Suggestions for fostering a love of sequential art in your offspring.
One of the best parts of being a parent is that, for a time, your kids will think you are one of the most interesting people on the planet. They look to you to decide what is OK to like and not like. If mom or dad roots for the Nationals, the kids will root for the Nationals. Children pick up on their parents’ political leanings.1 Since I read comics, my daughters want to read comics.
Now, since I am legally a grown-up, I am allowed to purchase comic books written for grown-ups. A title like Saga may be the best work of fiction published today in any medium,2 but it’s not really appropriate for my seven-year-old to read about a bounty hunter’s trip to planet Sextillion where he encounters a six-year-old slave.3 I don’t even read that book when the kids are awake, lest they look over my shoulder.
So comics what do I let my kids read? What books help foster a love of sequential art, while keeping things age-appropriate?
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The adventures of Owly, a bird-watching owl who can’t fly and loves to garden, and his best friend Wormy are delightful for “readers” of any age. I put readers in quotes because the book has literally no words in it. When someone has an idea, it shows a light bulb. When someone says “good luck”, it shows a horseshoe.
The stories are heart-warming, and you will enjoy how quickly your pre-reader can tell the story to you. I recommend starting with the large, storybook-length Friends All Aflutter! from your local library, then picking up Volumes 1 through 5 for your kids to love and destroy. You can also read some for free on the Owly website.
By one of my favorite creators, James Kochalka, Vermont’s first cartoonist laureate, the story of Johnny Boo and Squiggle is responsible for the first time I heard my now four-year-old belly laugh. Kochalka has young kids, and the book is clearly written for them–but hilarious for parents too.4 Most of the stories involve quests for ice cream, but do be warned that some contain extremely mild potty humor (Squiggle laughs so hard he “toots”). If you are okay making the occasional raspberry noise to the delight of your off-spring, read this to them today.
An earthling stuck in outer space, Zita becomes an intergalactic hero. The stories are fun but meaty. Zita doesn’t always make the best life choices as she becomes a heroine, struggles with the accompanying fame and responsibility, and tries to get home.
Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s amazing adaptation of The Wizard of Oz for Marvel comics is worth your time. A faithful adaptation of the original book, I find I enjoy the story better in comics form than the original prose of 1900. The creative team has continued with five more adaptations of Oz books, so if your kid digs it, you’ll have bedtime reading covered for at least a couple months.
I recommend picking up the books from your library or your local comics shop, but they are also included in Marvel’s All-You-Can-Eat Marvel Unlimited service.
I read X-Men, so my kids want to read X-Men, but X-Men is complicated. With 50 years of convoluted time-travel continuity and drama, I have trouble following it without Wikipedia. There is even an entire podcast devoted to explaining Marvel’s merry mutants. Also, while it’s no Saga, the X-Men books have grown up with the tastes of its aging audience, so some of the current books might not be the best starting place for kids.
Luckily, there is a great entry point. X-Men was rebooted in 1975 with Giant-Size X-Men and then continuing with X-Men 94. Shorty after that Chris Claremont took over writing the book, which he continued for 16 straight years. What we think of as the X-Men is really Claremont’s creation. Those stories from the 70s are kid-friendly, great reads, and are largely self-contained.
Let Librarians Do The Work For You
The Henrico Public Library (for which City residents can get a library card) has great juvenile comic book sections curated by kids’ librarians. Not everything on the shelf is a gem, but it’s all safe. The kids get to pick out their own books, and you can’t beat the price. The only real downside is that in stories where reading order matters, it can be hard to get the first or next volume when you want it. You might have to wait a whole week.
You could also take a trip to Velocity Comics on Broad Street. They’ve got a nice selection of kid-friendly comics and a staff that can steer you in the right direction.
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This list is by no means exhaustive. I’d be grateful in the comments for what comics your kids enjoy.
Photo by: stevendepolo