Don’t tell my wife, but I developed a lot of secret personal agendas once I became a parent. For example, I was determined to convince my child that Jim Henson’s Labyrinth was an epic movie (Accomplished!), I wanted my kid to love Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown mysteries (Achievement unlocked!), and I was dead-set that my daughter would have perfect movie theatre manners (Hat trick! She sometimes even shushes me!). But, if I’m being honest, more than anything else, I really wanted my daughter to love comic books. I am a big comics nerd and it was just a major part of my life that I wanted to share with her.
And, thankfully, she does. She really, really does love reading comics. She’s got her own ever-growing collection of comics and graphic novels and, every time we get in the car, she has to bring along a few comics to read in the back seat. I’m a lucky dad.
However, I realize that there are dads out there who might have to contend with children who might not be interested in comic books and would rather spend their time participating in sports (What?) or academics (No!). But, believe me, there’s still hope.
If you’re an expecting parent, a new parent, or just a parent who can’t seem to get their kids into comic books, I thought I’d share a few tips and techniques that I used that definitely seemed to get my kid interested in looking at and reading comics on her own.
Pro Tip #1 – Let Your Kid See You Reading Comic Books
Kids learn by imitating their elders, so if you really want to turn your child into a Marvel Zombie or a citizen of the DC Nation, you HAVE to let them see you reading comic books around the house. Now, this can be hard if you tend to read comics that are “adult” in nature. I spend a fair bit of time making sure that my copies of Scalped, The Boys, and American Vampire are always on a high shelf and away from prying eyes. So, the trick is finding comics material to read around your children that won’t completely warp their minds if they happen to look over your shoulder. For example, my daughter LOVED watching me read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. The design of the trades intrigued her, the character design was cartoony in all the right ways, and the manga-art style really drew her eye. They quickly became the kinds of comics she wanted to read on her own one day.
Pro Tip #2 – Let Your Kid Read Some of YOUR Comics
This might sound like an obvious extension of Tip #1, but it involves actually letting your young kid put their sticky little hands on your precious comic books. My daughter LOVES it when I give her a toy or a book that belonged to me. One of the best times I ever had was bequeathing all of my Batman: The Animated Series action figures to her and watching her go nuts with them. Granted, I had to accept the fact that, by giving those toys to a kid, there was a VERY good chance that some of them would be destroyed. And you know what? BIG DEAL. It’s part of being a parent. Books are made to be read, toys are meant to be played with, and you simply can’t get mad at a child for accidentally ripping a comic or breaking a toy. Plus there are ways you can deal with it. For example, after my daughter saw me reading two of my favorite comics of all time – The Gumby Winter and Summer Fun Specials, with art by Art Adams and story by Bob Burden and Steve Purcell – I quickly ordered her own copies of both books from eBay. They looked exactly like mine and she didn’t know. But she appreciated that I was sharing something I loved with her and it really made her treasure the books.
Pro Tip #3 – Find a Good Kid-Friendly Comic Book Store
This can be harder than it seems, depending on where you live. A few years ago, the closest comics store to my house was this dank, dusty hole that I affectionately nicknamed “the Pedophile’s Basement.” It was packed with crap, disorganized, user-unfriendly, adult comics and kids comics were shelved together, and the staff couldn’t give even the slightest damn about anything other than scamming kids out of valuable Pokemon cards. It fulfilled EVERY negative stereotype about comic book stores out there. But, then, not too long ago, a new comic store opened up in our town and it was a sight to behold.
The owner was a parent and he made an effort to design his store in a way that made it look like a bookstore rather than a creepy collector’s storage unit. The store was bright and wide-open, with a dedicated kids’ section, complete with kid-sized chairs, shelves, and a play-table stocked with Lego Batman toys. And the employees were all incredibly welcoming and helpful to even the biggest comics newbie, encouraging them to browse and answering questions – rather than scowling and snarking under their breath. I can take my daughter into this store, set her loose in the kids’ section, and I don’t have to worry about her. I know she’s in a safe, engaging environment where she’s not going to find an issue of Walking Dead right next to the Spongebob comics and where she can go up and ask the staff a question without being yelled at for interrupting their Magic tournament. My daughter really looks forward to our bi-weekly trips to the comics store and it’s largely because of the store itself. A good comics store can make all the difference.
Pro Tip #4 – Your Child Will Want to Read a Lot of Crap. Let Them.
I think there’s a nice amount of quality kids’ comics being published today, but your child is not always going to want to read the acclaimed award-winning titles. Sometimes you’re going to go to your local store and, even though you really, really want your child to dive into the newest Tintin reprint, they’re going to want to come home with a Scooby-Doo, Ben 10, or Strawberry Shortcake comic. And, in those situations (sigh), sometimes…you just have to let your kid get what they want.
I’m not saying that you should always give in and let your kid pick the cheesiest piece of corporate toy synergy on the comics rack every time, but there IS something to be said about giving your child a sense of ownership and self-reliance when it comes to reading comics. Yes, most media tie-in comics aren’t very good – Roger Landridge Muppet comics and Mark Waid’s Incredibles comics are notable exceptions – but they’re normally mediocre at the worst and fairly harmless. If buying your daughter a Disney Fairies comic every once in a while helps keep her interested in comics as a whole, that’s a fair price to pay. You might not love all of their choices, but the sheer act of giving them a choice will ultimately help your kid become a more independent comics fan.
Pro Tip #5 – Find Ways to Get Those Acclaimed Award-Winning Titles in Front of Your Kid
But just because your kid is going to read some crap, that doesn’t mean you should give up the fight when it comes to promoting quality graphic literature in your child’s life. Yes, sometimes you have to give up and let them read what they want, but, as a parent, it’s your job to, at least, expose your kid to the kinds of great comic books that they SHOULD be reading as well.
How do you do that? Try finding reputable sources for really fantastic comic book recommendations. Personally, I’m a fan of sites like AMightyGirl.com, which has collected an amazing graphic novel guide aimed at young girls interested in comics, or the fantastic “Great Graphic Novels” list that YALSA, the young adult arm of the American Library Association, puts out every year. And, if those don’t help, I’d try talking to your local youth librarian or the staff at your local comic book store. In my experience, they’re both tremendous sources for smart, knowledgeable recommendations.