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Your money can comic books teach kids money smarts

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a ... financial planner?The next time your kid brings home a comic book, it might not be just about battles, explosions and good versus evil. Instead, it might be about evaluating wants versus needs, living within your means and creating emergency funds. That is because financial services company Visa Inc has partnered with Marvel Comics to create "Rocket's Powerful Plan," a new comic book starring the superhero team Guardians of the Galaxy. The comic is slated to be sent to every public library in the United States, and there are more than 150,000 copies printed in eight languages. The theme: why it makes sense to cultivate money smarts. "The challenge was to create a fun, action-packed story while also including a lesson on personal finance," said Darren Sanchez, an editor at Marvel. "Trying to squeeze educational information into a story can be tough, especially with a topic like money management. To make it work you have to be careful not to overwhelm the story."After all, as any parent knows, children listen to very little of what you have to say, especially when it comes to money. When it is the Guardians of the Galaxy who are talking (Rocket, Groot, Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer), they are more likely to actually pay attention. So who is the Suze Orman of the superhero world, dispensing personal finance advice while defeating powerful foes at the same time? Turns out it is Rocket, an intelligent raccoon, who is voiced by Bradley Cooper in the recent big-screen film. When the squad receives a fee for exterminating robopests, Rocket suggests putting some of that money aside for an emergency fund. That cash later comes in handy when the group has to repair their spaceship, and purchase high-tech weapons to vanquish their enemies. (Sorry about the spoilers.)

The comic is the second such venture by Visa. The original, produced in 2012, featured the Avengers and Spider-Man tossing off money advice. It proved to be so popular with educators that more than half a million copies were eventually printed. This time, in addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy, look for cameos by Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and Hulk. It was produced in languages including English, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese and Malay."We wanted simple messages that kids could latch on to and take out of it, like saving for a rainy day," said Hugh Norton, Visa's head of financial education. "Issues like emergency savings are extremely important, and something we can drill into kids from an early age."On the back of the comic book, kids will find interactive games like word searches, where they can try to locate terms like "budget," "currency" and "goal," for example. There is also a wants-versus-needs challenge. Should you spend money on necessities like "water" and "a place to live," or luxuries like "video games" and "candy"? (On second thought, kids, do not answer that.)

Judging from a recent survey, it seems like parents could indeed use all the help they can get in explaining money topics to kids. ALMOST AS 'BAD' AS DEATH AND SEX In the annual "Parents, Kids & Money" survey by Baltimore-based money managers T. Rowe Price Group Inc, more than half of parents admitted they were "somewhat," "very" or "extremely" reluctant to talk about financial issues with their children. The only subjects they were more reluctant to talk about? Death and sex.

And 44 percent have not talked to their kids at all about financial subjects including long-term investing, market volatility, or financial statements. That is where a money-oriented comic book like "Rocket's Powerful Plan" could come in handy. In the past Visa has tried out other innovative avenues to reach out to kids, as well, such as sponsoring financial literacy-themed National Football League games. Marvel has put its deep bench of superheroes to work on other custom projects, as well, including for Netflix Inc, Walt Disney Co's Disney Interactive, ESPN and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Even superheroes are not immune from the financial challenges of parenthood, by the way. In Visa and Marvel's new comic, when Ant-Man gets a cut of the fee from the Guardians of the Galaxy for helping eliminate their enemies, what does that cash go toward?Purchasing a drum set for his daughter.

Your money the guide to raising child stars

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Chris TaylorNEW YORK Oct 13 The first rule of parenting: Everyone thinks their child is a superstar. But if that actually is true, and you do have a unique talent living under your roof, then watch out. You have to start thinking about how to develop that talent, how to support their career - and how to pay for it all. Now there is a book to get you through the process. New York City-based entertainment lawyer Steven Beer just released "Your Child's Career in Music and Entertainment," about how to navigate the choppy waters of child superstardom. After 20 years in the business and helping to launch the careers of Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, Beer took up the task when his own son, Max, was cast in a touring production of Neil Simon's play "Lost in Yonkers". Reuters sat down with him to discuss what to do - and what not to do - when your kid is about to take over the world. Q: Everyone thinks their kid is talented. How do you know if they are really something special?A: Talent is not enough. There has to be an 'It Factor,' that breaks through in a competitive market. And they have to be a self-starter, to be prepared and responsible enough to rehearse without parents having to badger them. Those are the things you are looking for. Q: If a child starts getting offers, what should parents look out for?

A: Parents are typically so flattered that they don't think clearly. So they should sit down with a good attorney to explain and negotiate it. For an artist just starting out, a manager might ask for 20 percent. But 15 percent is a good middle ground, and 10 percent is what we strive for. And you always want a shorter term. Q: What costs can parents expect in developing their child's career?A: The biggest cost is training, like high-level vocal or acting coaches. It is also very expensive to travel, whether it is to Midtown Manhattan for auditions, or to the West Coast for TV pilot season. Every March you have countless parents and young artists moving to residences in Studio City, California: They fly out there, rent an apartment, rent a car and pay for meals. Those are costs you really need to consider, because they are substantial.

Q: What are some creative ways to finance all that?A: The trend these days is to access development dollars through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Those didn't even exist a few years ago. If you have a good audition tape, and people start to get excited about it, then fans will start to fund you. In return you might give them a DVD, or a CD, or a backstage tour of one of the child's productions. Q: How important is writing down a budget?

A: It is essential. It may seem like this is just a passion, but this is a real business. So you have to write down a business plan, estimate expenses and set up a timetable. If a parent has to stop working, that is another financial element to be considered. Sit down with an accountant and figure it all out. At the end of a certain period, you have to make a business judgment about whether or not it makes sense. Q: A lot of stage parents see dollar signs when it comes to their children. What exactly are they entitled to?A: There are plenty of examples where parents just helped themselves to their child's revenues. Some of that may be justified, in terms of the up-front investment dollars that they get reimbursed for. But that money really belongs to the child from the get-go. Q: What do most parents do wrong in this situation?A: They do many things wrong. Mostly it is because they lack experience in these areas, and have no objectivity. When it is your kid, it is so easy to lose perspective. That is why I strongly urge parents to work with experienced professionals as a sounding board. It is treacherous terrain, and they need to make sure everything is being done in the child's interest.