Working for years in a now defunct movie (and video game) rental chain, I would often see under age kids trying to leave with movies or games that were rated too old for them. If the parent was with them, and Little Johnny wanted to play Grand Theft Auto, I would always let the parent know that his is a game for people aged 17 and above. When the response came back “oh it’s just a game, it won’t hurt them.” I’d always enlighten them on selected aspects of the game that would have earned the rating. If they still chose to procure the game or movie after that, well, then it was no longer my call.
The reason I bring this up is that most comics released these days really aren’t designed for kids.
With the average comic book released by Marvel or DC having a Teen rating, or higher, one can see that the target audience isn’t the same now as it was fifty years ago. While there are all-ages titles, and specific comics made for kids, your average ten year old probably shouldn’t be reading the main Batman title. As comic book fans have grown up, so too have the tones, themes, and the depiction of the grittier side of humanity within the comics we read.
Ironically, however, with some of the more adult orientated comics the content isn’t anything new. During the late 1950’s there was a push back on the graphic nature of the crime and horror comics of the time, resulting in the creation of the Comics Code Authority. If you were to look at one of those now, although there would be a vast difference in the art and story telling style, the overall content wouldn’t be all that different from some comics released these days.
But the fans are.
Graphic Policy published a study at the beginning of the month that broke down fans of comics in the United States who had self-identified as such on Facebook. This study provides an interesting insight into the make up of those who (literally) like comic books on Facebook, you can see that a heavy majority of comic book fans are comprised of the 18-30 age group (more than half of the available data pool). That being said, though, the survey is less accurate when it reaches the younger the age range – not because the data is incomplete, in fact it’s very thorough, but not all comic book fans 17 years of age and under in the USA will be on Facebook. Some are simply too young for a Facebook account (and some fans of all ages may not be on Facebook), but that doesn’t lessen their love for comics.
Although most comics readers can identify numerous kid-friendly comics, there’s a significant lack of high quality superhero titles geared for children. Typically the all ages superhero comics from the Big Two publishers are usually based around a cartoon that runs for a couple of seasons, and the comics tend to end soon after the cartoon comes off the air. Offering media tie-in comics makes for an excellent entry into the world of comics for all ages, but there should be more than just tie-ins offered for children. By offering non media tie-in superhero comics that aren’t, for lack of a better term, dumbed down for younger readers, but do lessen the violence and grittier themes while still providing an intelligent and above all entertaining story for all ages, then publishers are able to attract the younger readers to the comic books, and not need to try and recapture their audience every few years when the cartoon ends (only to begin again).
If comic book publishers are targeting the older generation of fans, and judging by the content and self-regulated ratings placed on the current crop of comics they are, are we in danger of alienating younger readers?
And if we’re in danger of alienating younger readers from comics, are we limiting the potential audience for future generations?