It’s not easy being a young superhero fan in recent years.
No, seriously. Between animated shows that disappear without warning, superhero movies catering to a more adult audience, and the relative lack of mainstream all-ages* comics, we as an industry could be doing so much more to reach the next generation of fans. So much more.
*all-ages does not mean “kids comics”, which are usually very simplified and/or played for comedy. All-ages means you can enjoy it whether you’re 5, 10, 15 or 50. Literally ALL ages. For whatever reason, this kind of material is hard to find in mainstream comics lately and keeps getting the rug pulled out from under it.
See, this is what really gets to me.
As followers of my blog know, I love cartoons. I love watching ‘em, talking about them online, making music videos with ‘em, looking up fanart, etc. But, I try to do all of this with the background knowledge that these shows are not made for me. I’m a 24 year-old adult with no formal stake or knowledge of the animation industry who has a large catalog of media made specifically for me.
I don’t want to inadvertently “take” anything away from kids. When I discuss children’s cartoons, I do my best to incorporate both what entertains me in terms of general story, but also what would likely be interesting and beneficial for the target audience. I don’t think I’d want cartoons to try and appeal to me as a 24 year-old adult because, as much as I like them, I don’t necessarily need cartoons… but children do. The adults who work in the animation industry do. The young people who are inspired by watching good cartoons to go onto formal animation/storytelling careers do.
These are the people you hurt when you take things away.
When IDW announced it’s “All Ages Revolution” the first thought to go through my mind was “since when was it a revolution to make comics that kids can enjoy?”
Right now, the big two (more DC, I can’t speak for Marvel as I don’t follow them) seem to be of the mindset that superheroes aren’t “for” kids— and it’s that mindset (and a perpetually rocky relationship with Cartoon Network) that likely has them canceling shows left and right. The industry is in a very odd place right now where they don’t seem to know what to do with the demands of two very different audience demographics: they want to make money off of both of them, and I don’t think it’s as hard a proposition as they’re making it out to be— since as it’s been so deftly put “all ages” doesn’t mean “kids comics” it means stories that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Newsflash: you can have meaningful, engaging stories that aren’t prohibitively violent or sexually explicit. There are ways of addressing “adult” issues in ways that younger audiences can digest— though it does mean changing how you approach your younger audiences… perhaps by starting to acknowledge that they aren’t as clueless as the marketing model would seem to suggest they are? Anyone who has worked around kids knows this— they’re sharp. You don’t need to be violent or sexually explicit to get a message across to them that something is meant to be taken seriously. Trust me, you really, really don’t. You shouldn’t have to be explicit with adults, either, really. Good story-tellers know how to convey a message without relying on visual shock and awe. There are plenty of good story-tellers out there too, if you’d just hire them and let them do what they do best.
What was the saying? A children’s story that is only enjoyed by children isn’t a good story? And if you want me to get really meta, look at the Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales before popular culture and Disney sterilized them— they were some pretty amazingly dark stuff, and yet parents raised their children on them because they trusted their children to distinguish between the fairytale and the real-world moral, which is something popular culture and media no longer trust children to do.
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I don’t actually believe children have gotten any dumber over the years. I’ve worked with them too often to see that as the case. It’s how we approach them and the stories we create for them that’s left that impression. And that doesn’t need to continue. It really doesn’t.
"All ages" isn’t and has never been a bad thing. It’s what we believe "all ages" implies that’s the problem.