Working in a store that carries toys of any kind comes with a fair amount of dealing with kiddos. Adding to that, for the most part, comics have been viewed as a medium for kids for a long time. Perhaps when comics were sold for a dime at the rack beside the register, it was easy to count on the fact that you could hand it off to your kids. Captain America would never do anything bad. Superman is the ultimate good guy. You can trust them with your kids. Even then, though, comics had a tendency to get a little… unsuitable for kids.
Since then, comics have undergone a few changes, one of which is that the kids who started with ten cent issues are creating all on their own these days, and they’re writing the stories they want to read as grown ups too. Not everything is okay for kids and there are a fair number that are even NSFW. Plenty of popular comics have parts you couldn’t see on cable TV.
Pictured above: Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples shielding children in the comic from its own content.
So! How do you know if a comic is okay for your kids? This can be hard for parents, especially because every family is different and every parent raises their children in a different way. Here are some easy ways to figure out whether or not a comic is appropriate for kids!
In movies, the ratings system is clear. From G to R to X, you know the gist of what you’re getting when you go into a theatre. Comics are policed far less because it’s a much smaller and less-consumed media. Most books come with some kind of rating, but those can be unreliable. Marvel, DC, and Image comics all have varying rating systems and often these are similar but mean little to a parent. It’s not a perfect system, but if you’re familiar with what each rating means, it can still be helpful and a good starting off point. If your eleven year old brings you a book with a T symbol, it’s pretty much up to you to decide if they’re mature enough to handle some suggestive themes and violence, just as with all other media. Finding out what exactly the comic means by that rating can be another matter altogether.
Another way to figure it out is…
2) Look through it
Most parents who are concerned about the media their kids are consuming already know this super secret insider tip. (Shocking.) It’s worth noting, however, because of books like I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young. The art is colorful and the book features a little girl on the cover. It could easily be a kid’s book, but the hyper-violence and the mature themes make it a little more iffy on the PG rating. Sometimes, this isn’t any more effective than using the ratings on the back, but if you have specific ideas of what is and is not okay for your kids to pick up, it’s important. Maybe it’s fine for them to see blood and guts, but you’re trying to steer clear of drug references. You won’t find the specific warnings attached on the back of most books and maybe you won’t see them with a cursory glance, but you’re much more likely to catch things when you’re looking for yourself.
If already know what you’re looking for…
3) Do some research
We don’t all have time to research what kids are into, but if you hear that the kid in your life is interested in Marvel comics, there are a lot of places to start and a lot of things you shouldn’t be putting in their hands. It’s pretty easy to know not to give them a Punisher comic, but is Doctor Strange okay? Who knows? The internet knows! Read a little more about characters or series on the internet where you can and see if there’s more information. Networks of parents are out there, sometimes on Reddit or Yahoo answers. Sometimes, entire companies create an imprint (sort of like a sub-company) for all ages comics, and those will always be safe for all ages.
Lastly, and possibly the easiest…
4) Ask an expert!
Working in a comic book store gives me a little bit of a leg up on what’s coming out for kids, and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I make it my business to know what’s on the shelves for them out there. Not every comic book store is like the one I’m in, sure, and not every store has someone who makes sure they know the material specifically for kids, but it’s always best to ask! If you don’t have a friendly, kid-oriented comic book store in your area, consider trying the library. It can be a great starting point and many libraries are beginning to set aside shelves for comics. Not all librarians are immediately knowledgeable about comics in general, but nothing tells a business or service what’s needed quite like being asked about it. If all else fails, though, you’ve already found one expert: Me! Leaving a comment on this article will be more than enough to ask for help, or if you’d rather grab attention in a more personal manner, my bio on the site links to both my email and my twitter. (I am always on my twitter.) Furthermore, Genretastic now features a forum! A thread would be easy to make, a place where people with kids in their lives could talk about what books their kids are interested in. I spoke about communities earlier in this piece, and this could be one of them.
So what do you say? Interested?