Open for Debate: Family-Friendly Comics: Making a Comeback or Just Nostalgic?

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.

 

 

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Posted in Business, Featured News, Writing.

37 Comments

  1. I still maintain that kid-friendly works are not only going to find an audience, but that the audience is going to continue to grow. Having watched a four-year-old navigate an iPad with more skill than I can after picking it up at random there is little doubt in my mind that they can and WILL find what they want.

    I’m working with a convention organizer to create a Webcomics panel series. I asked if he would share with me his demographic expectations. He brought up his stats, gathered from other conventions in the area of similar focus.

    #1 Ages 21-31 (~40%)
    #2 TIED between Children/Teen and 31-41 (~25% each)

    Their #2 demographic is parents and their children. As a result, they are pushing the family-friendly angle like crazy. Kids completely free with a parent. Teens half off. Family activities, like a super-hero pizza party, “Make your own comic”, etc. The demographic is already there and they’re working on making it even bigger.

    Just from personal experience, I spent my 24-hour-comic-day at a local shop. I’d say a good third of the people that visited were parents wanting to share comics with their kids, and those children were VERY excited to see REAL comic artists making REAL comics.

    The market is already there, and IF content is created to cater to it, it will only grow. Just because DC is dead-set on marketing to a continually shrinking “safe” market doesn’t mean we should make the same mistake. Webcomics can be low-overhead, low-limitations, but high-quality works. Why not go for it?

    • I had the exact same experience at my local free-comic-book-day event… lots of geeked-out parents and their excited kids… got a few buyers who were VERY happy I had a kid-friendly comic, and they even found me at the next Philly Comic Con to buy another book!

  2. On a side note, I have to disagree with the “predominantly male” readership statement. This may be true for specific comics, but statistically, the stereotypical white teenage male filling in the “nerd niche” is not the majority anymore. Not by a LONG shot. Take a look, for example, at ESA’s 2011 gamer demographics report at http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2011.pdf

    – The average gamer age is 37. Only 18% of game-players are under the age of 18. 29% are 50+
    – 42% of gamers are women. Women 18+ make up 37% of the game-playing population, more that DOUBLE males under 18 (13%)

    If this transformation has happened to video games, hallowed ground for the male geek, what do you think has happened to the comic demographic? There is a reason that everyone and their mother heard the controversy over the portrayal of women in recent DC reboots. There is a reason enough women are pissed off about it to flood the internet saying, “That’s it, I am done with DC. Never again.” WHERE, pray tell, are these female fans of comics going to go? Probably where most of them have already gone: Webcomics.

    • I like stats and numbers, so thanks for those. I certainly would think the video game demographic is almost reflected in comics… so this gives me hope.. for female readers at least!

      It is hard to tell your exact numbers… I put out a survey but it’s possible more men will take a survey than women. So, the results may be skewed. My ONLINE demographic is 30-50 year old men basically, but the demographic at a convention differs from that– it’s more varied, kids to adults, men and women.

      • Whereas at this point most of the evidence I have points to either female-dominated or 50/50 readership, but this could be more from the people I network with, rather than what a random population sample would bring.

        It’s so hard to figure out the exact numbers, because so much of it is based on the population pool you’re looking at and/or focusing on.

        Which, ultimately, may be what makes-or-breaks a family friendly webcomic: Is it maximizing the interaction with the DESIRED population pool? What are the ads like? To whom are they marketed? What sites or publications are the ads featured on? What activities and networks is the creator involved in?

        I’d say the biggest question is not “are they out there?” but “how do I reach them?” The network for advertising webcomics to other webcomic readers is pretty well developed…but going OUTSIDE that? THOSE networks are still in their infancy!

      • All-ages and Kid-friendly comics are under-represented on the web, they exist, but because of strict advertisement rules, are more difficult to promote other than via social media (word of mouth.) It can be summarized as they can advertise on each other, but can not endorse anything outside their demographic or they potentially lose their advertisement revenue.

        The terms and conditions for ad networks often prohibit displaying their ads on sites that contain or endorse illegal activities (most ad networks are just CYA, but then there is SOPA/PROTECT-IP rules that might do more damage) even though comics are fictional.

        This is why comics that are specifically targeted to adults (eg more than just fanservice) don’t run ads other than PW. They simply risk too much.

        So in short:

        Family-friendly, kid-safe and all-age comics – best ad revenue potential, most difficult to promote except by social media.

        Mature and Adult comics – worst ad revenue potential, easiest to promote via all methods.

  3. I think a lot of people really confuse what the concept of “kid friendly” and “all ages” really means, or can mean. It doesn’t necessarily just mean toned down slapstick humor, but can also incorporate darker elements and other things as well…and I think Pixar movies are a shining example of that. You know that you’re reached success in producing an all-ages comic when people of ALL AGES enjoy your work and there’s something there for everyone.

    • GREAT point. I tend to not even say “all ages” unless there is a kid within range at a convention. It turns off adults. It’s a shame, as like you said “all ages” shouldn’t have that connotation, but it does anyway.

      When I think of what I grew up watching and reading… it all contained a dark element to it. Back then it was OK. Now parents are SO finicky about what their kids can watch/read. Secret of NIHM has sword fights, some blood, scary characters and the word “damn”. That would would cause riots today if shown in theaters with a “G” rating. But DAMN I loved that movie…. because of the scary/edgy/violent… yknow.. INTERESTING parts!

  4. I’ve been able to build a wonderful and loyal audience with my all ages comic, and I exhibit at very traditional comic book conventions. What helps, I believe, is my marketing and my inspirations. I say that the Little Vampires are “for monster fans of all ages.” Saying “family friendly,” unfortunately, often gives a sense that something has been dumbed down and sanitized for kids. There is no Barney up in here, yo.

    I often cite my inspirations, which include The Muppets, Peanuts, Edward Gorey, Abbot and Costello, The Beatles, Pixar, Neil Gaiman, Warner Brothers, and, oddly enough, The Blue Man Group. All of these people and their works inspire me to make something that is on the whimsical and magical side and accessible to all that value whimsy and magic. I don’t always live up to my inspirations, but I try. 🙂

    Like Charles, I agree that the darker elements of life should not be ignored. When they are, that’s when you cross over into that Barney territory. I’ve found a common thread in all the best all ages works. They don’t deny the darkness. They teach us how to overcome it.

    All that being said, it is hard sometimes, watching my web cartoonist buds with their big audience, larger ad revenue, and larger sales. But then I quickly realize that I’m able to keep flying with my comparatively small but wonderful and loyal audience. And that’s good enough for me.

    • “There is no Barney up in here, yo. ” HAHA! That should be your comic’s tagline.

      I too, often cite my inspirations as part of my pitch at cons– 3rd Rock From the Sun & Invader Zim to name a few. That’s usually a great selling point– if they like those (and many comic geeks do), they’re more likely to flip through a book and buy it.

      I think creators, including myself, are likely to be afraid of any backlash from parents (especially today) if marketing their comic as “all ages friendly”. Any little thing can set off a super-protective parent. Extreme censoring will certainly strangle the creativity and the heart of a comic.. so it’s important to find a balance between boundaries and expression. I struggle with that all the time– dancing around that line, trying to push myself if I get too lazy… AKA “safe”.

  5. This is a really interesting piece, but one thing I kind of take issue with is the idea that you should tailor your comic to your demographic, or be super-aware of your ‘demographic’. I think that’s about the worst thing you can do. If you’re going to do that, you might as well just do contract work and get paid; the whole idea of doing webcomics is that you can do whatever you want and not worry about having to ‘please’ an editor or client or demographic or whatever.
    If you look at Kate Beaton, for example, there was zero demographic for cartoons about obscure historical and literary figures, and yet she’s doing great work. I seriously doubt she thinks a lot about trying to please her demographic.

    • good point, being super-concerned about your demographic will make you paranoid about what you write. However, for advertising reasons, it’s important to know what the bulk of your demographic is. Just to avoid spending too much money and/or time promoting your comic in areas where few will be receptive. That is more my point.

      It’s all about balance. And I like I said in the above comment, I struggle with that balance all the time. I can’t turn around and make Z&F adult-oriented just because “well, it’s a webcomic, I can do whatever I want”… unless I have no interest in keeping readers. If you create a brand that’s all-ages, making the switch to be PG-13 or R is a dangerous BUSINESS decision. If you don’t intend for your comic to be a business (or don’t mind the hate mail), then yes, you can do whatever you like… I’m just saying for an established comic with a readership that you’d like to retain, it’s probably a bad idea to make that big of a jump.

      • There’s a big difference between catering to a demographic and catering to a niche (or filling the needs of one).

        Kate Beaton’s work is well received because of the niche she filled, the intelligence of the humor involved, and the fact that her passion is evident in the comics she creates. I don’t think it would have worked as well if she analyzed who read her work and decided to gear all of her writing towards that demographic.

        People trust her writing, and 99% it is very good. The remaining 1% is silly and fun, and that also has its place and shows a bit of Kate’s personality. In the end, you either take it or leave it – she’s going to keep making them, regardless of the demographic.

        • Hey Drezz,
          Yeah, that’s pretty much what I meant to say, only you did it lucidly 🙂
          And I don’t really mean to point out specific cartoonists, it’s just a general feeling that some comics seem a little overly-aware of trying to hit a target demographic. ‘If I do a strip about post-apocalyptic zombie video gamers who work in the IT department in a soulless office, by jiminy, I’ll have a hit on my hands!’
          (apologies in advance if anyone has a strip that matches that description)

      • yeah, I pretty much agree with you entirely. I guess my point is more that major decisions about your comic should be driven by artistic reasons, not demographic or advertising reasons. Certainly it doesn’t hurt to know who your comic would appeal to when you go to buy advertising. But I think your choice to keep Z&F all-ages probably has more to do with your long-term vision for the strip, with the internal logic of the strip and with your taste, rather branding choices.
        These comments aren’t really directed at you specifically, it’s more that I’m getting a bit burned out reading and listening to everyone talk about branding, marketing, advertising, etc, and not really talking about how to improve a strips writing, or pacing or that sort of thing. I’m totally guilty of this, too, I guess it’s just harder and bit touchier to talk about people’s actual strip, rather than the mechanics of promoting it.
        Mini-rant now over! 😉

        • “I guess it’s just harder and bit touchier to talk about people’s actual strip, rather than the mechanics of promoting it.” –Sandy

          It would be great if we could actually talk to one another about our content and it’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s really not something we should be afraid to do when you think about the positives that would come from it. …anyways, this Isn’t the discussion at hand, but this aspect of Sandys comment stood out for me.

          In the two or so years I’ve been doing my comic, I’ve received a few e-mails from parents suggesting I remember that their child may be reading my work. I’ve politely written back asking why they would let their child read a comic thats MEANT more for the parents? One mother took the time to answer that and it led me to put a PG rating on the comic, she made a good case and I tend to be an agreeable person when you put effort into talking to me. I guess for some odd reason, it seems some kids are drawn to the main character. It doesn’t change what I will write about, or draw in my comic, but the fact that kids could be drawn to the comic because of the main character does make me wonder what potential I am missing out on, if any!

  6. Well, Dawn asked that I repost this here after catching my response to a G+ posting. And since it looks like it’s set up for Gravatar or similar open posting, I’ll go ahead and do it. 🙂

    ———–

    ((okay, I will preface this by saying i was never a normal child, my parents let me watch PG and R rated movies when I was eight, and I largely understood them. So please take what I say with two grains of salt))

    Well, it’s not a “bad” article, per-say, and it does raise good questions and provide good insights from creators; but ultimately I think it misses the mark by at least some margin. (And no, I’m not signing up to WCA just to make the one post, sorry, I have enough memberships on my plate as it is)

    My thought here is that +Dawn Griffin is confusing “all ages” or “child friendly” with “family reading.” Let’s face it, with a few exceptions, there are not really many things in this world which a parent and a child are both going to enjoy. Yes, there are examples out there. Disney has done a good job, both via it’s cartoon stuff and its Pixar stuff, of creating things an adult can enjoy. Same with the mentioned MLP:FIM and its associated “Bronies and Pegasisters”. However, that is not about content creation, it’s much more about marketing. While the earlier Pixar works such as the Incredibles or Toy Story really were written in such a way as to be genuinely “family viewing” with equal parts for both the adult viewer who is looking at the dynamic of Buzz/Jessie and the idea of selfless friendship, and for the ten year old who is excited by the idea that their toys might be able to talk back to them: most “family oriented” material is written towards children, but in such a way that mom and dad won’t want to blow their brains out ten minutes in.

    In general, I am not going to pick up a book aimed at a child and read it as a child would, understand it as a child would, and most importantly be able to communicate that enjoyment with a child. I make no secret that I do watch cartoons and read comics and enjoy them. That doesn’t mean I can explain to my sister’s son WHY I enjoy Kim Possible, or Gargoyles, or the classic Looney Tunes. The idea that families can reliable “bond” over shared viewing/reading I find honestly laughable or misguided. in order to bond, there needs to be a shared frame of reference. If Little jimmy and i both watch and both enjoy Bugs Bunny cross-dressing to confuse Elmer, that does not automatically mean that we have “bonded” over it, unless we can have a constructive discussion about WHY we both enjoyed it. And generally, that’s not going to happen.

    And that really is the issue I find. Yes, there DEFINITELY need to be more entertainment items out there aimed not at 20-50 white males, but at other demographics. I suppoort that wholeheartedly and with gusto. I also am a great proponent that parents need to have an understanding of what their children not only are seeing out there, but what they are interested in seeing. the V-chip and its technological descendants are one of the greatest crimes ever foisted off on society, the idea that your TV makes a good babysitter and content guardian so that you can be lazy and not do it yourself.

    But the idea that you can set out to write material that will appeal in equal parts to the eight year old and the twenty-eight year old, to me at least, is fundamentally flawed and a good way to set yourself up to fail. If you want to write a comic that someone 8-10 can read? That’s great! Go right at it. If someone other than that theoretical yard-ape/dream house resident comes along and also enjoys it, that’s great too. But minimizing your core demographic by chasing the secondary one is a good way to irk both of them. Write to the specific audience you think will like your wok, and anyone else who stumbles in stumbles in. Don’t be the jerk-of-all-trades, in other words.

    Basically, I see that there are three simple rules to writing anything, all of roughly equal importance:
    A.) Your audience (and especially children) are never as naive or simple as you think they are: So don’t be afraid to write stories with more meat to them even if you suspect a plot point may be over their heads. They may not get all the material, but they know when they are being written down to. It’s fine, even great, if your audience asks why a character did something, but don’t leave it out just because you think it will go over their heads. (but by the same token don’t go throwing a lot of heady subtextual callouts in specifically to be clever, your audience will recognize that too)
    B.) Be true to your characters: Fan service will be fun to do as a chuckleing diversion moment, but it always needs to have a real plot point behind it. Putting your dark action girl in a frilly pink dress or your ten year old little tyke in black power-mech battle armor only goes so far as it serves that character’s needs in the story. It may be what your audience thinks they want at the moment, but in the long run, they will thank you more for staying true to the character than for pandering to them with the fearsome warrior woman forced into the moe school-girl costume.
    C.) Don’t delude yourself about your motivations in writing something. You’ve written it for one of three reasons: You wanted to write it as a device to yourself (exorcising personal demons perhaps); You’ve written it because it’s what the character would do in that situation; or you’ve written it as a fan-service (either to yourself or to your audience). But don’t try to fool yourself, or others, into thinking you’ve written/drawn/created something purely as an artistic exorcise. You don’t publish those things, they stay tucked away inside your portfolio or head. The moment you start trying to pass off what you do to others as anything more than ‘here is what I have created, what do you think of it/please enjoy it?” is the moment you have started lying to yourself and to others, and you need to hang it up.

    • (re-posting from G+)
      Thanks for this in-depth review(?)/commentary on my article … appreciate the suggestions and the breakdown that you carefully put together here. There’s some wonderful points. I would love to see it posted at the Alliance you don’t have to sign up for anything- simply type in your name and email. (and website if you have one and want to add it). I think the community there would love to read it and continue the discussion.

      It’s very true that there’s a confusing line between kid-oriented material (made for kids) and family-friendly/all-ages material which is intended to be enjoyed by kids and adults. Achieving that is awfully difficult– Pixar movies is the best example. But while some adults may love the nostalgia of watching, say, Looney Tunes with their kids… they may not spend the money to own it because THEY want to watch it again and again. That’s what is difficult about all-ages comics. Parents have the money, not the kids. And they’ll buy it if they 1. deem it worthy for their kids to read, or 2. if THEY like it themselves, and it can also be read by kids (if they have kids). #2 is the trickier achievement. Very few webcomics have managed to do it.. Sheldon by Kellett is one of them. Smart, funny, not dumbed-down (many literary types adore it for being so smart), but it’s all-ages so parents can share with their kids too. A lot of us are aiming for that, but tend to play it safe (I’m admittedly one of them with +Zorphbert and Fred ) and the comic becomes nothing more than a novelty to adults. Something they enjoy reading with their kids, but not a profitable endeavor for the creator.

      This is a really intriguing topic… I quite enjoy the business/marketing thought process for comics… and I make my own all-ages comic that I’d LOVE to be able to market better. I’m HOPING we’re on the cusp of something big (and not just imagining it), but how to open it up and reach the audience that would love to read what we create is the bigger question!

  7. I’m agreeing with those who said ‘family’ or ‘kid’ friendly comics don’t need to fore-go the darker sides of life. You won’t find gore or foul language or angry, crazed monsters or even ‘bad guys’ in my strip, but you will from time to time see the kids dealing with darker and more serious themes throughout.

    Kid’s aren’t idiots. They know what’s going on out there, they just still look at it a little more simplistically and possibly naively than grown ups. Give them their credit – they’re not interested in Barney – they want real dinosaurs.

    Mind you… anyone putting together a strip with kids in it that form them into ‘little adults’, from my side of things, doesn’t really know how kids act and behave anyway! How many of those characters are out there? Far too many. 🙂

  8. I’m always fighting the “all-ages doesn’t mean kiddie” fight. Creators seem reluctant to compare their work to lofty achievements like Harry Potter or Star Wars (for good reason), but the fact of the matter is – both represent all-ages entertainment. As Rebecca describes, we have no problem describing our influences as being the Incredibles, Back to the Future, Lost in Space (which is probably too dated), or Ninja Turtles. Of those things, only the last one was aimed specifically at children, and that was only after it went mainstream. Everything for kids isn’t completely sanded down – the new Thundercats series, Avatar (airbender style), and Clone Wars are all pretty edgy at times. I suspect some of the parental acceptance of these examples stems from trusted resources/brands.

    It would be great if a trusted resource existed, like Poptropica, for digital comic content delivery to that audience. I know my son has very little patience for bookmarks, and in his case, he’s walled up behind a “safe eyes” filter, so his mom or I have to get involved if we found something we wanted him to read. How do I even get to him if I’m not his dad? Via his parents. How do I get to his parents? Well, if it were that easy we’d all have done it by now. I think, as Drezz suggests, schools are a good place to start. But then again, that brings in the whole “is your digital product printed yet?” discussion, and how neither digital or print really exists well without the other for very long.

  9. “In America, it almost seems like ‘family’ [‘all-ages’] has become a code word for something that you can put a five-year-old in front of, go out for two hours, and come back secure in the knowledge that your child will not have been exposed to any ideas.” – Neil Gaiman

    I feel like so long as we are doing our jobs as storytellers, and exposing the audience to interesting ideas no matter who the audience is, we’ll do fine. As has been noted, Pixar does well in this regard. Disney did all right there until their sweetness became saccharine in the 70s and 80s, and the adult audience dropped out. They found their edge again in the 90s and you have The Lion King and that whole resurgence. Adults and children both attended in droves.

    I don’t think the mass audience is chased away by all-ages content, but they are certainly leery of the designation, just like they used to be (still are?) leery of a G-Rating. G-Rated stuff can be very bland, just as all-ages can.

    But I think if we lead with our ideas, this stuff takes care of itself.

    • that is a perfect quote by Gaiman. Thanks for sharing Steve.

      I think, coming from a background of syndicate submissions and a very fine line of what “edgyness” you can have in your comic, I am predisposed to making “safe” material. Even upping the rating to PG-13 seems scary. I struggle with how to push the boundaries and give my comic’s writing a humor an edgy feel without scaring off parents. People say to just write naturally and not think about my audience. Truth is, I’m usually not.. there’s very few comics I re-wrote what I originally intended because I was worried what my audience would think. Usually, if I re-write a comic it’s because my original gag seemed lame or cliche once I drew the comic itself. Anyway, point being, I think my natural writing tendency IS to be G-PG-rated… at least for my comics. When it comes to real life, I’m quite the swearin’ sailor.

      • Well, you always have to remember two things about your readers (or clientele) and this is coming from a guy who spent ten years in customer service.

        -A person who likes what you are doing will tell two to three people. A person who dislikes it will tell nine to eleven. Therefore, your negative, reactionary set will always outweigh positives, no matter how good your writing is (writing, drawing, etc).

        -There are ALWAYS reactionary “won’t someone think of the children?!” types out there. It goes back to what I had said about “don’t underestimate your audience.” If you’re getting communiques from people accusing you of corrupting America’s youth, then you’ve done the most horrifying thing imaginable… You’ve made a child stop and think, and then ask their parent something. XD

        Ultimately though, you gotta write what your comfortable with. If you’re not comfy with having your heroes swear occasionally or discuss why little johnny’s dad isn’t coming home, then you’re not comfy with it and it’s probably better to leave it alone, and that’s okay. I personally believe that a writer should be willing to tackle any topic under the sun, but then again, I spent my high school years doing volunteer work and knowing that a kid who reads a comic book about when to call the police is better served than one who reads spongebob. so YMMV

  10. Both Steve (Og, above me) and I pretty aggressively marketed our comics as “All Ages” for a good period of time. We even started a publishing company (along with Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman) that was going to cater specifically to that group, called Wishtales (which still exists now as Steve’s imprint.)

    Wishtales didn’t work out, and over time I have stopped pushing my comic as all ages. The reason why kind of boiled down to one thing: It’s incredibly difficult to market to that demographic on the web.

    And it only makes sense. I keep a very close eye on what my own kids see on the net, and I’m sure most parents are the same. So a lot of ways to market your comic – social networking, PW, newsletters, etc. – are completely closed to your target audience. That means you have to reach out to the parents, but I found that they aren’t really out there actively looking for that stuff.

    For all my all ages posturing in the last 3+ years, the only real children readers I have are friends and family that have heard via word of mouth – and most of them have read the printed version only.

    At least for myself, I found that marketing to kids on the internet is a closed door – nearly impossible. So now what?

    Well, I’ve stayed true to my story – because in a way it doesn’t matter to me that my audience is kids or not. But I have been much less strict about what appears on my site and where I might advertise. It’s just one less thing to worry about.

    My comic will always be kid friendly if I want to hand some kid a book. But now when I am marketing it, I am marketing based on what Marooned is – not who it is for. And I find that it is much more effective for me.

    So rounding back to Steve’s last line – if we lead with our ideas, the stuff takes care of itself.

  11. It’s amazing this article hit when it did– as I not only see a boom in kids graphic novels on the horizon, but I think it will continue to grow on the web and in apps–> in fact, I just launched my new Buzzboy webcomics site, through Keenspot.Com at http://buzzboy.keenspot.com/

    But it doesn’t stop there– because kids read across such a broad spectrum of mediums, Buzzboy is also available as part f the Comics Jukebox app in the itunes store.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/comics-jukebox/id449413435?mt=8

    • it does seem to be a timely article… been discussing similar quandaries with friends for a bit now. BuzzBoy looks awesome! and I’m interested to hear how it does an an iPad app! Nice to meet ya, John :0)

  12. I have discovered that parents are the only ones who want more Family-Friendly comics, and that’s perfectly understandable. You want to know for certain that your children’s reading material is safe.

    Kids, on the other hand, don’t want family-friendly material. The younger generation prefers to buck the system and rebel for the most part. If there are children surfing the net these days unattended, you can best believe they’re not searching for lovey-dovey, safe comics once mom and pop leave the room.

    They want to laugh at what their parents find funny. It’s the same as when I would sneak and listen to Richard Pryor comedy albums instead of It’s A Small World when I had the chance. 🙂

    My 12-year old stepson would much rather watch Boondocks, South Park, and Family Guy than Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo. Although he was a huge fan of those fam-friendly shows when he was younger and didn’t realize there was a difference.

    When I first created my strip, it was aimed at an all-ages range. Then I began receiving mail that my comic was corny and filled with jokes that only a kindergartner would appreciate. I had to lean back and reassess to see who was actually on the internet reading webcomics.

    I believe that the majority of serious webcomic enthusiasts prefer non-family friendly comics. They like the way the envelope is pushed and they like the shock value. Blatant nudity and profanity can be a turnoff if it’s used just for itself, but if it makes sense to the story or seems natural for that series, then so be it.

    I enjoy family-friendly comics that are so interesting and wonderfully drawn that I’m not constantly reminded that “this is safe”.

    Carl Barks was an astounding artist and storyteller that entertained me totally to the point where I wasn’t thinking about this is kid’s stuff. It was just GOOD.

    • this post hit home, George. Personally, I have been mulling over how to grow my readership for Z&F. Webcomics is typically not geared towards kids, as kids don’t typically READ webcomics. Comic books, approved by their parents, yes.. but not comics on the web. And while I didn’t intend Z&F to be ONLY for kids, the “all-ages-friendly” element to it doesn’t float well in the webcomics world it seems. At least, making a GOOD, successful all-ages webcomics is hard to achieve. So, I’m wondering if Z&F should focus more on being a BOOK… that happens to be a webcomic, and promote it to stores, catalogs, publishers as such… not follow the webcomics model. That, or I need to “grow up” the content more, push it towards PG-13 and take the risk of losing readers who liked the “safe” content.
      I agree with what you said– I think the kids are less concerned with “safe” comics, than their parents. Hurts to hear it… as Z&F definitely falls into that “safe-and-kinda-boring” category.. yet, pushing the envelope towards PG-13 has never been my style of writing or humor, so going that route feels awfully scary.

  13. I guess I feel like you should avoid marketing to a specific demographic UNLESS your strip is a niche’ strip that is laser guided at a specific model. I think it’s more appropriate to market your brand of humor instead of jumping through a forty-foot flaming hoop to please a percentage of the people.

    That’s what makes webcomics so alluring. The fact that there are literally no rules should be used to a person’s advantage. It’s one of the biggest advantages you have over being signed to a print syndicate deal.

    If you try to squeeze your writing into a predetermined box, I really feel you’re going to suffer for it. It would be one thing if a large corporation was coming to you and saying “here’s money… we want a family strip about a sheep with two butts(I have dibs on this idea btw. LOL!).”

    It just seems that there’s more energy being pumped into the marketing than the actual craft. If you do something well, people will notice. that’s why I’m homeless.

    • as with previous conversations I’ve had with you Wit, this also hits home. If the comic is good, it’s good, regardless of the audience demographic. My natural inclination after retiring my first comic (the typical college kids crap we’ve seen before) was to go off-base and do something silly and quirky, yet able to be a voice for my own thoughts. But what comes natural to me isn’t all that successful in this case. Maybe lifting the G-rating would help (GASP!), maybe a new idea altogether would be better.
      In the beginning I wasn’t thinking of demographic other than “all-ages” for Z&F… and I did attempt the syndicated path so all-ages wasn’t really a decision, more like a given. Now I am thinking about marketing and demographic more (usually when choosing where I advertise)… as just putting out there what I make naturally either A: isn’t all that great or B: isn’t finding the right audience.
      I have never written the comic with a specific audience in mind (like– oh, this should aimed towards kids only, or sci-fi fans, etc), and I agree that shouldn’t be a factor. I just write under the idea that kids may be reading it as keeping it all-ages (even after I gave up on syndication) was still important to me. But again, going back to kids not being a huge factor in webcomics specifically, maybe keeping it all-ages IS what’s not helping it grow a sizable a readership.

      Your comic is a good example of “pushing the boundaries” without going hung-ho for shock-value. It may be too much for some kids, or tick off some more strict parents if their 5-year-old is reading it (and then asking questions)… but that’s a small percentage of who will be reading Pinkerton, the WEBcomic.

  14. There are different levels of age-appropriate and I’m not sure if they have proper names.

    Probably the most stand-out idea is to just write a story for adults, but don’t include anything that would make it unsafe for a ten-year old to get a hold of. I think Lotus Root Children might be safe even though it’s such a horrific tale because your typical child should be bored by the lack of action and will set it down again.

    Then there are things like the Bugs Bunny cartoons, which are perfectly enjoyable by a child, but some jokes are understandable only by a history buff or someone who was an adult at the time of their making. Or, there are the examples of “adult fear” on tropes.

    Then there are the rare “really aimed at kids” media that an adult can enjoy. While I enjoyed the Narnia books as a child, I missed my window at being able to read the Hobbit because I can no longer stand the way that group of authors wrote for children.

  15. Categorizing my work has been an interesting road. I used to worry about it before, but at present I’ve settled for this: not bothering.

    I just write what I want to read myself . . . and oh, look at that, it all just happens to be safe for ages ~7 and up. I don’t go out of my way anymore to advertise a kid-friendly banner (if it’s an option on something like Ink Outbreak, I’ll check it, but that’s about it).

    If parents are worried about the content, they can always, y’know, read it themselves first or email me. And if their kid doesn’t understand it, *gasp*, they could have a conversation about it! I let my kids (7 and 10 as of this writing) read my stuff and other comics and they’re really good at asking questions when any dialogue or a situation doesn’t make sense to them. My favorite is, “Dad, why is this funny?”

    If you ever see anything gratuitous in my comics, it will be because I’ve gone insane and forced it in for no genuine reason.

    However, if people label my stuff under some form of “all-ages”, I don’t fight it. I’ve been accused in the past of selling out for “purposely” NOT adding (so-called) adult content. This is apparently “weird and wrong” because I’m on the internet where “there are no rules”. As if I’m sitting there with a comic full of guts, curses, and private parts on the screen and go, “Well, this might impact the $0 I’m making from these, now to make it family-friendly, *delete*, *delete*, *delete* . . . ”

    So, what am I “supposed” to be doing? Let everything hang out literally and figuratively and I’ll be a real-live “mature” creator? Oh, boy! Clearly, these 20+ years I’ve spent learning about creating quality content have been a big waste of time! I have seen the light: swear words, boobies, fountain of blood, copy+paste, rinse and repeat, and I can call it a day?

    Buh. I find that kind of thinking to itself be immature.

    If anyone out there would refuse to read something because they don’t know the difference “SAFE for kids” and “ONLY for kids” isn’t someone I want as a reader anyway. Do these same people refuse to play E-rated games? . . . OK, probably, so bad example.

    I just have to smirk when they say, “I was exposed to this kind of stuff when I was a kid and look how I turned out.” And I have to resist replying, “I don’t think that statement means what you think it means.”

    On the flip-side, if you see my stuff veer über-kid-friendly . . . “Hey, guys, let’s go on an adventure!” *long pause* *look at reader* “Do you know what ‘adventure’ means?” . . . well, I’ll have quit by that point and someone is pretending to be me. I don’t believe you do children any good by treating them as simpletons.

  16. I don’t really believe there is anymore kid friendly comics out than there was in the past. There is always more “family friendly” comics because there’s always a greater audience for them no matter where you go with it. I mean yes, there are comics about the Power Puff Girls, My little Pony, Adventure time, etc but the large segment of these are still read by teens and adults.

    In fact I’m pretty sure without the former fan base, or older fan base, these comics would’ve never been made in the first place. I mean you can’t tell me the adult audience for these comics and shows hasn’t had an impact on their lasting popularity, and comics for kids has always been lasting and popular. It’s only become very recent that adults started to get back into comics and become serious readers of material- 20 or 30 years ago, this would’ve been unheard of for the most part or at the least seem strange perhaps (not that I agree with that sentiment but anyway), and now it’s become a mutually excepted practice.

    That being said, is it a good idea to do Family comics? Depends on the writer or creator. A lot of comics try to pull this off online but fail and add things that really uh, shouldn’t be in a comic that would be considered “G” rated. Although others tend to be so bland and boring, with jokes that barely make sense just to ensure nobody gets offended or the wrong idea from what’s going on in the story itself, like some comic strips in newspapers just for example (I won’t name names though of course, and not all of them by a long shot either, I’ve seen webcomics also do this sort of thing as well).

    So, with that being said it depends on what the creator’s goals are, but I don’t think anyone should really feel pressured into making family comics if that’s not what their niche is.

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