Mar 12, 2015

Roundtable: Are Comics for Kids?

This was supposed to be a series of columns where the entire Comics Cube team took turns giving their opinions on whether or not comics were for kids. Tanya, who works in a library, has to face that preconception all the time, whether it's in terms of buying new books or having people come in and looking for comics, by default, in the teen section.

Ben actually wrote a column, and then Duy in his eternal laziness decided it would just be better to do a podcast. Mainly so he wouldn't have to write anything. But then the podcast ran into technical difficulties—including one of us dropping out right in the middle and unable to reconnect—so we ended up adding some new stuff in writing, which ended up with Duy transcribing most of it anyway.

The lesson here, folks, is that the easy way out isn't always that easy. Anyway, without further ado...

Are Comics for Kids?

Tanya: Let's get to the heart of the matter. Are comics just for kids?

Duy: Well, obviously, not all comics are for kids. Porno comics exist. So that's one thing. And that's kind of the extreme version of the answer to the question. But if you're talking about the industry, we should first define what we're talking about.

Ben: There's superhero comics, there's European comics, there's comics specifically not for kids, like Criminal, Cerebus—

Duy: —Saga—

Ben: —so just by the nature of those existing, they're not just for kids.

Travis: Well, I think there's a difference between what's for kids or what appeals to kids or what's for family. There's a difference between what you read when you're twelve and what you read in the living room when you're twelve.
"There's a difference between what you read when you're twelve and what you read in the living room when you're twelve." -Travis 

Tanya: I guess what kind of kicked it off for me is I work with teenagers and little kids at a library. In the evening, it's with the teenagers; in the morning, it's with the elementary school kids. So what I notice with the teens, I'm so amazed they're interested in the classics 'cause I focus more on manga. And so, they were asking me, "Can we see Akira? Vampire Hunter D?" The problem is the mangas are in the teen area, but the movies are rated R. So I'm not allowed to show them. It kind of creates this interesting dichotomy that the manga Akira can be in the teens area, but the movie, we can't show.

Duy: But that's even relegated just to manga, is it? Dark Knight Rises had action figures that were clearly meant for kids, and I think—was it rated R?

Ben: Not necessarily.

Tanya: I think it was PG-13.

Duy: It was PG-13, but aren't the action figures things that they're trying to sell to younger kids?

Travis: Yeah, the same thing with Batman Returns, which I thought was rated R until Tanya corrected me because I remember McDonald's pulling stuff. McDonald's had all this cool stuff for it. Everyone wanted to get all these cuplets, 'cause you could throw them at each other, and then it went away immediately. The movie came out and someone at McDonald's saw the movie and was like, shit.

Ben: They saw black fluid, still dripping from Penguin's mouth, and decided it wasn't for Happy Meals.

Travis: It's a weird thing, the whole "how do you rate these things?" too. Is it teen-appropriate, is it adult-appropriate... I got really mad when DC relaunched everything that their Supergirl title, which my niece really liked, is rated T for teen.

Duy: They're all T for teen, aren't they? All 52 titles?

Travis: Other books that are T for teen are all really brutal, violent, blood everywhere or something. And there's nothing in Supergirl like that. So I have to assume that they did that because they were hoping that, you know, maybe three or four months down the line, if we do something, we don't have to jump that issue up. And it made her feel weird, because she was reading the book, wondering, "is something gonna happen", you know?

Duy: Something that's all of a sudden T for teen, and eventually the other shoe's gonna drop for her.

Travis: Yeah, she's gonna be turning the page and suddenly Supergirl's gonna be gutted or something.

Ben: I think DC's whole goal with the New 52 is to target the "teen" audience. I think that was their main demographic they were trying to appeal to. So it might just be a blanket rating.

Duy: Is there any book in the New 52 that's not T for teen? Like is The Flash T for teen?

Travis: I have no idea.

Duy: Wait, I have the Internet in front of me. Okay, Flash is T for teen.

Travis: Okay, so that's probably just their default rating unless it's explicitly a kids' book.

Duy: Yeah, it doesn't make sense, unless it's to cover their ass later on.

Tanya: Let's say we're focusing on superhero comics. I kinda feel like all the stuff we've had recently seems to be aimed more toward teens. Would you guys agree, disagree?

Ben: For the most part, yeah. For a while now, most superhero comics.are aimed at teens.

Tanya: Do you guys think that has to do with Christopher Nolan, that everybody kind of jumped on that bandwagon, that comics have to be darker, and now we're trying to go the other way, because of Guardians of the Galaxy?

Travis: I don't know if I'd pin it just on those. But I think Marvel movies in general being such a success kind of shows you can lighten things up. Iron Man 3, people got mad because there's a little kid in it, it's Christmas, well, look who made the movie. That's gonna happen. You can do that. You can have a Guardians of the Galaxy or an Iron Man Christmas movie, and people aren't gonna leave the theaters in disgust. Whereas when you have the Batman movies coming out, those Nolan Batman movies, people were very serious. Those fans were very serious, "That's gonna prove we're very mature 17-year-olds."  Because there's politics! And there's real consequences! And Joker's an anarchist soldier for something!

Duy: Anarchist soldier... for chaos! Agent of chaos! That movie totally lost me when they started monologuing about what he is.

Travis: The only thing that got me through that was that he's always wrong. That's the thing that saves the movie for me, at least for the first hour of it, is that the Joker's always wrong. But I think the fans, the really die-hard fans, didn't see that.

Duy: Yeah, I think it's not so much he's always wrong as it is that he's always lying. But that's another thing, you know? There are Joker action figures, of that Joker. And that's not a movie I would have been showing to my niece when it came out. Maybe to my nephew, since he was ten, or something, back then. Wait, Ben's got kids, let's ask him!

Ben: Yeah, I still wouldn't show either of them the Dark Knight movies. Even Iron Man 3 was a little intense for my four-at-the-time-year-old.

Duy: By the way, in case you were wondering, Ben's children are named Parker and Palmer, after a certain spider-related superhero and, uh, the Atom.

Ben: You have to say the Atom because people wouldn't get the hints.

Travis: I thought you were gonna blow my mind by telling me they were named after Peter Parker and Peter Palmer. Very subtle.

Ben: That's what I like to tell people.

Ben: I think the move towards a more mature audience probably started — well, when I was a kid, comic books were more available on newsstands, they were in grocery stores. So you had more casual buyers. And then even as the newsstands started to fade away in the mid-nineties, you had the speculator boom with the Death of Superman, and you had a bunch of people who weren't necessarily reading the comics but were buying them. And then that collapsed, and a lot of the people who were just collecting comics because they were gonna be worth something, left. And all you were left with were the die-hard fans who just get continually older and older. So the only way comics can continue to exist is to cater to that audience.

Duy: Yeah, these are the people who are gonna buy comics regardless. And I think a lot of the time, I hate to say it, the people who keep buying comics regardless, these are the people who don't have kids, so they have the money to still spend on their hobbies and stuff. So the whole factor of "Can I give this to my kid?" is not something they think of. It's weird. I don't know  how they did in the States, but I know when they did the New 52, a lot of nineties fans who stopped reading in the nineties are just reading again. Or buying again, actually. That's what I get from just seeing who's buying at the store these days. Like they buy three copies of Batman #1 by Snyder and Capullo, and they sell it a few months later at three times the price, and they just keep doing that. I don't think giving the comics to a younger generation is something they consider.

Travis: When I was in the Midwest, there was a definite sort of vibe that people who hung out in comic shops were offended by any comic that wasn't aimed right at them. So my mom would go to the shop, or my niece would go with me to the shop, and we'd get grief because they would get a reaction of "Why does this comic have to exist? Why can't all comics be what I want?"

Ben: You see that on message boards too. They get angry every time things happen that they don't want to happen, necessarily.

Duy: Anything happens to their favorite characters, they just go nuts about. Even if that is the very definition of "drama."

...All you were left with were the die-hard fans who just get continually older and older. So the only way comics can continue to exist is to cater to that audience. -Ben

Tanya: One of the things I wanted to ask that I kinda noticed is, the comics that I get asked about the most from kids are Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, and Pokemon. Why do you think those have endured?

Duy: One of these things is not like the others!

Travis: They're brightly colored and you throw them at their enemies!

Duy: I don't think Iron Man has "endured"! I think he should be considered new, really.

Tanya: Well, he had this rise, and then he became really popular. So now he's at sort of the same level.

Duy: Well, when you give them an Iron Man comic, do they come back for more?

(At this point, Ben laughs.)

Duy: It's an honest question!

Tanya: I don't know. I just get asked the initial question. "Where are the Iron Man comics?"

Duy: I think Robert Downey Jr. is such a big part of it. When you read an Iron Man comic, it's not the same thing.

Travis: There are people who I think are really good at making comics that worked on Iron Man, and I still really don't care, you know? Adam Warren had two or three Iron Man things, and they're all cool. I still wouldn't go out of my way for them.

Duy: Warren Ellis wrote, what was it, Extremis?

Travis: Just because I liked Extremis doesn't mean I can do the Matt Fraction run that came after. There's a six-issue window. I can be interested for six issues, then I can't do anymore.

Duy: But if you catch a Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man just airing, and you had nothing better to do, you'd probably keep it on, right?

Travis: I'd go out of my way for that. I would go to the theater to see an Iron Man movie. So I think yeah, it is down to him, down to that take.

Ben: The short answer to that question is they're popular because of movies and cartoons and TV and video games. Spider-Man and Batman are probably always going to endure, but Iron Man specifically is because of Robert Downey Jr. and his charisma.

Duy: Batman I think is movie-proof, or TV-proof or whatever.  I think he's just going to always get readers. To my eternal dismay.

Ben: I've decided I'm a Batman fan now. I'm not gonna fight it.

Duy: Just gonna give up.

Ben: Why not?

Duy: For everyone listening, Ben is a big Batgirl fan.

Ben: Because she's better than Batman.

The ones where they're emphasizing (She-Hulk's) breasts. I think that circulates. -Tanya

Duy: She is, isn't she? Tanya, you've got anything like that, people asking for female-led superheroes?

Tanya: No. And we do have things like Birds of Prey, but that hasn't really circulated. We have She-Hulk, and that's got a couple, but it's usually the ones where they're emphasizing her breasts. I think that circulates.

Duy: So it's not girls that check 'em out.

Tanya: We only have about one or two Wonder Woman comics. They want the Batman, the Spider-Man... I was surprised that Thor isn't doing well.

Duy: I think Thor, even more than Robert Downey Jr. is down to Hemsworth and Hiddleston. And I love Thor.

Tanya: See, Travis, I'm right, Thor is boring.

Duy: No no no no no!

Travis: That's not what he says!

Tanya: I'm just trying to pick a fight with Travis. I know how much he loves the movie.

Travis: There's just such a better cast. Everybody in the Thor movie — those are all people, except possibly Natalie Portman, that I could just sit there and listen to them talk about anything.

Duy: I think Natalie's still one of the best leading women the movies have had.

If you gave me a Spider-Man comic from the eighties, versus... Spidey Super Stories... I'd rather have read the "heavier, darker" more serious one. -Duy

Tanya: So what kind of shows or comics were you reading when you were young?

Ben: I started reading comics with Transformers, and that led into Spider-Man, so I was pretty much completely Spider-Man for the beginning of my superhero reading. And as I got a little older, like ten, it became Wolverine and the X-Men, little bit edgier. And then junior high came and girls became more appealing, so I put comic books away for a little while. But now I'm back to them.

Duy: And it was the same two things that got him back into it in the first place. The new Transformers and Spider-Man.

Ben: Yeah, the Dreamwave Transformers series in the early 2000s, and the Spider-Man movie actually reignited my interests.

Duy: Yeah, Ben doesn't grow up. He just grows.

Ben: Yeah, I'm not what I would consider an adult.

Duy: Even with two kids.

Ben: No.

Tanya: Travis, what about you?

Travis: I read a lot of very different things from very early on because all of my family read comics, so stuff was all around. There were always issues around. My grandparents kept scrapbooks of some titles. My grandpa kept a scrapbook of every Peanuts from every day basically. He did the same thing with Calvin and Hobbes when it was coming out. So I was reading a lot of different things. Superheroes, daily strips, underground stuff. I thought Howard Cruse was a much bigger part of the comics scene than he really is. And that's not a slight on him; we just had a lot of stuff around that would have a one-page Howard Cruse comic or illustration in it. So I thought as a kid that was somebody people knew, like Jack Kirby or Neal Adams level. But that was just what I was being introduced to.

Duy: Your family ever hide the underground stuff from you?

Travis: There were some things, but not really. My family was pretty bad about it, and my mom used to scare the crap out of my brother and me because she'd go out to wherever we had our comics, grab a stack, and go "I just want to make sure you guys aren't reading a bunch of porn." And I was an adult before I realized she was just taking the comics to just read the comics. But she would scare the crap out of us and never bust us on anything, so I don't know why we were so scared. My family's pretty open about things like that.

Tanya: Duy, how about you?

Ben: He started with Warlock. He was such a big Warlock fan—

Duy: I hate Adam Warlock so much! No, my brother was into comics when he was younger, and he just had a lot of issues. And I honestly don't know what stuff I read first. Spider-Man, Superman, Thunder Bunny, Archie, Mickey Mouse. 'Cause over here, a local bookstore was always reprinting comic books from the seventies and the eighties on really super cheap paper and they'd put in their own local ads, and it'd always be out of order. So I'd have that one issue of Captain America: Madbomb, and nothing else. But I don't know if I ever thought anything was appropriate for my age level. I do know if you gave me a Spider-Man comic from the eighties, versus, say, Spidey Super Stories, which would have been aimed more at my age level at the time, around seven, going back to what Travis said about comics for kids versus comics that kids like, I'd rather have read the "heavier, darker" more serious one.

Tanya: Was that so you could feel more adult?

Duy: I was like seven, so I didn't know a thing about that kinda thing. But maybe.

Ben: They're just better.

Duy: They are better. Except for the Thanos-copter. Which is the one issue I had of Spidey Super Stories, randomly.

Travis: That's the problem kinda with kids' comics when they make it that way, especially for properties that kinda skew upward, like Spider-Man. When you skew down too far, I think they always take it way too far.

Duy: A few years ago, we were reading Marvel Adventures, supposedly for kids, and they were good comics. It's just that no one was ever interested in them. My nephew would rather read the regular universe. And then I'd be in the store, some kids come in, and they'd rather read the Ultimate universe, because it's "more realistic." Their words, not mine.

Tanya: I would say for me, most of my history has to do with all the animated series I came across. I was that Saturday morning cartoon and watching after school junkie. I did get into Wonder Woman really early. I loved that lasso of truth, and I had a little book that had an audio cassette I would listen to regularly. And I'd watch Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. I'd watch a little bit of Hulk, but I'd have to say Wonder Woman had the cool TV show.

Duy: The Hulk wasn't a cool TV show, was it?

Tanya: No it wasn't, that's why it didn't stay with me.

Travis: The movies were good, though.

When you skew down too far, I think they always take it way too far. -Travis on gearing certain titles toward kids

Tanya: Everyone talks about a He-Man movie. Where's She-Ra? I loved She-Ra. I had all the She-Ra toys. That's what I want to see as a movie. Why is no one talking about her?

Duy: I don't even think She-Ra has a complete DVD set out. I think it's just a "Best of."

Tanya: So it'll probably stay in my imagination.

Ben: I liked She-Ra when I was a kid. In my defense, I was five.

Travis: She-Ra was better than He-Man. He-Man had Orko. He always got on my nerves.

Duy: She-Ra had Lookee, so it balances out for me. Wait, they both suck. Why are we talking about He-Man?

Tanya: So I think when I got more toward the middle school years, I definitely would say the Batman Animated Series was very influential, because it was a bit dark, but the stories were really good. I was a fan of Superman with Christopher Reeve, but I didn't think the animated version was as good, even if they were back to back. But I really enjoyed Spider-Man.

Duy: The ... the cartoon??

Tanya: Yes.

Duy: From the 90s??

Tanya: Yes.

Duy: Somebody likes that thing??

Tanya: Yes, me. And who didn't love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Duy: Ben didn't.

Ben: Yes I did!

Duy: He no longer does.

Ben: Well—

Travis: Everybody within our age group loved that.

Tanya: Yes, everybody did.

Travis: That was the biggest comics success story you're gonna find for our generation.

Duy: I don't think you're beating it, either.

Ben: It's been going steadily since 1987.

Duy: And it's the most random success story ever. But even that— would you say that the original Turtles comics were something you would give to kids?

Travis: It depends. I have the First trades that my mom got me, so it depends on who your parents are.

Ben: I read them last year. I don't think they're that violent. They're probably no more violent than the current cartoon, which can get pretty intense, surprisingly.

Travis: If you read the letters pages, both in the original series and in the Archie series, the letters from parents are basically the same complaints. There was a violent scene because they had swords. They said a bad word, "poop." And if you look back at the old Turtles comics, they don't really curse in those. The violence doesn't tend to be gory violence so much as a spray of blood. But the Archie comics were much lighter and definitely for kids, although I like a lot of those too. But the letters were basically the same. I don't know if it's the same kind of parents writing letters to both, complaining, but they were clearly unhappy in the same ways.

Duy: Weren't the Archie comics just adaptations of the episodes?

Travis: Only the first four. And then they were written by Dean Clarrain who  was, you know, Stephen Murphy, an award-winning adult comics writer just prior to that. And I guess he didn't want kids accidentally getting his adult stuff and vice versa, so they used a pseudonym.

Duy: Stephen Murphy?

Travis: He did Puma Blues, that's the thing that sticks out to me. And he'd occasionally also do, not really funny animal comics, but serious funny animal comics, that weren't funny animal porn comics, whatever that niche is called. So only the first couple of issues were very kiddified versions of the kids' cartoons, and he took over and the artist whose name escapes me, and they kinda did their own thing from there on out, and it got more and more mature as it went along.

Duy: So see, now you're saying kiddified versions of the cartoons, but those are already kiddified.

Travis: Yeah, the comics were even more, like three and under. And then those guys took over and, it was still a kids' comic, but Raphael lost an eye, he had a girlfriend, they sort of had lives going on. There's a superhero team called the Mighty Mutanimals, who at one point get machine gunned to death by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And that, I remember being as this really weird thing. I was early teens when that happened. And I was still reading that, and to me that was a safe kids' comic. If that had happened in Punisher, it wouldn't mean anything. Happening in that, it's very serious. And the next issue, there's just tombstones. They're just dead.

Duy: It's not even so much a matter of content as it is about how it's presented. When Brave and the Bold, the cartoon, was coming out, they did a lot of heavy stuff in it, like Batman dies and gets turned into a ghost, and people were complaining that the show was too light and for kids, because they were so used to Batman cartoons not being too light and for kids.

Ben: Wasn't there even an episode where Emperor Joker kills Batman over and over again in the episode?

Duy: That's not light at all. It just looks like Adam West, so when people say certain comics are for kids, not for kids, it's not about content.

I'm talking to people about "European God" and "Man of Iron," who are part of the "Union for Revenge." 
-Travis on talking comics in China

Tanya: How do the perceptions meet up with the reality of the marketplace?

Duy: I'm not even sure what the perceptions are anymore, because all the movies kind of— I have people asking me if they can borrow any Guardians comics, and I can't lend them any, because I don't have any. It's still so weird for me to think what perception is. I think we all grew up in a time when, if you were reading comics, you were not cool. And now, it's just kind of something people do. No one bats an eye if you say you're into comics. That's my not-answer.

Ben: For me, it's also kind of hard to say. For most of my life, comics were, if you were a teenager or older, being a comics collector or reader, or pretty much having a hobby in general, you were seen as kind of an arrested development kind of weirdo. That's been the perception for much of my life. I would assume that's changed with the movies and how popular they are and the whole generation now. The first Spider-Man was in 2001. The first X-Men were in 2000. It's been 15 years of huge blockbuster superhero movies, so there's gonna be a whole generation that grew up with those movies. So I would assume that's no longer the perception, but it's hard for me to say.

Duy: It's true. The whole generation growing up today, those are their movies. That's their Rocky and Rambo and Die Hard...

Travis: Yeah, I mean, just to jump off what both of you said, it's hard for us to judge. All for of us are too enmeshed in things. We can look at kids at the store, or in the library, and we can judge, but I think we'll make a lot of presumptions. When I first moved to China, two of my students picked their English names from Legion comics. And that's the only comics those two girls read. They're Legion fans, and out of American comics, that's the only comic they're reading, the Legion of Super-Heroes. But it's like, oh, they're not really comics fans, they're Legion of Super-Heroes fans, and I had to adjust to that. And I've been out of the States too for the last couple of years, so when I talk to people even about the Marvel movies, I'm talking to people about "European God" and "Man of Iron," who are part of the "Union for Revenge." So what I'm looking at in that market and the way people are responding, I don't know if it's the same in the States. And what I'm dealing with in China are people who are not paying for most of those, because piracy is huge in China. Especially for comics, be they American comics, Japanese comics, even Chinese comics. Most Chinese comics come out often online for free, because the assumption is you're gonna pirate it anyway, and if you like it maybe you'll get a print copy or something.

Duy: I was at this beauty contest and part of the program was that the contestants had to produce, write, host, and edit their coverage of this Star Wars event, and that just blew my mind, that this Star Wars event was the focal point of a beauty contest.

Ben: I thought of the 21 Jump Street movie. There's a joke where one of the main characters is mad because they go back to high school undercover and being a good student and reading comic books are all cool now, and he's mad that when he was in high school, that was all nerd stuff.

Duy: We had our Secret Santa in the office and so many people put comics on their wishlist, and codenames like "Harley Quinn." Who knew?

Ben: Definitely superheroes in general, just from movies, video games, cosplay, they're just cool now.

Travis: Any of the four of us, talking about that, there is a risk of sounding like one of these cranky old guys. "Kids these days, they're into this cosplayers and their bikinis!" I don't know.

Duy: "Cosplayers are evil, they're ruining conventions!" That's completely sarcastic.

That just blew my mind, that this Star Wars event was the focal point of a beauty contest. -Duy

Duy: How do you guys deal with things like innuendo? You're reading something to a kid, and you think there's no way they're gonna get what this means, but you still feel weird about reading it to them...

Travis: I've skipped over. I work part time at a children's library. One time, I was reading a comic there, and it seemed like a light, fluffy schoolgirl comic and then it suddenly got very racy for a moment between two of the schoolgirls, and I'm reading to little kids. So I just skipped those pages and went on with the story. But my oldest niece was always really aware when there was innuendo in things, and a friend of mine got made at me because I let her watch Ouron Academy. It's based on a Japanese comic, about a girl that has a bunch of young, pretty boys around her that had a host club at school, and their hobby is pretending to be hosts and taking care of the girls. And there's a lot of hints at things and wink wink, but nothing is outright, but I didn't feel she was at risk of anything. If she understands what's going on in that situation, she already understands what's going on. But if I had to read the comic to her, I'd probably have a hard time with that.

Duy: 'Cause then there's communication between the two of you.

Travis: Yeah, I don't want to read it in my voice in front of her, but if someone says it on TV, I'm okay with that.

Duy: What about things like when Bone gets banned because it has depictions of beer and gambling? I mean, Bone is the first comic that pops into my head if I had to think of a comic for kids. It's the easiest one. It's huge.

Tanya: For that, we have copies, both in the children's area and the teens', and I do have one in my school library. That hasn't been an issue so far. I think what kind of gets us into a slippery slope is since I do the manga area, that's the one where we actually got a challenge on Love Hina, which is like a harem manga. It's fun trying to explain these concepts to parents. But what we've noticed is that people are deliberately ripping out pages, and I don't know if it's to masturbate to, or if it's one of those circumstances where, I've heard at other libraries, if people find things objectionable, they rip out the page, because they think they're "saving the kids" if they're not able to see skin, read sexual innuendos. And one of the things I want to get everyone's opinions on is, we do focus a lot more on sex than we do on violence, and it seems like we have a heck of a lot more violence in the world. Is that of any concern to you?

Ben: That's an American thing, where violence is more accepted than sex. Not just an American thing, but an American thing.

Duy: I think the thing with violence is that it's there from the beginning. You're three years old, your brother's two, they start pushing each other around or whatever. Sex is, unless you are the parent, you don't want to be the guy responsible for getting him interested in that.

Ben: Yeah, that's tougher. If I ruin my own kids—

Duy: Yeah, that's on you.

Tanya: Travis, is it any different in China? Are they still more concerned about sex or sexual content?

Travis: It's a weird sort of thing over there with sex, like if you buy a picture frame, the odds are the picture they put in there — here, it'll be a family or something. There, it'll be a woman doing something with her underwear. She's pulling them on or something, and that's gonna get you buy the picture frame. But at the same time, if you watch a Chinese movie right now, from the mainland, if there's a love scene, the guy will have gloves out of nowhere because the actors don't want to embarrass the actress by touching her bare skin with hands on camera. So the perception of sex I think is different over there. What can you see, what can you not have — porn is illegal there. In a sense, all pornography is illegal, but what you end up with is justifications of, "Well, this is artistically necessary" or "This is a drawing, and a drawing is not the same as a photograph," or "A photograph is not the same as a painting." It's a hard thing to sort of gauge. For me, as an American, it feels like people are really uptight in some ways and very relaxed in other ways that I don't quite get. But I mean, I feel the same way if I go to Iowa, so...

Duy: I just want you know that I Googled "Chinese picture frame" and got nothing, so you disappointed me.

Tanya: Travis, buy him one and send it.

...We do focus a lot more on sex than we do on violence, and it seems like we have a heck of a lot more violence in the world. -Tanya

Travis: There's a store in the city I'm living in, and they sell comics, and it's called The Bra Shop, and they have a big wall of bras out in the front. That's actually just supposed to keep guys out of the store. They sell all sorts of things for teenage girls and young women, but to sort of say it's a woman's space, they put a bunch of bras in the front, and that's supposed to keep you out. So it's just a different sort of setup.

An ex-girlfriend of mine who had a daughter, who grew up very Christian, kind of Lutheran family and all this, she'd always have an issue with what my nieces and my nephew get to see or get to hear. But the things she'd subject her daughter to let her daughter watch—violence didn't matter as much. Violence was okay. She just didn't want her to see people kissing too heavily or something, or posing a certain way. And for us, it was more relaxed. I think we were generally more okay with the kids seeing two people be romantic than watching a field of people get gutted or something.

Duy: Ben, what are you more comfortable showing your kids?

Ben: It's hard for me to say. My kids are six and two, so they don't need to know anything about sex yet. I don't have to deal with that specific issue for a while. But violence, Parker's been watching Ninja Turtles since he was three, four. And I did have a little problem with him in daycare for a little while, punching and kicking a little too much, so I did have to talk to him about that. But that's the thing about violence. As a parent, you can correct that behavior and say, "Punching and kicking on TV is different. You can hurt people. It can hurt you." And it won't be as big a deal. I think in general kids understand that violence on TV — it might just be my perception — but they know it's not real. It's a little bit different than them seeing a sex scene or something.

Travis: It seems like kids' comics may have gotten more violent lately, but movies are way less violent. When we were kids, there was a Rambo cartoon, Rambo toys.

Duy: Rambo was one of the more violent movies I've ever seen. It was rated R, but there was a cartoon and toys...

Travis: When I was a kid, Predator was a kids' movie. There's no way in hell now you'd see that as a kids' movie.

Ben: Most of the action movies nowadays are comic book movies, and those are more fantastic kinds of fighting.

Duy: Winter Soldier was the most violent Marvel movie, wasn't it?

Ben: That's probably the most realistic type of violence. But most of the other violence is not as realistic, so it's not as immediately as offensive to the people who try to put a stop to that kind of stuff. Rambo is a lot more realistically violent, so it's easier to object to it.

Travis: You don't swear as much either. In eighties movies, you could swear at kids a lot more.

Duy: They swear in the animated Transformers movie. It's got its own chapter in the DVD. "Swear Word."

Ben: I still don't understand the thought process behind that.

Duy: "Let's see what we can get away with!"

Travis: I do think a lot of stuff was that, especially the eighties animation and cartoon market. You had Ralph Bakshi doing Mighty Mouse. I think they really were sometimes thinking "Well, what can we do?"

Ben: But I still really don't understand what they were trying to accomplish, since I don't think there was a large teenage Transformers audience that would appreciate any swear word they snuck in. My parents definitely didn't like any of the cartoons I watched as a kid, so it's just weird. They specifically put it in there for eight-year-olds.

That's the thing about violence. As a parent, you can correct that behavior and say, "Punching and kicking on TV is different. You can hurt people. It can hurt you." And it won't be as big a deal.  -Ben

Travis: Did any of you guys see the Josie and the Pussycats movie? A lot of it is hilarious, but watching it with kids, especially, is uncomfortable for me. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, they make a penis implant joke, where they actually use the words "penis" and "implant." There's the "I love pussy" joke, where she's holding a sign up and it says "I love pussy," and people are wrecking their cars, and it backs up and it's got cats hidden behind the cars. And that's in the first ten minutes of what's ostensibly a kids' movie.

Ben: That's the problem I have with the current direct-to-video DC movies. Batman, the Damian Son of Batman cartoon movie, it had a line with "sperm donor" on it. I know those movies are probably aimed at a teenage and above audience, but if you're just a general Batman fan, or if you're a random mom who saw a Batman movie on the shelf, you'd have no idea that kind of stuff was gonna be in a Batman movie. That's my cranky old fan pet peeve.

Duy: That sperm donor thing's a little too on the nose, but I was watching Batman '66 once, and Julie Newmar makes a lot of jokes. "Rub my pussywillows!" And even in Justice League, there's that scene where Flash is "I'm the fastest man alive," and Hawkgirl goes "That's why you can't get a date." But again, little kids are not gonna know what that means and it's irrelevant to their enjoyment. It's really just snuck in there for people like us, who are older, and watching, and get it.

Ben: The sixties Batman show really was a legitimate phenomenon, among adults, not just kids.

Travis: There's a good balance you can strike with things where they become family-appropriate, where kids get what they're supposed to get out of it, and adults get what they're supposed to get out of it.

Ben: Superhero comics have traditionally been all-ages. Not just for kids, but kids can enjoy them without parents getting upset or without them getting upset. And older readers can still enjoy them as well without them being just kids' stuff. But ever since the eighties, it's just starting to skew more and more towards older readers.

Duy: It's all fallout from Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and there was a movement for a while to get it back to the all-ages thing, and then The Ultimates came out.

Travis: I remember a website was doing a Black Widow review when she was first coming out in Iron Man 2. They show a page from a comic where, mixed in with a bunch of stuff, there was an appointment card for her gynecological exam. And they blurred that out. But further on down the line, they have the Perez thing where she's getting out of the shower and the thing with the blonde Black Widow working at some kind S&M club. They were fine showing those, but showing that scene where it's just a written note of "Make sure to come in for your appointment"—I had to go back and look, because I was wondering if Marvel snuck in a pornographic pic that they had to blur out or something, but no, that's all it was.

Duy: We oughta wrap up, so everyone just name a comic that you'd recommend to kids right away, and name a comic that you like, but you wouldn't at all give to a kid.

Tanya: For teens, I wouldn't be as restrictive. Base it on maturity. My mom let me watch Basic Instinct.

Travis: I'd hand Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's This One Summer to any kid, without much question. I'd probably overlook a kid reading just about anything. But, I wouldn't be all, "Hey kid, you should read Clara After Dark. It's sexy and funny and heartfelt, and cute, and amazing," even though Jordi Bernet kills on it.

Ben: My answer for both questions is going to be the same, Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. I feel like small children should be introduced to as much hardcore violence, sex, nudity, and human betrayal as possible, at the earliest of ages.

In all seriousness, if we're talking small children, I've heard Bone by Jeff Smith is recommended for children that are learning to read. It's got talking animal creatures, high adventure, danger, humor, and presents things like family, friendship, and teamwork. It's a finite series with a beginning and end that isn't too much of a commitment, and doesn't have a history that could be too daunting, like a long-running superhero series would have.

As far as adult-oriented comics, anything by the aforementioned Brubaker and Phillips is a good read for me. I tend to think, in a general sense, that many of the modern Image books are just taking ideas that have been seen before, and seen better, but with an added twist. It's a murder mystery, in space! It's a cop show, in space! I need something beyond what I can get in a HBO TV show, or movie, especially when it's done so much better in those mediums. Brubaker and Phillips are always engaging in whatever project they work on, none more so than the Criminal series. Whatever clichés that come with most crime fiction don't apply, they are working on a different level than everyone else. Preacher and Y The Last Man are good, finite older series for "mature" readers as well.

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