Reading comic books is fairly intimidating if you don’t get into it until later in life. There is this huge mythos surrounding it all. So many people are “in the know” about all the characters, such as the Marvel universe versus the DC universe (I couldn’t tell you which superhero is in which), that you feel like the person at the gym who never goes to the gym. What are all these machines for? How do I use them? One visit is all it takes and then you run away, ashamed of your ignorance, thinking everyone can tell.
I’m a comic book newbie. I never got into comic books when I was a kid, unlike many of the other GeekDad contributors. I have read a handful of comics in my life, but never anything significant. My life has not really been the worse for it, but I do feel a distinct absence of knowledge in that area.
Enter the library. My kids and I recently discovered that our local library has graphic novels for kids. Perhaps they have them for grownups, too, but we spend almost all our time in the kids’ area so I wouldn’t know. I skipped over the Disney ones and found masterpieces such as Owly and T-Minus: The Race to the Moon. My kids grabbed Johnny Boo and Otto’s Orange Day. And after several visits to the library to see their entire (but very small) collection, I got hooked. Now I check out the kid graphic novel section on almost every library visit to see if there is anything new.
Perhaps I never got into graphic novels before because of the art; it is often so severe looking and harsh. I prefer things that are beautiful, cute or odd. But as I get older, I appreciate subtleties and experiences more, and certain comic books can offer those.
My kids have likewise ignored the Disney and other fairly boring comic books, passing them over for the more unusual things. My daughter enjoys reading comics somewhat, but my son (who is almost seven) pores over them and reads them many times before returning them. Many of the books are so adorably sweet that I prefer these to the “grownup” ones, as well. There are also plenty of books available for the middle ages that are still accessible to comic book newbies like me.
I know that there are many, many more fantastic comic books for kids than those that I’ve listed below, but these are just the preliminary findings from my local library’s offerings.
Comic Books for Little Kids
Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World!
by James Kochalka
Johnny Boo is about a cute little ghost that certainly gives Casper a run for his money. It had me oo-ing and ahh-ing, and cooing over how cute it all was. Apparently there are more in the series but my library just has the one. Johnny Boo has to be my son’s favorite of all the ones we found at the library. He’s read it the most, and read it to me the most. It’s colorful, adorable, very funny and simply drawn. Squiggle is my favorite character.
Otto’s Orange Day
A Toon Book by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch
This book is all about what happens when you get your wish. The moral is, obviously, “Be careful what you wish for—you just might get it.” But it is also about appreciating what you have. It is another of my son’s favorites. Plus, if you like the color orange, the book is filled with it. The blue genie adds a nice contrast.
Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest
by John Lechner
A third favorite of my son’s, this one is really unusual. The premise is a bit ridiculous, with a burr being a hero (“He’s small! He’s prickly! He’s a hero!”), but that is part of the charm. This one should also appeal to adults with a certain silly sense of humor. The story is all about being yourself, even when everyone else thinks you should be just like them. It’s a perfect book for geeks. It’s my favorite of these little kid comic books by far, making me actually laugh out loud. There’s even a song in the back of the book to sing.
by Andy Runton
Almost devoid of speech bubbles, the Owly series of books are full of joy and other emotions. It is great for non-readers who will enjoy the cute artwork and sweet stories, and for older kids and adults who can more easily follow along with Owly on his journeys. Runton has allowed Owly and Wormy to express their communication, action and emotion strictly through the drawings. Runton has also brought Owly to life with his plush, hat and bag.
A Toon Book by Eleanor Davis
This book definitely has “kid” written all over it (or, for me, “accessible”). The pages are thick, the colors nice, the feel satisfying. The whole “A Toon Book” series is this way, with a definite comic book look, and this particular book is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. Stinky will definitely appeal to boys. It talks about dirty and stinky stuff (but no bathroom humor), but has a really good message in the end. It isn’t so cutesy like some of the ones aimed at girls, but is perfect for any child who likes messy stuff.
Benny and Penny in Just Pretend
A Toon Book by Geoffrey Hayes
The artwork in Benny and Penny is more picture-book-like with plenty of colored pencil strokes. The art isn’t my style, but it’s all about pretending and getting along with your brother or sister. The message is clear: Love your brother and sister even if you don’t always get along.
Some other books in A Toon Book series include:
Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!
A Toon Book by Geoffrey Hayes
Another book in the adventurous life of Benny and Penny, the theme in this book is friendship.
Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons
A Toon Book by Agnès Rosenstiehl
This addition to A Toon Book series is very basic consisting of short mini stories that are simple to read and have one or two panels per page.
Luke on the Loose
A Toon Book by Harry Bliss
Aimed more toward boys, many pages in this book have several panels per page.
Comic Books for Older Kids
Oddly Normal: Volume 1
Written & Illustrated by Otis Frampton
This book dabbles in the weird and unusual but in a way that kids can handle and sort of understand. It’s about a girl who ends up in another world and has to deal with the usual things at school and in life, with unexpected friends and experiences along the way. The themes are universal to youth, but the setting is exciting with bad guys, good guys and unusual creatures. This one is probably for around the tween years.
Cinderella: The Graphic Novel
Retold by Beth Bracken
Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
I loved the brown, drab color in this one. Color is used sparingly, meant to accentuate a few important elements in the book. The artwork is gorgeous, and probably the best drawings for the Cinderella story I’ve ever seen. There also isn’t too much text, and thus is perfect for any kid who can read. Younger kids can appreciate the words and the story, older kids will sail through the story and really appreciate the artwork. The storyline is quite different from the versions I’ve read before, but the general ideas are the same. There is a glossary in the back for kids who don’t understand some of the more complicated words. There are also discussion questions and writing prompts in the back for older kids.
T-Minus: The Race to the Moon
by Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon
The true story of the space race to the moon told in graphic novel form, the story starts 12 years before the first moon landing and ends just after it. It chronicles the thousands of people who worked to make this achievement happen. In the margins, there are drawings of different rocket launches with dates and details. The book even covers the Russians’ part of the space race. For the pages with the Russian storyline, all the Ns are backwards to remind you in which country that part of the story is set. The “computers” in Russia were people, not machines, and usually women! The storyline does jump around a bit, so it really helps to know the background of the space race ahead of time. If this was your first exposure to it, you’d have no idea what was going on. But the book does hit all the important points, including many of which I wasn’t aware. T-Minus can be great for younger kids if they don’t mind not knowing what is going on, but it is better for older kids and adults with some background in space history. It captures snapshots of the drama, tragedy and revolution of the space race. A glossary is included to help younger kids understand the vocabulary.
My son, who was slow to warm up to comic books, has eaten most of these up. This was my goal: getting my kids into comics, so they wouldn’t miss out on a section of art, story and geek life that I missed. It worked on my son, though not so much for my daughter. But along the way, finding so many different kinds of books has also helped me enjoy graphic novels. I have even bought myself two Jane Austen Marvel comics. And I have enjoyed the comic books intended for children. Those are a good way to get your kids into graphic novels early, without worrying about violence or graphic imagery.
(I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flak for using “comic book” and “graphic novel” fairly interchangeably, but I’m new, okay? Complain too much about this, and you’ll just prove my point, that getting into comic books is intimidating. The point is to get MORE people to read them, not to scare off the newbies. You have to be forgiving of our ignorance until we develop enough knowledge to converse intelligently.)
What accessible comic books do you enjoy? What are the first ones in which your children have gotten lost? What are your favorites from now or from when you were a kid? Please share your experience in the comments.
[Note: Check out Dave Banks’s interview with Mark Andrew Smith, author of the excellent graphic novel for kids “The New Brighton Archeological Society,” from earlier today.]