KIDS reading COMICS? What the–
Yes, there is still a percentage of comic readers out there under the age of 12! Just when you thought the ticket to a successful comic (or webcomic) was shock factor– sex, gory violence, mature content…. well, it’s no longer shocking to see this in comics. There was a time that comics WERE for kids, superheroes and good-doing daring-do… villains who were scary without being traumatic… violence that was more cute and kitschy than a gore-fest. Well, those kids grew up still clutching their favorite Supermans and Spidermans and Fantastic Fours even past their teenage years. The big companies like Marvel and DC decided to follow the demographic and “grow up” their content as well. Today, those kids are parents themselves… possibly grandparents… and they are getting their own kids into their favorite pastime. They are carving out the little section of family-friendly comics that still remains and hoping to see more gems appear on shelves in this genre, besides the handful of classics like Bone, Tiny Titans and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Take one listen to the podcast GeekPapas, and you see the passion and love of the medium that DOES get passed down. Also, here’s a great read by Phil Hampton of The Comic Academy, asking Marvel and DC to save the comic community by ADDING MORE kid-friend comics! Webcomics is a whole other beast– as much as we all know kids are privy to the whole “internets thingy“, do they go looking for webcomics to read? Or just hang out at Club Penguin and check up on their Webkinz animals? Do kids WANT to read comics, outside of their nerdy parents who are dragging them to the comic book shop again, or reading “Sheldon” to them on the computer in the midst of their homework assignment? This is quandary #1…
Are Family-Friendly comics really becoming more in-demand, or is this demand just based on one generation of parents who want to share in their favorite pastime with their kids? How long will this demand last? Does it really exist?
On the other end of the coin are the ADULTS (yes, growns-ups!) who (still?) enjoy family-friendly comics. Is this just a nostalgic pleasure, based on nothing more than “It makes me feel like a kid again“, or can some more modern comics actually just truly appeal to everyone– a la Pixar movies, where there’s jokes for all ages woven into a central theme that resonates in different ways to kids and adults. Is “fun for all ages” really fun for adults, or just a quaint nostalgic break from the “good adult stuff” that’s been laid out for adults in film, TV and comics? Quandary #2 being:
Do you have to be a parent, or have a love for nostalgia, to be part of the “Family-Friendly” demographic?
From a business standpoint, you have to consider these things if you are planning to make a successful comic or webcomic. One of the first decisions you make should be “Will this comic be for adults, kids, or everyone?” It’s awfully hard to take that complex storyline about the triple-homicide and the seductress who kills the detective and turn it into a kid-friendly comic. Typically it’s a good idea to write about something that will appeal to a large demographic– and in comics today that’s mainly 20-50 year old men. Hence the plethora of sex-laden action adventure comics out there. So, that leads me to quandary #3:
Are you making a bad business decision if you create a family-friendly comic, if the main demographic is used to reading mature content?
I posed these quandaries to my Google + circles a while back, and got a lot of passionate and informative responses. Mainly those who shared their thoughts on this are also fellow creators, most with family-friendly comics of their own. Many felt they had success and really enjoyed creating comics that parents can read with their kids:
“I think there will always be a place for kid friendly stuff in comics. I had several parents at the last con I was at thank me for doing sketches for kids and lament that there was very little kid friendly stuff there. Granted, it may be harder to reach them as an audience; it takes more work, but in the long run, it’s worth it. I hope to be around long enough for my kid fans to show their kids my stuff when they grow up.” – Chris Otto (A Dog’s Life)
“I love making Smash an all-ages comic! Pixar is clearly the gold standard. But it’s important to remember there can be dark elements with all-ages work, as with most Pixar, Harry Potter, early Spielberg, etc. All-ages doesn’t have to mean innocuous and inconsequential.” – Chris Bolton (Smash Comic)
“I think it’s on the way in. There’s plenty of adult-oriented stuff out there for the grown up generation of comic readers. I think the demand for family-friendly comics will increase as the aforementioned generation will wish to pass on the joy of comic reading to the kids with appropriate material.” – Carlo Jose San Juan (Callous Comics)
But I definitely wasn’t alone in my doubts if my own family-friendly comic would ever be able to rub elbows with the comics out there geared towards adults. Some great advice and viewpoints were shared…
“Although my story is kid friendly, I also realize that my online audience is likely 99% adult. I hope that those adults will buy a print copy of the book for their kids, but I also try to appeal to them (the adults) as readers, so they’ll keep coming back for more.” –Charles Dowd (Lilith Dark)
“There’s a glut of adult themed comics and gamer comics online, and its easy for a family friendly strip to get lost in the commotion. Usually online comic readers are young adults and mostly males, so trying to target web using kids may be an uphill climb for the time being. You may have to go to them more than them coming to you for the next little while.” – Drezz Rodriguez (El Cuervo)
“My comic is geared to be family-friendly, and although there’s a lot more I can do yet to spread the word, I also wonder about what potential audience size I could really hope for with this focus. Certainly there are those who are doing well with family-friendly. That suggests that we’re facing an uphill climb, but not a brick wall.
I hardly think the majority of mainstream print comic books are for kids anymore, particularly the superhero stuff. I see a sort of percolating movement to maintain a place for kids amidst the mature content, but I’m not sure it’s growing (or shrinking) at any significant pace at this point. Just bubbling on the surface.” –Chris Watkins (Odori Park)
What followed from there was some great advice for webcomic creators looking to find their “kid-friendly demographic”. Being that twitter, faceook and other social media outlets are not riddled with kids, where do we go? How do we find these elusive comic-reading kids (and their parents looking for comics to share)?
“You have to be careful about blurring the lines. Knowing your audience with any feature is critical. Specially when you start talking about niche strips. On top of that, you have to know the guts of your characters. I’m all for the idea of letting the comic take you where it wants to go. As long as you adhere to the characters personalities and emotions. 180’s scare the reader.
It’s all about marketing. Unfortunately the social media sites are very diluted. Let’s face it, 90% of the activity we see is from other artists looking to get a return click. I would take a look at some of the more successful all-age comics out there and try to get some pointers. Might not be a bad idea to network with kid-related products and see if you can build up a partnership.“ –Mike Witmer (Pinkerton)
” I guess it depends on whether you want an audience. I’m assuming anyone who does a webcomic wants that… but there’s a certain amount of needing self-validation that comes from putting your first story out there. I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that we all went “I wonder if anyone will like this” and dream idealistically that we’re gonna make it big. There’s no real pitch; it’s just a fun idea, but maybe – just maybe – someone out there is gonna like the same stuff. A lot of someone. It’s ass-backwards, is all I’m saying.” – Paul Caggegi (Pandeia)
“Kid-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean “kiddie”… I don’t think kids would “get” some of the comics I read but they are written for adults, they’re just not x-rated levels of sex/violence/adult-situations, but it’s still there. If you want your comics to be passed around people’s offices, family friendly is the way to go since people can be fired for sharing the edgy stuff.” – Samantha Wikan (Life’s a Wich)
“I think one should make the comic one wants to make rather than worrying too much about wether it’s G rated or not. Newspaper comics were/are required to be kid friendly, and if you’re not publishing that way or working toward doing so then there is no right or wrong maturity level. The comic should go where ever its creator wants to go, even if that involves naughty words.” – Jeff Couturier ( Horde of Neurons)
“There are two things at work here:
1. Good story telling verses fan service – You’re talking about creating a comic that will please a certain type of fan, but good story telling will please everyone. Look at some kid friendly properties that are loved by a large demographic. “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a good example of this.
2. Traditionally children have little control over what they get to read since their parents control what they are able to buy. Often what parents want their kids to read and what kids want to read isn’t the same thing. With the internet, children have access to everything. Even with parental controls, children will gravitate to what they want to read.
It is probably better to create all-ages comics then kid-friendly comics, since children don’t have much money to spend. Children often like stories with a more adult theme then what they usually get to see and so a good all-ages story will please them as much as it pleases anyone who loves to read.” – George Ward (Dungeon Legacy)
“If the content lends itself well to more kid-friendly content, then stick with that. If there are more opportunities for blue humor, then the comic should be in that vein. Flip-flopping between the two or changing mid-stream isn’t a good idea, especially if you already have an established fan base.
If you have a comic that rides the fine-line between both mature and kid-friendly, perhaps its time to look at pursuing one discipline, sticking with it and making it more successful with that direct approach. Because eventually you’ll piss someone off. At least with a direct focus on genre, you have a rationale you can defend.
I think [kid-friendly comics] would do well at school book fairs, or take the time to do cartooning workshops for kids, both paid and free. That should help boost your book sales, but at the same time, you could inform kids that you’re on the internet and have a website full of fun stuff.” – Drezz Rodriguez (El Cuervo)
Now it’s time to open the floor to the Webcomic Alliance crowd– what are your thoughts on the kid-friendly comic biz? Fading out, or coming back? How do you find your demographic amongst the predominantly male adult audiences in your social stream who are already reading webcomics? In short, are kid-friendly comics a worthwhile business venture if you want to succeed as a cartoonist?
Dawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the sydication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.