The genesis of this week's column goes back to Baltimore in August, when Jason Horn handed me a small stack of "Ninjasaur" and "Gruff" minicomics and suggested that I not only give them to my son to read, but that my son and I have a conversation about the comics and publish our discussion online. Horn's shrewd marketing idea wasn't effective just because I like hanging out with Jason Horn and hope for his continued success -- I do, but plenty of comic book creators fall into that category, and I can't give them all the free publicity they would no doubt enjoy -- but because I was genuinely curious what my son would say after reading these black and white, self-published comics about martial arts dinosaurs and goats of legend.
I figured that it would be a fun column to do...eventually. I wasn't in a hurry to grill my ten-year-old son on his comic book reading preferences. But it was something I knew we'd get to, probably when there was nothing major going on in the world of my personal comic book obsessions that week.
But then something else happened, changing the plans a bit. My son started picking up some of the new DC comics I had lying around, the relaunch comics, and began reading them in the mornings before school. He's never picked up one of the single issue comics I had lying around the house before. Never.
He's read comics, sure. How could he not, with me for a dad. But they were all comics that he selected for himself while waiting for me at the local comic shop, after I picked him up from school or after baseball practice or whatever. He has a short box that's filled with "kids" comics he's accumulated over the years, but mostly because every time he's with me when I make a comics run, I buy him something for being patient. But he's never read any of my comics, other than some collected editions of some newspaper strips, a few of my manga volumes and, after seeing the movie last summer, all six "Scott Pilgrim" books. Yes, he was nine at the time, and he loved those comics, even though they are clearly geared toward an older audience.
If you total it all up, he's probably read thousands of pages of comics over the past five years, between the Fantagraphics "Peanuts" hardcovers and the Scholastic "Bone" editions and the Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures issues, but since none of them were "mainstream" superhero comics, he doesn't think of himself as much of a comic book reader. Notice how he dismisses the idea that he's any kind of regular comic book reader when he answers my first question below. Yet, he has definitely read far more comics than any ten-year-old I know, certainly ten times more comics than I had read by the time I was his age.
But, he's never been into Marvel or DC proper. Just not interested. So when he began enthusiastically reading piles of the DC relaunch books, unprompted, well, I just couldn't help but ask him what he liked about them. As one of those theoretical new readers, he's an interesting subject. A kid with plenty of experience in comics, no ill-will toward the medium, but a complete indifference toward what the Big Two pumped out on a monthly basis. Until now.
So here's my discussion with ten-year-old Andrew Callahan, on the comics of Jason Horn, on digital delivery, and on what new DC comics he thinks are worth reading.
Tim Callahan: How many comics had you read before this little experiment with the Jason Horn minicomics and your reading of the New DC issues?
Andrew Callahan: I didn't ever really read many comics. But once the New 52 came out, I started reading lots of them. Before, my favorite titles were all the ones that were kid-based, like "Tiny Titans" and, what's it called -- oh, yeah, "Power Pack" or "Power Pals..."
Whatever, yeah, I can't really remember. And some other DC and Marvel kids comics. The ones for the younger audiences.
But you have read "Bone."
I've read "Bone," yeah.
All of "Bone?" Did you borrow the final color volume from your teacher or something?
No, not the final one. I didn't read all of "Bone" yet. I've read every "Calvin and Hobbes" ever. A lot of the Charlie Brown comics. Not all, but a lot.
The "Peanuts" collections.
Manga? I know you've been reading some manga, so what have you read?
"Fairy Tale." "Bakuman." "Fullmetal Alchemist." A lot of good titles, I'd recommend those.
Okay, let's set the context a little more before we discuss some of these comics you recently read: if you were to take TV, movies, video games, novels, comics and then let's make manga its own category just for fun, even though it would fall under "comics," normally, out of those, what would you rank as your favorite? With your free time, which would you prefer to do first?
Okay. Um -- #1 video games, #2 TV, #3 manga, #4 comics, #5 movies and the last would be novels.
What are your favorite video games right now?
"Kingdom Hearts" for lots of the systems. But "Kingdom Hearts II" for the PS2. "Minecraft," for the PC. It's very good.
The Pokemon series. For the Nintendo platforms.
How about TV? What are some shows that you'd recommend?
I like "Adventure Time." "Community" and "Parks and Recreation." "The Office," most of the time.
Just those four?
Okay, then, let's talk comics. These Jason Horn comics, they're targeted for a younger audience. Well, I guess that's not really true. They are genuine "all-ages" comics. I'm old. You're young. We both read the first and second "Ninjasaur" minicomics, and the first chapter of "Gruff." Give me a quick overview. What is "Ninjasaur" about, and what did you like, or not like, about these minicomics?
If you can't tell by the title, it's about a dinosaur ninja. He carries around samurai swords and a black ninja outfit with his eyes poking out. He likes infomercials. He's a pretty weird ninja.
What did you think of the comics?
I liked how funny they were. How he had Ninjasaur react to stuff, and how he'd have Ninjasaur sitting at home, watching infomercials and saying, "I want that stuff!"
It's got some ninja action too!
Yeah, he gets into sword-fighting, time-bending -- lots of punching and kicking ninja action.
Would you recommend these comics to kids your age? To other age groups?
I'd recommend them to kids my age. Around my age.
"Ninjasaur" is a webcomic too. Do you have any interest in reading the webcomic version?
Maybe, yeah. I'd actually like to read more.
Have you read any webcomics before?
No, [pause for genetically-unavoidable sarcasm] but they're comics. On the internet.
How come you've never read webcomics before? You're on the internet a lot, watching YouTube video game walkthroughs. Why no webcomics?
I didn't really know of any.
What about "Gruff," also by Jason Horn. Describe what that's about, then we'll talk about it.
It's about a turtle. Who befriends a billy goat. And they walk around talking about muffins.
There's no ninja action?
"Gruff" opens with a two-page text piece retelling the basic Three Billy Goats Gruff story. Did you read that text piece before you read the comic?
Neither did I. I just read the comic.
Yeah, [the text piece] is not very interesting.
What did you think about "Gruff?"
It wasn't that good. I didn't like it because all it was about was a turtle, being super-optimistic, going, "Oh, I'm walking along, look at me, I'm a turtle." The goat comes along, and he's, "Hey, how's it going, I don't really care about you." Then they just keep walking. It doesn't really make any sense.
What's missing that would have made it enjoyable for you?
It wasn't funny. It's like real life. Like how you'd walk up to someone and they'd probably ignore you. So -- nothing really happens.
Real life is less interesting than dinosaur ninjas?
Yeah. Because they're dinosaur ninjas! What else do I have to say?
What percent chance is there that you'll check out "Ninjasaur" online now?
What percent chance…that you'll check out "Gruff" online?
Okay, the other thing we wanted to talk about was the New 52 from DC. So, until now you haven't read a lot of "regular" single issue comics.
Out of the stack we've got here -- these are the one's you've read after the first three weeks of the DC relaunch -- and you've read like 19 or 20 of the comics that have come out this month, out of these, what were your favorite comics?
Probably "Wonder Woman." "Frankenstein." "Batman and Robin." "Superboy." "Red Lantern." And "Justice League."
What about the "Green Lantern" comics? I notice that you gravitated toward those each week, and you read all the Green Lantern-related series right away.
Well, I liked "Green Lantern," but not "Green Lantern Corps."
What about "Batman" #1?
Oh, I didn't even see that one there. Yeah, that would be in my Top 5.
What's the ranking of these then?
"Wonder Woman," first. "Frankenstein," then "Batman." "Red Lanterns." "Justice League." Then "Superboy" and "Batman and Robin."
You also read a bunch of other things like "Legion Lost," "Animal Man," "Deathstroke," "Resurrection Man," "Demon Knights." So pick one that you read but didn't like and tell me why you didn't like it.
"Green Lantern Corps." It was all talking.
But, there's people getting chopped in half in that comic.
Yeah, in the beginning. Three pages of people getting chopped in half, and then after that, it's all talking.
But you did like "Red Lanterns," a comic many readers online are complaining about because it's just absurd and violent and pointless. What did you like about it?
I liked it because it was absurd. I just thought it was funny that after the first page, there was a huge cat Red Lantern, spewing acid out of his mouth. And I like how the leader of the Red Lanterns was having mixed feelings, and he was all happy and didn't want to kill people any more.
What did you like about that?
It was funny. [Atrocitus is] the leader of the Red Lanterns, and he's worrying about his past instead of thinking of how to kill people.
A lot of readers might criticize the Ed Benes art on this comic. Do you like the art?
Yeah. A lot of the art in these comics just -- it all looks the same to me, and I like this kind.
But "Red Lanterns" looks completely different than "Wonder Woman."
So how would you describe the difference between Ed Benes and Cliff Chiang, and why you like one more than another?
"Red Lanterns" has a lot more lines and shading. And "Wonder Woman" doesn't really have that much. It's not deep in shading. It doesn't have many line details. I personally prefer the "Red Lantern" style. It adds more depth so you can really see what's reflecting. Like on this one page, you can see this armor of the Red Lantern leader and it looks like it's shining and glowing and you can see the scratch marks on it. I like it.
So what did you like about "Wonder Woman," then, if it was your number one pick?
Hmmm. It's hard to explain.
Had you ever read a "Wonder Woman" comic before?
Did you think you would like a "Wonder Woman" comic?
So what made you enjoy this one?
I enjoyed the fact that -- it was a good comic. I don't know. It's not really funny like "Red Lanterns."
What did you think about the lack of explanation in the first issue? You didn't find out Wonder Woman's origin, or many details about the other characters? Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
It's a good thing, because it will make the readers want to read more to figure out what's going on. I also liked the Greek mythology. It's my favorite kind. Hermes is weird, with his blue skin and green hair, but I kind of like it.
Are you going to read the next issue of "Wonder Woman" and "Red Lanterns?"
What about "Frankenstein." Do you want to keep reading that?
Yeah, I liked how Father Time was a little girl. And I like how it's crazy, and there's these weird zombie apocalyptic creatures in it. And they live inside this tiny bubble that floats around the city and have to shrink to get inside.
I liked the art. I liked it because of how Batman, in his secret identity, seems so calm, even though he's trying to change the world. It's really good.
I like how, in the first half of the comic, he was inside this tank, and people were studying him, but nobody except this girl realized he was thinking while he was in there. That was good.
Does the final page of "Superboy" make you interested in the "Teen Titans" comic?
"Justice League" -- what did you like about that first issue?
Most of all, I liked how Green Lantern is a complete jerk. It kind of fits him because he seems like, "I am so awesome, I can do anything."
You think that's a good characterization?
Yeah, because he's a Green Lantern and a Green Lantern is all about willpower. You've gotta have a lot of willpower if you think that highly of yourself.
What about "Batman and Robin," you said you liked that too?
I mostly liked how Robin was, and -- how he was kind of a jerk to Batman.
So you like comics when they have superheroes who act like jerks? That's a common theme here.
Well, I like them being funny jerks. Not jerk jerks.
Out of all these DC comics, and you read about 20 of them, how many do you think you'll keep reading?
About 15 or 16.
Wow. That's more than I expected. What if I don't buy them? Are any of these worth buying if you're spending your own allowance money instead of just reading my copies of the comics? Three bucks a month per issue.
Hmmm. "Red Lanterns" and "Wonder Woman." Oh, and "Frankenstein."
Would you prefer to buy the physical copies, or just download your copies to the iPad?
I prefer the physical comic. I don't want to rely on battery power. I want to be able to read them without worrying about charging something. And I like the feel of them. Of turning the actual page.
What's your verdict on this DC relaunch. They did it to try to bring in new reader. You're a new reader for these kinds of comics. You're hooked?
Uh huh. Yeah.
Does it make you want to try out other comics? Like Marvel comics?
Not really. Just these.
Do you think these comics would be something your friends would like? If you gave them a stack as a present or something? Would they want to read more?
I don't really know. I don't know what they like to read that much. I don't know their preferences. Some of them might. Maybe they'd like "Red Lanterns."
Do you think their parents would punch me in the face if you started handing out copies of "Red Lanterns?"
[Laughs, looks at the cover of the issue] Um...wait, it's rated Teen-Plus? Okay, maybe that's not a good idea.
What would be the top two you'd give your friends, then?
"Justice League" and "Action Comics."
"Action Comics" wasn't in your Top 5, or even Top 7.
But I like how Superman is young. And how he doesn't have much for powers, but he's trying his hardest.
Final, final verdict on the new DC?
Double thumbs up! They did a good job on these.
Now that you're hooked, are you hooked for life, you think?
Uh oh. Does that mean you want to inherit my comics collection some day?
No, I do not want to have to buy a bigger house just for all those comics. Unless some are worth money. I would sell those.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.