Families introduce kids to Comic Con culture while defending against adult themes

Published: Saturday, Sept. 7 2013 4:15 p.m. MDT

"They haven't seen any of (the new Batman movies) yet, and that's OK. They love the cartoon ones," Leavitt said. "The darker ones, I mean, I personally like them because I'm a big Batman fan, but for my boys, no, not yet."

Gardner grew up a fan of sci-fi movies and television. His son Andrew is a faithful Dr. Who fan and came to the convention sporting a shirt inspired by the popular BBC series and knee-length socks resembling The Doctor's iconic blue police box. His father saw Salt Lake's first Comic Con as a chance to learn more about his son's interests.

"What's fun for me is watching him. He knows all the characters more than I do. … It's fun to be able to spend time with him, on a level and doing something he enjoys so immensely," Gardner said. "And of course, I'm having a lot of fun."

Comics and kids

Andrew Gardner is a voracious comic book reader. The 12-year-old said he's happy to have any comic from the DC or Marvel universes in his hands, but especially Green Lantern, Aquaman, Deathstroke, Batman and Superman.

"It makes me daydream about, 'What if I had these powers? What if I could be like them, and would I be good or bad?'" Andrew said. "I would always be good."

For Andrew, the illustration and flow of comic books is better than a regular book.

"It's awesome," he said.

Gardner said he and his wife have talked to their son about how to select age-appropriate comics, and the nearly 13-year-old has been careful about what he chooses.

"He comes and talks to us and says, 'Hey, is this one OK? Is this one appropriate?'" Gardner said. "Of course there's concerns about them, but for the most part we trust that he'll choose the right when it comes to that sort of thing."

For Rachael and Jonathan Pust, owners of the Heebeegeebeez comics and game shop, fun is the whole point, no matter what age. The couple ran a busy booth at the event offering a selection of comics and merchandise from their four locations.

Rachael Pust juggled her 7-month-old daughter in a baby carrier as she helped customers. Running the business day-to-day, she has noticed an adult crowd that is returning to the comic book stories they loved as kids now that they have reached a more comfortable financial standing.

Many of them are bringing their children with them.

"I think the great thing about parents trying to get their children into comics right now is they use it as a reward system, and it's reading material to get their kids involved in literacy," Rachael Pust said. "It's really fun, especially for dads, to introduce their kids to something that was special to them when they were young that has been revamped."

The Pusts help customers find the right comic for their age, interest and maturity level. The comics they carry are ranked with a rating system, ranging from fun stories for kids 10 and under, up to teen and adult comics.

Comics for adult readers have moved away from the traditional battle of good versus evil, exploring a darker middle ground between the two.

"It's not your dad's Superman anymore," Rachael Pust said. "It's really turned into an art form, and with that in mind, you have to expect the darker parts of our culture and our existence and life to be included there."

Their oldest daughter, 19-year-old Joslyn, said the key for families is knowing which comics are intended for which age group. As she grew, she asked her parents to help her choose comics that would interest her and discussed the story with them after she finished. Now, she does the same for families that come into the store.

"I can be like, 'Here, this is what I got into at this age. This is the more age-appropriate (story) that they're going to be able to relate to,'" Joslyn Pust said. "Even now I'm barely getting into some of the older ones that are more mature and definitely a bit more in-depth."

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