Published Oct 01, 2005Everyone was scared of the dark at some point in his or her childhood, and children turn to their stuffed animals for comfort. With that in mind, it seemed natural to tell the story of just why kids love their furry protectors," says Mike Bullock, creator of Lions, Tigers and Bears, a comic geared to children that's finding a home on adult reading lists. LT&B centres on Joey, a little boy who moves with his family to a new house. He takes with him a gift from his Grandma, a set of four stuffed animals called the Night Pride whose duty it is to protect him from things that go bump in the night. When things start to bump, Joey finds out that his new friends are more than they appear, but it is his own courage that saves them.
Bullock doesn't veer from his target audience, but understands there is crossover amongst readers in the comic community. Despite an increasing focus on mature subject matter, violence and adult-oriented storytelling, Bullock still faces prejudice that he's dabbling in a medium not worth adult attention.
"I don't really get that whole comics are kids stuff' mentality. Comics are just another storytelling medium. Comics are no more just for kids than television is just for the Peg Bundys of the world. One thing that cracks me up is when I hear people say, I don't need pictures with my words to enjoy a story.' Well, if that's the case, why do so many people go to movies? Why are so many people glued to their television sets? How in the world does Broadway manage to keep curtains open and cash rolling in? Comic books are just as valid a storytelling medium as any of those, and to an extent, more so. With the others, the audience are spoon-fed a lot more of the story than they are with sequential storytelling."
Bullock relied on his own personal experiences as a child to shape the story he wanted to tell. "A lot of my childhood is peppered throughout the story. Henry Bear was the first stuffed animal I ever received as a child, so it was natural to have him in the story. We also moved around a lot when I was little, so having Joey placed in a position where he's in a new, unknown environment, with a new house and a yearning for all his old friends that he left behind is also something I can easily relate to. When I created this story, I was trying to find something universal."
So powerful is Bullock's storytelling that the tale of Joey becomes a tough read. Part of you wants to reach through the pages and hand him an ice cream cone, while the other wants to smack him because he's crying. For some, too many X-Men and Batman comics can take the gleam off this story, simply because they're too jaded. But though it's hard to watch a kid take on bad guys by himself, it's much worse to see him struggle with his own fears. That's the crux of it: watching a kid put in a position of responsibility, struggling with the pressure to live up to it. It is such an adult moment that you wonder for whom Bullock is really writing.
Bullock's LT&B shares a few similarities with another children's comic, Mike Kunkel's Herobear and the Kid, in that both deal with a little boy and his stuffed animal. "Mike Kunkel has a wonderful imagination and the things he creates are just so magical it's amazing," Bullock says. "That being said, we're two different people with two different outlooks and two different sets of experiences, so even if we tried to do the exact same type of story it wouldn't be the same."
Writing for a fickle comic audience is difficult at the best of times. Bullock has shown through his book that writing what you know triumphs over writing what sells. Just because a comic will sell if the hero wins doesn't mean that it's a good story. Thankfully, there are enough writers with integrity like Bullock to make sure that those of us who crave good storytelling won't be disappointed.
Kidsploitation, Marvel Style
Crossovers between comics and toys are a sore spot for many. The toy collectors want more room in the comic stores, and the comic collectors think there is no place for them. In a market of increasing cross-promotion, there is simply no way around the dilemma. It is in this spirit that Marvel is changing the way kids read comics by introducing a cross-promotion of its own, one that will undoubtedly bring major headaches to parents with comic-reading children. Marvel has launched a new four-part miniseries called MegaMorphs, a kid-friendly comic that features fan favourites Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine fighting the evil Doc Ock in giant metal robot suits. That transform.
The problem with the comic isn't the silliness of the idea. It isn't even the sheer implausibility, because let's face it, comics require some suspension of disbelief. The problem occurs on the page seven, where there is an obvious product plug for a toy line these mecha characters are based on. In order to find out why the beloved heroes have giant metal battle suits, you have to buy the toys, because each toy contains a piece of the back story.
In an industry that seems to be more focused on the paycheque than the work, MegaMorphs is a perfect example of misdirected talent. Sean McKeever, winner of the Eisner Award for talent deserving of wider recognition (for his work on Mary Jane: Homecoming, Inhumans and Sentinel), is the writer of MegaMorphs. Because of this cash grab comic, a lot of former Sean McKeever fans will think twice before picking up anything he does after this. Bravo for making it big-time and scoring a chunk of cash, but beware the fickle reader.