At Publishers Weekly, Jennifer de Guzman tells one of those creeps-in-a-comics-store stories that are familiar to so many of us female types, and she wonders why, in this day and age, so many women still feel uncomfortable in comics stores.
I have had a few of those experiences myself—in fact, I quit buying comics in 1986 because I was fed up with the way I was treated in my local comics store, and I didn't go back for almost 20 years. But I also know it doesn't have to be that way—I am fortunate to live close to two excellent, and very female-friendly, comics stores, Comicopia and Hub Comics, both of which come close to the ideal I sketch out below. So I'm not here to complain.
No, I'm here to dream. It's one thing to have a comics store where women feel welcome; it's another to design one with them in mind. Well, OK, maybe just with me in mind, but I'm guessing I'm fairly typical. Here's what my ideal woman-friendly comics store would be like:
A clean, well-lighted place: You can tell most comics stores (and liquor stores, for that matter) are guy hangouts by the utter lack of comfort. Fluorescent lights, wire shelves, grey indoor-outdoor carpet, cinderblock walls. We women like things nice: Real wallboard on the walls, natural light, eye-pleasing colors, somewhere to sit. Maybe even a plant or two. And...
Nothing grotesque on the walls: Or on the shelves. You know those zombie Spider-Man and Mary Jane wedding figures? We think they're creepy. And the enormous poster of a woman with a wasp waist and melon tits? Not a turn-on (well, for most of us anyway). What I personally find creepiest, actually, is the dead eyes on so many comics women; that makes a lot of comics unreadable for me, and I sure don't want them staring at me while I shop. There's no need to plaster the walls with beefcake or ballerinas, just downplay the male-fantasy vibe.
Helpful staff: The same rules apply here as in any retail establishment (except, apparently, some comics stores): Staff should be respectful and polite, not ogle the ladies, and not be dismissive of our choices.
Let me tell you about that store in 1986. It was in a basement, and almost all the comics were displayed in cardboard boxes, but I could have gotten past that. The reason I quit shopping there was that every time I bought a comic, I felt like I was failing some sort of test. Whenever I asked for something, the staff treated the request with obvious disdain, and they never chatted with me or made recommendations. Meanwhile, my then-boyfriend had no such experience and kept telling me I was imagining things. The comics I bought there—Love and Rockets, Tales of the Beanworld, Omaha the Cat Dancer—have held up pretty well over time, so I don't think the problem was the comics. And you know what? Even if it was, the staff's job is not to judge my choices, it's to sell me the comics, preferably in a polite and respectful manner.
A wide variety of comics in stock: Women are careful shoppers. We like to hold things in our hands before buying them, not pre-order them sight unseen. And we don't want to come back if you don't have something the first time. On the flip side, we like to browse, and if you put out a lot of things, we'll probably buy more.
Discounts and deals: We also love a bargain. Send us a coupon for 30% off one item, and we'll buy three. If we buy ten comics, toss in a free one. Knock off 10% every now and then. Women hate to pay full price, but even a modest discount makes us much more likely to buy; what you lose on the individual items, you will make up in volume.
Location: Going to a comics shop is usually a social event for me—I go with a couple of friends, and we usually have lunch beforehand or coffee afterward, so obviously a conveniently located coffee or noodle shop is a key enticement. Also, we women seem to spend our lives doing errands, so a store that is located on the way to something else, as opposed to requiring a special trip, is a store I will go to much more often.
Chocolate! Put it by the register, and we'll pick up a truffle or three every time we shop. Trust me on this one.
It could be that the proverbial sweaty man-cave is an effective retail model for a certain type of customer, and maybe we should let the guys have their own stores. But I have observed over the years that guys often enjoy a comfortable environment and a good deal as much as women do, and a shop designed along these principles might find a robust clientele of both sexes—including some men being dragged in by their girlfriends.