Random Musings: All-Ages Comics

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    Supergirl 8th grade

         I’m writing this on September 28. My cousin turns 12 today. A few weeks ago, I was considering what to get her for her birthday. At my local comics shop, I came across all six issues of the 2009 mini series Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, packaged together in a set. But I didn’t buy them, because I didn’t know if she even liked comics.

         On the other hand, I told myself, she’d probably be at the right age for that series.

         So I went back the next day.

         And couldn’t find that package of those six issues. I did, however, find individual copies of five of them. So I bought those, and then visited several area comic shops, seeking that one issue I needed.

         Last week, I decided to look again at my local comics shop, and guess what?

         I found that six-issue set I’d seen in the first place. And so my cousin was able to get the whole story after all.

         Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade is a fun read, and the storyline finds our young heroine, Kara, unexpectedly transported to Earth, where she meets her cousin, Superman (who can’t return her home), and tries to adapt to two strange environments— the planet Earth and junior high school.

         She’s also learning to use her powers— which don’t always work— leading her to conclude on one occasion when she crashes to the ground, “this planet hates me.”

          Humor abounds in this mini-series, and, for Doctor Who fans, at one point Kara’s best friend, Lena Luthor, reverses the polarity of the neutron flow.

         In an ironic bit of timing, a few days after I’d decided to get my cousin Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, I received the November issue of Comics Buyer’s Guide. The cover story? That comics are for kids again.

         That’s not to say that all comics are for kids. Many people continue to labor under that misapprehension. Comics, like traditional books, films, TV shows, plays, etc. are a medium. And within that medium you can have any number of genres. Still, it’s good to have all-ages comics among those out there.

         In the lead story in the CBG issue, “Graphic Novels: Retooling for Literary”, writer Whitney Grace tells us “today, teachers, librarians, and other academics have conducted studies to track how graphic novels affect young readers— and results demonstrate that they actually encourage children to read.”

         That, according to the article, is a bit of an about-face from decades past when it was commonly believed that “comics promoted negative impulses and poor scholarship in children.”

         That belief, was, and is, of course, nonsensical. Kids are reading, and often encountering multi-syllabic words. Former Marvel Comics editor Jim Shooter has related how, in grade school, he learned the word “bouillabaisse”, and the meaning of the word, from a Donald Duck comic.

         When I was in third grade, my teacher, Mr. Short, had comicbooks in the classroom for us to read. I’m sure that contributed to my love reading.

         Comics have, of course, been used as a teaching tool, beyond subtly encouraging kids to read and building their vocabularies. Metro Detroit-based writer and artist Mark Crilley began his comics (and later book) series Akiko as a teaching tool when teaching English in Japan and Taiwan in the early 1990s. I wrote an article about Crilley in Hogan’s Alley #10 a few years back. In the article, he related how he began seeking innovative ways to teach English to his students. That led to his beginning to draw comics in 1992.

         Akiko was a great all-ages comic about a fourth grade girl who has adventures with friends from the planet Smoo. Some adventures take place on that planet. Akiko was a favorite of two other cousins.

         Other great all-ages series include Bone, by Jeff Smith, which originally ran for 55 issues, ending in 2004. Bone, which concerns three cousins, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone, who are driven out of Boneville by the angry townspeople, and eventually find themselves in a strange valley where wonders and perils await them.

         Actually, the scheming Phoney is the only one driven out of town. The level-headed Fone Bone and the child-like Smiley Bone go with him of their own free will.

         Bone has since been collected in 10 volumes of trade paperbacks and a complete omnibus edition (both in black and white), as well as color editions of all 10 volumes, published by Scholastic Press. My 9-year-old nephew is reading and enjoying the Scholastic editions. He’s asked me for the one-shot spin-off, Rose, which focuses on the character of Gran’ma Ben as a girl.

         Another all ages series of note was the excellent, but sadly short-lived (only 13 issues) 1990’s Image Comics series Leave it to Chance by James Robinson and Paul Smith. 14-year-old Chance Falconer, daughter of paranormal investigator Lucas Falconer, is ready to begin her training as protector of the town of Devil’s Echo, a duty Falconers have carried out for generations. And she doesn’t accept her father’s contention that this isn’t a job for a girl, or that the task should skip a generation.

         Along with her pet miniature dragon, St. George, Chance gets involved in paranormal goings-on, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.

         Eleven issues are collected in three trade paperbacks. If any of the comics shops I’d visited had had a Leave it to Chance collection on the shelf, I might well have bought that as my cousin’s present.

         The comic I selected in Mr. Short’s classroom? Richie Rich Millions #71. I enjoyed reading Richie Rich as a kid. He’s back, too, slightly updated for the 21st century, and now published by Ape Entertainment. Gone is the tuxedo and red bow tie; and according to the house ads, Richie is now “a mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones with the bank account of Donald Trump.”

         Will my cousin like n style=”color: black”>Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade? I think so. And if you have kids and/or nieces, nephews and cousins, that’s one of several comics that may appeal to them as well. One great thing about comics is that there’s something for everyone.

    Copyright 2011 Patrick Keating

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