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You know, For Kids!


I don’t understand why this Jeff Parker interview is getting such a free pass around the blogosphere… I had a problem with almost everything he said (despite the fact that, yeah, he seems like a nice guy)–I mean, what the hell is this?

No longer fantasizing about flying around solving crimes and meeting dinosaurs, I tried to think about what kind of fantastic escapist adventure I could get behind. I started imagining my character, Van Meach, being able to do things I wish I could; not freeze to death, learn languages and skills rapidly, travel around the globe … stuff that seems realistic in comparison to average comics fare! I enjoyed spy fiction, and that world made a good environment for Van to run around in. I could have probably done a straight spy/espionage story since the comics community is finally warming up to that. But I think this way it works as a “bridge” book: people who are still used to reading superheroes but are ready to branch out into other genres seem to be receptive to Interman.



Again we’re in “superheroes are nothing more than escapism” territory! Now, while I don’t have a problem with people reading to escape, I do have a problem with them turning around and saying that the literature itself is “escapist”. Clearly, a text is only escapist if you make it so!

Sean Collins and Steven Berg have already spoken up to affirm that no genre is “inherently escapist/childish/stupid”. My point of entry into this discussion is the idea that superhero comics, or the majority of them, ought to be “for kids”…

Why?

More importantly–what does “for kids” really mean?

Is Dickens “for kids”? (he certainly was for me, when I was a kid!)

What about Emily Bronte? or Dashiell Hammett? (yes. yes.)

The thing is–I think we get ourselves into big trouble, and we ruin our childrens’ minds, when we ghettoize them in the “young adult section” of the bookstore/culture-at-large. What do we know about what kids want? Clearly, if Bill Sherman’s assessment of the new Marvel Age line is at all accurate (& who can doubt that it is?), nothing! The silver age Amazing Spider-Mans are protean texts–they repay whatever amount of engagement that you bring to them! They were not written with anything like today’s “teen-lit” industry’s patronizing opinion of its readers in mind (I work in a bookstore remember–believe me, the “young adult section” is DEATH!) When a mother comes in looking for a book for her 12-year old girl, and I lead her to Wuthering Heights, I get an “are you kidding me? this is too difficult” grin… However, when these 12-year olds come in by themselves, they often respond very enthusiastically to my description of the book, and they buy it! Parental/”child psychology” static is the problem here–not the child’s reception! I wish I had more time today because this subject is important to me! This glass ceiling stuff does a terrible disservice to our kids! It certainly does not do anything for them…

Good day friends!
Dave


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6 comments

  1. I don’t think I really addressed the actual content of Parker’s statements on Peiratikos (even though a few people took my post as a criticism of Parker’s claims, I only wanted to point out what I thought was a mildly amusing irony). His basic point, as I recall, once you strip away the somewhat moralistic tone of “Adults are stealing comics from kids!” seems to be that comics publishers who want to sell comics to kids should publish comics for kids. Which, well, yes. As you say, though, a lot of stuff written “for kids” is very bad indeed. I don’t think selling more comics to kids is necessarily the only or the best way to “save the industry,” but I don’t really care about the economic survival of DC or Marvel that much anyway.

    Steven

  2. David-

    While I appreciate your “Won’t someone please think of the Children!” tone (I actually agree), I think you might be confusing some other issues you have with the children’s publishing industry with what Parker actually said. I hate to stop anyone on a rant, but I’m pretty sure that Parker would be the first in line to recommend his book to younger readers, despite the more mature and complex themes inherent to it. He’s kept it ‘kid safe’ while still creating a compelling action serial for adults. He gets it.

    He also has opinions on the viability of the superhero publishing industry, and how faintly ridiculous many of the books have become because they insist on trying to make material for children, even ‘mature’ material for children, engage on an adult level by adding more violence, sex, and swearing throughout.

    There’s a difference between creating a work from whole cloth for an adult audience, a WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and taking the Smurfs and show barely-concealed on-panel fucking.

    There’s a difference in methodology, and a difference in intent. A clear difference.

    – Christopher

  3. Well, Chris, that makes a good deal of sense… there certainly isn’t anything “adult” about swearing, violence, and exhibitionistic sex. and if that’s all Parker was attacking, then I’m 100% for him!

    But what’s all this stuff about superheroes being mere adolescent power fantasies? it’s there in the interview, and that’s what annoyed me! I find it poor logic to argue that, simply because these texts make use of characters who can do things that normal humans cannot do, they are inherently escapist. And I don’t understand all of this “making the powers more real” in order to bridge the gap between “teen” and “adult” power fantasies stuff. Power fantasies are power fantasies–to me, they’re all equally boring… There is no more virulent opponent of the “empowerment culture” than me, and I have to object when I see Jeff Parker trying to push superheroes into the “junior empowerment camp”.

    As I’ve been arguing at this site for quite a while now, the superhero genre is ideally positioned to expose the existential limitations of the human condition, and that’s what I’d like to see played up!

    I should think that people of all ages could get something out of an engagment with that kind of work!
    Does this make me sound like a crank? Well, probably, but what can I do?

    Dave

  4. Well, Chris, that makes a good deal of sense… there certainly isn’t anything “adult” about swearing, violence, and exhibitionistic sex. and if that’s all Parker was attacking, then I’m 100% for him!


    But what’s all this stuff about superheroes being mere adolescent power fantasies? it’s there in the interview, and that’s what annoyed me! I find it poor logic to argue that, simply because these texts make use of characters who can do things that normal humans cannot do, they are inherently escapist. And I don’t understand all of this “making the powers more real” in order to bridge the gap between “teen” and “adult” power fantasies stuff. Power fantasies are power fantasies–to me, they’re all equally boring… There is no more virulent opponent of the “empowerment culture” than I am, and I feel compelled to object when I see Jeff Parker trying to push superheroes into the “junior empowerment camp”.

    Instead of “more grown up escapism”, how about jettisoning the escapism itself?
    As I’ve been arguing at this site for quite a while now, the superhero genre is ideally positioned to expose the existential limitations of the human condition! It has done so in the past–and that’s what I’d like to see played up!


    I should think that people of all ages could get something out of an engagment with that kind of work!


    Does this make me sound like a crank? Well, probably, but what can I do?


    Dave

  5. What you seem to be confusing, Dave, is Jeff’s comments about superheroes as they exist now, and the ideal of superheroes as a subgenre.

    Neither of you is happy with the state of superheroes it seems. You feel that the sub-genre should start skewing more heavily in one direction (commentary on the human condition), he feels that it should skew back to it’s origins, as escapist fiction for children. Neither _preference_ is wrong or right Dave.

    I do think that you both have a common starting point, dissatisfaction with the current state of things, and perhaps you should try opening up a dialogue along those lines.

    As for the “free pass” that the blogosphere is giving him (and Sean Collins clearly isn’t), I read the difference between yours and my interpretations of Parker’s comments thusly:Power fantasies are ultimately meant to inspire; Existentialist fiction is meant to inform, which is a key difference in intent to my eyes. Parker is not saying that Superheroes can not tackle certain types of stories, only that by and large they shouldn’t. His opinion is really no more or less valid than yours…

  6. You make a valid point Chris–my objection to Parker’s comments is more of an objection to the idea of “children’s literature” in general, and, more specifically, to “inspirational” literature no matter whom the target audience happens to be…

    Unfortunately, as you make clear, there’s no real possibility of a true dialogue (in the sense of a conversation toward a common goal) on this question–you either believe that superheroes are fundamentally escapist or you don’t…

    Needless to say, I do not, and I’m not willing to let anyone who takes the opposite view unilaterally define the genre–that’s what I meant by the “free pass”!

    Anyway, now I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but believe me Chris, it’s not like I’m angry at Parker or anything–this is all in fun, and I know that I’m in the minority on this issue, but I’ve gotta stand up for my interpretation, y’know!

    Dave

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