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Geeky Parent Guide: An Interview with Blastoff Comics’ Harley Salbacka on Kids’ Comics

There are many moments in a parent’s life that make us proud (and also supremely happy): the first time you see your child after birth; listening to that first word and all of the attempts leading up to it; seeing them roll over or take those first steps; and, of course, the ever-present desire of seeing your kids pulling books off the shelf to look at or have you read. Reading is such an amazing thing to be a part of your children’s lives, as it helps them to learn and spread their creative wings on the backs of imaginary characters.

Equally so, it’s a wonderful thing to listen to someone else’s enthusiasm as they discuss the wonderful world of comic books and the love they have for seeing kids come into their store, and the connection that’s formed, which makes any geeky parent feel excited and proud to have others become so vested in our kids’ worlds.

Today on the Geeky Parent Guide, it is a pleasure to spread that very enthusiasm with our readers, and we’re proud to discuss kids and the comic book world with Harley Salbacka, manager at Blastoff Comics in North Hollywood, California.

Geeky Parent Guide: To give viewers an idea of the all-ages experience when they come into Blastoff Comics or an event hosted by Blastoff, what are some highlights younger comic book fans have experienced?

Harley Salbacka: For starters, we have a very dedicated kids’ section: a whole little nook filled with books, comics, and graphic novels that are all-age appropriate for young readers. The best part is that when kids come in, they see it and just know it’s the place for them.

One of my now-frequent customers is a little girl who is only three. The first time she came in I took her over to the kids’ section and showed her all the books. In our kids’ section, we have a small table and two chairs that are kid sized; she sat right down and started to look at books. When it was time to leave, she refused. She said to her dad, “No! This is my place, I won’t leave it!” She loved it in the kids’ section that much. Now, she comes almost every Saturday for a new book.

We also had a wonderful event for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to help them raise money for their Make March Matter event. We had comic book artists here teaching kids how to draw superheroes, and Wonder Woman showed up with Supergirl to spend time with all the kids who came. We always try to create a great experience for all customers, especially the little ones. As for sketches, I am known to do a quick one for kids when they ask me!

GPG: Do younger fans tend to know what they’re looking for, or does it seem like parents help guide their choices? Do parents come to you and ask what would be great for their children, and does that happen as often as you’d like?

HS: The world of reading and comics can be overwhelming when you first start out, even for adults! In general, the younger children often aren’t sure what to pick, but then you’ll have that little boy coming in asking for Green Lantern, so really it depends on what they have been exposed to reading/comic wise. The same goes for parents: Some come in because they love comics and want to share that love with their child, while for others it’s because their kid has been exposed to these characters in some way and want to know more. The parents who are fans themselves do tend to guide their kids to what they love so they can share it. I have a young reader who is Star Wars obsessed! Part of that is because her dad is as well!

As for parents asking me what would be good for their child to read, I usually beat them to it! As soon as a kid walks in, I usually approach them and ask if they are looking for anything and am ready with suggestions! I just really want to get every kid reading!

GPG: Do you have go-to all-ages comic books to recommend to families that come in, and do kids share what they like, further getting them involved in the selection process?

HS: I always have plenty to recommend. There are so many great graphic novels out there. We are always trying to stay on top of getting new product for kids just like we do for adults! And it’s great when kids have started to read more and know what they like and what genres intrigue them the most. It makes it even more fun for me and for them! Plus, as a side note to parents out there, there are now ratings on most comics. If you look near the barcode, it gives you a rating much like they do for movies.

GPG: What are some of your favorite interactions with kids in your store or at events that stand out, and do these moments continue to enhance your love of the comic book world?

HS: My favorite part of my job is the kids’ section. We have so many amazing kids who come in here, full of creativity and knowledge. I love my interactions with them. I don’t know if I could ever pick just one moment; every one of them has given me a greater love for comics and taught me something. I think one that comes to mind is one with one of our most frequent kid customers. She is six years old and loves superheroes. This is a little girl who the first time I met her asked if there were any Martian Manhunter comics for kids. She was four at the time.

A few months back, she came into the shop with her dad and greeted me with a big hug as always, but she was being much quieter than usual. Then, I saw her whispering to her dad. He replied to her with, “It’s okay. You can go tell Harley.” She shuffled up to me and said, “Harley, well there was this thing that happened at school, and I wanted to tell you about it.” I, of course, told her to go ahead. Then, she proceeded to tell me about how a boy at school told her she couldn’t like superheroes because she was a girl. “Well, what did you say to him?” I asked curiously. “Well,” she thought for a second, “I asked him, do you know who Martian Manhunter is?”

“And did he?” I asked. “No, he didn’t know who that was so I told him. He was in the original Justice League, and he is an alien from another planet.” “So, you didn’t get mad at him?” She looked at me a little puzzled, “No, I just helped him to know more.” I started to chuckle, “So, instead of getting mad, you taught him?” “Well, yeah! He didn’t know!”

This little girl truly taught me something that day. Don’t get angry, educate, because sometimes people just don’t know. Kids are unique in this way. They aren’t old enough to have learned some of the things we have that taint our views. They have the most amazing and beautiful perceptions of things that I think we can all learn from.

GPG: What advice would you give parents that want to share their love of comic books with their children, or those that aren’t familiar with comic books being available for an all-ages audience? Does the Blastoff Podcast or Columns have any special episodes to point out for parents to check out?

HS: They can come by the shop! We do have some things in the works regarding more content of that nature. I also frequently post suggestions for kids’ comics on my Instagram, as well. And I do have a section of the podcast called “Small Talk,” where I talk to kids about comics and books!

*Scientific studies have now proven the benefit of reading long term and the benefit of children looking up to and dressing up as superheroes. This is the best time to get your kids reading comics, with more content coming out every week and the science to back it up!

As a geeky parent, these are the interactions I hope for with my own kids – someone who cares about helping them and interacting with them in a way that makes them comfortable to say what’s on their minds.

If you want to find out more about Harley, check out her Twitter and Instagram, or check out Blastoff Comics and all they have to offer.

If you’re looking for more geeky content on what’s available for your kids, stay tuned for a later edition of the GPG where we’ll focus on comic series dedicated to kids in the all-ages category.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor



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