Kids’ comics are big business these days, and Diamond is doing their best to help get the young folks back into the funnybook habit; back in March they launched a new website, kidscomics.com, which is sort of a Previews for all-ages comics, with catalog descriptions, lists of new and upcoming releases, and even a modified Previews order form with just kids’ comics on it.
The side also includes a “kid-friendly comic shop” locator. At the Joe Shuster Awards blog, Joe Haines takes a look at Diamond’s criteria for making that list. Originally, the requirement was to order $200 worth of kid-friendly comics a month for three months. (Diamond labels comics as “kid-friendly” in Previews, so there’s no ambiguity there.) As Haines points out, you can earn that “kid-friendly” label just by ordering the full line of Boom! Kids comics each month, with no risk (because adults will buy them too) and no need to go any further afield. He also notes that Diamond lists Marvel Master Works and Marvel Omnibus books as kid-friendly, which in fact they are (they are reprints of older comics) but the cover price of $50 to $100 is outside the range of most allowances. Diamond recently tweaked the criteria, which Haines thinks is a good thing, as it encourages retailers to diversify a bit, but it’s still way easy to qualify without trying too hard.
The bigger problem is that orders are the only criteria; there is no requirement that the store provide a kid-friendly environment or training for its staff. The result, I predict, will be some unpleasant surprises. I plugged in my zip code and got three results. The first is a branch of Newbury Comics. I wouldn’t call it particularly kid-friendly, if your definition of “kid” is anyone under 16, and anyway, it’s no longer there. I have never been to the second shop, but I have been to the third: I went on Free Comics Day a couple of years ago, and I made the mistake of bringing my daughter (then aged about 12) and my mother-in-law (then aged about 83). Now my daughter refuses to ever go into a comics store again and my mother-in-law thinks I’m a pervert. The store, to give them their due, did have a good collection of kids’ comics and manga, and they were all in a separate section. But the rest of the place was an adult-oriented comic shop, with plenty of non-kid-friendly displays. Nothing wrong with that, except that you had to pass through some of it to get to the kids’ section and all of it to get to the free comics, which were in the back of the store. How about the staff? One person was friendly and helpful when we had questions. When we got to the counter, though, the staffers there ignored us while they chatted among themselves. When we did check out, I asked if they sold a lot of manga. The staffer shrugged and said not really, that that “fad” had pretty much passed. Mind you, I was buying three volumes of manga as he said that. Perhaps the place has gotten better since then, but I wouldn’t know because I never went back.
Now, a retailer can certainly choose to cater to adults, but if they want the kid-friendly label, they should earn it with more than a stack of comics. Ideally, a store that labels itself “kid-friendly” would be clean and well-lit, with kids’ comics in an easy-to-find area near the front and the seriously adult comics in the back, accessible but not in your face. They would have friendly staff, a good selection of comics that you can’t find in chain bookstores, and a comfortable place to sit. I can think of two Boston-area stores that fill the bill, Comicopia in Kenmore Square and Hub Comics in Somerville; Comicopia is on the Diamond list but Hub Comics is not.
Readers, feel free to fill in where Diamond falls short: What kind of comics shop do you want to bring your kids to, and what shops fill the bill in your area?