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Sometimes it's hard to be a woman (who likes comics)
February 13, 2014 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Early-20s comic artist Noelle Stevenson recently entered a comic shop for the first time. She drew a short comic showing her experience. Comics news writer Heidi MacDonald took a look at the issues some comic shops have with welcoming half the population. It sparked a Twitter spat with the stars of Comic Book Men. In the weeks after Ms Marvel seemed to establish a new era where it's okay for "the weaker sex" to enjoy comics, especially when it seems around 40% of readers may be women, why do some shops apparently not want customers?
posted by Mezentian (108 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related: I did a DuckDuckGo search for
female comic book buyers
And these were the top results:
100 Sexiest Women in Comics (Comics Buyer's Guide)
The 25 Hottest Female Comic Characters
Sexiest Female Comic Book Characters
Comics Buyer's Guide Presents: 100 Sexiest Women in Comics


I have so many people jazzed over Kamela's debut* (and general hating of Comic Book Men over the last few years) that I hope makes this more than a "hey, look at these arseholes" post.

(*Which Pakistani heritage aside isn't that special - after one issue).
posted by Mezentian at 6:31 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Benito Cereno apparently got name-dropped by Noelle's haters and responded with fiery invective

And so now I know the comment meant this: I would be mad that a woman used my advice on how to get into comics and then complained that it’s hard to get into comics.

If there is any ambiguity on the matter, allow me to clarify:

I do not in any way agree with that shitlord’s opinion.

The VERY REASON I wrote a “Batman for the Uninitiated” post (and a Superman one &c.) is because there are numerous barriers to entry in comics, not only within the continuity itself, but literally in the physical act of walking into a comic store and buying a book, especially if you are a woman. I feel like that is clear in the subtext—if not the text—of the post itself; there’s a reason I try to warn about books that feature sexual violence and talk about the ready availability of digital comics.

I WANT women reading comics. I WANT women making comics. I WANT women starring in comics. If you don’t, you’re a piece of shit, and I’m not sorry for saying that.

posted by emjaybee at 6:37 AM on February 13 [40 favorites]


You know who doesn't hassle you when you you shop for comic books? Amazon.com.

It's 2014, if your brick and mortar enterprise can't or won't accommodate women then you deserve to fail.

I've often wondered if certain comic book joints were just money laundering fronts because I'm often one of two or three people in there browsing before a much more reasonably priced e-purchase and I can't fathom how they stay in business that long with nobody going in there.
posted by Renoroc at 6:38 AM on February 13 [17 favorites]


Also if you are not reading Noelle's Nimona comic, then you are missing out.
posted by emjaybee at 6:39 AM on February 13 [38 favorites]


You know who doesn't hassle you when you you shop for comic books? Amazon.com.

Going into a comic store (and pre-ordering comics) is a big deal, because it's one of the best ways to support books that you like. Apparently online/digital sales aren't as important to the industry's metrics.
posted by mokin at 6:42 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Noelle had to turn off her ask box because of responses like this. People suck.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:47 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]


I used to buy comics solely at Criminal Records when I lived in Atlanta--mostly when it was at the old location next to Junkman's Daughter--and boy howdy, were the majority-male staff ever super friendly. They were always quite keen to recommend stuff when I was browsing or I made choices.

The tiny tiny comic shop we have here is staffed by the gruffest Frenchman in the world. He's often shirty towards me, but then he's shirty towards everyone. Still, he keeps my pull list coming.
posted by Kitteh at 6:49 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


When I was really into comics back in college, I shopped at a comic shop owned by a woman. A place that really prided itself on welcoming new customers and also making regulars feel like everybody knew your name. Back then it was a hole-in-the-wall place, squeezed into an awkward spot next to a pizza restaurant and a copy place.

Now it's in a sleek storefront quadruple the size, complete with an attached art gallery where they do rotating shows from local indie artists.

It's amazing that more shops haven't seemed to catch on that attracting the other 50% of customers will attract the other 50% more MONEY.
posted by BlueJae at 6:50 AM on February 13 [10 favorites]


After seeing several good, inclusive, welcoming comic book stores fail and the really awful cat piss ones survive I'm pretty much good with the whole thing moving online forever.

Like I'd never thought I'd be advocating for the destruction of bookstores but this shit is gross and keeps getting more insular and weird as the comics industry keeps expanding ( fun fact! Sales for everything except conventional superhero books are growing steadily!)
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Does preordering from comixology do anything? Because the only reason I can think of to preorder online is if online preorders actually counted more.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:52 AM on February 13


I've been really pushing for my local shop to start carrying more alt titles, or at least something beyond the blood-and-spandex set. I get that it's challenging when you have such limited space, but come on guys, at least carry Ms Marvel for me . pleeeeeeeaaaaasseee?
posted by Think_Long at 6:54 AM on February 13


This is a bummer and ridiculous.

Esp a bummer because "comic book store" is of the few brick-and-mortar independent book store concepts that still really has a leg to stand on. You'd hope that the shear economic reality of the situation would encourage a more progressive outlook.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:55 AM on February 13


Has anything happened in mainstream superhero books in the past 25 years that I should care about?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:56 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Sales for everything except conventional superhero books are growing steadily!

Bergen St Comics has announced that they wont shelve most Marvel and DC titles anymore, although customers can still subscribe and preorder them.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:56 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Has anything happened in mainstream superhero books in the past 25 years that I should care about?

I wrote a She Hulk what if a few years ago and that's about it
posted by The Whelk at 6:56 AM on February 13 [19 favorites]


Cool! I love What If! (No snark or sarcasm. 100% sincere. I love Elseworlds, too.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:58 AM on February 13


The bad news is that her experience is absolutely valid - there are a ton of hole-in-the-wall crapfests wedged into the industry. (Hobby stores, too - my wife took an interest in model railroad architecture for a project, and the shop owner just sat behind his glass counter and sighed noisily at her the whole time she was in there. I mean, he took time out of his model building just to chase away a customer.)

The good news is, keep looking! The comic shop I grew up on was run by a married couple, and the one I worked at in the '90s was owned by a woman, and had, well, me working in it (and a couple other guys'n'guys who were really good with new readers and customers looking for something new or old.)

The shops I went to regularly in Daytona Beach, Florida, Lowell, MA, Cambridge, MA, Waltham, MA and New Orleans were all family friendly with respectful and interested staff who loved talking comics. Once you find Your Place, it will be like coming home. They're out there, and it sucks tremendously that you have to go searching for them (and in some areas, it may not be possible to find one not run by a basement troll, which is a true shame.)

The Comic Book Men are foul-mouthed alpha-nerds who have a hobby business - it's prettier than the usual hole-in-the-wall crapfest, and busier due to the deep pockets and fame of the owner, but it's a crapfest hole in the wall. It had A Reputation even back in the late '90s, and not a good one.

(I'm still looking for a decent hobby store nearby, too.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:05 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


The thing Amazon doesn't does as well as bookstores is letting you browse and discover things, and while I am generally a person who's ok with the march of technology, if bookstores go away I really will miss that part of buying books, comic or otherwise.

On the up side, by following artists on Tumblr and Twitter (who in turn lead to more artists; I seem to find new ones every day, we are really in a golden age of comics) I run across more excellent webcomics than I have time to read, plus getting recommendations on good titles that are in print. So they have kind of become my comic book store.

Some of the people I follow are even superhero-comics folks like Gail Simone who wrote for Birds of Prey and Secret Six, as well as Red Sonja and Wonder Woman. I wouldn't mind reading her runs of those series; the thing about superherocomics though is that if you get attached to one writer's version, they will eventually move on. With so few writers that do female characters well, I don't have a lot of incentive to get invested in superhero characters.
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


It's funny how some people hate the business that they run.
posted by aramaic at 7:22 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of hobbyists run hobby shops not to run a business but to have an excuse to do their hobby all day and pretend they're working. If you don't want to hang out with women while you're doing your hobby, it makes total sense to scare women away.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:27 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Hobby stores, too - my wife took an interest in model railroad architecture for a project, and the shop owner just sat behind his glass counter and sighed noisily at her the whole time she was in there. I mean, he took time out of his model building just to chase away a customer.

A lot of hobby stores, just like tons of comic stores, exist as expansions of a manchild's bedroom/man-cave/clubhouse/etc. They can't, legally, post a "No gurls alloud" sign on the door, but they certainly do what they can to make their places of business uncomfortable to anyone not in the club.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:30 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]


Not in comic books, but I see this in homebrewing as well. The number of stores I've walked into that are run by a hobbyist turned pro who use their position at the register as a throne of judgement is amazing. We dont' even have to talk about gender mechanics in that sphere. The gender ratio, although improving, is still out of whack with the general level of female interest in good beer.

There are guys/owners/clerks who'll go out of their way to shit on anyone who they perceive as lesser. Your crime could be being: a woman, a minority, a newb, a person who wants to brew Budweiser (ok, there's a 95% chance that you're just trying to make cheap beer in which case - good luck), wants to try out some new technique, wants to try out some old technique, like an ingredient that the clerk hates, etc, etc.

One store that I frequented used to have a clerk who was exactly that guy and would have been that guy in a comic book store too. He damn near tanked the business because people would avoid the store like the plague just to avoid dealing with him.

In closing, some nerdishly obsessive folks really shouldn't be running businesses!
posted by drewbage1847 at 7:37 AM on February 13 [18 favorites]


I think a lot of hobbyists run hobby shops not to run a business but to have an excuse to do their hobby all day and pretend they're working. If you don't want to hang out with women while you're doing your hobby, it makes total sense to scare women away.

God, that rings so true. And, as drewbage1847 observes, not limited to comics. But what I don't get is: how do they keep the doors open? We're not talking about high-margin businesses here where they can easily afford to chase half the customers away. Why doesn't the rent force a change in their behavior?
posted by tyllwin at 7:42 AM on February 13


I find that tumblr is a lot better about getting me into new comics, webcomics, and artists than a comic book shop ever was - I don't know if it was just my experience was sub-par, but a lot of my internet experience (not just for comics, but regarding pretty much any topic) is people being really excited about THIS THING and wanting to tell me all about and show me pretty pictures and where I should totally start reading and then I should check in with them in a week and we can gush about it together. And, sometimes I like it and sometimes I just don't really care that much about it, but there's a lot of excitement about inclusion, which I've never experienced in a comic book shop. Even the ones I'd consider lady friendly. The closest I've gotten was a comic book shop owner telling me that I should probably be reading Atomic Robo (and he was right).

PS. Everyone read Ms. Marvel, report back in a week. Will show pretty pictures upon request.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:43 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


If your work in published and for sale in a store, why not tell the person at the counter? Maybe I'm just old and cranky or maybe I don't have that faux-naif, "don't blow your own horn" gene, but this incident reminds me of Rebecca Solnit and the know-it-all at the dinner party. If Ms. Stevenson is pro enough to have an agent and a publishing deal, she's pro enough to deal with a clerk in a store.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:43 AM on February 13


You can pretty much tell when affronted comic book guys starting sharing this:
so wait, you don't have to explain yourself if you wanted to read a comic because a guy is sexy but but sexualizing female characters is bad?

I'm not trying to attack you, I'm just saying that that comes off a little hypocritical, and maybe a bit like you went into this situation expecting to be treated badly, and that maybe that tinged your view of the situation.

Is it possible that maybe he just suggested MLP because a lot of female customers like it and he thought just maybe he'd try to get an upsell? Could it have had even less to do with gender, and maybe something to do with the other comics you purchased? If it was Fionna and Cake, don't you think it could have been because both comics are based upon popular children's cartoon series currently running?

Could your unwillingness to approach the staff maybe have something to do with perceptions you yourself have about 'the kind of person who runs a comic store' and your feeling intimidated and overwhelmed by being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strange people and a hobby you're unfamiliar with and possibly unwilling to out yourself as a 'newbie' in front of since you're unsure of how they'd react?
Ladies and gentlemen, fanmansplaining!
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:43 AM on February 13 [26 favorites]


Madéleine Flores (of Help Us Great Warrior! fame (among many other awesome things)) reblogged Noelle's comic and added her own experiences which were no less depressing.
posted by komara at 7:45 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


But what I don't get is: how do they keep the doors open? We're not talking about high-margin businesses here where they can easily afford to chase half the customers away. Why doesn't the rent force a change in their behavior?

There's a good reason why a lot of those comics stores are in shitty, hole-in-the-wall locations. Cheap rent.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:46 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Being a woman means that if you make comics, people will still not believe you read comics.

Also, hater free wednesdays is still a thing.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:51 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


If Ms. Stevenson is pro enough to have an agent and a publishing deal, she's pro enough to deal with a clerk in a store.

Isn't that sort of the point? That she shouldn't have to give her self pep-talks about how great and published she is before trying to buy some comic books. Framing the problem as her lacking in some sort of moral fiber just ignores the fact that she shouldn't HAVE to deal with this crap, and neither should all the other women who just want to buy comics. Even the ones who aren't published.

Also, making successful comics and dealing with hostile people are two completely different skill sets.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:59 AM on February 13 [52 favorites]


This makes me want to go spend a few more bucks at my local shop. The last time i was in there, there was a female clerk, who helped me find a gift for a teenaged nephew. And 2 adult women playing magic, talking boardgames with a few folks.

In my 3-4 visits over a few years, it seems that Empire Comics in New Albany, IN *SEEMS* to not cotton to this kind of bullshit. And that makes me happy.
posted by DigDoug at 8:20 AM on February 13


There's a good reason why a lot of those comics stores are in shitty, hole-in-the-wall locations. Cheap rent.

No lie. I'm a regular at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica (which despite the name is actually focused on roleplaying and tabletop wargaming). I'm mentioning Aero not as an example of an establishment that is unfriendly to women (they're as female-friendly as any gaming store that you're likely to encounter), but as an example of what cheap rent can do.

Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop (probably the two most established names in the gaming industry) have both attempted without success to keep stores in Santa Monica, as have a few independent stores that seemed like they had deeper pockets than Aero does. Aero has outlasted them all. When I asked the owner why he thought this was, he said "Our location is terrible. No one else wants to rent on this block, and every other type of business that does fails, because their business models depend on foot traffic. So our rent has been really low for a really long time, and hobbyists don't care that their shop is out of the way."
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:21 AM on February 13 [14 favorites]


If your work in published and for sale in a store, why not tell the person at the counter?

This comes up a couple of times in the comments to her tumblr blog as well, in forms like:
Comic store workers are bad, but customers who put up with their shit are worse
and
If you let people treat you like crap, you will get treated like crap. Standing there and letting them act like tools and expecting them to notice (or even care) that you felt alienated and uncomfortable, or even offended, while doing nothing to call them out or confront them, is pretty much condoning the behavior.
But. But.

Remember what actually happened when Rebecca Solnit's friend pointed out that Solnit had written the book the guy was pontificating about to Solnit? He stopped, stunned, and then started telling them about it again.
But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.
So, first up that isn't actually the MacLuhan-in-the-movie-line death blow that you might think. Second up, is that kind of "that's my comic book" gambit, as a retail interaction, any more satisfying than where you end up if you don't call it out? Is it worth the expenditure of energy? Most comic shops aren't like an Arby's, where poor customer service is a firing offense and labor is largely fungible - they are owner-managed businesses, and it's very likely that the person behind the counter either is the owner or is a close friend of the owner, who is in the back reading comics. And the fish generally rots from the head in these circumstances.

Third up, while we can make a sort of safe assumption that there would be no longer-term negative consequences to calling the clerk out, we can't say that with absolute confidence. We're probably assuming that the situation wouldn't have occurred if the clerk didn't have poor socialization and problems interacting with women. That makes engineering a confrontation, especially one in what he sees as his haven and in front of his peers, a potentially risky proposition, for oneself or indeed for the next woman who comes into the store. Plus, in most towns there is only one comic book store, and there might be some distance between that one and the next one, so delivering this smackdown once might guarantee death stares and even shittier service in your only bricks-and-mortar retail option for comic books for years to come.

So... I don't know if it's about lacking a faux-naif/ve "don't blow your own horn" gene as it might be about being, to some degree, an armchair quarterback in this situation. The comic by Christianne Goudreau, linked above, demonstrates that being a woman who has written comic books, or indeed a woman who is running a stand at a con selling her own comic books, does not mean that you will necessarily be treated as if you know anything about comic books.

And, on preview, gygesringtone is spot on: you really shouldn't have to produce your credentials every time you want to be treated decently in a retail environment, just because you're a woman. And, if you do, it shouldn't necessarily be incumbent on you to try to teach a recalcitrant retailer how to do their job better.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:32 AM on February 13 [31 favorites]


If Ms. Stevenson is pro enough to have an agent and a publishing deal, she's pro enough to deal with a clerk in a store.

How about: If someone is in a job as an owner or clerk that means dealing with the public, they should be pro enough to not be assholes to their customers. Why is that too much to ask? /former retail worker
posted by rtha at 8:34 AM on February 13 [49 favorites]


Related: Shaenon Garrity on the perils of Lady Gaming, on io9. Don't miss the comments, which unfortunately do not fail to disappoint.
posted by lodurr at 8:34 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


What's really depressing to me is I was behind the counter part time at my local comics shop (where I had an extensive pull list) *koff* about 25 years ago and we're still arguing the same damn shit. Oh, and I no longer have a pull.

I'd like to enjoy comics again, but every time I read about comics it's like this. Grrr.

How about: If someone is in a job as an owner or clerk that means dealing with the public, they should be pro enough to not be assholes to their customers. Why is that too much to ask? /former retail worker

Yes, this, as an ex-comics-shop sales clerk.
posted by immlass at 8:35 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]


But what I don't get is: how do they keep the doors open?

Funds from other endeavors, and they're probably not driving off as many as you guys think / hope.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:50 AM on February 13


fun fact! Sales for everything except conventional superhero books are growing steadily!

Talked to a store owner just yesterday and he said that...last month? I think? Recently anyway, that the only major label comic that broke 100,000 sold was Batman.

Some of that may be due to the New52 flailing around, and some of it may be due to crossover weariness or whatever, but it seems pretty damning that pretty much all big two across the board are down, when superhero and other comics-based movies have never been bigger.

As to the stores themselves, yeah, if you're running a retail business as your livelihood and you're actively scaring potential customers away, you're actively courting the all-but-inevitable economic ruin that's coming.

But I really don't want to see brick-and-mortar shops disappear, despite how shitty many of them are. Our two local shops are run by a nice older guy (I've never seen him interact with female customers, though) and a woman, and I'd hate to see them fail. I really like reading on paper, and though my iPad's great, if I'm going to go to digital I'd much rather see perfected high-rez color e-ink screens to cut down on the eye strain and the endless bingly-bong of notifications.

(For that matter, I'd give cash money for a small e-ink writing tablet you could connect to a Bluetooth keyboard that does literally nothing over a network but update itself and sync your text files over Dropbox or whatever, but that's off-topic.)
posted by middleclasstool at 8:50 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Hah, this matches my experience as a nerdy white male.

Comic book store employees in my experience just hate customers with a passion only rivaled by hip bike store employees.
posted by pmv at 8:55 AM on February 13 [13 favorites]


Comic book store employees in my experience just hate customers with a passion only rivaled by hip bike store employees.

I think that's true of any place that serves a passionate clientele (think of Jack Black's character in High Fidelity), but it only happens if it's allowed to from the top down. I firmly believe that if comic stores do die off (I hope they don't), the last one standing will be Jetpack Comics which does an awesome job and has a 100% friendly staff (and that's in Rochester, NH, where some of the people who just wander in can be a bit of a challenge). It's impressive to me just how big their Free Comic Book Day has become and the industry talent it attracts.

Of course the day I link to them the top two comics on the page prominently feature busty women. I promise it's not like that.
posted by yerfatma at 9:00 AM on February 13


Talked to a store owner just yesterday and he said that...last month? I think? Recently anyway, that the only major label comic that broke 100,000 sold was Batman.


So, what I’m wondering is if those numbers are just the diamond preorders, or if that’s counting digital and nontraditional sales. Because that would make a huge difference in my mind. Even not counting poor comic book store experiences, unless J H Williams-style crazy panels are involved, I just prefer buying digitally, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I wouldn't be surprised if comic book companies are just really horrible at tracking their sales.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:07 AM on February 13


It's good to know things haven't changed since the last time I darkened the door of a game and comic shop. The "I work in the hobby store, loser" attitude that the guy behind the counter gave off always amused me. I always thought, "Dude, you're a skinny dude in glasses with stringy hair wearing a black duster. Try and get some perspective."
posted by ob1quixote at 9:12 AM on February 13


Comics news writer Heidi MacDonald took a look at the issues some comic shops have with welcoming half the population. It sparked a Twitter spat with the stars of Comic Book Men.

Okay, I understand that some guys who end up working the counter at a comic shop are neither good at customer service nor particularly enlightened dudes nor even particularly good at dealing with other human beings face-to-face. They shouldn't be, but it happens.

What I genuinely do not understand is how a business owner looks at a bad review and says, "You know what I need to do? I need to pick a fucking fight with this person, in public. I need to refute an actual potential customer's opinion in a way that will bring zero new people into the shop. And if that decision looks like it's turning out badly, I need to double down on it. I certainly can't just stop fucking tweeting."

It really doesn't make sense to me.
posted by Etrigan at 9:17 AM on February 13 [18 favorites]


So, what I’m wondering is if those numbers are just the diamond preorders, or if that’s counting digital and nontraditional sales. Because that would make a huge difference in my mind.

He didn't specify, but we were talking in the context of store sales (the whole thing started with me asking why the Marvel "baby" variant covers were nine bucks new in his store) and that kicked off a conversation about publisher/retailer relations and the order/pricing schemes the big two use. So I took that to mean store sales, but he may have been talking across the board, I don't know.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:22 AM on February 13


Shortly after Crumb was released I was browsing his stuff in an indie store in Santa Monica (it doesn't look like it's still there) and had the creepy owner crowd up behind me and leer. He did NOT get my business.
posted by brujita at 9:27 AM on February 13


What I genuinely do not understand is how a business owner looks at a bad review and says, "You know what I need to do? I need to pick a fucking fight with this person, in public. I need to refute an actual potential customer's opinion in a way that will bring zero new people into the shop. And if that decision looks like it's turning out badly, I need to double down on it. I certainly can't just stop fucking tweeting."


Oh, but it goes deeper. How about when it is gently explained to this person that their behavior is driving customers away and actively hurting their business, and they freak out and start a horrible toxic feud that includes IRL public confrontation? Over and over multiple times?


I love to support local independent business, but, dude, when you make Bernard Black look like the patron saint of customer service I just can't with you and your crummy store.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:35 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I was never a huge comic book fan, per se, though I loved Eclipse Monthly and was utterly transfixed for the lightning-brief run of Cap'n Quick And A Foozle, which spoke to me in a loud, surrealistic, and quirky voice, but in the eighties, I was a deranged Doctor Who fan and my local comic book store, Comic Classics, in Laurel, Maryland was the place where I picked up my expensive UK import Doctor Who magazines and my Doctor Who novels and my Doctor Who pencil cases, scarf knitting patterns, and other memorabilia.

While I never got the comic book bug, being a fan of less machismo-driven heroes and heroines, I adored that store, not least because the person behind the counter most of the time was a woman named Margit Canfield. She was warm and helpful and I always bypassed her husband & co-owner in favor of her attention when I had questions, because her energy and presence spoke to me in a way that guys into comics never managed. She was as on top of things as he was, as knowledgeable about back catalogue and minutia, but never talked down to me when I'd nervously ask what I believed might be stupid questions.

In the stretch before I knew for sure that there would be no Cap'n Quick And A Foozle #4, I'd stop in to pick up my shop-subscription, Eclipse Monthly and my Doctor Who magazines, and occasionally a Ms Tree or two, and I'd sigh, "No number four?"

She'd shake her head and there was genuine, sarcasm-free, sympathy.

When it became clear that Doctor Who was not coming back anytime soon after its last serial in '89, and with Eclipse on the skids, I sort of drifted away, coming back briefly in '92 in anticipation of Alpha Flight #106. I'd only been out myself for seven years at that point, and it was still an ugly, awful time to be gay, and when Margit handed me my copy of the comic, I flipped through it, looking for the words I was expecting, and there they were, all wrapped up in the usual histrionic bullshit of superhero comics, to be sure, but they were there.

They were there. We can be heroes, just for one day.

I got choked up and red, and she smiled and said, with light in her eyes, "Yeah, I know," as I handed over my money.

I kept up with Alpha Flight for a while, but superheroes are just not my thing.

Comic Classics continued there, at 365 Main Street, and I was always happy it was there, even if it was not quite my thing anymore. Margit's husband Steve died, but she kept it going, and it was still there.

It is there today, but it has not been open in years.

A faded sign on the door says "CLOSED FOR RENOVATION" and another sign adds something to the effect of that they will reopen, just not yet, and has for some time. The green astroturf in the old-fashioned entryway between the glass display windows looks dull and worn out, though someone periodically sweeps up and collects the weekly local newspaper left at the door. In the windows, color is fading in all the comics propped up there, lurid shades turning to soft blues and pinks and almost imperceptible yellows on covers curling in the slow steam of cool condensation.

I think she must own the building, to be able to afford to just leave it sitting there so long, waiting, like the lost planet of Magrathea. The lights come on and go off, and time is almost, but not quite, frozen.

In my last stretch of gainful employment, I would walk by the shop every morning and every evening on my to and from the train, and when I had time, I'd walk up to the door and look for a tear in the papered-over glass; for a glimpse that maybe, renovations were underway, and that something wonderful was happening in there, and though I know on some level that Margit Canfield must be up to new endeavors elsewhere, I liked to think that, coming home off a long work day and passing by the lit-up facade of the store, maybe she was in there, behind the paper, sitting behind the counter, reading a comic book and waiting for the day when the galaxy could once again afford to trade in custom-made worlds.

Every day it is still there, I feel guilty, and promise that I'll buy something, when
posted by sonascope at 9:36 AM on February 13 [35 favorites]


I'm not really that into comics except in a casual way. I don't dislike them (I have a CS degree so it's a little late to worry about looking nerdy!), but I'm just not into them. By the same token I have an MBA and know a little something about business analysis and marketing. So I think I can look at the comics industry fairly objectively from a business perspective, and talk about how dumb they are. Here's what I see:

1. Red Ocean. Industry analysts talk about blue and red ocean industries. In a blue ocean, it's a young industry, and you can expand into the market without taking market share away from other players. Comic books seem to be a red ocean: the companies are fighting over the same few niche customers. They get profit by taking market share away from each other and upping prices instead of expanding the market as a whole, which they could do if they expanded away from only targeting white guys.

2. High substitution threats. McDonalds isn't just in competition with Wendy's. They are threatened by other types of options for eating, like dining at home or getting pizza delivered. By the same token, the reason why comic book stores struggle is that they're in competition with other forms of entertainment. A women can watch Game of Thrones on TV or buy a Fantasy/SciFi book at a book store without some jerk behind the counter telling her she doesn't belong. Comic books are getting killed because of this kind of thing.

3. No successful lead-ins. The final indictment of the comic book store is the lack of lead in benefits. Look at it this way. When Game of Thrones started on TV, copies of the books (and other Fantasy novels) flew off the shelves of Amazon and brick and mortar stores. But when multi-billion dollar comic book movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight are in theaters, long term comic book sales don't fundamentally change. This really illustrates dramatically how terrible stores are at selling comics, that even when their characters are promoted in this way, they still can't bring new customers in. Women and minorities watched the Avengers along with the rest of America, but comic book stores still weren't able to or even interested in selling them anything.

All these problems have a lot of different causes. But it's pretty clear that a major part is that the retail stores don't know how to sell comics to anyone who isn't already interested in comics. They push away anyone who isn't already a customer (or who because of bigotry they assume isn't a traditional customer). This means no women, no minorities. It means they don't even sell to white guys that aren't their traditional audience. Imagine a white guy who looks like an accountant dressed in a suit and tie. You think he's going to feel comfortable in a modern comic store? The upshot is that comic book stores are killing themselves. You can't survive when your store culture involves pushing away anyone who might become a new customer. And given how offensive store culture is, I can see no reason to be sorry when they go.
posted by unreason at 9:36 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]


Unreason: the assumption you're making is the product is actually worth buying, regardless of how well the retailers sell it. Have you flipped through a comic book recently? The writing and art of most comics are mediocre and misogynistic. The childish culture of comics permeates beyond comic stores.
posted by bittermensch at 10:10 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Unreason: the assumption you're making is the product is actually worth buying, regardless of how well the retailers sell it. Have you flipped through a comic book recently? The writing and art of most comics are mediocre and misogynistic. The childish culture of comics permeates beyond comic stores.

Well, as I said I'm not really into comics so it's hard for me to judge quality. However, even if the comics are low quality, the low sales are still illustrative. If you market a bad product well, you should still see a temporary uptick in sales. Let's say, for example, that comic X is terrible. And there's a popular comic X movie in theaters. If you market well, people will come into the store and buy comic X. Of course, when they read it and find out it's lousy, they never buy it again. But you still got a temporary boost for a month or two while people tried it out. But that's not what's happening. People aren't even trying the comics at all, which means that it's not just that they're awful, it's that people aren't even checking to see if they're awful or not.
posted by unreason at 10:21 AM on February 13


Have you flipped through a comic book recently?

Watched a movie? Listened to music? Turned on TV? I appreciate the attempt to live up to your username, but throwing a whole medium out because of the theoretical comics you recently flipped through is silly. Which ones were they? And why do those represent the entire medium so well?

I just splurged on The Planetary Omnibus this week. If loving that is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
posted by yerfatma at 10:29 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


What I genuinely do not understand is how a business owner looks at a bad review and says, "You know what I need to do? I need to pick a fucking fight with this person, in public. I need to refute an actual potential customer's opinion in a way that will bring zero new people into the shop.

You do understand we're talking about the kind of people who will argue endlessly over the actual meaning of a single line of text, in a single panel of issue 37 of some X-Men spinoff from back in 2003, and how it explains everything about last year's reboot of some associated title. And will actually get angry with anyone who challenges his revelation.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:30 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Unreason: the assumption you're making is the product is actually worth buying, regardless of how well the retailers sell it. Have you flipped through a comic book recently? The writing and art of most comics are mediocre and misogynistic. The childish culture of comics permeates beyond comic stores.

I don't know, there's been a couple articles out lately that have told me that comics aren't just for kids anymore.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:33 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Part of my beef is that precious few comics are for kids any more, and nearly none of them mainstream superhero titles of the kind my kids would love to read.

I keep going back to that old line from Casanova: "The last comic I read, there was a lot of rape and crying. Kinda harshed my boner for fun, you know?"
posted by middleclasstool at 10:38 AM on February 13


They can't, legally, post a "No gurls alloud" sign on the door

A comics shop in my neighborhood put a sign in their window that read "Ladies Night Tuesdays."

They're closed now.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:38 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I'd like to enjoy comics again, but every time I read about comics it's like this. Grrr.

Psst. Libraries have comics too. And we could use the circulation numbers.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:57 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]


Seriously guys, the Nimona comic is brilliant.

Snaps to emjaybee for linking to it upthread.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:58 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I get that it's challenging when you have such limited space, but come on guys, at least carry Ms Marvel for me . pleeeeeeeaaaaasseee?

I get what you're saying but y'all know that part of the problem is that this is no longer the business model of the contemporary comic shop and hasn't been for almost two decades, don't you? Comics shops sell new comics through pull lists. They sell TPBs, toys, and other spinoff/fanny things too, but in no sense is the modern comic shop based on someone walking in, broswing around and then buying a single issue.

This creates a problem where because the pull-listers are reliable customers their preferences shape everything else. The store's image rests on what these customers go for. On the other hand, if the staff are not twits, they'll pull anything the distributor carries for anyone. In any event, shelf stock isn't where it's happening.
posted by mobunited at 10:59 AM on February 13


Unfortunately, given the conditions in Amazon warehouses you're supporting people who are a tad more than rude when you pick it over local retail. You shouldn't have to choose between piggery and stabbing working people in the back but hey.
posted by mobunited at 11:04 AM on February 13


I'd say yes, no, kinda sorta, unreason. Also "bang" and "pow".

One thing to note is that the market has shifted fundamentally since the boom and bust. DC and Marvel are now owned by Time Warner and Disney, respectively, who are making an absolute ton of money from internally and externally licensing their IP. It doesn't actually matter very much that you aren't selling many copies of The Avengers, the comic book, because The Avengers, the movie franchise, is making you absurd amounts of money, and indeed The Avengers, the Saturday morning cartoon, is doing OK business on TV and on Netflix as well. And Netflix also plans to make four more TV series based on your second string properties, so it doesn't really matter that a Defenders comic book will never break even: the characters are earning money. And Avengers: Agents of Shield is doing pretty well, too. And then there's the Facebook game, and the iOS game, and the action figures, and the Disney Infinity tie-ins and and and and...

(This speaks to your point (2), of course - comic books are competing not only with other entertainment media, but with the derivative products of comic books in those media.)

Meanwhile, the people who write the comics are earning very modest wages, in Hollywood terms, to create characters and plot beats that are then repurposed for the movies and TV series. So, Marvel and DC don't really need to sell many comic books at all, as long as they still have people who want to write them.

(Who makes the most money from writing comic book superheroes right now, on an annual basis? I'd guess David Goyer is up there, a prolific writer who has to my knowledge written about 60 big-two comic books, mainly as co-writer. Not series. Issues. Also Joss Whedon, who has probably written about 100 comics, mainly for Dark Horse, essentially because he could afford to take the gigantic salary cut to play with his favorite characters, and because even when his movie and TV careers were dipping, comic books would kill to have his name on their front covers.)

If you are a comic book _store_, you _do_ need to sell comic books, of course, and because of the way the direct market is structured you need to sell monthly, floppy comic books, and you need to be able to guess how many you are going to sell, because you don't want either understock or overstock, and you can't return unsold copies. As a result, you have to try to predict the market demand for every single one of hundreds of comic books a month, guided by sources that may be as poorly-informed and partial as you.

(Which, on preview, is one reason why pull lists are so important - they narrow your likely margin of error.)

Meanwhile, people who know what they like but don't have to have it immediately are waiting for trade paperbacks and buying them on Amazon at a discount rather than going to your store - or trying out a series digitally (legally or illegally) and picking up the trade if they like it.

Meanwhile, Marvel and DC have digital comic book stores, where comics cost very little to distribute, and third party distributors like Comixology, which widen their market while paying for their own server and upkeep costs and taking a cut from sales revenues. Very few brick-and-mortar comic book shops have brands strong enough to compete on a global scale as digital storefronts, even if they were not going to be averse to doing so for fear of cannibalizing their own paper-product sales, and even if the publishers were sanguine about letting them sell digital product. Who has the clout? Comic Book Men/Secret Stash? Forbidden Planet? Heavy Ink? Midtown Comics?

For a long time, the big two made their digital offerings uncompetitive to help shore up the network of specialty shops - by releasing digital comics a day later, by charging the same amount for an uncollectable digital comic as for a collectable paper comic, and so on. However, this arrangement is unwinding - digital comics are released on the same day as paper comics, back issues are discounted heavily, and there are experiments with Netflix-like "all you can eat" services like Marvel Unlimited, albeit currently kept away from new comics to protect retail and digital sales.

(Meanwhile creators without - or even with - digital distribution have in some cases also told fans that they don't object to them torrenting scanned copies, since it is hard to get hold of physical comics in a timely fashion outside urban hubs and the entertaining-minutes-per-dollar risk ratio of a comic book is potentially low, and have set up tip jars for those cases rather than taking a hard line.)

Simply put, there's probably a point where the life support for many struggling specialty stores simply shuts off, system by system - and, as comic books stores get progressively more thinly-spread, digital comics will seem progressively more natural, so a cycle is created. That doesn't mean comic books are a dead medium - it means that there are more efficient ways to sell the number of comic books a comic book publisher might want to sell. There are ways around this, but comic book stores are slow to adopt them, and the big publishers may not be heavily incentivized to promote them when paper comic sales are clearly not the future of their business model outside the lucrative but limited collector market.

Elsewhere, however, you've got things like Dark Horse and IDW's many TV, movie and video game tie-ins, which tend to overlap somewhat with comic book reader interests but have a wider potential appeal, and new imprints like First Second, by MacMillan, which distributes book-length original graphic novel works along with experiments like Faith Erin Hicks' Friends With Boys, which was published, page by page on the web before being bound and published as a physical book. And of course you have webcomics, which may never be charged for and (in part because of that) may have millions of readers, but would be totally uncompetitive as floppy wood pulp products sold in specialty stores.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:17 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Comic book store employees in my experience just hate customers with a passion only rivaled by hip bike store employees.

Oh, christ, flashbacks to my days as an all-weather urban bike commuter and vintage 10-speed enthusiast. I was a 350lb all-weather bike commuter and vintage 10-speed enthusiast. Not only was a vulture picking over their used parts bin and dusty old Fred-accessories, I was a fat vulture. I had never had a cashier sneer at me before, it was epic.

Notable exception: Sheldon Brown's old shop, Harris Cyclery. They were happy to show me everything they had hidden away for the older bikes and were super helpful in giving tips on how to install what I bought.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:20 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Tangentially related - as a woman with a few stereotypically male interests, it's sadly all too easy to find shitholes like the ones described in the comments. (I find that acting like a contemptuous, condescending jackass takes many of these douches by surprise, and they often respond positively, if only due to confusion.)

However, I've also had many positive experiences, and I'd like to give a shout out to Northern Brewer in Minneapolis for it's completely wonderful, friendly, helpful staff (unlike my experiences at rival Midwest Supplies), and Fantasy Flight Games in Roseville, MN - the staff and gamers have been nothing but helpful and friendly every time I've been in there. The Source, a games/comics shop also in Roseville, has also always been a pleasure to enter.
posted by Bourbonesque at 11:46 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]


My comic store is run BY women. Comic loving women. Sure, many geeks are maladjusted and scared of women, don't make it into a gender war please. If you don't like it, choose a different store and let natural selection fix it for you :)
posted by malrimple at 11:55 AM on February 13


> Unreason: the assumption you're making is the product is actually worth buying, regardless of how well the retailers sell it. Have you flipped through a comic book recently? The writing and art of most comics are mediocre and misogynistic. The childish culture of comics permeates beyond comic stores.

Have you never heard of Sturgeon's Law? For a while I was trying to patronize comics stores in NYC because I had become a huge Harvey Pekar fan, but I just couldn't deal with the attitude. (Needless to say, I neither looked nor behaved like a stereotypical comics fan, even though I am male.)
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on February 13


If Ms. Stevenson is pro enough to have an agent and a publishing deal, she's pro enough to deal with a clerk in a store.

We don't all get an "E" on the Meyers-Briggs test. Doesn't mean we're not pros in what we do.
posted by aught at 12:28 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Two of the comic book stores in my town of Brisbane - Comics Etc and Ace Comics & Games - seem to actively dislike customers. Only Daily Planet, where I have my pull (which is down to like two books) is ever friendly, and that's a mix of two guys and two girls running the shop, and I frequently see female customers in there.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:05 PM on February 13


Part of my beef is that precious few comics are for kids any more

Admittedly, I've only been a parent for a few months now, but I have a friend with a son who's about 10 and they seem to have a great time with kids' comics (apparently Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those "fun for kids and parents" deal-- who knew?). At our comic store the kiddie stuff is split off into a separate spinner rack for the reasons you mention, but they are there. Obviously it varies by shop depending on available space and market interest, etc.
posted by yerfatma at 1:22 PM on February 13


Ah, man. It's been over a decade since I've been in a comics store, but everything's been conspiring to bring back WEF-era memories and I almost want to give it another go. Denver folks, how's Mile High Comics? Or is there a better local option?
posted by rewil at 1:27 PM on February 13


one thing i've noticed since starting to transition from female to male is that even in the "nerd shops" i choose to frequent, which are ones where i felt comfortable while presenting as female and where my female friends feel comfortable, when i'm seen as male my experience is different and i'm more likely to get pulled into conversations about things by the workers and engaged with, whereas when i'm seen as a girl i'm usually ignored. (i'm an introverted person and fine with not being engaged with, and never experienced it as a negative, ftr.) this is way better than shops i've heard about where being seen as a girl means being harassed in some way but it was interesting to realize it.

(i say "nerd shops" to kind of include comics shops and video game places and stuff - we have more, like, gaming places [video and tabletop] that happen to also sell comics and other nerd-media stuff than dedicated comics shops around here)
posted by titus n. owl at 1:31 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


unreason: " This really illustrates dramatically how terrible stores are at selling comics, that even when their characters are promoted in this way, they still can't bring new customers in. Women and minorities watched the Avengers along with the rest of America, but comic book stores still weren't able to or even interested in selling them anything."

My older son is starting to get interested in adventure stories and superheroes and he's a very good reader. While comics are not my "thing" personally, I know they have complicated, rich, and nuanced stories about morality, outsiders, etc. But I'm not going to buy my child something with those incredibly toxic female body images. It's gross, and I just quickly surveyed some parents of boys older than mine who I caught online, and they fairly universally agreed they didn't want their sons reading comic books because, in the words of one, "it seems like just this side of buying them Playboy. So many boobs!" And all these parents let their kids see the movies (as age appropriate) ... they just won't let them near the books because they're visually so mysogynistic.

Lots of these parents, their opinion of comics isn't informed by awesome changes in comics and storytelling and internet comics and so on in the past 20 years ... their total knowledge of the medium is DC and Marvel's flagship comic books, so they have no reason to investigate a comic book store, so their kids never get a chance to get into them until they're old enough to seek out comics on their own, and by then chances are their tastes are already formed for other types of media.

So that's another way DC/Marvel and comic book shops are alienating customers: by making their product actively unattractive to parents who are the gatekeepers for media until kids are teenagers.

--

Side note, I worked at a hobby shop in high school, which had its ups and downs and oddities, but I was rarely allowed to work in the train section because so many of the train guys simply refused to buy from a woman. Like, they would not conduct a retail transaction wherein I just rang up the merchandise they had already selected. Most of them were perfectly normal people, but there was a definite subset who, like, did not want my lady fingers to taint their checkout procedure. They also flatly refused to believe I knew the aisle layout of the store and could direct them to products. (Like I might not know which specific engine they were looking for, but I could definitely point them to the HO-scale engine section and tell them which manufacturers we carried and get them the appropriate special-order catalog.) I have mixed feelings about how much blame I assign to those customers, and how much I assign to the owner who tolerated/catered to that kind of nonsense. I mean, I don't know, he was running a business and all, but he could have said, "Eyebrows can ring you up" or "I'm busy right now but Eyebrows is very capable of helping you with your special order" instead of always catering to their refusal to deal with girls, you know?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:46 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]


Comic book store employees in my experience just hate customers with a passion only rivaled by hip bike store employees.

Our Valued Customers
posted by straight at 2:10 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Admittedly, I've only been a parent for a few months now, but I have a friend with a son who's about 10 and they seem to have a great time with kids' comics (apparently Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those "fun for kids and parents" deal-- who knew?).

Oh, sure, there are great kids' comics out there (and thanks for the Sonic recommendation, I never would have tried that out), but what I meant specifically was showing my kids fun comics about Superman and Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and the great heroes that I grew up with. My kids absolutely love those heroes, but I can't just hand my son a GL without checking it out first, because there may be adult language or a rape or somebody getting his spine ripped out or, for that matter, a Star Sapphire with barely-contained boobs and a super-highlighted camel toe.

It sucks, both from a "I wish to Christ I could share this with you" standpoint and a "why can't this stuff just be fun sometimes" standpoint.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:43 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


(And yes, I know about stuff like Li'l Gotham and the like, but there ain't much of that kind of thing at my local store, anyway.)
posted by middleclasstool at 2:44 PM on February 13


It sucks, both from a "I wish to Christ I could share this with you" standpoint and a "why can't this stuff just be fun sometimes" standpoint.

Why? In two words...

Frank.

Miller.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:13 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I completely forgot what inspired this post in the first place. (Scanned comments, couldn't see it, drinking morning coffee): The Valkyries - Comic shops with female staff and positive vibes! Seems maybe US and Canada only so far.
posted by Mezentian at 3:14 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Why? In two words...

Oh, good lord, someone doesn't remember the Disco Era. When Byrne and Claremont had straight up super-dominatrixes fight the good guys in the X-Men, they were just bringing the whole shebang to its logical conclusion.

(And B:TDKR itself is actually pretty progressive - Robin is the kind of female character everyone is after these days, because she's AWESOME, and this was in the Early Reganesque period. Then Miller made some money, and went all Randroid.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:43 PM on February 13


Psst. Libraries have comics too. And we could use the circulation numbers.

Actually I have the first TPB of Rucka's Queen & Country out from my local library (I'm a huge fan of our library) on a recommendation from a friend. I'm dipping my toe back in, slowly and carefully.
posted by immlass at 4:48 PM on February 13


If you're looking for goofy nonsensical kid comics, I can highly recommend Johnny Boo* (5 books out so far). I'm actually a little sad my kid doesn't ask for me to read it anymore, because I had great voices for all the characters and it had good/nonsensical jokes.

*by James Kochalka, of American Elf and, um, SuperFuckers. But Johnny Boo is very kid-appropriate, if you don't mind some jokes about belching and one kid who had to run off to pee (not shown).

He has another one for slightly younger kids called Dragon Puncher that isn't bad either.
posted by emjaybee at 6:04 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I have actually managed to go my whole vagina-owning life without being treated like crap in a comic book store. Go me!
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:36 PM on February 13


I really hope this trend of feminist comics people on Tumblr "ironically" calling their critics fake nerds dies out pretty quickly. It's not okay to call someone a fake nerd just because they're a woman, but neither is it okay to do it just because they disagree with your particular views on social issues. Calling someone a fake nerd is a shitty thing to do in general.

I sympathise with many of the points in the comic (I've been put off by the service in comics stores, and I'm not even a woman), but the bit where she claims an absolute right to read sexy comics she enjoys while judging stores for stocking those she disapproves of rings a bit false...
posted by fearthehat at 6:49 PM on February 13


Seriously guys, the Nimona comic is brilliant.

Yeah! (I've been reading it since forever.) She did Nimona Valentines, which are extraordinarily charming if you know the story.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:28 PM on February 13


As if anyone needed another reason to never watch Comic Book Men.
posted by Catblack at 7:35 PM on February 13


I'm really excited to announce that I spent yesterday directing a webisode about a comic shop with both female customers and staff, in an actual comic shop with a woman behind the counter and several female customers throughout the day.

I've never actually been treated like crap in a comic store, but I'm not a diehard comic reader and have had the privilege of mostly patronizing places like Forbidden Planet in NY and Meltdown in LA, which are sort of above that kind of bullshit.

I don't doubt that it actually happens, especially in smaller shops in limited markets where a cabal of asshole dudes is able to freeze out anyone they don't like. I definitely didn't feel comfortable in my hometown's comics/baseball cards/MTG/Pokemon shop as a teenager, which is largely why I didn't get into comics until much later in life.
posted by Sara C. at 7:38 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I'm really excited to announce that I spent yesterday directing a webisode about a comic shop with both female customers and staff, in an actual comic shop with a woman behind the counter and several female customers throughout the day.

You will have to give us all a shout out when it goes on the Internets.

I've never actually been treated like crap in a comic store,

Nor have I, and I have to admit that the idea these places are so female-unfriendly is a bit odd since all I have ever known are gaming, comic and SF bookshops which always seemed to welcome female customers, and had plenty of female customers (and co-owners in many cases) even when I was a wee bairn, heading into the city solo for the first time to experience these wonders.

But I don't doubt that it happens. Especially since I watched that first episode of Comic Book Men.
posted by Mezentian at 7:59 PM on February 13


I think a lot of hobbyists run hobby shops not to run a business but to have an excuse to do their hobby all day and pretend they're working. If you don't want to hang out with women while you're doing your hobby, it makes total sense to scare women away.

Boardgaming as a hobby suffers from this to an extent. The store we used to go to was run by a married couple, both of whom equally into games, and although women were in the minority during play sessions, it never felt like a weird or unsafe environment. I'm led to believe this isn't always the case - see the photos of 'female gamers' on BoardGameGeek, the shutting down of sexism debates, the fact that there is a whole (somewhat odd) subforum for 'women and boardgaming' (which almost presumes a minority status) and people think it's hilarious to bring up the memory game Busen Memo, and to a lesser extent the artwork on some games.

My boyfriend is definitely the gamer in our household, and I can lose patience with new games quickly, but I love quite heavy wargames like Twilight Struggle. If I wanted to come to gaming on my own, rather than discovering it together, I'd find all of this very offputting. Some of it is that kind of geeky tonedeafness that tends to treat women as 'other' rather than meaning to be actively exclusionary or sexist, but if you're female and want to participate in untraditionally feminine hobbies, it happens, and it's tiresome. The 'this is how we see you' posters really rang true to me. I used to go to comic shops here in the UK - where comics are less of a thing - and although I never had any ill treatment other than the odd stare, there was a strong sense of othering. And yes, comics can be intimidating given the amount of history and folklore surrounding long-running series.

Is there an opposite gender equivalent of this? I've hung out on a few make-up forums and they tend to be hugely welcoming of men, whether as wearers or make-up artists. There are companies like MAC and Illamasqua who use models of various genders in their campaigns. I crochet as well, and I've never heard this kind of complaint by male crafters, even though it is a very female-based hobby - many of the big pattern designers are male, Mr X Stitch and Arne and Carlos are regularly featured in magazines, and there is a boutique knitting shop (that I keep meaning to go to) run by men. I wonder why this is more prevalent when a woman walks into a male hobbyist environment.
posted by mippy at 4:15 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Regarding men in female hobby spaces: The waiting area in Webs used to be covered in sports, car, and fishing magazines - the assumption being that manly men get dragged these places by their wives, and it does seem to me to be the exact opposite of GenCon's spousal program track featuring knitting (because you can't like to play board games and knit? They have not met the knitters I've met). It's been a couple years since I've been there, that might not be true anymore. It seemed especially weird in Northampton, where it was equally likely that a non-knitting woman was going to be dragged over there with by her wife.

But in general, it's because we value the masculine over the feminine, so while there is less outside sanction for women doing men's things then men doing something 'girly', the response within the community is oftentimes to value the men who are willing to dare to do something feminine or women who do the same.

This is true of knitting, of men writing fanfic, of coverage of men's roller derby (it suddenly becomes a 'real sport' when they do it). And it's not to devalue the accomplishment of men who do these things - it's just that people within the community are more likely to notice and value their work, and I don't think it's because men are automatically better at knitting.

Dovetailing into this is the view of men in feminine spaces as queer - whether they are or not, it's often just sort of assumed that they are. And there's the women treating gay men as their 'new gay bestie' thing that goes on, fetishizing them. There's a local yarn shop near me that's run by a man, and he performs the 'New Gay Bestie' stereotype to the max. It works for him as a business model and nobody is making him do it, but it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. 'Please, I don't want to treat you like an accessory, I would like to just buy some yarn'. (Imagine walking into a comic book shop and the person behind the counter is playing up the cute Asian girlfriend stereotype. yeah. YEAH.)

My boyfriend and I are probably equally nerdy when it comes to comics and board games, but yeah, the assumption is that I'm just tagging along to be nice and to share his interests. I've found the best way to get service at some of these places is to ask my boyfriend to look confused right next to me. Inevitably, the sales associate that I was trying to flag down pops up out of nowhere to ask if he has any questions, and I'll leap on my chance.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:47 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


There's a local yarn shop near me that's run by a man, and he performs the 'New Gay Bestie' stereotype to the max. It works for him as a business model and nobody is making him do it, but it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. 'Please, I don't want to treat you like an accessory, I would like to just buy some yarn'.

This is called "homophobia."
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:58 AM on February 14


Two-fer with the "Asian girlfriend stereotype" bomb drop.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:05 AM on February 14


This is called "homophobia."

So, here's the thing. The last time this came up on metafilter, gay men were talking about how this was a successful business model for them in businesses that cater to women I don't even mind that this is his business model: he is out there to make money, this is a successful way for him to make money. I am just uncomfortable feeling like I'm being put into the role of the fetishizer, when I have been the fetishized so very often.

Is there still some homophobia in there? I can't honestly say. I don't have issues with flamboyantly gay men in non-retail situations.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:20 AM on February 14


I think so, it basically doesn't leave room for a flamboyantly gay guy to run a shop and be affable with the clients.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:22 AM on February 14


The new gay bestie thing isn't just affability, though. It's performed friendship to the scale outside of the bounds of your average retail experience. Like, ignoring physical boundary norms for strangers and ignoring customers who don't look feminine enough to concentrate solely on the few who do.

I'm also an introvert, so that might be part of the issue.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:38 AM on February 14


I have heard guys say that they have issues at yarn shops, especially outside of big cities or other places with a lot of hip young folks. And there definitely is a stereotype that male knitters are gay, although that stereotype is probably to some extent backed up by the demographics of actual male knitters. (Don't pounce! I know there are many straight male knitters! But knitting seems to be popular among some gay male subcultures.) But I really don't think that the treatment of men in female-dominated hobbies is just the flipside of the treatment of women in male-dominated ones, because men and women don't have equal power and authority in our society. Men are overrepresented in the ranks of top knitting designers, relative to their numbers among overall knitters, and my sense is that there are a lot of prominent men on the business side of knitting. Guys make up more than half of the members of the board of TNNA, the trade association for needlearts businesses. I doubt that's true of women in businesses associated with male-dominated hobbies.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:50 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Okay, I was doubting myself earlier in terms of perceived familiarity in regards to performance, but ‘Do not hug first time shoppers when they say they are feeling overwhelmed and need some time, it is off-putting and does not help with the overwhelming feeling’ seems like a good baseline and shouldn’t be that difficult to manage, no matter how the shopkeeper presents themselves. (I’m Midwestern, I hug my significant other and close family only, and close family only at special occasions).
posted by dinty_moore at 6:09 AM on February 14


The problem is ascribing that to a homosexual stereotype, as if the shopkeeper weren't gay, you wouldn't have boundary issues with each other. The "asian girlfriend" trope is also immensely problematic - we've heard it before with the "white girlfriend stereotype" and it's ugly enforcement of racial segregation. (Exoticization of women by men of a different race is a separate issue, and not the woman's fault.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:29 AM on February 14


The problem is ascribing that to a homosexual stereotype, as if the shopkeeper weren't gay, you wouldn't have boundary issues with each other.

If the shopkeeper were a straight guy, I’d be even more weirded out by him touching me without my permission (I actually don’t know if he’s gay or not. He’s flamboyant, yes, but that doesn’t have to do with sexual preferences). If the shopkeeper was a woman, I’d still be uncomfortable with it, but there wouldn’t be so much baggage involved in it.

Because there IS an undercurrent to women’s interactions with gay men – women do often assume a familiarity with gay men and weirdly fetishize and objectify them. Pretty much every gay dude I know is wary of it. It’s toxic, I don’t want to be part of it, and I try not to be part of it. It works for him as a business model because of the stereotype (it becomes really obvious when people who do like the store talk to me about it - calling him 'precious', for example), but I don’t really blame him for taking advantage of a stereotype for his own benefit.

The cute asian girlfriend stereotype analogy was badly thought out, and I apologize – I was trying to think of something going back to the topic at hand, and I realized after typing it that it was a bad fit.

Anyway, getting off this topic because it feels more and more like a derail.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:59 AM on February 14


Okay, one last thing - I wanted to say that the most important part of gay men being fetishized as accessories for women (or as ‘new gay besties’) is the gay man’s discomfort, not my own. Because I think that got lost in my morning blathering. It happens, it’s unfortunate, it creates a weird atmosphere, it’s an example of how it can be uncomfortable to be a guy in a feminine space when coupled with the assumption that men in feminine spaces are probably gay.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:12 AM on February 14


As an avid seamster, I've seen lots of gender-related awkwardness in fabric stores over the years.

There's the sort of looking at me, then looking around, then looking back at me with a sort of confused "umm, where's your wife/girlfriend?" glance or the "poor guy has to carry those bolts of fabric around for his wife/girlfriend" aww-eyebrows.

There's the oh-isn't-it-cute-a-man-trying-to-sew thing, usually coupled with a long bout of mansplaining, or whatever you call it. Womansplaining? Sometimes, I'll nip it in the bug with a florid display of esoteric knowledge or an idle mention that I own and regularly use five sewing machines including a Necchi Mira BU that I'm restoring because it'll sew through denim eight layers thick.

There's the oh-honey thing, too. As I indicate that I'd like eighteen yards of silver tissue lamé, I'd get "Oh, honey, are you sure you read the pattern instructions right? That sounds like an awful lot of fabric. What are you making?"

"Pants."

"Umm, and the pattern says—"

"—I'm not using a pattern."

"Oh."

Just measure the damn fabric, will you?

"Just eighteen yards of this, thanks."

I, of course, am more bemused than bothered, mostly, and feel like it's a great opportunity for me to experience what assholes look like when they feel like women are outside of their "rightful" place, and I make notes not to do these things when the roles are reversed. Men have a long, embarrassing history of being shitheads, and I'm more than happy to take my refresher courses in don't-be-a-dick 101.

Where it's particularly amusing, though, is when there's a gay guy working at the fabric store.

The ladies at a fabric store have an overwhelming, uncontrollable instinct to sort of force us to interact, because ladies, particularly the ones who will brag about "their gays," think we are not like boy cats and it all becomes very jungly. Eyes narrow, suspicions emerge, the instinct to be wry and imperious at once becomes nearly irresistible. If we had tails, they'd fluff up into giant puffy sausages of territorial fervor. I have no idea why this is, but the universe only allows one fabric-savvy gay man to occupy a fabric store at any given time, at least on this side of New York.

"Oh, tissue lamé? Why would you use that?"

"Loft and volume."

"Not something with a little more rigidity? Tulle, maybe?"

Rrrr rrrr ffftscht sss.

"No, need something to catch the air. More movement."

Ffftsst rrr rruurrh

"Well," says other fabric-savvy gay guy, "Good luck with that…I guess."
posted by sonascope at 11:34 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Denver folks, how's Mile High Comics? Or is there a better local option?

I've been to their main warehouse and my local outpost and all the staff has been perfectly pleasant to me, and patiently listened while I got all nostalgic about 90s Valiant comics. I keep missing issues of things I'm intending to read, though, so I need to either commit to a pull list or give up and wait for trades.
posted by asperity at 1:03 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


"Oh, honey, are you sure you read the pattern instructions right? That sounds like an awful lot of fabric. What are you making?"

18 yards of fabric really is a lot, for almost any project except maybe a wedding dress.

18 is also a multiple of 3, so I can see someone thinking, "wait, did this guy do his math right? Maybe he means 6 yards?"

I am female, and I'm pretty sure someone in a fabric store would question me ordering 18 yards of almost any fabric but maybe white organdy or something normally used for curtains.

It's worth noting that in this story, women are being given a hard time for buying a comic book (the most typical transaction you can do in a comic book store), not trying to buy 50 copies of a particular comic book, which is the comic shop equivalent of an order for 18 yards of fabric.
posted by Sara C. at 1:16 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


In other news: Women aren't just destroying science fiction, but other genres too
posted by homunculus at 8:03 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Mary Shelly ruined everything!
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:16 PM on February 14 [4 favorites]


In other news: Women aren't just destroying science fiction, but other genres too

I backed that ages ago, and I simply cannot wait to read Women Destroy Horror. It'll be edited by Ellen Datlow, who is one of the absolute best in the business.

In an ideal world, they'd expand into comics and get Gail Simone on board for Women Destroy Superheroes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:07 AM on February 15


Comixology has Pretty Deadly #1 on sale this weekend as part of Image Leading Ladies sale. If you want to support women in mainstream comics, you could do worse than the Deconnick/Rios combo.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:15 PM on February 15


"you could do worse than the Deconnick/Rios combo"

Don't forget that the colors are by Jordie Bellaire.
posted by komara at 2:46 PM on February 16


apparently Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those "fun for kids and parents" deal

But not so much for French cops.
posted by homunculus at 2:21 PM on February 25


Image Comics Publisher Calls Women “The Fastest Growing Demographic” In The Industry
posted by homunculus at 4:31 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Image Comics Publisher Calls Women “The Fastest Growing Demographic” In The Industry

It's sad how much I was expecting there to be a subhead like "Then He Adds, 'If You Know What I Mean,' Winks, Makes Big-Boob Motion With Hands".
posted by Etrigan at 2:47 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


He'd be more interested in their abdomens, assuming he knows about the secret womanly powers of the uterus.

It's science!
posted by homunculus at 10:36 AM on March 2


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