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Which Age Is It?

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The sense of awe and wonder ignited by the new, imaginative and cool stirs something in all of us. That passionate feeling is like nothing else we can experience in this life. All-Ages comic books light that passion in kids both young and old, if given half a chance…

I was walking through a local Big Box store today and passed their book section. I happened to look to my right just as I went by a sign marked "TEENAGE" denoting the books below it were considered teenager friendly. Yep, that's right, nothing gets past me.

Below the sign, a familiar image tugged my gaze downward until it landed on two books, one featuring the X-Men and the other featuring Thor. I stopped for a minute and looked around. Nowhere else did I see comic book characters (with the exception of the little kids area where Spider-Man activity books and Batman board books sat beside similar material featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story and Elmo).

This, of course, got my brain whirring and buzzing. As the little sprockets and gears spun and ground upon one another, puffing smoke from my ears, I thought about the conundrum posed in an earlier column: many comic readers and creators are trying to force comics to be mature only, while the big publishers are only marketing them en masse to teenagers and little kids.

The next thought that ran through my mind was "Doesn't the person responsible for creating this store's planogram realize X-Men and Thor aren't just for teenagers?" (for anyone who doesn't know, a planogram is the blueprint created by a marketing architect to detail how a store is laid out and what merchandise goes where in said store).

Surely the person responsible for placing Thor in the "TEENAGE" section had no clue. Isn't it obvious that a large mythological god wearing blue spandex and swinging a giant hammer is surely meant to sit alongside books like Blind Faith by C.J. Lyons and Mile 81 by Stephen King? Why don't they understand that comic books aren't just dumb kid stuff? Are they stupid or something? Grr!

And that's when it struck me.

The inherent problem in all this is too many people being too uptight. Comic books aren't about being uptight. Comic books are about enjoyment, excitement and fun.

But, somewhere along the line, that idea has slipped through some fingers, ala an elusive, rebellious perception of maturity that Grand Moff Tarkin is trying to grasp. The harder the two camps try to prove the other wrong, the worse the "war" will escalate until, before you know it, someone loses a planet and then a Death Star...  sorry, got carried away there as some of my unhappiness with the Star Wars Blu Ray's crept in. Ahem.

Anyway…

People who don't 'get' comics scoff at them and plant them in the kids section. People who do, scoff at those who don't and get indignant that they aren't sitting alongside things like Tintin And The Secret of the Unicorn.

And, the rest of us just sit and watch that yin-yang circle chase its tail to infinity and beyond.

But, that's where all-ages comics come in. All-ages comics aren't uptight. They don't exist to belong somewhere, or earn status for their creators or a genre or medium. They don't come into creation with any hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They simply want to have fun, bring excitement and share adventures.

To that end, reaching back into the conversation I spoke of last week between myself, Randy Lander of Rogue's Gallery Comics and Alan J. "Cars" Porter, I think it's high time all-ages comics became the norm once again.

Sure, we need great mature comics, and there will never come a day where there aren't millions of awesome mature stories yet to be told. And, we'll always need kiddie comics, as let's face it, little kids will always love comics and who doesn't enjoy giving a little kid something she or he loves?

The main course for the industry-wide meal should be the all-ages stuff. Thor should appeal to adults, but he should also appeal to teenagers and kids. While Wolverine has a darker side that's a blast to explore, there's room for that on the side while his main adventures are put out there for everyone to enjoy.

Just look at Batman. Anyone who doesn't get that a character can appeal to just about everyone should go watch the 1960s TV show, the Batman animated series from the 1990s and then read The Dark Knight Returns. Same character, different takes, all good.

A long time ago, comics only appealed to kids. Then the pendulum began to swing. These days, the major demographic is 25-35 year old men and from what I heard last, it sounds like that isn't a fixed demo, but an aging one where soon it'll be 30-40 year old men (if it isn't already), then 50-60 year old men, then no one 'cause Social Security won't be around for the 65-75 year olds to afford their Wednesday shopping spree.

For comics to not only survive, but truly thrive, they need to reach their full potential, and making the majority of them appealing to all-ages is the surest way to do just that. We've proven they can appeal to little kids, tweens, teens, twenty-somethings and beyond, so why not make that the target demographic?

How do you think McDonalds would do if they only sold food that appealed to 25-35 year olds? Suggest the idea in Hollywood that they only make movies that appeal to one tight demo and watch how fast you get laughed off the Boulevard. Why? Because the very idea I laughable… yet it happens.

If 70% of the comics were suitable for everyone in the family from granddaughter to dad to grandma and back again, the stigma that comics were just for kids could easily be washed away. Those diehards who want their over-the-top adult content could easily find it in the other 30% of the industry's output, while the mainstream could enjoy comics once more.

And then, maybe I could walk into the big box store and see Thor next to Thomas the Tank Engine, Buzz Lightyear, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Twilight, The Shining and Blind Faith. Maybe then, the outside world wouldn't think comics were "just for kids" and there wouldn't be a need to prove them wrong.

Maybe then comic stores wouldn't be closing in droves and comic publishers wouldn't be having to come up with gimmick after gimmick to jumpstart flagging sales. And you, the loyal comic buyer, would enjoy comic book riches beyond your wildest imaginings.

How cool would that be?

If you agree with me, spread the word. Tell people via social media, particularly comic publishers and creators. If you disagree with me, feel free to tell me why. It won't be the first time I'm wrong today.

All-Ages Pick of the Week:

Since there's no end of hoopla about the Star Wars Blu Ray editions and the tinkering with the movies contained within, I thought it might be neat this week to point out that Dark Horse Comics now has Star Wars comics available digitally, including the un-RE-mastered original movie adaptation.

http://www.darkhorse.com/Zones/StarWars

https://digital.darkhorse.com/browse/73/

Regardless of what Lucas may do in the editing room, you can always count on Star Wars to be all-ages appropriate.

###

Mike Bullock is an international award winning all-ages comic creator and author. His all-ages work includes LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS, TIMOTHY AND THE TRANSGALACTIC TOWEL, SECRETS OF THE SEASONS and several others. Bullock is also the most prolific PHANTOM writer in American comic book history.

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