I believe the idea was that comic books were a kind of picture book, thereby comparable to such works as The Cat in the Hat, and those of Clifford the giant red dog.
That's ridiculous. That's like assuming that because Teletubbies
and Dora the Explorer
are TV shows, all TV shows must be for toddlers. Or that since Penthouse
magazines are porn, then Life
and National Geographic
must be porn too. It's a spurious confusion of the medium with its content.
I am of the older generation (45 years old) and I have to admit, getting caught reading a comic book is still something of an embarrassment to me.
Well, I'm only a bit younger, and it doesn't embarrass me at all. Comic books are a medium
, not a genre. They're a delivery system for stories, like television or novels or plays, and like those, they're not the least bit limited in what kind of stories they can tell. Over the decades, there have been comics written with every age group and audience in mind, just as there have been books and movies and plays and TV shows made with every audience in mind.
As stated above, the first comic books were compilations of newspaper comic strips, which were aimed at all ages. A lot of them were written for children, but others, like the EC horror and satire comics of the '40s and '50s, were written with more adult audiences in mind. (My father used to have some old issues of comics like Panic
-- in its original form as a comic before it became a magazine -- and they had lots of adult humor, sexually suggestive cartoons, and the like, sedate by modern standards but quite risque for the era.) The accusations in the '50s that comics were contributing to youth delinquency (propagated by people making the same mistake I'm hearing here, assuming that all comics were meant for kids, even the clearly adult ones) led to the institution of the Comics Code and an era of censorship that reduced most mainstream comics to inoffensive kid stuff (while more adult comics were driven underground and became even more graphic and subversive, as for example the work of R. Crumb). But that started to give way in the '60s and '70s. Then the '80s gave us seminal works like Watchmen
and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
which deconstructed the sensibilities of prior comics from a far more adult and cynical standpoint, and comics creators thereafter embraced the darker aspects of those works, making comics more and more violent and graphic and extreme and very, very much not
suitable for children, to the point that one of the main problems the comics industry faces today is that its readership is shrinking because of a lack of comics aimed at new, young readers.
And then you have countries like Japan and France and Italy where comics have never been limited to a single age group. In Japan, comics are widely read by all demographics and can be about anything from cute talking animals to teen romance to golf and tennis to history to science fiction and fantasy to hardcore fetish porn. As I said, they're not a genre, they're a medium, and they can encompass all genres.
I read novels without pictures just fine, but sometimes those comic book stories are a bit intriguing, its a pity these characters aren't written about more often in novel form, the comic book format is somewhat limiting, and I find the stories in them sometimes kind of compressed, because the artists and authors have only so many frames to tell their story in, comic book heroes tend to be 90% punch and 10% talk.
There are movie heroes that are like that too, but not all movies are like that. The problem is that too many Americans think all comics are superhero comics. That's not true at all. There are comics about all sorts of other subjects; you just have to look beyond DC and Marvel and see what else is out there.
In a novel, superheroes can be more philosophical, there is still plenty of action, but there is also a lot of mystery solving, the structure is closer to a James Bond Movie, the characters try to figure things out, then they get in trouble and have to use their superpowers to get out of it.
There are superhero comics that get very philosophical. A lot of them are just shallow action, but again, it's Sturgeon's Law: most of what you get in any medium, any genre, is going to be forgettable, but some of it is going to be superior, exceptional work. There are countless bad or shallow superhero comics, but there's also Watchmen
and the like. You just have to let go of stereotyping and judge the works individually rather than damning whole categories.