Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why Marvel and DC just don't "get" kids (particularly girls) - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

DC's new initiative to bring in more revenue from 6-12 year old girl comic and superhero move fans...It's like Lego Friends for Supes. Bleurrrrrrghhh!
We love comics. You know we love comics. So by rights, we should be doubly excited by the news that DC has launched a new initiative to bring in some coin from a largely untapped market (in their opinion at least). Girls who love superheroes and supervillains, girls aged 6-12 and who already work their way through the relatively 'safe' (slim pickings) comics in the DC range.

Marvel will undoubtedly be paying attention. We were following another debate by comic superstar Faith Erin Hicks who sparked off a very interesting discussion about why Marvel and DC can't seem to quite nail producing kids comics when I spotted a link to DC's latest stuff: 

At the moment, this seems to be talking more about an animation / movie / merchandising initiative rather than comics, and the first image (which you can see above) is an initial set of characters who will launch the range, and the stories. Cute, sassy teenage versions of existing DC female superheroes. 

I'm not the market for this stuff, I know I'm not. I had to show it to my daughter to gauge her opinion though, and...hmmm, sorry DC / Warner, she's not happy and if she's not happy, I'm definitely not happy. 

"Batgirl doesn't look like that" she said. "Wonderwoman doesn't look like that" she said. Because Charlotte has been slowly introduced to kid comics from this side of the pond, the cute clean preppy-like figures above are far distant from European, Japanese and (hooray) Brit comics that don't feel the need to sugar-coat and sickly sweeten everything aimed at kids. 

Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning anyone sharing grown up comics with their kids. It's your duty as a parent to ensure that your child's reading (and viewing) matter is appropriate for their age, and when you start picking through Marvel and DC's massive back catalogue, it's extremely tough to find comic arcs that don't treat women like sex objects, don't resort to mindless violence to drive a story along, and don't delve into dark stuff when they need to 're-invent' a character or story. 

Here's the thing though, touching on that point, where do DC and Marvel really think the massive revenues from superhero merchandise for kids actually come from? 

Lego products? Sure we're about to get a whole slew of Lego-based superhero stuff but most of the Lego range has absolutely nothing to do with prospective lego-based movies, it's based on movies that 6-11 year olds shouldn't even be watching (the age rating, for instance, on The Avengers movie is  12. Similarly the Iron Man movies carry a 12 rating but a quick google reveals no end of toys based on those properties for kids far, far younger than 12 - everything from underpants to lunch boxes and of course suits and fancy dress stuff so they can role play their fave supes. 

Back to the "comics for kids" thing though, patronising kids or making the assumption that girls in particular can't handle complex and involving plots or can't cope if characters aren't stylised and cartoony is the worst possible direction for comic superhero stuff to go if they want to bring in an audience from an early age (and keep that audience coming back well into adulthood too, right?).

Kids are intelligent, kids are remarkably well read (and they have the internet, whether you like them having it or not!) Kids love their movies and TV, they love their merchandise, their videogames but they can handle far more complexity than you give them credit for.

Look at the plots, characters and stories in our favourite kids comic - the mighty Phoenix, leading the charge for kids my daughter's age. Never talking down to its audience, celebrating their intelligence, their creativity and their ability to handle complexity without resorting to the sort of sugar-coated cutey-ness that seems to regularly hit our inbox (and equally, regularly hit our recycle bin). 

We will be watching the new DC stuff. We'll be watching and observing Marvel's response, and we'll also be seeing how more seasoned and knowledgeable comic fans than us react because from where we're currently sitting, this just isn't good enough. 


Alex Walsh said...

DC Superfriends about sums up the confused attitude towards superheroes for young children, and it's been going a couple of years. The Spider-Man kids comic isn't half bad and I personally think it works better than targeting stuff specifically at a gender. Personally I'd rather see a good comic aimed at kids than a comic aimed at girls.

ReadItDaddy said...

I entirely agree. This is where The Phoenix consistently gets it right. None of their stories are written specifically for either gender. None of their stories feel the need to expressly point out that this is obviously "a girl's story because everyone in it is cute, sassy and a teen" - they also produce eminently aspirational heroes in their strips purely from good solid non patronising writing and characterisation. DC and Marvel have definitely missed a trick with the "superfriends" approach. It's almost like they took a look back at all those cheesy 70s and 80s cartoon shows based on their properties and thought "Yeah, that stuff's still what kids want". Batmite? You still think kids want stuff like Batmite?

rhinoreads said...

It seems to be that if they thought a bit less about money and tried to make a really good set of characters and storylines rather than try to make something specifically for the 6-12 girl market, they'd probably be far more successful at actually catching the girls like Charlotte. Priorities.

dragonballgo said...

Big Hero 6 is an exciting, action-packed adventure with plenty of heart that both kids and adults alike will find entertaining

ReadItDaddy said...

Agree entirely! We love Big Hero 6 - good for both boys and girls, great FANTASTIC set of characters (ticking all the diversity boxes) and great role models for kids too as there's always a great dose of science in amongst the action. Yep, really good recommendation DBG :)