When you pick up a comic book at a bookstore, don’t presume it will be a suitable read for your child. Animated figures or comic illustrations need not necessarily cater to children. Look at how adults worldwide are such ardent fans of Marvel or DC Comics, reiterating the fact that comics, as an artistic genre, have a much larger audience.
The impact of Chhota Bheem on a kid would be very different from when he reads about Captain America or Batman, for instance. On one hand, kids can derive lessons on morality and friendship from the way Chhota Bheem helps solve problems in his town. Captain America, on the other hand, was consciously created as a political superhero based in the times of World War II. Even while kids might enjoy the heroic feats of such popular characters, there is an underlying tone of moral tension or identity crisis, among other darker themes, which parents may or may not deem appropriate for their children.
Comics need not be kid-friendly
When a comic book is meant for adults, the author can obviously exercise his creative liberty to address larger issues that concern the society. Consider the graphic novel Kari by Amruta Patil that talks about lesbianism or The Sandman by Neil Gaiman that falls within the dark fantasy genre or even Saga by Brian K Vaughan, whose explicit sexual content irked parents at Bengaluru Comic Con recently At the event, some children were reportedly handed a goodie bag that contained the book Saga featuring adult content. An FIR was reportedly filed under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act and Section 293 that pertains to distribution of obscene material to children.
“The fact that comics are not just meant for children is something that we are still getting used to in India. Here, people still look at comics largely as a kids’ genre, except for people who are comic book fans. Parents need to understand that comic books, whether in India or abroad, are of multiple types,” Akshay Dhar, writer and founder of Meta Desi Comics, told Express Parenting.
Before introducing a movie to a kid, parents ensure it is ‘U’ or ‘U/A’ certified. The same rule applies in the case of books too, and in this case, comic books. “Comic books mention the appropriate age group of readers and parents need to check that before giving them to kids. We have a booth at Comic Con. I have comics which are kid-friendly, for around five or six-year-olds, some for the age group 14-15 years and others for those who are 17 to 18 years old. When parents come to buy books, I categorically tell them to check the age group. So, we all do try our best to keep an eye on who is selling what and to whom, although there are glitches at times, like the one that happened at Bengaluru,” explained Dhar.
Censorship cannot be the solution for keeping kids away from seemingly inappropriate content. Besides, as Jasraman Grewal of SuperNova Comics & Graphic Novels rightly pointed out, “More than just rejecting it, there needs to be some sort of education about adult issues. These are things we have to wake up to and this is the right time to do so.” Even if your child chances upon a book with adult content, it is unlikely that the book would permanently scar him or her, believe comic book enthusiasts. “The same kids will start asking questions in a couple of years. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to address adult issues-from sex to drugs-with their kids. They anyway come across such issues in pop culture and even in some conversations with others and they ask questions. As long as you are willing to talk to them about it, the kid will understand. If you hush them, they would be even more curious and end up learning wrong things from wrong sources,” Dhar asserted.
That said, children may not always be ready to deal with the complex subjects, arguments and themes that are increasingly surfacing in the representation of even our favourite comic superhero stories. Does that mean one deprives them of the pleasure of reading the classic comic books? Perhaps not and there’s a way to bridge the gap.
What comic books to read
DC Comics, for instance, has come up with two series, including DC Zoom that caters to readers between the age group of 8-12 years, which focuses only on “external issues”, as mentioned in the book’s description.
DC Ink, on the other hand, has been created for readers aged 13 and above that focuses on “real-world situations and relatable characters”. “These books have basically taken all the popular superhero characters and converted them into kid-friendly books,” said Mihir Joshi, singer and a huge comic book fan, who also runs a comic club.
What are the other comic books that your children can read? Joshi said, “I grew up on Asterix comics. Though the experience only gets better with age, even as a kid, they are very enjoyable. For kids, one should choose comic books with simple artwork.”
Among other popular Indian comic books are Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha and Raj Comics, to name a few. “In India, there’s not a huge market for the original Indian comic books for preteens,” informed Dhar.
What is more important is that parents need to educate themselves first about what they are offering their kids, suggested Grewal. “When you are going to a Comic Con, make sure there’s a good comic section for kids. There will be a range of comic books and parents can accordingly choose what they want their kids to read.”