I live in a bubble. I work full-time in a comic book store, make comics, read comics and surround myself with people involved in illustration, design and animation. My roommate and I have lined our entire apartment with art from conventions, massive hardcovers, statues and memorabilia. We are nerds to the point of forgetting it, simply because right now everything and everyone in our lives revolves around comic books. It's hard to be an outcast when the cool kids in the group are the ones who have curio cabinets for their Sideshow collectibles.
So when a friend and hardcore manga enthusiast linked me to a new tumblr called Ladies in Comic Book Stores, I felt rather out of my element. The blog, which features photos of girls holding up their favourite titles in their local LCS, is relatively new. It's only got a few posts, but the idea behind it is to encourage women who might otherwise be intimidated by the male-dominated atmosphere to cross the threshold anyway by showing that it can be (and has been) done. It's a neat idea; I quite frequently get messages from people - not just girls by any means - who can't shop locally. They buy online, or download illegally, for a number of reasons. Some have had negative experiences with staff at their LCS, some are too nervous to try, others have no local supplier. These folks are often frustrated with the limitations; they want the hands-on expertise of an employee but have no access to it.
On this front, I love the idea of the blog. I root for women who come together to try things that are sometimes looked at as "boy hobbies." The flipside is that, for me, it seems so bizarre that such a thing is necessary. My comic shop has female staff, carries a great deal of titles by and for women, holds ladies-only nights and often brings in female creators for signings. At least once a day I look up and realize that the shop is full of girls and that none of them are shopping for their boyfriends. They're reading more than just Fables and Y: The Last Man. They're asking me about 100 Bullets and Preacher. They're putting their names down for new volumes of The Boys and Green Lantern.
An Official Selection of the Kate or Die Book Club
My shop, though, is a bit of an exception. I tend to forget it until I travel, until I wander into a badly-lit basement outlet with one guy behind the counter who talks to exactly nobody. Until moments like the time I went into a store that sold magic cards and the staff completely refused to believe that I worked in comics. 'So these are the places they're talking about,' I think to myself, before the fifth time I try and get someone's help locating an item. For those people, Ladies in Comic Book Stores is awesome. The blog has only featured photos from Meltdown Comics in LA so far, but I hope that it catches on worldwide! I'd love to see girls shopping in a variety of spots.
For the rest of the populace, and those who don't want to be featured online, what can you do to avoid a hostile atmosphere? Well, remember, if you're having a nasty experience with a shop or staff member, it's not your fault. It is every retail operation's responsibility to be friendly and helpful, and to hire people with, y'know, social skills. Sound like something your LCS is lacking? Tell them! They're a business, and businesses generally want to succeed. This is an impossibility without customers. If you feel that you're receiving inferior service or judgment for whatever reason, DO let the party responsible know how you feel. DON'T do it by posting snarky comments online. Some folks still assume that any girl walking into a comic book store is shopping for her dad or boyfriend. Show them you mean business with your dollars and cents. Don't forget to strut a little when you walk away with your purchases. That part is important.
Now, if you're a comics retailer, what can you do so that girls aren't so scared of you? Ladies' Nights are a great idea - ours run about two hours, are staffed by women, and aim to create a comfortable environment where anything can be talked about with a room full of like-minded individuals. It shows that it's important to your shop to be open to everyone. After that, a lot of it comes down to promotion. Girls who aren't already regulars won't see signs in the store, but they will see social media, newspaper ads, etc. Bring in female artists. Our most successful signing since I began working was Kate Beaton's, and she had a lineup outside and around the block for the entire duration of her visit.
Hire female staff. Nothing brightens up the eyes of a nervous first-time customer like when they realize that I actually know my stuff. It messes with their expectations in the best way possible. Give away comics to girls who tag along with other shoppers, especially if they make comments about how weird it is for them to be in a comic book store. Carry manga, alternative press publications and webcomics. That goes for attracting new customers of all identities. Never ever ever ever ever ever act surprised when a mother of three spends $100 on D&D books for herself while her husband waits in the car. She will tell you that she is the DM for an all-female gaming group and you will feel shame the likes of which you can not imagine.
...I may be speaking from experience.
In short, get out there, ladies! Get out there, everyone. The best way to knock down a stereotype is to prove by example just how untrue it is. Go to your comic shop, bookstore or library and pick up that graphic novel you've heard so much about. If they don't have what you want, order it - most places are set up to to do this, whether they advertise it or not. Engage the staff about your interests, get recommendations, try something new. Bring your friends. That stuffy old shop owner who snivels at you when you ask about Superman? Come in with a gaggle of friends and show him what's what. The industry needs invigorating, and if half the people afraid to visit their LCS worked up the courage to try, we might just see some real change.
When she's not working at Strange Adventures, Kate Leth can be found at the original kateordie as well as in the backpages of Locke & Key, with the one-shot Locke & Key: The Guide to the Known Keys being her debut. She is also featured in the upcoming Womanthology and is hard at work on Drawn Out, an anthology devoted to coming out stories.