My husband and I had a great discussion with a friend at Toronto ComicCon a few weeks back. He mentioned how he misses the way that comic books used to be when he was a kid. The good guys were good, the bad guys bad. Storylines were more black and white, and that comics were written for kids, without the violence, sex and “grey” areas of a character’s personality that are so commonplace in today’s comic and graphic novels. It’s not hard to understand where he’s coming from.
Today’s comics are a far cry from the dime store fare that our parents would have had. The characters were something else. Super beings that could fly, stop the villain, defeated every obstacle…or at least that is how they are remembered. However, they were from a different time. Like the over-the-top musical movies of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers era, that gave everyone an escape from the grim realities of the period (in this case the Great Depression), comics reflected what we saw as a more innocent moment in our history. They offered their own form of escapism.
Now, I could go on about the cultural aspects of the then and now, but one post wouldn’t begin to cover it, so for the sake of space, I’ve narrowed it down to a few points of why things are just not like they used to be…
- Stan Lee – besides being somewhat of a superhero himself, Stan saw the potential of taking a “typical” good guy and adding complexity, “grey” areas if you will, that, well, made him more human. In this case, I’m thinking of a kid who has a knack for kicking bad guy butt and climbing walls.
- The Golden and Silver Age of comics – the period from the late 1930s to 1970 saw a roller coaster in way that comics were written. From the first appearance of Superman in 1938 to the creation of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s (created to protect the “innocence” of the children that read comics), many believe that some of the best characters and storylines appeared at this time. By the time that the Bronze Age of comics came into play (up to the mid-1980s), the world became a darker place in the comic world, as it began to reflect more of our society. In our Modern Age of comics, the “realistic” comic has become commonplace and we see the start of the comic to movie trend.
- The Internet – well, we tend to blame the internet for everything else, so might as well add comic books to the list. Seriously though, the creation of the web and social media, has exposed our kids to the fact that the world doesn’t operate in black and white.
The fact is, the world is more cynical, and far less innocent than it used to be. Comics, just like other forms of entertainment, have just changed to match the society that that they are in.
What bothered my friend the most, was the fact that there seems to be fewer comics out there that kids can read, to use as the same type of “escape” that he did as a kid (becoming the superhero, or for some of us, the super villain). There seems to be a gap between the audience for “My Little Pony” and “The Dark Knight Returns”. There is something that we have to realize though. Our kids are far more “worldly” (for better or worse) than we were at their age. It’s just the way that our lives are now. While we do our best to control what we see as appropriate or inappropriate material for them, they are in a world that expects them to grow up faster than ever.
Wow, that’s depressing, but fear not dear reader. For one, we know that our kids are not idiots. Why? Well, because we, their parents, realize that the world is a bigger place than it was for us and we have done our best to prepare them for it.
The sad fact is, that we, the grownups, are one of the main reasons that comics have changed the way that they have. Why? MONEY. Comic books are a lot more expensive than they used to be and WE, the parents, have become the biggest consumers. We LIKE, the “grey”. We LIKE looking at the hero and seeing that he can mess things up, and we LIKE seeing that our villains can sometimes have moments of self-doubt. We find our escapism in the fact that we can RELATE to the very human elements that have become part of the our superheroes’ stories.
So what is a parent to do? Simple. Read the comics that your kids want to read! Talk about what they see, what they like, what they don’t. Maybe Batman has gone from a Super Friend to a Dark Knight, but don’t write-off today’s comic creators. Like all media, there is stuff out there that is really good! Show them some of the great comics that you remember, but get involved with what is out there now. Their world is different, and maybe the way of the comic has fallen to the whims of the companies that create them, but remember, the men and women who write them are storytellers first. Their tales weave heroes and villains, the real world meets the fantastic, just the way that it did when we were kids. Let your kids see why you loved them as a kid and why you still love them as an adult.
Look around at your local comic stores and conventions. Talk to the people that make this their business and find what works for you and your kids. You can still find that same escape for your kids that you loved….and your kids just may surprise you with what they learn too.
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