The Fifth Color | Not your daddy’s comics

by  in Comic News Comment
The Fifth Color | Not your daddy’s comics

In the past few weeks, there have been a plethora of comic book conventions, each with their own unique announcements, promotions and exclusives. But rarely do you get the juicy gossip! These guys have their patter down so well that fans get what they came for, and no one slips up and calls anybody a whore in public (although we still hold out hope for a Frank Miller sighting next year). Marvel’s long-awaited return to San Francisco, home of the X-Men and Axel Alonso, was surprisingly polite and succinct. No major movie news, no grand proclamations, but still an exciting look forward to what lies ahead in 2011.

But you were kinda hoping somebody threw a chair.

Saturday at the Spotlight on Jason Aaron panel I heard something so ridiculous that I marched out of that room with my jaw on the floor. Sadly, Jason Aaron didn’t say it; in fact I would much rather be talking about him and his work. Aaron is a humble, talented and completely brilliant writer, but what EiC Axel Alonso said was far more controversial. Something that left Alonso and myself just stupefied.

Axel Alonso said in front of a very modest crowd at WonderCon that he works with people that think Marvel Comics should not make R-rated content. That there are some professionals in the industry that believe every comic should be PG rated or lower.

He didn’t understand it and neither do I.

The fact that he said this while sitting next to Jason Aaron, a writer who has told some gripping Punisher stories as part of the Max line, made it all the more surreal. Not to mention making it my most juicy tidbit of gossip out of San Fransisco last weekend.

Who are these ‘people he works with’? I mean, it’s one thing for Chris Claremont to want to hearken back to the comics of the ’80s, but an entirely different matter if the Editor in Chief works with these ‘people’ every day. How much Max content are we not seeing? How much of this PG or lower attitude has to do with Disney’s recent acquisition? Are there secret comic Nazis taking away your freedom to read swear words in your funny books?!!? Panic! Scream! Run from your computer into the night because nothing of what I’m about to say has anything to do with that. There are no thought police in your comics, no First Amendment rights being taken; Alex Alonso, I believe, was simply frustrated with the same problem anyone has when bringing up comics to the media of the masses.

Comics aren’t for everyone, but everyone should have comics.

Earlier that day, a man praised the Distinguished Competition for their current Flash comic. His son had enjoyed the recent Johns stories and the fan had been able to share that enjoyment as a family. A father and son, sharing a love of comics together? That’s pretty great stuff. He asked Dan Didio if they had plans on doing more all-ages Flash comics, but did note that the Johnny DC stuff had been too ‘kiddie’ for his son’s tastes. In return, Didio brought up an interesting point that comics weren’t always shared between parents and kids the way they can be today. After all, moms were the leading cause for thrown-away comics back in the day. Comics went through a huge congressional inquiry that instituted the Comics Code Authority and set a precedent for sequential art being a child’s medium in the public eye.

Is sequential art a child’s medium? Oh my dear sweet Lord, NO. I am absolutely positive anyone reading this is probably above the age of 13, mostly because I’ve never really sure who reads this (Hi Mom!) but also because comics books are an all ages art form. ‘All ages’ meaning that people from 9 to 99 enjoy reading comics. Each one of these people enjoy reading comics in a way that is singularly theirs. There are so many readers that there is a market for everything from Justin Bieber books to adaptations of classical opera. So why shouldn’t there be comics with adult material? Ad I’m not just talking about boobies and gore, but material and concepts that would either bore or confuse younger readers. Kids don’t want to watch the Godfather not because it’s violent, they don’t want to watch it because it’s ‘boring’.

Marvel self-rates its own books. They do this not just to lure in high profile creators (which is a bonus), but because society changes so fast they have to keep up with both social mores and popular tastes. Back in the day, zombies eating brains would have been the herald of delinquency! Now, zombies are huge, and Marvel needed to give the right readers what they wanted, without giving four-year-olds nightmares.

Companies have to be honest with their content and provide an accurate rating for the material they usher onto the shelves. I think the MAX imprint does a fantastic job clearly labeling comics of a mature nature. The label is big, it’s bold, you can’t miss it; it’s on the order form, it’s in the title. It has grown some of the finest mature and unique comic writing and art, not to mention solid successes and fan favorites. Thanks to Alias, Jessica Jones is an Avenger. Thanks to Garth Ennis, the Punisher isn’t an outdated caricature of ’80s machismo. In contrast, kids imprints don’t do as well. The Marvel Adventures line has been woefully promoted, despite some truly entertaining stories from the likes of Paul Tobin and Peter David. Perhaps as controversial as adult themed books are, specifically ‘kids comics’ are equally niche and difficult to market. You can’t promote Punisher: MAX in the same way you promote Civil War, but then again you can’t promote Power Pack the same way you promote Civil War. If the extremes get left by the wayside, all we have left is the middle.

While there always will be comics that shouldn’t be given to kids, the industry and its fans should focus more on quality than ratings, or labels. Surprisingly, I would guess that kids simply enjoy the medium of artwork and storytelling. New generations will grow up to think comics are cool/uncool based on their merit, rather than how they were promoted or labelled.