I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree that the comics industry needs kids. Without them the industry dies off. And as of right now, the overwhelming majority of comic book readers are not kids. I’ve read a number of people state this, yet have seen very few solutions.
Michael Chabon has a fantastic essay in his book Maps and Legends where he offers those solutions. What follows is his list (along with my summary) of how to successfully write stories for kids.
1. Let’s not tell stories that you think kids of today would like, tell stories that you would have liked as a kid. I would add to that: tell stories that you would like NOW as well. The greatest “children’s” stories work on both levels. For me personally, the kinds of stories I like are generally the ones that are enjoyed by both audiences.
2. Let’s tell stories that, over time, build up an intricate mythology that is also accessible and comprehensible at any point of entry. Kids want to explore, go on a journey where new information is revealed along the way, challenging what came before. But at the same time need an entry point, especially in comics – to tell a complete story (or part of the story) in every issue.
3. Let’s cultivate an unflagging readiness as storytellers to retell the same stories with endless embellishment. To give the comfortable, but something new. Kid’s love repetition, anyone who has ever told a story to a kid can understand that. But they also want
4. Let’s blow their minds. Their minds are not blown simply by thrilling action sequences, but by taking them to places they’ve never been, both mentally and emotionally. When you make their dreams come true, and at the same time create new dreams to fill that space.
5. Let’s tell stories about children. An overwhelming number of stories in comics, that are aimed at kids, are about adults or teens. If you want kids to relate and go on the journey with these characters – kids relate to kids.
6. This last one is not from Chabon, but from Jacob Medjuck – writer and director of the film Summerhood. “If you want to reach kids with a moral, wrap it in the dirtiest joke possible.” Now, you have to take that and apply it to your own story & audience, but his point is valid. In other words – Let’s share our values, yet not hit them over the head. Even kids can see the moral coming a mile away. Simply tell stories that are honest and unique to your life.
Do any comics you read fit the above descriptions? What are the cartoons, books, or films that do? Can you help fill that void in the comics world? Go create.