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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Comic book shops and me

I'm always hearing how women *hate* going into comic book shops - they feel like they're entering a " No gurlz aloud" fanboy clubhouse, where the clerks don't look or talk to them, or if they do, it's condescending, or with the attitude that they don't know what they want, or they only want manga or something like that.

I believe them. I've seen what fanboys can be like, and it wasn't easy for me, either, when I walked into my first comic book shop with intent to buy.

And none of that happened to me. I think there are a number of reasons for that.

The first is that when I first read comic books, comic book shops didn't exist. Oh, you could get back issues in used bookstores, but for the most part, I bought my comics (DC, Harvey, Archie) from spinner racks in my local candy store under the D-line El. Sometimes I'd get an egg cream, too, if I had the money. I also got them four for a dollar, although they were 20 cents for the first couple of months. And no one noticed or cared that I bought superhero comics - why should they? It was just another item for sale, along with the candy and newspapers and the stuff at the lunch counter and the dirty books right next to the spinner racks. I'd get my allowance on Friday, and buy a couple of comics.

If there were only male names in the letter columns - I was ten. I didn't notice.

So comics never were, in my head, a male thing.

Even so, when I went back into comics, and had to go to a comic book store, I felt odd and out of place for all of two minutes. This was because the owner's mother was right there in the store, also reading the books. I was rarely, if ever, the only woman in the store. The clerks changed fairly frequently, but I had a pull list, I talked about the comics and the owner and I had a good rapport, so the clerks treated me accordingly. Eventually, and sadly, the owner had his third stroke in as many years and the shop closed and I had to go elsewhere.

And I walked in, checked out the DC racks and signed up for a pull list. And there, too, I have not felt unwelcome. Actually, I think I'm actually treated better than the other customers - certainly, with some deference. I walk in, they immediately get me this week's comics. No matter what else they're doing, or they apologize when they can't. I don't see them doing that for anyone else.

And I've finally figured out why - and it came from a conversation I had last Wednesday, where the clerk (a man about my own age) said he was lucky he remembered my name. And I countered with "How many middle-aged women in headscarves have a pull-list here?" He grinned and acknowledged that I was unique there.

It's not that I know stuff, and it's not that I'm comfortable enough to walk in and ask for things, or to just chat. It's that I'm middle-aged. For the younger clerks, I'm completely non-threatening, sexually speaking. I'm their mothers' age. They know how to treat women that age - you're polite and helpful. And the older clerks - I'm their age, not a teen-age girl. And I'm married (wedding ring) and I talk about things they remember, and again, I'm just non-threatening.

So, in an odd way, my comfort in comic book shops has more to do with sexism (the non-sexuality of middle-aged married women) than with my own feminism.


In Vienna, most comic shop clerks are women!

I'm always hearing how women *hate* going into comic book shops - they feel like they're entering a " No gurlz aloud" fanboy clubhouse, where the clerks don't look or talk to them, or if they do, it's condescending, or with the attitude that they don't know what they want, or they only want manga or something like that.

But I always have that experience in computer shops in Hungary. At first the guys don't even want to talk to me. (What I really hate is when they are trying to cheat me and sell me something inferior to what I need. *sigh* I need to double-check everything I'm handed.)

Lately I've taken to wearing one of my Linux T-shirts (under an open 3/4 shirt so that it's tznius) when going shopping for hardware, it seems to be working... though rather to the opposite effect, there are guys who want to tear it off me and say so.

Computer shops are also boy's clubs, and there my age is probably a bigger handicap, since no one "old" would know computers. And, honestly, I *don't*. Or at least, not as much as I should.

My regular comic book shop is very nice, owned by a couple, and both women and men work and shop there, but I've have been to others that totally fit the cliche up to and including the underground overcrowded dungeon feeling with merchandise falling on you and the opening hours that are both sporadic and not actually those that are announced at the door.

Near as I can figure, they're open on Wednesdays because they have to be, and open the other days for whatever collectors wander in.

I've never had any problems; possibly being a middle-aged woman is what does it, with or without headscarf. I've had more trouble in car parts shops, except when wearing overalls and wooly hat (in which case I usually get trade discount)

Well, the headscarf is sort of part of me - yesterday, I wore a hat and people didn't recognize me. Not a joke.

I think the age thing is part of it.

Ages ago when I dabbled in comics I went into a shop to buy a box for mine and the clerk asked if it was a present for someone. Then again that's probably because I sounded pretty clueless.

The first time I went to a shop to buy video games (maybe two and a half years ago? Not so long.) the young male clerk said something like "I don't see many girls... girls and women... who play games." But he said it nicely. But now that same store has a woman behind the counter, and so do other stores in the chain, and no one seems to comment on me being a forty year old woman who has her own Nintendo DS Lite.

I think that's the main thing - if more women went into comic shops and worked for comic shops, (and if comic writers understood what women want from comics - plot, continuity, and strong, believable characters of both sexes), things wouldn't be quite so boy's clubby.

You are so right about this...I have nothing to add. How novel (for me).

Ah, comics

Except for my personal shopper, Nirut, I make everyone in my comic shop a little uncomfortable, so I don't spend much time in there. When I first went, I'd called ahead and they had the six trades of The Authority waiting for me at the counter. That set the tone for my relationship with my shop. I credit my return to comics to you, Mama Deb, because of something you wrote about an Apollo and Midnighter smooch, oh, two or three years ago. I didn't know comics had gotten so interesting.

I think I have a personal shopper there because Nirut is a nice guy, he's happy to suggest comics he thinks I'd like, and this way I don't spend a lot of time in the store. It's not that the other clerks or the owners are rude, they're just so used to their male-only environment that standing up straight and not farting for the duration of my visit tough on them. That's okay; I like their service and location, and they like my money. I like being able to read about a new comic and either pick up the phone or send and email and it's in my pull next time I show up. Nirut also knocks himself out to find back issues for me because I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes. I don't think they're losing much money because I don't browse the stacks or whatever they're called, and I think I'm saving quite a bit because every time I do browse, usually because they're busy at the register, I end up spending double what I would if I just got my pull. Maybe I should try mail order...nah, there's a restaurant in the shopping center I like and sometimes go to when I get my pull. I have considered moving my pull to a woman-owned comic shop in the Midwest and having it mailed to me, but, y'know, I like going to my comic shop every couple of weeks.

My forties have been very good to me and fifty isn't looking so bad either. Occasionally I magically become invisible, but since a lot of what I do is observation, this is not the worst thing in the world. Of course the last time someone tried to shove in front of me in line or a waitress brushed me off, the middle aged woman with the sharp angry voice was suddenly very visible. I used to think that women my age with disposable income would be a target market for comics and other pop art forms. I founded J LHLS in 2003 to cater to that market because I kept meeting women my age who wanted to read some comics and graphic novels, but had no idea where to begin. Our reviews and essays have always been geared towards the thinking grown-up woman.

As a kid, I had the same entre to comics on spinner racks in grocery stores. Then I took a thirty year hiatus from them. The latest issue of Comic Effect was devoted to how people get into comics and a lot of it was boys riding their bikes from drug store to candy store to whatever store (except liquor stores, of course) to buy comics. My family never took long road trips, but I've heard more than one story from men my age whose dad or mom bought them some comics at a gas station or convenience store on the road to somewhere. And that is so cool! I like my comic shop, but I'd love to buy comics at the check-out stand. And I'd really LOVE to buy comics at the day spa and nail place. If I was more entrepreneurial I'd open a place like that, except it would offer financial services, lifestyle redesign, and lattes, too. Or something. Maybe I'm thinking of a commune. Oh well.

Oh, and one other thing: can I please blog your post at the Hackenblog?

Re: Ah, comics

A personal shopper? Whoa. I just have a pull-list, although the owner of the first shop used add comics he thought I'd like. Sometimes, he was right.

And, well. Apollo and Midnighter are wonderful in the right hands.

As for blogging this? I'd be honored.

No comic book shops in this area, but I get that treatment from classism if I go to the mall in the 'horse farms and country houses' corner of the county in my regular 'unstyled hair, no make-up, jeans tshirt and sneakers' clothes. US vs THEM: you don't fit our regular demographic so we don't know how to react.

I'd probably get that, too, then. Even in skirts, I fit your demographic more than theirs.

I've been in hobby and comic shops off and on for over 30 years...

And I've not once been made to feel unwelcome. When I was 19 and sorta cute, the guys were all EXCITED when I came in, because a.)I talked their talk, b.) I didn't mind the fact they were awkward because most geeky boys are, at first, with girls. and c.) I actually enjoyed hanging around. I never lacked for attention, from staff or patrons. Eventually I just became a buddy, though, for most of them, and got treated the same as everybody else, except from one or two confirmed misogynists I encountered.

Nowadays that guys there are often young enough to be my kids, and they are always friendly, because they hope I'll bake 'em cookies. Plus? A lot of my favourite stores have a much stronger female presence as girls are coming out of the geek closet.


I think this is the benefit of growing up with 90% males in my generation of the family. I didn't notice I was a girl most of the time, because my cousins and such? Never treated me like one, and so I broke the rules because I didn't know they existed.


Re: I've been in hobby and comic shops off and on for over 30 years...

Therein lies the difference. At 19, I was nowhere near comic shops (I was nineteen in 1982-83, so I don't even know if there were any, but I think so.) So I have no idea how I would have been treated. But I've always been more with the boys. Not that I have any problems with being with women - if they're friends, they know how ungirly I am - but I grew up with brothers.

Yeah, I know what you mean, but I've been mostly lucky in that.

I had the same thing growing up and reading comics. Down south Jersey where I grew up, we had drug stores that had magazines where I got my comics. Not a one of them 'girl comics'. Science fiction, fantasy, and adventure mostly. Magnus Robot Fighter, the early (bad) Star Trek comics, sword and sorcery ones.

Then when I was in my 20s and early 30s and started going to cons, now that was when it was a different. I was a very rare female when most of the con attendees were male. One comic book story I hung out in was mostly male. I did notice that not many women or girls came in. After a while the guys got use to me being there every week and behaved normally. It really didn't bother me. It took a new guy, after the usual gang of idiots were being themselves, who turned to me and asked how I could deal with them being rude, crude and socially unacceptable. I just shrugged and said women were worse. (And had one of the guys back me up, but that is another story!)

I mostly get my comics at Forbidden Planet. That has an equal balance of men and women in both employees and customers. But that is not the same all over. I have noticed slightly more guys at a couple of midtown comic shops. They don't treat me any different, but there are more male than female customers there.

I've been to Forbidden Planet, but it's way out of my way. I prefer someplace local to me.

Also, maybe times have changed. I hope so.

I (a twenty-something woman) work for a comic book store. The owners are a married couple (she started the business, but he spends more time in the store). It's rare that male employees outnumber female on any given day. I'm happy to say that the customers have been very respectful towards me. But I think part of that is the behavior we encourage in our customers. A good store falls apart if you let deadbeat, unwashed geeks (the kinds of the nightmarish stereotypes) hang around all day.

But as a customer, I've had my share of visits to other stores, where I'm ignored or worse, stared at like a space alien. Some of them, I've found, stare at my male friends as well. They were such small stores, they were dumbfounded that someone they did not recognize found their "secret clubhouse." My male friends were given the same lack of customer service and respect.

Sometimes, nerds aren't just sexist. They suffer from a general lack of social skills.

Yeah - it's always been a problem with fanboys. And fangirls, for that matter, although I think we manage better. (I'm working on an idea that the reason more males than females are diagnosed with Asperger's is that women figure out how to cope more easily. But it's nothing more than an idea.)

It's probably a whole host of factors involved, but I really do think that being in my forties and not a threat helps.

I'm just curious - how did you find this post? I wrote last it August!

Edited at 2008-02-26 08:13 pm (UTC)