Monday, June 17, 2013

Comic Shop Girls

Way back a long, long time ago, a girl in a comic shop was... I can't even say it was rare, because it just didn't happen. I mean, it was almost the equivalent of a sign of an impending apocalypse. And, if you believe in apocalypses (apocalypsi?) the way Joss Whedon does, maybe they were signs of various impending dooms all headed off by some special group or another. At any rate, it just didn't happen. I didn't know a single girl that read anything beyond Archie comics (or the equivalent) until my mid-twenties, like almost two decades ago.

Let me make it clear that I had had pretty extensive experience in and around the comic's industry by that point. I started collecting comic books during middle school. All the way through the end of high school, I never once saw a girl in the shop I bought comics at except for the one time I took one with me, and, although she agreed to go, it was more out of boredom than anything else, because her other option was to hang out at our church alone (not alone, alone; there were adults there, but there were no other teenagers). During college, I worked in a comic shop, and we had no female customers. At all. Ever. The only girl that ever came in was the girlfriend of one of my friends and only because he always trapped her into it. Then, I had my own comic business and worked in another shop, and neither place had any female customers.

The last shop I worked in in Shreveport (while also running a kind of sub-business under that shop (yeah, it was complicated, but it increased the owner's circulation, so he was good with it)) had a total of two female-type people that came in with any regularity. One of them was a girlfriend of a guy that had been one of my students (this was my last year in Shreveport, and I wasn't teaching at the time), and she always looked like she'd rather be at the dentist, especially since one of the other employees, Mark, would always try to hit on her while her boyfriend was busy talking comics. Yes, I do say that he tried hitting on her, because he never actually quite succeeded. He just made her uncomfortable and followed her around the shop as she tried to avoid him. The other was an "older" woman (to us) around 50(?) that actually played Magic and came in for tournaments. She sort of creeped everyone out, especially since she often "went home" with Boogie (and, yes, he had earned that nickname), and, if you can't figure out that euphemism, there may be no hope for you. That was it...

Until The Day...

It was a Wednesday, and I was shelving the new comics for the week (I was in charge of comics and CCG stuff), and a girl walked in. Alone. Not a mom (okay, she was a mom (of a not-quite toddler), but she wasn't a mom looking for a gift), not a girlfriend, just a girl walking into the comic shop. Alone. I took note of her, but I was busy, and I kept doing what I was doing. However, one-by-one, every other guy that worked in the shop made his way over to her and asked her if she needed any help. Every one of them: Mark, Rick, Scott, Tony. She turned each of them down, browsing through the comics until she made her way over to me and asked me if I could help her. Hmm... and that's a story for another time. Anyway, her ex-boyfriend (the father of her child) had been into comics, and she's picked through them occasionally, so she was looking for some suggestions about comics that she could get into. After listening to the types of she was into, I suggested The Sandman and Strangers in Paradise. She became our first (and only) weekly female customer, coming in to see what new comics were in and trying things out every now and then.

Flash forward to last week. I was sitting in the local comic shop (editing and reading) waiting for a Magic tournament to start up. At one point, I glanced around the room and noted the number of -- hmm... my wife doesn't like it when I call them "girls," although I'm certain some of them must have still been in high school -- young ladies that were hanging out in the store. I mean, hanging out on their own because they wanted to be there. There was one that was definitely a girlfriend, but the other more-than-half-dozen were obviously there because they wanted to be there. Some were playing Magic, one was browsing the comics, there was even grandmotherly type that was obviously looking at things for herself rather than looking for a gift (yeah, you can tell the difference when you've been in the environment). I was struck by the difference a couple of decades had made. Sure, it was still 80-90% guys, but, two decades ago, it would have been 100% guys.

I mentioned it to my wife, and she noted to me that there are a lot of guys that are against girls being in this kind of environment. It's like some group of 10-year-olds with a clubhouse and big "no girls allowed" signs stuck all over it. No girls in comics. No girls in gaming. Of any kind. Evidently, girls shouldn't play Magic and the certainly shouldn't play video games. According to these guys.

Which brought up the whole SFWA thing that happened a couple of weeks ago where a group of male sci-fi writers was proclaiming how writing science fiction is no place for women.

And I just don't get it. I mean, I really don't get it.

Maybe, this is me thinking as a retailer (from back when I did that), but the goal, then, was always to try and figure out how to open the doors of comic books to girls. It was an ongoing thing with Marvel (and other companies, but Marvel talked about it the most) in the late 80s through the mid-90s: How do we get girls interested in comics? And I was all for that, because, well, more business. So this idea that girls don't belong there is really puzzling to me.

And, well, my favorite sci-fi book was written by a woman: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. And you can't discount The Doomsday Book, a more than excellent sci-fi novel also written by a woman: Connie Willis. I'm sure I could go on, but I don't think there's a need.

At any rate, the idea that some of these things are "boys' clubs" just doesn't make sense to me. Why would that be so? I never had a "no girls allowed" clubhouse as a boy; maybe, that's because one of my main playmates as a kid was a female cousin; I don't know. One of my best friends was also a girl; we started kindergarten together and went all the way through to the end of high school, the only person I did that with, and we're still friends, today (well, you know, the kind of friend that only speak to each other every few years, because you don't live anywhere near the other person, but, still...).

And, well, despite the fact that I did a lot of what were pretty exclusively "guy" things when I was younger (like comic books and gaming), I would never have even thought that girls shouldn't be there, because, hello, I spent most of time hanging out with guys, and having some girls around would have meant, well, having some girls around.

So I don't get the attitude that women shouldn't be involved in gaming or comic books or science fiction. Or politics or science or math. Or whatever. I'm glad to see that there are girls hanging out in the comic store, and, after my wife told me about all of the hate that women get online about that kind of stuff, I'm glad to see that the dudes in the store seemed totally at ease with the fact that there were girls. I mean, there weren't lines of guys trying to hit on them or pick them up. They were just part of the environment, like everyone else. Maybe, there is some hope for the future.

I hope...


  1. My 16 year old girls play Magic every week at a comic shop. One of them plays a lot of online games too - her ambition in life is to be a Starcraft commentator. (I have suggested she train for something else as a backup).Males have at times suggested she shouldn't be playing such games but she just laughs at them.

    It's changing. Very very slowly, but it's changing.

  2. I have brothers and I grew up in a very male environment,so I'm v.comfortable in comic shops, sciencey places, and sci-fi etc. It's fab to see other people slowly getting comfortable too! :)

  3. I don't get it either. For some of those dudes, that might be their only chance of ever meeting a woman!
    I saw a post last week by a woman science fiction writer and she talked about how badly she was treated at science fiction cons by male writers. (And as a result of that post, she had some nasty emails and comments from men.) I don't understand that kind of attitude.
    My wife wasn't into comics, but she did play Magic.

  4. I was judging senior projects at my local high school last year and a girl did her project on comic book illustrations that she did. She was very talented and wants to write and/or illustrate comic books as her career.

  5. Having hung out at the local comic book shop a lot lately (where we have our books stocked) I can see what you're talking about. I've only ever seen girlfriends in there, as in tagging along with their guy and looking very bored. Admittedly, though, this was pretty good for our book signing. A few of our sales were from girlfriends who were insanely bored with what their boyfriends were looking at, came to see what we were doing, and walked away with a book. One girl was 1/4 done with our book by the time her boyfriend finally left.

    Also, you never finished their story, but I'm assuming Boogie and his 50 year old lover lived happily ever after?

  6. Reminds me of one of my favorite movies "Free Enterprise" where one of the nerdy guys goes into his favorite comic book stores and sees a hot girl browsing the comics. And he's basically like, "What are you doing here? You're a g-g-girl!"

    I'm sure my nieces will be spending a lot of time in such places with their daddy and so it won't seem weird at all for them to go in by themselves later on. The culture moves on my friends.

  7. Maybe some of the men that are threatened by the women are closet homosexuals. They don't want the women to upset the "bromance" that they perceive they may have with a fellow male (even though one does not exist). I think sexuality is at play here with these kinds of sex-based clubs or hangouts. The only thing that can make it better is to allow all people to feel comfortable with who they are as a person, to send clear signals on whether one is gay, straight, queer, transgendered, etc. and to encourage open discussion of shared interest without fear of ridicule or reprisal.

  8. Hey Andrew, I have never been into comics..although I did read Archie when I was young, but I never even really liked that one...I also hate superheroes and most video games. These must be born biases, because I grew up with 4 brothers, and have 3 sons and 7 grandsons, no girls among them, and so I'm comfortable in a male environment, but a lot of times would prefer to not be there. That being said, I think that women and girls can have whatever interests they have as individuals. If a girl wants to go into a comic shop she should be able to do that...I just can't figure out why she would want to, lol!

  9. I'm with you: I don't get anyone saying women can't or shouldn't write, read, or enjoy sci-fi/fantasy books. I personally don't care if it's written by a man or a woman, although I know not everyone agrees with me -- hence "JK" Rowling.

    The thing that gets me is the "how can we make this appeal to women?" thing. That's like saying "How can we make romance novels appeal to men?" Or "How can we make YA appeal to adults?"

    Unless you're JK Rowling, you probably can't do the latter.

    Sometimes, you're going to write something that doesn't appeal to a particular group. I write horror stories, from time to time. Some people don't like those types of stories. Am I supposed to say "How can I get [nonhorror lovers] to read my horror stories?" NO.

    Comics, and sci-fi, especially, at least in their most-popular form, are largely aimed at what I'll just say is a male mindset: shooting and muscles and fights and battles. That's not to say women can't enjoy them, but that many women don't. I don't think it's sexist to say that, or, if it is, it's sexist but also true.

    So appealing to women who don't care for battles and muscles may mean that you have to eliminate some of the things that appeal to your core group. Get rid of all the battles, and get women to read? Is that really a good idea?

    Or it might mean tacking on something superficially, like when they rebooted all those DC titles a while back but the women were in strong relationships or something, I forget what. "Oh, women will read Superman vs. Predator if we put in a subplot where Lana Lang has to deal with wondering whether she should have an abortion."


    I think the answer is to write a story that's enjoyable and not worry about who reads it. Look at probably the best superhero movie of the past 10 years, if not past 50: "The Dark Knight." Nothing in that movie appears to be aimed at much more than people who like superheroes, but people ranging from me to Sweetie (which is actually quite a range) enjoyed it. Sweetie counts it as one of the best movies ever.

    Or "Titanic." I liked that movie, despite the fact that it's basically a romance that ends up in a disaster movie. But it was a GOOD movie, and it hit all the demographics.

    Any plan to create something that begins with "how can we appeal to [X]" is bound to end with "ANSWER: By making this thing crappier than it was."

  10. I had the pleasure of being at a conference where Connie Willis was the keynote speaker. Funny, funny, kick-ass older woman. I can't imagine a man telling her she couldn't write science fiction. She likely would have told them to make themselves useful by getting the hell out of her way. :)

  11. Never much into comic books, but I adore role-playing. Sank into Everquest for years, almost like a religion (not meaning to be blasphemous, but it's true!), and still log on from time to time just to tinker around and get my mind off things. Fantasy and Science Fiction have always fascinated me, ever since I was a little girl. And, yes, I do know what you mean by some expressing snobbish feelings toward the female sex deigning to stick a manicured fingertip into their elite fantasy/sci-fi clubs. This fact was never better embodied than the one and only time I went to a fantasy/sci-fi writers' conference. Yeesh. Think I'll stick to my happy-go-lucky romance shindigs.

  12. Sarah: Well, that's cool. Are they any good?
    I've thought about doing the online thing, but I can't convince myself to spend money on virtual cards.

    Mia: But do you -like- being in those places; that's the real question.

    Alex: I know! I'm like, "Dude! It's a girl; maybe the only real one you've seen in a year. You shouldn't complain."

    JKIR,F!: Very cool. There have been a few really good female comic artists. The comic industry itself is still male dominated.

    ABftS: I, um, have no idea what happened with those two. I never wanted to think about it.

    PT: Hmm, I can't remember if I saw that. It sounds familiar. I'll have to check.

    Michael: That may account for some of it, but I don't think it's all of it. It always feels very "middle school" to me. You know, "girls have cooties."

    Eve: Oh, Archie doesn't count.

    Briane: Dark Knight=Overrated

    I agree with you about writing the best story you can write, the one that you like, then let the people that like it, like it. Don't go trying to change it to make other people try to like it.

    L.G.: That's cool. Have you read any of her stuff?

    Alyssia: I used to play Everquest 2. I miss that sometimes.

    I bet I'd get the weird stares if I walked into one of those... just like I get weird stares from the moms at my kids' school because I'm the one there doing the kinds of things that the "mom" is supposed to be doing.

  13. The idea that women can't be sci-fi writers is a low, ugly thought that should be stomped out of existence. Having a y chromosome does not bequeath the ability to write a particular genre the same way it doesn't bequeath the ability to do math and science.

  14. Jeanne: Yeah, well, evidently, I agree. When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, it was originally published as if she was a male writer. A year or two later, after it had received an overwhelming positive response, it was revealed that she was the one who wrote it. Men who had previously spoken well of it suddenly condemned it.
    That's just wrong.

  15. My exploration of the comics world has brought many surprises. My friend Mock was the one who first introduced me but it's been my wife who has consistently found the most interesting material. She approaches it as a reader rather than a hobbyist and it makes all the difference - for me, at least.

  16. Andrew - no, her online games aren't Magic - they use real cards for that :-) In fact, one daughter plays Magic over skype with her American boyfriend, using real cards - difficult but not impossible to see the deck apparently.

  17. I've been in shops when a lone girl walks in and I'm not surprised they're so rare. First, people act like they're asking to get hit on by nerds. Second, people are suspicious of them intruding on the man-cave. It's weird but it's nice to hear you discussing it.

  18. TAS: I've always divided comics between "writers" and "comic book writers." So, back when I was involved in comics, I would say Peter David was the best comic book writer and Neil Gaiman (this was before he was doing novels) was the best writer.

    Sarah: Ah, well, cool on that, too. I sometimes miss online games; I just can't seem to make any time for them anymore.

    Maurice: It is weird. It's, often, like an alien just walked in off of the street.

  19. The SFWA debacle....yeah.

    RE: sci fi and fantasy being the way they are because they are aimed at men...well, that is true of movies because most movies are aimed at (young) men. There is a Hollywood mindset that says this is the target audience, full stop (the website The Hathor Legacy, started by a woman who tried to write in Hollywood and was horrified by some of the attitudes there, has some good discussion on this).

    Speculative fiction in written form, however, has been more diverse for quite a while. The problem with the SFWA crap that went down recently is that a few vociferous old windbags got up on their sexist, racist soapboxes and the internet let them know they were wrong. The trouble is they used SFWA as a platform for spewing their out of date garbage, so many writers who had earned their way into that organization and saw it as valuable were disappointed.

    Storywonk Sunday's recent episode on this is worth a listen if you care about this issue. ("The Last Scream of the Dragon.")

  20. Elizabeth: See, I don't think it's true that those things are aimed at men because they are -aimed at men-. I think it's just that, in general, men have written those things, so they have resonated (I'm liking that word, lately) more with men. Which is fine. But, you know, if women want to write that stuff, too, and, thus, appeal to a more female audience, I just don't see what the issue is. And, then, some people (like me) don't care who it is writing it as long as it's good.

  21. This reminded me that now that I've moved I need to find a new decent non-creepy/hostile local comic store that has the old comics and secondhand stuff. Still need to read The Sandman, but I think that is at the library nearby.

  22. Callie: I need to re-read Sandman and, then, actually finish it. The series wasn't ended before I dropped out of comics.