There’s nothing like exposing new readers to comics. On Saturday, comic book stores will give away books for free as part of Free Comic Book Day. It’s a great way to get people to go out and talk about how great comics are and get new people to experience them. But if you’re trying to introduce your kids to some of the new work, chances are, they’re already familiar with it.
One of the cool things that’s happening right now in comics is that the all-ages movement is getting a lot of steam, and there are a lot more kid-friendly comics. Reading and writing is a more active part of life than it’s been in many years, certainly more than when I was a kid. There’s a young generation that’s actually reading and writing a lot—even if it seems like they’re mostly reading Facebook statuses.
There are some fantastic comics for kids right now. These include the work of gifted cartoonists such as Raina Telgemeier and Vera Brosgol, as well as some new classics such as Jeff Smith’s Bone or Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet that kids are just eating up at book fairs. One of my favorite books from last year was a young adult book called This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, which won the Caldecott Honor Award. It’s heady reading, even for adult audiences, and it really ushers in the power of the art form. Another great kids’ comic, El Deafo, received the Newbery Honor Award.
The quality is getting better, and more kids are reading them. Kids are excited about it—they’ve found a window into new worlds through comics. We focus often on the form itself, the idea of getting kids reading, and it’s as if the process of decoding letters on flat, dead wood was somehow ennobling in and of itself. We overlook the fact that what we really should be celebrating is the power of stories and the power of ideas, the ways in which a writer can communicate a worldview to an audience. All of these things can take place not only through text, but through images, too.
Comic books are raising a whole new generation of readers—and a lot of them are girls. We’re seeing a momentous shift in the demographics of comics readers and comics creators, so much so that I’m guessing within about eight years we may see a majority female industry and readership.
A lot of this dates back to the Manga invasion. Some people turned up their noses at Japanese comics when young readers—mostly girls—started reading them voraciously back in the ‘90s. At the time I thought, “These kids are going to grow up, some of them are going to go to art school, and they’re going to start telling their own stories. They’re going to be learning from Manga, but they’re not going to be telling stories about ninjas and big robots and Japanese schoolgirls. They’re going to be telling stories about the people and the places they know.”
And that’s exactly what’s been happening. It set off an atom bomb, and it’s completely changing the face of comics.