Tagged: UNICEF

Ed Catto: Trick or Treat For Comics


img_6145For the umpteenth year in a row, we’ll be giving out comics instead of candy for Halloween today. We’re typically met with a mixture of surprise and delight… by both kids and their parents. Returning families call us “the comic book house” and tell us that they remember this tradition from last year.

The occasional parent confides in me that “this is the kids’ favorite house.” They probably say that at all the houses, but it’s still nice to hear.

When I was kid, the standard Halloween traditions were often modified. “Trick Or Treat for UNICEF” was designed for kids to collect small donations from neighbors as they’d go from house-to-house with a specially designed orange UNICEF container. I fondly recall TV ads that basically taught young trick-or-treaters to scream “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” when they knocked on doors. The program still continues today.

img_6138Another modified tradition, which must have been either a local one or an Italian one, was that one the night before Halloween we’d put on our costumes and my parents would drive us around town to several relatives’ homes. We had a big Italian family in town and getting to their houses to hold them up for the yearly candy ransom clearly mandated a car and driver. My brother and I would gleefully don our costumes for this pseudo “dress rehearsal” and of course, enjoy collecting the extra candy in that insatiable way that all trick-or-treaters do.

So it’s natural that by giving away comics instead of candy, we’d put our own twist on the annual candy tradition. But I’ve heard about many other comics fans giving away comics for Halloween.

For the past few years, we’ve been setting up two tables: one filled with “All Ages” comics that are appropriate for the youngest kids and another with comics more suited for older kids. We label each table. In the early hours we only need the younger kids table, and in the later hours we just leave the older kids table out.

img_6140The kids never seem to pick out the comics you’d expect them to choose. It’s fascinating to see the selection process when kids are presented with a table full of choices. Sometimes they choose by character or just by an interesting cover.

Some kids know just what they want and quickly sift through the choices. Too many kids are unfamiliar with comics are amazed to see media properties in comics form. “Scooby Doo? Cool!”

In this age where a hero like Iron Man who used to be a B-lister has hundreds of kids dressing like him, the impact of comic heroes at Halloween is palpable. Every kid now knows Iron Man and Thor, but few of them have read, or even seen, an Iron Man or Thor comic.

I love the kids that struggle to make a choice between two comics. If we have enough comics, we typically let them get both.

img_4750But traditions change. We’re empty nesters and we’ve just moved after 26 years to a town called Auburn, nestled in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It’s a great town with a rich nerd history.

Auburn was blessed with one of the pioneering comic shops back in the 70s and several after. There was also a back issue dealer who was selling in Auburn before the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was established. He’d use the Passiac Book Guide to establish pricing. On the other hand, Auburn NY was the site of one of those comic book burnings in the 50s.

It will be fascinating to see how our new neighbors react to comics on Halloween. I’ll let you know next year how it all went.

img_4760One More Halloween Thought

Orson Welles’ Mercury Radio Theater was an old time radio program that adapted classic books as radio dramas. But on Halloween in 1938, they tried something a little different with their H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds adaptation. Orson Welles cast himself as a reporter broadcasting live from the horrific scene of the Martian invasion. Some listeners who tuned in midway through the broadcast thought it was real.

Last year, a podcast on the Panoply Network tried the same trick with a drama called The Message. It’s a spooky thriller, with clever twists and turns. And they played it straight – just like Orson Welles did all those years ago. If you need one more Halloween fright this year, give it a try!

Martha Thomases: Subversive Family Reading

Over the weekend, while all the cool kids were in Baltimore for the Harvey Awards and the convention, I was at a family wedding. As such occasions are wont to do, I ruminated over my life and times.

On Friday night, at the rehearsal dinner, I was talking with a cousin who remembered that visiting our house as a child was fun because we had comic books, which her mother didn’t allow. At that time (late 1950s to early 1960s), comic books were still accused of causing juvenile delinquency, disrespect for authority and Communism.

Certainly, they did that to me.

My cousin’s life is about as different from mine as I can imagine, given our demographic similarities (over 60, female, college educated, Jewish). I live in an apartment in Manhattan; she lives in a rural part of western New York State. Until recently she worked as a carpenter; I expect it to be front-page news when I successfully change a light bulb. I know more about the Democratic candidate for Congress in her district than she does.

We both have fond memories of sitting on the porch, a pile of comics between us.

Another guest, who was not a relative, had never seen a graphic novel. He didn’t know what the term meant, thinking perhaps it was a more polite way to say pornography. We talked about the kinds of books and movies he liked, and I recommended some titles that I thought would fit with his tastes.

Why does this still happen? It’s been more than forty years since Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were written up in the New York Times Magazine for bringing a grown-up sensibility to comics with story lines “ripped from the headlines” (and much more nuanced than your average episode of Law & Order). Major bookstores at the mall have graphic novel sections. It’s one of the few growth sectors of the publishing business.

But random people still only know comics from their childhood, if at all.

They know about “comic book movies” as a genre, but think it means Batman, Iron Man, The Avengers and, maybe, Guardians of the Galaxy. They don’t know that it includes films as diverse as Scott Pilgrim and Road to Perdition and A History of Violence and Two Guns.

Why should we fix this?

Self-interest, at the least. We enjoy the medium. Some of us support our families by working in it. Because it increases the amount of interaction between the two hemispheres of our brains.

The world is better when there are lots of different kinds of comics, appealing to lots of different kinds of readers. We shouldn’t have to raise money for the people who made the medium more diverse and appealing. We shouldn’t need a movie to justify our enjoyment of the source material. We shouldn’t need to have to keep explaining that comics aren’t just for kids anymore.

How do we fix this?

I think most of the responsibility falls to us, the people who love comics, who write about comics, who create comics. We need to show that we are as varied as the people who love any other popular entertainments. We are old and young, conservative and progressive, queer, straight male, female and other. Some of us like to wear costumes for occasions other than Halloween, and some of us don’t even like to wear them then.

There is no more a typical comic book reader than there is a typical movie-goer.

(Note: I’m aware that there exist statistics that show younger people are more likely to go to the movies, but first, those statistics vary widely, and second, my point still stands. Nyaah nyaah nyaah.)

It’s a big task, and we won’t accomplish it overnight. However, it’s the kind of challenge that is most successful when a lot of people do simple, easy things, rather than a few people dedicating their every waking moment to the cause. For example, I often refer to a graphic novel I’ve read in conversation, as if reading graphic novels is something that educated people do (because it is). When I give out candy and money for UNICEF at Halloween, I include comic books as one of the treats.

Not difficult. Not earth-shattering. Way more effective if we all do it.

The wedding was lovely, by the way. The party afterwards was big fun, too. I only had to sneak away a few times to see if my pal was winning any Harvey Awards.