Passing the Torch


I’m up late tonight, coming down from the Motor City Black Age of Comics Convention which happened earlier today (yes, I know it’s Sunday, but I until I close my eyes and go to sleep, it’s still Saturday).

Anyway, it was a small affair held in the Nsoroma Institute‘s gymnasium and the attendance was nowhere near a C2E2 nor a SDCC. It was SUPER local and there were a whole bunch of parents who brought their children to the show…

…And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

I mean, isn’t this what we talk about in the industry ad nauseum? Aren’t we always wondering how to get kids to read comics again? The industry tries so many things (i.e. making “kid friendly” versions of our favorite heroes, video game tie-ins, animation tie-ins, etc.) and none of them work.

Kids, I’m talking “Tweens” and younger, don’t come into comic book stores willy-nilly. They just don’t. They are usually brought there by comic-reading parents trying to expose the youngins’ to their passion or parents who saw the store on the street and dragged their kids into the spot to find something cheap to stop their incessant whining or whatever is annoying the parent at that time. Furthermore, comic book stores aren’t designed to be “kid friendly.” Oh sure, those aforementioned “kids” comics are on the shelves, but the atmosphere of the store is “Look, but you better not touch.” If you are a “Tween” or younger, this makes for a situation that truly sucks.

Dreadlocks by Mishindo Kuumba

Now, I must admit that I have been a bit jaded when it comes to my selection of which cons to attend. My decision is based on a number of factors including finances and maximum impact of getting my books out to the masses. Also, the last time I attended a con in my hometown of Detroit was in 2002. By all accounts, I shouldn’t have wanted to attend such a small convention, but I did because my man Andre Batts, creator of the book Dreadlocks, asked me to speak on the panel…

…And I’m glad that I did. I had a great time this afternoon. The panel was a lot of fun and I finally got the chance to meet the mysterious (in my eyes) Mshindo Kuumba. I had been a fan of his work for years and knew many people who met and worked with the brother, but this was the first time we were in the same room, on the same panel, speaking about the same topics and drawing the same conclusions. It was truly a “Highlander” moment and I’m glad to have finally met and connected with the brother.

Sword and Soul by Mishindo Kuumba

But, back to the kids. The kids were there en masse. They were looking at all of the vendors’ wares, making sure that they picked up the FREE swag (and trying to make some things free yahknowhutimsayin?) and were completely enamored with the artwork and that there were characters that looked like them. Furthermore, they were enamored by the fact that the ARTISTS looked like them even more. Those little rug rats were at my table all day…

…And I loved it.

Here’s the deal: I was those kids at that age. The very first con I went to was a very small Detroit Comic Con with my dad. The first legitimate comic book artist I ever met was Chuck Patton. I was totally blown away not because I knew his name, not because I knew a bit of his resume (he did work on some issues of JLA in the 80s), but because the first comic book artist I met in the flesh was and African American. At that moment, not only the industry, but a possible career in the industry became real to me.

I had a full-circle experience today because I met a young man by the name of A.J. He’s about 12 years old and he asked for a sketch. I happily gave it to him and his mom bought The Horsemen: Divine Intervention trade. They way he cherished the book as it lay in his hands was humbling and reminded me of when I met Chuck all those years ago. I was A.J. I still am A.J. The experience has come full circle and I, hopefully, created a life-long fan not just of my comics, but the art of comics as a whole.

Justice League of America by Chuck Patton

And, that’s how you get kids into comics. Real talk? It’s not about dumbing the story down or making the artwork extra cartoony to get kids interested in comics. In fact, that’s a sure way to get them turned off to comics. Kids are smart, always have been, and they don’t liked to be talked down to. Comics are powerful educational tools, so let them read THOSE comics… Yes, the “grown-up” comics… YOUR comics. Let them read X-Men, Superman, Batman, Spawn, Hellboy. Let them read the comics that you read. Guaranteed, they’ll be smarter for it and will read at a higher grade level than their peers (I’m living proof of that and so is my main man A.J.) and you’ll be fostering a lifelong love of reading from the experience.

Who knows? Maybe if you start bringing kids to the cons, they’ll want to get their own comics… Maybe, one day they’ll want to create their own comics… Maybe, one day when they’re in their career, they’ll inspire another kid to enter into this crazy game…

…Like Chuck Patton did for me, like I may have done for A.J. Thanks to you, Chuck, for making comics real for me. Thank you, A.J., for the opportunity to pass the torch onto you.

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