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.*

Thoughts on Movies, Books and Analysis

Michael and I spent some time tonight talking about movies. I’m not going to go into the discussion itself, but it did get me thinking. Michael sees movies as essentially meaningless entertainment. I see movies as books with moving pictures. His comments made me wonder why I feel this way about movies (and television shows, for that matter).

Why shouldn’t we look at movies the way we look at books? In some ways, it almost seems like we should hold movies more accountable than books for their quality and content. A book has maybe twelve people who really actually do any real work the content and presentation of it (authors, editors, designers, etc.). A movie, however, has closer to a hundred – fifty if you want to really be picky about who makes important input (directors, writers, actors, designers, etc.). Movies have hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on them. It’s not even remotely uncommon these days for a movie to have cost millions of dollars, even before you factor in marketing costs. A book doesn’t cost nearly that much, and the majority of the cost goes into volume rather than actual design and content. So more people’s time and energy and more money went into most movies than most books.

I am absolutely not trying to lessen the importance of books here. There is something wonderfully pure in a single writers ideas being the entire substance of the finished product. But why is a compilation of ideas and talents seen as less? If so many people work on it, aren’t you going to see that many more people’s ideas in the finished product? And shouldn’t you be able to ask a lot in quality when so many people had to be pleased for the product to be completed successfully?

Books and movies have different tools to work with. Movies have real people with real faces for the audience to see, while books can be vague and allow the reader to paint the character any way that speaks to them. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. Movies have music to guide or follow the action so that the audience is drawn in more, but books can use the music of words in narrative forms movies can’t really use and books can give us the thoughts of a character without the distractions of disembodied voices. Again, both have advantages and disadvantages. Both can help or hinder the telling of a story or conveying of a message. Who is to say one way is a higher or purer art form than the other? Or that one is more worthy of analysis?

I know that many movies (probably most big blockbusters today) are driven primarily by the corporation’s desire to make money, no matter the quality of the product. But seriously, books have that problem too these days. Do you have any idea how many books sell just because they have the name “John Grisham” on them? Or how many books are published so the company can put out more books? That’s pretty much the whole reason big series lines like “Dragonlance” and “Madison Finn” exist! There are some high quality things that come out of that, like Nancy Drew or some of Disney’s really great movies (“Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King”). So if great things can come out of it, why should we not examine them as genuine “literature”? Movies have almost become a bigger way of spreading an idea than books have! Just look at something like Michael Moore’s movies. They make huge impacts in the way people think about issues that no book, even bestsellers, can hope to do. How many Michael Moore movies can you name? How many have you seen? Now how many “current issues” books can you name? How many have you read? Even for me those numbers are scarily close (and I think I’ve only seen one Michael Moore movie).

So why shouldn’t we “read” movies as closely as we read books? Why isn’t criticism of movies as ok as criticism of books? Why aren’t the messages, even (or perhaps especially) subliminal messages, in movies worth discussing? Why can’t I complain that the inconsistencies in a movie I just saw bugged me, even if the acting and environment and general world were great? Isn’t a movie just as valid a form of conveying information and ideas and opinions and creative creations as a book is? Sure, a novel or something will take up more of the audience’s time, but so what? It’s just a different way of conveying information.

A movie has to make its message tighter and clearer than a book because it only has it’s audience’s attention for the two hours or so they are in the theatre. It’s just a different way of telling a story. Picture books take less of the audience’s time than movies, but they are valid targets of all kinds of analysis (there were no black people, why? the women were all passive and pathetic, why? the colours were great and really conveyed the feelings of anger in the character, etc.) So why shouldn’t I talk about the colours and language and stereotypes and inconsistencies in details in movies? I just don’t understand.

I don’t really understand how someone can watch a movie and not think about those things, and I think that’s my biggest problem here. I just can’t imagine thinking about it any other way. I can imagine seeing other things and coming to different conclusions, but those still involve thinking analytically about movies. For me, movies and books are just different ways of telling stories. Why should I not read into one just because it isn’t a form of storytelling that has been around for centuries? I honestly can’t see that movies are any more or less corrupt in terms of artistic integrity than books are right now. So why the difference?

I don’t think that Michael is ever really going to see movies the way that I do, but I kind of like that. It means he sees different things that I would have missed if he weren’t there to point them out. That’s part of what I like about seeing movies and reading books that other people have also experienced. Everyone sees something different, and no way is wrong. I love hearing other opinions even if I disagree (as long as they are expressed as opinions and not flat statements – but that’s a whole other discussion). I would be very sad to lose that. Analysis in a bubble doesn’t work, and like it or not we all analyse in our own little bubbles until other people give us input. While that’s not bad, the input from other sources makes the analysis not only more rich, but also perhaps more valid to more people, and thus more interesting.

Or I could be totally on crack here. Who knows.

New List and some Additions

There is one new list today and additions to four old lists. The new list is fairy tales told in new ways or with a twist. Some of them are novels and some are picture books, and not all are children’s books. I have read most of the books currently on the list, but not all. And I didn’t like them all. Any that I have a review up for will have a link to the review soon. As always, suggestions are welcome!

Books with no words

Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier

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Books about World War II

Remember World War II: Kids Who Survived Tell Their Stories by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

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Books with alliteration

A Spirited Alphabet: From A to Z by Morgan Simone Daleo, illustrated by Frank Riccio

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Books About Pumpkins

Spookley’s Colorful Pumpkin Patch by Joe Troiano

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Fairy Tales Retold in New and Different Ways

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Fairy’s Mistake by Gail Carson Levine
The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine
Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep by Gail Carson Levine
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill by Gail Carson Levine
For Biddle’s Sake by Gail Carson Levine
The Fairy’s Return by Gail Carson Levine
Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl
Snow by Tracy Lynn
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Adelita by Tomie de Paola
Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by David Catrow
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen
The Princess School Series by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens\
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Beast by Donna Jo Napoli
Cinderella’s Dress by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Jane Dyer
Barbie as Rapunzel by Cliff Ruby and Elana Lasser, illustrated by Rob Sauber
Lon Po Po by Ed Young
Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller

Links Added to Lists!

All of the books on the Book Lists page are now linked! Yay!

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