So you want to take your kids to Free Comic Book Day? I certainly don’t blame you. FCBD is what happens when you combine Christmas and Halloween and…Disney World…? I’m not very good at metaphors. Anyway, if you’ve already read the grownup version of Free Comic Book Day 2014, you’ll know that not all of the FCBD offerings are kid-friendly. This is a shame, I know, but comics are a medium, not a genre. If you haven’t done FCBD before — or even if you have — the activities, cosplay, and general crowding can make it difficult to monitor what your kids are reading. Most stores have friendly employees and other safeguards to help guide you towards the right picks. But just in case, here is a kid-friendly version of my seven picks for FCBD 2014 (not in any particular order). I went as conservative as possible: no blood, no swearing, no adult situations. There are even some comics I left off this list due to mild language, but that’s only because I don’t want the PTA to throw a brick through my window. Tornado season is bad enough.
1. Mouse Guard,Labyrinth, and Other Stories (Archaia)
For the past few years, Archaia has consistently knocked it out of the park with their FCBD samplings. Presented in an elegant hardcover, there are stories with fantasy mice wielding axes, a boy with a jetpack, a big furry maze monster, a hoarding purple raccoon, and an alien bounty hunter. David Petersen’s Mouse Guard is a personal favorite and once again proves to be one of the strongest all-ages stories. Also, fans of Labyrinth or Farscape may find something here, as there are two shorts by the teams of Adam Smith/Kyla Vanderklugt and Ramón K. Perez/Ian Herring, respectively. If you want this book, be sure to arrive early because it’s a hardcover. Often stores get allocated on this book, which means they don’t receive near enough copies to satisfy the demand.
2. Free Comic Book Day 2014: All Ages (Dark Horse)
Gene Luen Yang is most commonly known as the cartoonist behind American Born Chinese, but he’s also had a very strong run on the comics adaptation of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although I’ll admit only a passing familiarity with the show, there’s still a lot to like about its story, which is penciled and inked by the always-wonderful Faith Erin Hicks. In this short, Sokka and Suki enter a collectible seashell store only to witness a young girl hazed by the employees (an unsubtle parallel to the “fake geek girl” controversy). Suki takes the girl aside and offers to teach her how to stand up for herself, but only after some righteous kung fu is delivered upon the store owners. Also included in this comic are an Itty Bitty Hellboy short and David Lapham’s Juice Squeezers, which again demonstrates how cruel kids can be towards each other. But like in the Avatar short, self-confidence and ingenuity win the day (with the help of some giant ants).
3. The Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Free Comic Book Day #0 (IDW)
TheTransformers and G.I. Joe crossovers date back to the 1980s heyday of half hour toy commercials. And for those of you who remember the old Marvel series, this comic is illustrated like something ripped from that decade. Writer/artist Tom Scioli and his cowriter, John Barber, obviously remember what it was like to obsess over the weird minutiae of each franchise, even going so far as to recreate Tomahawk’s weird weapon that is definitely not a tomahawk. Each page looks like a weird mix between Kirby and Ditko, faded colors included. There are admittedly some slightly darker moments in this comic (the origin of Snake Eyes), but there is absolutely no blood or swearing. Altogether, this comic is a celebration of the crazy crossovers, and it works.
4. The Adventures of Jellaby (Capstone)
Jellaby (adapted from the webcomic of the same name) hits all the right notes even though it could easily fall into the clichéd “reluctant monster” genre. Kean Soo’s opening story has an eerie moodiness to it — accomplished through different tones of purple — that could trick you into thinking this is a horror story. However, the eponymous monster quickly turns out to be friendly, and the story gives way to familiar story paths. Thankfully, Soo spares readers the genre’s more precocious conventions, instead choosing to play it fairly straight. The main character, Portia, is down to earth, and Jellaby is cute in his own lumbering way. After reading a few chapters of the web comic, it’s safe to say there’s more monster goodness where this came from.
5. Hello Kitty and Friends (Perfect Square)
It’s almost unthinkable that Hello Kitty could so expertly illustrate the merits of wordless comics. Since last year’s FCBD, Perfect Square has released three volumes of Hello Kitty comics, each an exercise in writing comics as a pictorial language, which is especially helpful in reaching out to young readers who may not yet comprehend written text. As a bonus, even Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani do a story. Another fun feature to this comic is “Find Catbug,” which is a picture hunt for the cute animal buddy from the webseries, Bravest Warriors. (Note: Although the picture hunts are innocuous, the actual webseries definitely skews more towards a teen audience.)
6. Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity (Fantagraphics Books)
If it weren’t for my next pick, this would likely be my kids’ comic of the year. Reprinted from Don Rosa’s original Donald and Scrooge stories, this comic follows the two ducks as they try to retrieve Scrooge’s dime from Magica, an evil sorceress. But what’s great about this comic is that she casts a spell on the two that alters the laws of gravity, making Scrooge and Donald fall horizontally instead of vertically. Rosa has all sorts of fun with this convention, and there are enough sight gags to keep a reader busy all day. The other half of the book is a rare 50th anniversary story for Gladstone Gander, whose unnatural luck ceases to work one day out of the year: his birthday. This story is surprisingly heartfelt, especially considering that Gladstone is often not one of readers’ favorite characters. As an advertisement for the upcoming Don Rosa hardcover, Fantagraphics could have done much worse than this.
7. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Papercutz)
This comic is undeniably the winner of FCBD 2014. Filled with so many surreal moments that it’s difficult to even know where to begin, Power Rangers is the best kind of kids comic. First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Power Rangers is the Americanized version of a Japanese show in which people dress in costumes and fight other people in monster suits. The first few seasons (referred to as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) premiered in 1993 and became wildly popular, precipitating new seasons that have run ever since. The specifics aren’t important, but it’s definitely of a time. Most of its original audience has a fond nostalgia for the show, but lately there’s been a resurgence in its popularity. Here are just a few of the highlights: Lord Zed face-palms, the rangers shoot their evil VW bug with lasers, the car becomes enormous and turns into a monster, the rangers get into a giant robot and ride a giant tiger robot to stop it, the giant car monster stops only because it runs out of gas. I will champion this book until my store is out of it. Then I will go to another store, take their copies, and give them to every kid in the neighborhood.
The kid-friendly selections were a little more difficult to narrow down than the adult selections this year, mostly because their focus tends to lean towards telling fun, self-contained stories rather than giving readers a preview of longer books. I actually prefer this approach more because it asks creators to demonstrate storytelling competence before urging readers to commit to buying a product. But perhaps that’s another topic for another time.
So what are you waiting for? Dress your kids up in their Luke Cage and Captain Marvel costumes and go get some free comics!
After you read Kenneth’s FCBD picks, be sure to check out these related books: