Last week, Noelle Stevenson, Nimona comics creator, among other things - including art student grad, social media maven, and traditionally published comics creator - published a fantastic short comic about her terrible experience in a comic book shop. I urge you to go there and read it in full as it is both hilarious and sad and filled with painful, pitiful truth.
The result was, naturally, internet explosion – of both the good and bad variety - last I looked it had been re-blogged or noted over 73,000 times. A ton of people related to this comic, understood it instantly, and even if they hadn’t experienced it themselves, understood that this happens ALL THE TIME. Of course there was also a ton of sexism, harassment, concern trolling, silencing techniques, victim blaming, and plain old mansplainin’.
So I thought as someone with a regular column that addresses these kind of things, it might be time, or past time possibly, to weigh in on my experiences, because I’ve never really talked about my own comics shop experiences. Some of you know how I came to comics – i.e. through the 1990’s X-Men Animated Series. For some reason this has never gotten me (to my knowledge) the ire that others experience for DARING to find comics via other more popular media. There’s quite frankly, never a good reason to judge someone for how they come to comics, but it’s hard for me to understand why you’d laugh at someone for getting there via something like Nolan’s Batman, which made literal mounds of money – like rolling in vaults of gold Scrooge McDuck style – and is pretty damn good to boot – and then NOT judge someone else for getting to comics via cheesy 90’s animated X-Men cartoons. Makes no sense. Though I love the 90's X-Men Animated Series (sometimes powered by nostalgia alone) I can admit in retrospect that they were rather terrible. But I'll always be grateful that they brought me to comics. Unfortunately, this is the culture we live in these days - a culture in which people - typically those with a whole lot of privilege - love to be outraged over things like mythical “fake geeks” (usually “fake geek girls”) I guess because it’s just not enough to have ALL THE STUFF MADE FOR YOU…you also have to make sure NOBODY ELSE ENJOYS IT OR MIGHT INFLUENCE IT IN ANY WAY.
Well I have news for you, you people that think this way are fucking dinosaurs and you WILL die out. It’s just a matter of time.
By opting to be on the "I hate change" team you are ignoring the entire breadth of human history, because change? She is the only damn constant. You’re on the losing team, kid, you just don't know it yet.
So, what happened to me in comic shops to make me so sure that Stevenson's comic is right on the money? Very little. I happened to get very very lucky in my first comics experiences in large part because I had four things going for me that few people are lucky enough to have:
#1. I WASN’T DOING IT ALONE. I had my younger brother with me and that changes everything on both sides because from my side of things - let's face it, everything is less scary when you have a friend/partner in crime. I had my brother and he was an awesome partner in crime. We bonded because of comics and became close in a way that I don't think we ever would have without managed without them. Though we went our separate ways with comics eventually, him largely leaving, except for the occasional book or series, and me diving headlong into them for life, those experiences and our love of the medium still unites us to this day. It was awesome and I'll always be grateful for that bond we share and that he was as in love with them on sight as I was. Perhaps more importantly however, from the retailer side of things, they didn't even have to see ME as a potential buyer because I had their core audience with me – A YOUNG WHITE MALE. By the time anyone figured out that I was also there for myself I was spending enough money that they didn’t care I was a girl.
#2. I WAS YOUNG & NAÏVE. And thus almost unaware when I was being treated in a dismissive way. I'm sure it happened from time to time but I simply didn't "get it" enough to know it was happening. It’s a lot easier to walk into a "boys club" and attempt to screw with the status quo when you don't actually know you're doing it. While I was insecure, probably like any teen, I also had that weird confidence that only youth can bring - that brazen naivety that makes you completely unaware that people might not want you there. If I even could get to "why wouldn't they want you?" it might have thrown me, but I was too blissfully ignorant to even think up that possibility. In my mind, of course I was wanted - I was awesome and had money to spend - who wouldn't want ME?! The 20, 30, 40, 50-something (etc) new female comic fan doesn't have this "luxury of innocence/stupidity" - they are all too aware of how the world works, how shitty people are, how close-minded and fearful tight knit groups can be, and they can more easily read the signs (both literal and not, both spoken and unspoken).
#3. ABSOLUTE OBSESSION. I had the benefit of absolute obsession, again, a quality few adults can afford. I had fallen head over heels in love with comics and as a result I had the kind of blinders on that only come with obsession. I argued to the point of insanity with my father one day when he would not let me (16 years old and frankly not a great driver - who is at 16?) drive in a BLIZZARD to pick up my pull. I'm sure there was something going on with Rogue/Gambit that week that I was DYING to know about. Anyway, I was obsessed with comics in that way that few adults are obsessed with anything. As an adult you learn perspective, you learn about responsibilities. Even that stuff that drives you mad in the good and bad ways (a crush, a new relationship, a promotion, that guy you hate) - most of us as adults can still see the forest for the trees. Not so my teenaged self that loved comics. There was a point at which someone probably could have grabbed my boob and insulted me at the time in a comic shop and I would have just moved his hand and been all "uh-huh, and WHEN does that book come out?"
4. A GREAT SHOP. Very early in my comics reading and shopping for comics experience My brother and I had the good fortune to find a great comic book shop and one that actually happened to be owned and operated by a woman, which made it naturally more inclusive in every way. Mimi was the owner of Night Flight, but also a hardcore fan and so despite the fact that I almost never saw women in her shop (and I don't recall any other female employees during the years I shopped there) just her presence alone "normalized" the idea in my impressionable young brain about women reading comics. It was also a store with an inclusive, open, friendly, and knowledgeable staff. I'm sure that was, in part, quite naturally, because when your boss is a woman that loves comics you learn very quickly to be more open minded and see OTHER women as potential readers/customers AND because you probably know, even if you WERE prone to any kind of discrimination/sexism/harassment/casual that your female comics loving boss was unlikely to look kindly on that.
It's no surprise that Night Flight became OUR shop. That when it came time to set up our pull, this was where we did it, no question. It was also (at the time) conveniently located in a mall (and one with an arcade-bonus!)...but I would have driven much father for it.
From the moment I started reading superhero comics I also started creating them. Drawing and writing my own characters (all terrible). Night Flight was a place I felt so encouraged and accepted that I recall (at least once) showing Mimi and some of her staff my stuff. They were sweetly encouraging (despite said terrible work) and they helped – ever so subtly - grow those tender ideas that I could actually work in the comics field. I’ll always be grateful to Mimi and Night Flight (which still exists - though not in the same location – go check them out) for their part in my development as a reader, a fan, and an eventual creator.
My next regular comic shop was in Tucson Arizona my freshman year of college at The University of Arizona. I got lucky again when I found a perfect comic shop right off campus called Captain Spiffy's with a fantastically charismatic and friendly owner that didn't blink an eye at my presence. By then I had a good two years of comics reading under my belt so I would have been more difficult to dissuade, but still the shop made a huge difference in my life. In fact, the owner was a creator himself and had an ongoing self-published book based on the character Captain Spiffy and he even offered night classes teaching sequential art. I ended up taking two of the courses my sophomore year and they were hugely responsible for me eventually transferring to The Savannah College of Art and Design to study sequential art. It was taking those classes that actually helped me understand how much I loved comics because most of my fellow graphic design students were obsessed with graphic design, while I was obsessed with comics. I couldn’t come close to their passion for graphic design (no matter how practical a career path that might have been) because my obsessive space where you keep your passion for your work was already filled up with comics, there wasn't enough room for graphic design. [Captain Spiffy's is long gone - where?! - but it's nice to know others miss it too]
Interestingly enough, when I moved to SCAD to actually study comics, I largely stopped reading comics. Or at least the week to week floppies. I didn’t like the comic shop near me in the suburbs – I never felt welcome there – odd as you would think a shop would go out of its way to be a good shop when you were one of only a few in a town that had “comics” as a MAJOR. The shop near school was supposedly good, but I never gave it much of a chance and it was inconvenient for me. I was also just absorbing a lot of comics history and knowledge that suddenly made month to month floppies, especially superhero stuff, seem less interesting to me (and let’s remember this was the late 90’s so it’s possible I was just burned out on the 90’s in general). Anyway, it was a weird time. And it was a while before I got back into comics.
Eventually when I was in LA, post 2001 and reading regularly again, I went both to a good shop close to me (DJ’s Universal) and Meltdown Comics, perhaps my favorite shop I’ve ever been to (keep in mind I haven't lived in LA since 2005). In New York (post 2006) I mostly frequented a small shop right in my neighborhood (Alex’s MVP) and Jim Hanley’s, the shop I like the best (of several good ones) in Manhattan but which, like Meltdown in my LA days, is just not convenient enough to be my “weekly shop.”
So I’ve been really lucky all told. So why do I believe people like Stevenson that talk about about having terrible experiences? Well, firstly, because I tend to just believe comics creators when they talk passionately about their experiences via their art. Stevenson even mentions in her comic how she has had other experiences and that she knows not all shops are bad, but that things like what happened to her keep her from becoming a regular comic shop go-er (and comics reader) despite the fact that she’s an actual COMICS CREATOR. But her mentioning that doesn’t keep people from calling her a liar or blaming her for "not loving comics enough" and suggesting that "she needs to work harder if she wants to be a real nerd" and saying that “because they’ve never seen this happen, it doesn’t exist” – one of the more ridiculous arguments that the internet loves to recycle.
But I don’t just have to take it on faith, because it HAS happened to me. And let's even ignore the less direct ways that women are told comics and comic shops are not for them - with what is featured and how it's displayed, a lot of it loudly proclaiming, before anyone says a word, that this is not SUPPOSED to be for you. Fortunately the direct stuff that I experienced did NOT happen to me when I was new to comics, or if it did I was not aware of it. It mostly happened to me once I was old fucking hat at comics and so I was more easily able to stand up for myself and make store employees (and customers) feel like absolute asshats for their bullshit preconceived notions and rampant discrimination/sexism. Doesn’t mean it should have happened. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have been taken seriously until I could “prove myself as a true fan” or “prove myself to not be a ‘johnny come lately’” or “prove myself to be someone with a brain and interests and not just a pair of tits walking around blindly who happened to stumble into the wrong damn store.” I shouldn’t have to prove ANY OF THAT. Nobody should.
I shouldn’t have to prove any of that in any scenario, but I ESPECIALLY shouldn’t have to prove it in a comic shop, something that is (and frequently claims that it is) dying a little bit every day. Comic book stores have a really tough go of it, let's face it. They cater to a tiny niche audience and access via digital comics is killing them. And because of these fact they should be MORE open and interested than ANYONE in new readers, they should WANT the “Johnny come latelies” because you know another name for those? NEW READERS.
Yes, NEW READERS, you absolute idiots.
I’ve never seen another industry, more committed to its own self-destruction. I wrote (I hope passionately) last week about how I want to see more of EVERYTHING in comics, and that isn’t at the exclusion of anyone, including white males, of which my father, brothers, boyfriend, and many friends, all of whom I adore, happen to be, it’s just for the INCLUSION of everyone. And that includes all people – including, yes, all women - being able to go into any comic book store in the world, unafraid that they’re going to be harassed, hit on, stalked, insulted, talked down to, and generally despised for daring to come into a store to BUY SOMETHING.
As my 3 Chicks co-host Sue is known for saying – women’s money doesn’t have little boobies on it. And quite frankly, even if it did, who cares??? You could still deposit it IN THE BANK.
I’m not going to end this piece with a whole “and I know not all stores are bad” bit, which is what my “don’t get people too upset” instincts are telling me to do. I’m not going to do that, because I already wrote over a 1,000 words about my personal experiences with good shops. So don’t try to make this about something else. It’s about exactly what it actually says it’s about.
In addition to whatever comment you were already planning to leave, consider mentioning any shops you know of that you are CERTAIN are good/safe shops. It’s true that I’ve seen a lot of cases where people will be all “Oh such and such shop is the best!” and in my head I’m all “Well, that’s not entirely true, cause X, Y, and Z happened to me at that exact shop before I gave up going there” but it’s still worth trying to share the good shops. Unfortunately, as we all know, it only takes one really bad employee to potentially ruin a shop permanently for someone. And honestly, any shop owners reading? I would seriously urge you to have an intervention with your employees and make sure everyone is on the same page with how you want your shop to be perceived, because 50% of the population rarely comes into your stores and at least some percentage of them would like to, but are afraid, and it only takes one bad experience to send them running, not only away from your shop, but away from comics. And our industry straight up needs every reader it can get.
What you definitely DON’T have to add to the comments section is how this never happens because you’ve never seen it happen, or even better, that it never happens because one time you saw a woman treated well in a shop and therefore they are always treated well. Since I have my University of Arizona days on the brain I have to tell you that with that logic you would get an F in my freshman “Logic & Critical Thinking" Philosophy Course, my friend (I, however, got a B, so...take that) :)
Totally unrelated personal side note: The Kickstarter for my book STORYKILLER ends midday on Thursday, so check it out if you have a chance.
In addition to being a cool book, the print edition is going to have 32 pages of full color art - 22 original pieces from 21 incredible comic book artists including: Dustin Nguyen, Rebekah Isaacs, Kris Anka, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire, Caanan Grall, Matthew Southworth, Ross Campbell, Stephanie Hans, Meredith McClaren, Renae De Liz & Ray Dillon, Kyla Vanderklugt, Thomas Boatwright, Ming Doyle, Ben Caldwell, Noelle Stevenson, Jake Wyatt, Stacey Lee, Cassandra James, and Brett Weldele.
About half the art has been revealed and there are still limited edition prints available for some, but much of the art is going to be debuted over the next three days - including some awesome originals. So get in there!