Comic Book Stores and Women

Ok, every month or two an article or other piece comes to my attention about why women don’t buy/read comic books very often and almost never visit comic book stores. Usually these articles piss me off. The primary reason is usually the author and their attitude to the subject. Typically the writers of these articles (and there are several exceptions, just wait for it before you argue with me) fall into one of two categories. The first category is men who absolutely can’t fathom why women wouldn’t want to hang out in comic shops and read comics. The writers in this category that most annoy me tend to see women as a seperate species who are rather mysterious (cue spooky music) and need some kind of special stories/art/environment for a comic to be readable to them. They also often are the people who seem most clueless as to what to do if a woman *did* show up in a comic shop where they worked or shopped. The second category is made up of women who just don’t get it. They are the type of women the first category thinks all women are. They are scared of comic book shops and “comic guys” and they tend to want stories that are basically “chick lit” or romances with pictures. These women might read “Strangers in Paradise”, but give little else much of a chance. And they write wanting to know why the industry is so scary and why there aren’t more books out there for them. Neither group is, in my opinion, the right group of people to be investigating the topic.

So, now that I have largely explained why these articles usually annoy me, I want to talk about the article I read today that I actually liked a lot. Comic Book Resources presented a feature this week called “Girl in the Clubhouse” that appeares to be intended as a regular feature (I will be interested to read future pieces). This first piece was written by Johanna Stokes, who is a comic book writer (primarily of a comic about zombies) and it is called How to Get Girls Into Your Comic Shops. She actually did some investigating before writing the piece. She obviously knows about comics, not only from a writer standpoint but also as a reader, and she obviously enjoys them. Those are important things. It’s hard to judge the responses one gets to questions in this type of situation without knowing about the topic already. Anyway, she went into various comic shops and asked for advice on what she should read as a woman new to comics. She wanted not only female-friendly books, but also generally good newbie.

Obviously, there was a range in the responses she got. She gives two specific anecdotes about two different experiences, one wonderful and the other dreadful. They are very revealing. She also discusses some of the typical features of a comic book shop that scare newbies, especially women, and things that could be done to remedy the situation. Some of the things are obvious. Dark windows and lighting so low that it makes reading hard is not only scary but also frustrating. If you are trying to find your way through the huge amount of stuff in the comics world without much experience, you need to be able to get through the door and read the titles. She also points out that life-size statues of Spiderman are freaky and it’s unnatural how many comic shops have them.

I think the biggest thing that came out of the article that made me happy with it was the clear statement that it isn’t that they are women that is the hard part, it’s that they are new customers and the comic book industry is one that is very very hard on new customers. I should be able to walk into a comic shop and say “what would you recommend?” and after some discussion of my preferences get some good suggestions. Hopefully some I’ve never heard of. That isn’t something that only happens with women, it’s something that happens with newbies. The other point that I liked (and don’t see often enough) is that comic shops often feel like clubhouses with “No Girls Allowed” signs on the door. It’s like, if you aren’t male and over the age of 10 you aren’t really supposed to be there. Well, why the hell not? I have money and interest, why shouldn’t I be there? And why shouldn’t I bring my child/niece/nephew/friend’s kid/etc. with me? I should be able to say to a clerk “I need a good comic for a 7 year old, what would you suggest?” and get more than “Transformers” as a response. But all too often that isn’t the case. Comics often feels like a boys only club when it really shouldn’t. I know lots of women who read comics! I know more about the DC universe than most of the men I know! Why do I feel out of place in some comic shops? And why are the men who come into the bookstore where I work (not a great place to buy anything other than Spiderman and Batman, by the way) so reluctant to ask me about comics or listen to my advice when they do? I wouldn’t answer the question if I didn’t know what I was talking about, I would ask the computer or call someone else over.

Now, the local comic shop that I go to when I need to visit a comic shop is great. The owner is friendly and more than happy to answer questions and give suggestions. And there are lights, although not a window you can see in through. However, that shop is a rarity in my experience. Gaming has largely opened up to women in many ways (although it still has some way to go – I don’t always want to be the healer/dancer/babysitter), but somehow comics has largely missed the boat on that one. It’s getting better, certainly, with highter attendence of women at comic conventions and such, but it still often feels like a boys only club that sometimes lets a few girls through the door to be mostly ignored. I hope that changes!

Johanna Stokes’s article is wonderful and I highly recommend it. Her suggestions of book clubs, window displays and kids’ corners are spot on. I hope very much to see future articles in this series that are just as good covering related topics. I encourage you to read the article (especially if you managed to get all the way through my rant here about it!), it is well researched and extremely well written by a very intelligent and perceptive woman. I hope to read more from her sometime soon!

*Update: Viv has posted some interesting thoughts on her blog about this topic.*

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