I found comics in the eighties - the era of "Dark Knight Returns", "Watchmen" and "Arkham Asylum". A time when Anglophone comics were keen to present themselves as "not just for kids". Which is great. But often people come into the shop specifically in search of comics which ARE for kids. We looked at a couple last week - here are a few more.
And for once, there's an obvious place to start, because Marvel have just, in the last couple of weeks started on a rather innovative path. One of the differences between Marvel comics and Marvel animated shows is that the comics are burdened with decades of continuity baggage which can be confusing - especially to younger readers.
The animated shows don't have this problem. The characters show up, have their adventure and go off again. In the next show, the events of the previous adventure are largely (or completely) ignored. This makes them much easier for a casual viewer to get into the stories, and if you miss an episode, who cares? Catch the next one.
Marvel isn't going to change the way it does its comics any time soon - but clearly the folks in charge there aren't stupid and have realised that they really do need to adopt that continuity free approach to draw new readers into the comics. So they've done something I never ever thought I'd see. They've licensed some of their characters to IDW, who have started to put out some continuity free fun adventures that make a perfect jumping on point for new readers of all ages.
The first such book is Marvel Action Spider-Man, and it's brilliant. Miles Morales, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey are all at High School together, they all have their secret identities, there's a threat, they deal with it.
Straight up, no-nonsense action which is accessible to any kid without being dumbed down or patronising - which means that it's a fun read for adults too. (I'm 47 and have been reading Spider-Man on and off for rather more than thirty years and I loved it...)
Now, from a series that is just beginning, to one that has sadly ended - at least for now - but which is also accessible to younger readers, but equally entertaining for jaded old codgers like me.
Scales and Scoundrels introduces us to Luvander - a young treasure hunter who is sick to death of being a penniless wanderer and so sets off in search of the legendary "Dragon's Maw", a treasure horde of literally mythical proportions. On the way she is forced - against her better judgement to team up with an arrogant prince desperate for adventure, his bodyguard, a woman who is honour bound to protect a man she cannot respect and their guide, a young dwarf who hates being underground.
This motley band face all manner of peril - not least because Luvander has a secret and may be much, much more than she at first appears...
There are currently two volumes of Scales and Scoundrels available, and although there are no plans to continue the series I for one live in hope that there will be a continuation at some point because the series does a fantastic job of building a plausible magical world, and populating it with characters you cannot help but fall in love with - Dorma Ironweed the dwarf who hates being underground and is determined to break free of the mine she was born into - proves a particular favourite, but there is clearly more to discover about all of Luvander's company.
Writer Sebastian Girner presents the reader with a fairly simple narrative - hence its accessibility to younger readers - but adds layers of subtlety and complexity that those younger readers won't notice and won't miss, but which serve to satisfy more mature readers, making this a light but fun and engaging read for kids of any age - even those of us who remember when there was only one Star Wars movie...
Taking a slightly different approach is Marvel's Moon-Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
Lunella Lafayette - Luna to her friends, is the most intelligent person in the Marvel Universe. Cleverer even than Reed Richards, although as she magnanamously points out, he's still the smartest man...
She's also an Inhuman who has been exposed to Terrigen Gas, but has not - so far as she can tell - manifested any alterations or powers. This is a bit of a worry to her. Fortunately she doesn't get much of a chance to dwell on this because while messing about with a time manipulation device she invented she accidentally brought the Devil Dinosaur* forward in time to present day New York and taking care of a three ton scarlet T-Rex is kind of a full time job.
Especially because Luna is only nine years old - and however intelligent she is, she lacks life experience, a fact which frequently causes her to make errors which get her into trouble.
Unlike Marvel Action Spider-Man and Scales and Scoundrels, Moon-Girl and Devil Dinosaur doesn't really make an effort to appeal to adult readers. It is completely and unapologetically aimed at Luna's contemporaries. There's a charming innocence about both the character and the comic that might well appeal to the parents of the intended audience, but there's no sense that any concessions have been made for their benefit. This one is purely intended for the kids - and that's great too. One of the things that older members of fandom - any fandom - need to come to accept is that sometimes there are things that are just not intended for us, and that's OK...
So, dear reader, that's three comics that are literally tailor made for younger readers. There are so many others - we've talked about Hilda before, for a start - and we'd love to hear your own recommendations. Comics are, after all, a brilliant thing and it's only fair to introduce young people to this wonderful, obsessive, immersive art form.
*Yes, the same Devil Dinosaur that was created by Jack "The King" Kirby, and who used to hang around with Moon-Boy back in the day...