Parenting small geeks-in-training (a.k.a. children) can be tough. I spend a lot of time with my kids, screening what they watch and read. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve spent less time making choices for them about what media they consume, and more time teaching them to interrogate what they watch and read. “Why do you think that it was five seasons where the girl had to be the sidekick? Why was it only in the fifth season that she finally got to even start training to be a ninja? Why didn’t she get the same costume as the boys?”
Comics have been more challenging than TV. When my kids were old enough to be reading independently, most of the comics I read were decidedly for adults. I wanted to show them the comics I adore—Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, X-23, and Wonder Woman—but not only were they too young for the stories’ themes, but the stories themselves didn’t resonate with a 4- and 7-year-old.
Building off the clear success of DC Super Hero Girls in the past two years—the concept that started as a web series and merchandise line now has three movies and a TV show in production—DC has now announced two new imprints aimed at bringing kids into the fold of mainstream comics in an age appropriate way.
DC Ink and DC Zoom will launch their first books in fall of this year. DC Ink will focus on a Young Adult (YA, generally teen) audience while DC Zoom will be targeted at Middle Grade readers (aged roughly 8-12).
The imprint announced an award-winning team of authors, some familiar names to comics readers, while others may be more resonant with those who follow children’s literature. Some highlights:
- Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)
- Melissa de la Cruz (Alex & Eliza)
- Minh Lê (Drawn Together)
- Gene Yang (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
- Shea Fontana (DC Super Hero Girls, Wonder Woman Vol. 5: Heart of the Amazon (Rebirth))
- Mariko Tamaki of (Supergirl: Being Super)
The initial books in the imprints will also introduce a lot of familiar characters to younger kids: Harley Quinn gets her own book, and the DC Super Hero Girls will of course be represented. Two Batman titles have been announced; the Teen Titans and Wonder Woman will each get stories, as will Catwoman.
This new line excites me for a few reasons. Kids can often feel excluded at comic book stores. Sure, there’s a dedicated kids section; imprints like Boom, Viz, and Action Labs are doing amazing work creating comics that are for kids. Outside of Teen Titans Go and DC Super Hero Girls, however, there hasn’t been much representation for the big two in the kids section. I can and have given my kids titles like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel, but picking and choosing titles from the adult section is difficult if the parent isn’t already an avid comic book fan. Especially after Marvel’s recent complete failure in terms of diversity.
While the kids section contains some amazing books, from your child’s perspective, there’s beautiful art and comics just a few feet over from their titles. There are characters in that section who they may recognize from the CW, DCAU, or Cartoon Network; they may instead find (for example) the 2005 series where Supergirl was raised as a brainwashed assassin whose sole purpose was to murder Kal-El for revenge. Not only is this inappropriate for a ten-year-old, it’s also jarringly disconnected from the knowledge kids have of characters from their tie-in and TV experiences of the characters.
Creating a place for kids that combines both artistic merit and great storytelling in books that are designed for them brings them into the mainstream superhero universe. This makes things easier for parents and is an asset for the comic book industry. Even more importantly? It can make for some really great comics.
That said, there’s something I didn’t immediately notice about the initial ensemble art in the official DC press release. I sent the release link to my friend Jaye Ng, expecting her to be as excited as I was. She actively seeks out diverse comics for her two kids; she is the person who showed me Boom in the first place. She quickly sent back: “I see lots of non-European names in that creator list; let’s hope it pans out to representation. That ensemble illustration is super white.”
I’m ashamed to say I had to look again. Yeah, Green Lantern looks to be Black (most likely John Stewart), but the rest of the cast is incredibly white (yes, some of them are aliens, I know; they’re drawn as white and it counts). DC is clearly drawing from their most well known characters to give this series a push, which means that a lot of the characters are going to be white (and straight, and abled, and cis, and so forth).
I apologized to Jaye for making her do the work of pointing that out to me. It shouldn’t be her job.
I hope to see the imprints diversify, and fast. The world doesn’t fit through that narrow window, and kids know it. Kids deserve to see themselves represented in comics as much as adults do. And if DC launches new and diverse characters here (without giving them the “Look at us, we’re so diverse now, buy our new diversity salad with extra diverse sauce” treatment), they can age up those characters with their new audience. They wouldn’t be the first characters to cross media like that; Harley Quinn was originally written by Paul Dini for the DCAU, and has rapidly become one of the more famous characters in DC’s comics.
I’m a tremendous fan of companies diversifying their offerings to a younger age group. Kids deserve comics that are designed for them but still respect their intelligence. If DC can do this, along with creating a line that welcomes all kids, not just the white ones, they may have something really incredible on their hands. I hope to see it happen.