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Friday’s Focus Group

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday’s Focus Group

This is just something fun I thought I’d do here from time to time. As some of you know, I teach a class on comics and cartooning at a couple of different middle schools here in west Seattle. The kids lay out and pencil and ink their own pages and I collate them into a ‘zine that we publish every five or six weeks.

They work at different speeds, as you might expect. So I usually bring a big pile of trade paperback comics with me so the students who finish early have something to look at. They’re mine, so they reflect my tastes, overall; but I do try to take as diverse a group of books with me as possible, and it endlessly fascinates me what catches their eye… because I always guess wrong. Always. It’s really weird to me what my students will actually latch on to, as opposed to what I THINK they’ll be interested in. So I thought I’d list a few recent hits here, along with the comments the kids made to me in class. Today’s reviewers are Madeline and Sam, who both finished their strips early this week and as a result spent a lot of time immersed in the trade paperback pile. The little biographical introductions are from the “About the Creators” page we put in the back of our own class ‘zine.

We’ll start with Mad. Madeline Robison is 12 years old as of November 25th, and her favorite cartoon is “Garfield.” She has been playing the violin for the last four years and also is quite a singer.

Madeline was very curious about DC Elseworlds, so I brought in a pile of them. The one that really caught her eye was this one.

She was absolutely mesmerized by JLA: Age of Wonder, more than any others I brought in, even Superman: Speeding Bullets or Superman: Red Son, which were big hits last year.

“I like the art,” Madeline said. “It’s elegant.”

It is indeed elegant. Craig Russell does elegant better than anyone else in comics, I think. It also has more roles for the ladies than the others, which may have something to do with it as roo. This was a nice little miniseries that I’d recommend as well, actually, though it probably won’t get collected any time soon. I imagine you could pick it up pretty cheap at a con somewhere if you had a mind to.

Elseworlds are the most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon, but I’ve noticed that the kids rarely embrace anything completely new. They are more interested in familiar things, but turned a little sideways. Take our next example.

I have been getting a lot of Doom Patrol questions ever since the Teen Titans cartoon aired the DP episodes. Madeline glomped on to this when I brought it in, read through it in a single sitting, and then announced, “This is just MESSED UP.” Pause. “Why isn’t Beast Boy in it?”

I admitted that I didn’t know. But the more I think about it, the more the idea of a Grant Morrison Beast Boy series for Vertigo tickles me.

Sam is also a big reader. Here is his bio:

Sam Guzzardo reads Naruto, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and Fox Trot. He is a little strange, he admits, and likes Star Wars, cats, pizza, video games, and reading. Sam is 13 years old.

Sam is, in fact, probably the most well-read geek in my classes: the Dork Side is strong in this one. He really likes DC and Marvel history, and seeing the source material for things that show up in the animated cartoons. As a result, he really dug this one….

Actually, Traitor is a popular book with a great many of my students. It’s just exactly the right size and the right accessibility for them, and it’s a nice overview of the Green Lantern concept. Despite the thrashing around DC was doing for the last decade or so ducking this fact, I have noticed over my years teaching that the idea of the Green Lantern Corps is still a really powerful one among my students; unlike most adult fans, the kids don’t seem to really care all that much who’s wearing the ring. They latch on to the basic concept, a group of chosen people in a secret galactic brotherhood, each with a magic ring that makes anything they can think of materialize out of thin air. Hell, put it that way and I’m excited about it again myself. What’s not to love there?

Sam is also very into the collections of the original monthly Teen Titans books, or, as he puts it, “the REAL ones.” The girls in my classes also devour any Titans books I bring in. Interestingly, they snoot the Teen Titans Go! books done in the animated style — those are “kid stuff.” They love the show — they all watch it — but for reading, they want the source material. If DC reprinted the Wolfman/Perez run in cheap digests and got them into a Barnes & Noble, I’m telling you, they wouldn’t be able to keep ’em on the shelves.

Sam is a big Geoff Johns fan, period. Interestingly — well, to me — Sam also really digs Geoff Johns’ spiritual godfather when it comes to continuity, Roy Thomas. He grabbed the Conan Saga books practically out of my hand when I brought in a bunch of quarter-bin stuff and donated books to give the students at our Christmas party.

Really, though, the two books that are the single biggest hits among my students, all of them across the board at every school I go to, aren’t from Marvel or DC. I can’t even single out any particular student as especially liking these because they ALL do. Here they are:

This one, The Stereos: in The Garage by Brandon Hanvey, would have to rank first. Here’s why: It’s about kids their age or a little older. It’s about rock music. It’s about not getting along with parents or teachers. It’s about your friends being the only ones who REALLY understand you. And it’s funny. And the art style is incredibly accessible.

Of all the books I have ever brought in to class to show my students, this is the only one they RE-read. Over and over. When Brandon comes up here for Emerald City, he’ll be a rock star.

They also like this one:

Tom Beland’s 100 Stories, collecting the weekly newspaper strip “True Story Swear To God.” It’s probably the closest thing to a Garfield-style, strip-collection-format, mass-market paperback I have in the pile, and I think the students like that familiarity. That gets them to pick it up, and once they read it, they are in love. This is a very funny book, and my students love funny books. Note to comics publishers — funny stuff would sell if you put it out there where REGULAR, non-fan people would find it. You don’t see it from big publishers but indies are all over the funnybone and those are the ones that my students (not to mention my fellow instructors at the art studio) are most likely to pick up and flip through.

Anyway. There are others but I think that’s a pretty fair overview of the ones they’ve been grabbing the last few weeks. Thanks to Sam and Madeline and all the other kids in my classes for letting me use them in the column.

See you next week.

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