked were Dynamite’s “Lone Ranger” and “Highlander”, and DC’s new “Spirit” title by Darwyn Cooke (great art and story). Also, I get Back Issue! and DRAW! magazines from TwoMorrows Publishing. And quite a few of the autobio type books from Top Shelf and Fantagraphics.

    Glad to see you and Tommy are not only getting more bonding time, but that we’re helping get the next generation of comics fans started! Hey, TODAY’S comic book day around here, actually….gotta go get some work done before!

    c-ya!

    Keelan

  6. Tom says:

    Mark- I am not so sure about the Gunslinger comics… some things are better left to the imagination, and I am very disappointed to hear the first 7 issues are retelling the “Wizards and Glass” book. I don’t need adaptations… I want new back stories. So far the art I’ve seen hasn’t bowled me over, either. I think Jae Lee is a mundane choice for the task… they needed someone with a spooky and edgy feel to their art. Lee is too mainstream. Maybe they’ll surprise me.

    Keelan- You and Brady were my inspiration for Comic Book Day, of course!

  7. opsman says:

    Hero by night (a 4-issue miniseries) is, from what I’ve heard, pretty good. It’s by the creator of Yirmumah! (www.yirmumah.com)

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