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Question Tuesday: Age Ratings Snapshot

Robin Brenner

Given the engaging discussions we all had last week in the Question Tuesday column, I thought I’d follow up this week with a snapshot of where age ratings and recommendations are right now. Many readers commented on how they look for age ratings, questioned how they’re explained, and struggled with how much weight to give them.

For all of our edification, here’s the lowdown on who has age ratings, what they say they mean, and what other systems publishers may be using.

First off, let’s start with the major comics publishers. Almost all of the mainstream comics publishers do now have age ratings, especially now that the Comics Code Authority has shut down. DC Comics was the last major publisher to implement age ratings, although they always maintained their Vertigo imprint for adults and it was, in fact, one of the first imprints to carry the “for mature readers” message on the front covers.

BatmanYearOne 200x300 Question Tuesday: Age Ratings SnapshotDC COMICS
(Superman, Batman, Batgirl, Green Lantern, Sandman)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? Yes. Explanation here.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes, on the back of each title.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? No.
Can you search their titles on the website limiting by age range? No.
The full rating explanation:

E – EVERYONE
Appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
T – TEEN
Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
T+ – TEEN PLUS
Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
M – MATURE
Appropriate for readers age 18 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers. Vertigo remains a “for mature readers” imprint.

CaptainAmericaBrubakerOmnibusCover1 thumb 207x300 Question Tuesday: Age Ratings SnapshotMARVEL
(Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Avengers)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? No.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.
The full rating explanation, if available:
Note: This is from Wikipedia rather than the Marvel website.  The website has no information on their ratings at all.

ALL AGES – appropriate for all ages.
A – Appropriate for age 9 and up.
T+ TEENS AND UP – Appropriate for most readers 13 and up, parents are advised that they might want to read before or with younger children.
PARENTAL ADVISORY – 15 years and older. Similar to T+ but featuring more mature themes and/or more graphic imagery.
MAX: EXPLICIT CONTENT – 18 years old. Most Mature Readers books will fall under the MAX comics banner (created specifically for mature content titles), MAX and Mature-themed titles will continue to be designed to appear distinct from mainline Marvel titles, with the “MAX: Explicit Content” label very prominent on the cover. MAX titles will not be sold on the newsstand, and they will not be marketed to younger readers.

invincibleomnibus Question Tuesday: Age Ratings SnapshotIMAGE
(Chew, Invincible, The Walking Dead)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? Yes.  Explanation here.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? No.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.
The full rating explanation, if available:

E – EVERYONE (all ages, may contain minimal violence)
T – TEEN (12 and up, may contain mild violence or mild profanity)
T+ – TEEN PLUS (16 and up, may contain moderate violence, moderate profanity use and suggestive themes )
M – MATURE (18 and up, may contain nudity, profanity, excessive violence and other content not suitable for minors)

yotsuba1 200x300 Question Tuesday: Age Ratings SnapshotYEN PRESS
(Black Butler, Yotsuba&!, Maximum Ride, Soul Eater)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.  They also differentiate age ratings by using content indicators to show why a title garnered a certain rating.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? Yes, to a point. Explanation here.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? Yes.
The full rating explanation, if available:

Age ratings indicate a maturity threshold below which some parents or guardians may find the content unsuitable. Content indicators provide insight as to the material within the book that prompted a particular age rating.  The frequency and/or severity of that material is reflected in the age rating.

All Readers – An “A” rating indicates that the material contained within the book has been deemed unlikely to be found inappropriate for any particular age group.
Teen – A “T” rating indicates that there may be content within a book that some parents or guardians may consider inappropriate for children under the age of 13.
Older Teen – An “OT” rated book contains material that some parents or guardians may consider inappropriate for readers under the age of 16.
Mature – An “M” rated book is intended for a mature readership and may be considered inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

Content Indicators
Language, Violence, Sexual situations, Nudity

naruto1 200x300 Question Tuesday: Age Ratings SnapshotVIZ MEDIA
(Naruto, Skip Beat!, Bleach, 20th Century Boys, Ooku)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? Yes. Explanation here.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.
The full rating explanation, if available:

ALL AGES. May be suitable for readers or consumers of any age.  For example, may contain mild language and fantasy violence but no swearing or nudity.
TEEN. May be suitable for early teens and older. For example, may contain violence, infrequent use of strong language, suggestive themes or situations, crude humor, alcohol and/or tobacco use.
TEEN PLUS. May be suitable for older teens and adults. For example, may contain intense and/or gory violence, sexual content, frequent strong language, alcohol, tobacco and/or other substance use.
MATURE. Suitable for adults only. May contain extreme violence, mature themes and graphic depictions.

Now, let’s move on to taking a look at the smaller comics publishers.

DARK HORSE
(Hellboy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cardcaptor Sakura)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? Yes, in the Libraries section.

ONI PRESS
(Salt Water Taffy, Hopeless Savages, Courtney Crumrin)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.

DMP (DIGITAL MANGA)
(Antique Bakery, La Esperanca, Berserk, Princess Princess)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.

ARCHAIA
(Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? Yes, but only on the title listing page here.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? Yes.

KODANSHA COMICS USA
(Sailor Moon, Akira, Fairy Tail)
Do they have age ratings? Yes.
Do they explain what those age ratings mean? No.
Do the ratings appear on the physical titles? Yes.
Do they list the title’s age rating on their website? No.
Can you search their website limiting by age range? No.

The following publishers do not have any age rating or recommendations for individual titles.  Some, like Top Shelf, clarify through categories on their websites to indicate a general age range, but they do not list recommendations for intended audience for each publication.

Andrews McNeel (Calvin and Hobbes, Big Nate)
Drawn and Quarterly (Hark! A Vagrant, Pyongyang, Moomin)
Fantagraphics (Castle Waiting, Wandering Son)
IDW (Locke & Key, The Last Unicorn)
Last Gasp (Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossom)
NBM (The Wind in the Willows)
Slave Labor Graphics (Pinnochio, Vampire Slayer, The War at Ellsmere)
Top Shelf (Owly, Korgi)

When you get into book publishers releasing graphic novels and comics, age ratings get more blurred.  As we librarians know, book publishers will include an age recommendation or reading level on their prose books.  The bulk of book publishers out there do not rate their comics and graphic novels in the way we’ve come to demand from comics publishers, nor do they have the visual stamp of a rating that many comics publishers now present on the back of books.  Instead, they apply the same standards they have to their prose works and assign age recommendations to titles.

First Second as part of Macmillan (American Born Chinese, Anya’s Ghost), Simon & Schuster (Mercury), Kids Can Press (Binky to the Rescue, Tower of Treasure), Disney Hyperion (The Lightning Thief, Artemis Fowl), and Lerner (Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye) all provide age recommendations and frequently reading levels.  These are slightly different from age ratings.  They are not warning about content, but instead are indicating interest (i.e. what the target audience is) and the complexity of reading skill needed to parse the title.  Basically, they’re emphasizing the positive rather than the negative.

For example, Kids Can Press indicates that Binky to the Rescue is for grades 2 to 5 or ages 7 to 10.  The Sign of the Black Rock is for grades 4 to 6,  or ages 9 to 12.  Lerner lists Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye with the interest level in grades 2 to 5 or ages 7 to 11.  First Second recommends Nursery Rhyme Comics for ages 3 and up, Adventures in Cartooning for grades 1 to 5 or ages 6 to 10 and Zita the Space Girl is for grades 3 to 7 or ages 8 to 12.  It’s also important to note that their titles for older readers, including Zahra’s Paradise and Orcs, carry no age recommendation at all.

Many book publishers, including Bloomsbury (Rapunzel’s Revenge), Random House (Persepolis), Candlewick (The Storm in the Barn), Roaring Brook (There’s a Wolf at the Door),  Del Rey (Will Supervillains Be on the Final?), Scholastic (Bone, Smile), and Penguin (Dead High Yearbook) do not include any indication of age rating either via their website or on the physical books themselves.

From this investigation, I’ve noticed a few things. First, while many readers and selectors expect ratings from comics publishers, we do not demand them from the more standard book publishers. Is it that they’re more recognizable and familiar to us? That their titles are more likely to make it on to our radar through reviews in journals?

I have also happily noticed that many librarians will pick up those titles with strong reputations even if they don’t have ratings, including titles like Owly, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Castle Waiting, and of course Bone. Good titles can succeed without any indication of age ranges, and I’m curious as to what combination of information has contributed to those successes: word of mouth, positive reviews, age-indicative design and appeal, recognizable creators, trusted publishers?

For those publishers that have age ratings, or have ratings systems that are more frustrating than helpful, then how do we find a satisfactory middle ground?  Which would our ideal age rating system look like?  I personally do like Yen Press’s example of adding content indicators to give readers a clue as to what content has led to a particular rating.  If we must have age ratings, I’d prefer to know why a title gets a certain rating!

What do you think?

The Good Comics for Kids Question Tuesday column is here to do one thing: answer your questions! To send in your questions for the next Question Tuesday, please go to our form here or send out a tweet to me at @nfntrobin or to all of us at @goodcomics4kids. We will endeavor to answer as many questions as possible in our weekly column. All questions are due in by Friday at midnight so we’ll have a chance to write up the answers for the next week.

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Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.

Comments

  1. Susan Timmons says:

    What a helpful list! Thanks for doing the research and pulling everything together in one place!

    To answer your question, I’m really against book publishers putting content warnings or specific grade/age recommendations on a book. I think the comic/manga categories of everyone / teen / older teen correspond loosely to what publishers already do with classifications of easy / childrens / juvenile-teen-young adult. There’s no need for book publishers to do more than that – I would prefer that professional reviewers are the ones who evaluate the quality & content of the given title. I co-taught a short high school class on Banned Books last year, and one of the websites we examined was http://www.commonsensemedia.org which gives very specific age ratings. At first that seems like a really great thing — until you start looking up your favorite books, or popular books, or classic books, and realize some of the recommendations are far more conservative than what I see students actually reading. There’s a great article by Pat Scales about this in in Booklist: http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=4341541&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

  2. Naruto says:

    In reply to the previous comment @Susi.
    teens and kids these days will not care about the Genre of the book if it is stated as Adult or for anime as Hentai. In my opinion a bigger warning will make it better to make them understand it is harmful or not suitable in some way

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