Hi everyone, Kenny here, this is the first post from Karen, our new contributing author. Leave us some feedback in the comments! We’re excited to have her!
I’m an adult* who consumes a lot of media created for children. I don’t have children of my own, but I am a children’s librarian. I suspect that some of my friends think the reason I read so many comics for kids and watch so many cartoons is because I’m a consummate professional with a deep dedication to my career. They’re wrong. I just really enjoy fart jokes.
Perhaps pinning my love of kids’ comics solely on fart jokes is an oversimplification, but it’s also a good starting point. I love absurdist humor and non-sequiturs. I love whimsy and wonder. I’m not claiming that these things can’t be found in literature or comics for adults, but I am fairly confident in making the claim that these qualities are more prevalent in stories designed for children. I don’t read only comics for kids, I definitely enjoy dark and gritty comics, superhero stories from the big two, indie commix, and everything in between, but a defining feature of my reading habits in recent years has been reading a healthy dose of comics for kids.
Kids’ comics aren’t all flatulence humor and happy endings. As an adult, the book that got me back into being an avid reader of comics was Smile by Raina Telgemeier. You won’t find absurdist humor or wacky talking animals in Smile; instead it’s a memoir of Telgemeier’s childhood up through her early teens. The thing that hooked me while reading Smile was how much Telgemeier’s middle school experience mirrored my own. I still wish I could travel back in time and give eleven-year-old-Karen a copy of that book. I’m certainly not the only person who connected with Telgemeier’s story – Smile has been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost 200 weeks. TWO HUNDRED WEEKS. That’s amazing. And I bet that not all those readers are kids.
Smile isn’t the only graphic novel for kids to grace the New York Times best seller lists. As I write this, the top four slots for paperback graphic books are all books by Raina Telgemeier. In spot five, we have volume 7 of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series — another comic series for kids and another personal favorite of mine.
I feel strongly that recommended age levels are a load of hooey. As somebody who works with books professionally, I understand the usefulness of dividing books and other media by target audience age, but I want to see more adults venture out of their comfort zone (and the adult fiction section) and try reading some comics for kids. There are just as many good stories being written for kids as for adults, and I’d argue that you’ll find more boundary-pushing storytelling happening in the comics for kids. Comics publishers, comic book stores and other direct marketing folks have the right idea – they often label what I’m calling comics for kids as being for “all ages”.
The next time that Slate or some other media outlet publishes an article telling me I should be ashamed of my love for media that doesn’t match my age demographic they can go jump in a lake. If I’ve successfully convinced you to give comics for kids a shot, here are five titles you might want to look for the next time you’re at your local comic shop, public library or indie bookstore:
Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt, illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Originally published in French, Jane the Fox and Me, boasts outstanding mixed-media illustrations. Protagonist, Hélène, finds comfort and escape in literature, particularly Jane Eyre; the story deals with childhood bullying but through a decidedly French-Canadian lens, not in an after-school-special manner.
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrations by Raul the Third
This is one of those books that totally scratches my absurdism and whimsy itches. Three anthropomorphic animals (an impala, octopus and mosquito) decide to trick out a low rider by driving it through space. Raul the Third’s illustrations are mind-blowingly great.
The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
I love superhero stories. The Adventures of Superhero Girl incorporates all your standard superhero themes, but it does so with so much pure and unbridled joy that I can’t help smiling and cheering while I read it.
Hilda series by Luke Pearson
The first thing you notice when picking up one of the books in the Hilda series by Luke Pearson is the size of the book (and the awesomely high quality of Nobrow Press’s printing/book design). The dimensions are more like that of an oversized picture book than any standard comic book format. This size allows Pearson to fit more than the standard number of panels per page and also create some killer two page spreads. Pearson’s retro inspired color scheme perfectly fits the mood of Hilda’s big adventures (negotiating with giants) and small adventures (making friends after moving to a new school).
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Robot Dreams falls into one of my very favorite comic book categories – it’s completely wordless. The story of Robot’s friendship with and estrangement from Dog is entirely visual. But man, does the story pack some emotional punches.
Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger! #WorkOutNerdOut
*Important adult credentials I currently hold: being alive for over three decades, successfully getting out of bed and going to work most days, not eating cupcakes for breakfast.