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Women Into Comics

Written by Mara Whiteside

A year ago, a colleague of mine and I did a research study in our local comic book store. Nothing too demanding or too involved, just a project for our graduate class. We sat in our store and watched how men interacted with women and other men. Simple. What we found surprised us.

From just one setting, we saw that women were scarcely in the store. Those that were customers often came in with a man. The conversation patterns between men and men and men and women were not necessarily different; men just didn’t talk to women very often in the store.

Granted, there are a lot of factors that play into this study. One store, about half a year’s worth of data collecting, and observer bias. I am well aware of this, but the research is not the point I want to make here.

When I read Bobby’s editorial letter, I couldn’t help but think of my mom. This woman made the trek to her local comic book store every week with three young kids in tow to pick up her Superman, Batman, and Catwoman issues. My brothers and I would wander around the store, grabbing random issues and begging her to buy them for us (apparently, my little brother had a thing for Vampirella, to my mom’s embarrassment). Even though I was very young, I still remember visiting the comic book store and getting my first issue of Supergirl.

What I didn’t know at the time was the comic book store’s impact on my mom. Years later, she told me how she felt ignored and discounted by the other patrons and the employees. She didn’t fit the regular customer mold. Young, female, thick glasses, scrunchies, and three kids. No one recommended books to her, no one spoke to her, yet she still kept coming back because she was into comic books.

I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like if the comic book store was welcoming to my mom. She probably would’ve bought more comic books. Maybe she would’ve felt like part of a community. Regardless, she knew she didn’t belong.

For the record, it was my mom who got me into comic books. She bought my first issues for me, shared her collection with me, impressed me with random facts about Batman, and watched nearly every DC- and Marvel-related cartoon show on Saturday mornings.

My mom introduced me to this fascinating world, one where I could learn the struggles of mutants, contemplate what I would do if ever orphaned, and decide if I was more of a Betty or a Veronica. Female creators, like Gail Simone, Amy Reeder, Sana Takeda, Marjorie Liu, and Kelly Sue DeConnick grew this passion. I sought their work out, proud of what women in comics can do.

But this week isn’t just about women in comics. It’s also about women INTO comics.

It’s about Janna O’Shea, Jill Pantozzi, Zoe Gulliksen, Stephanie Cooke, and  Sigrid Ellis. Women into comics. Women who will read what they want to read despite what others might think. Women who bravely venture to their comic book stores even if other patrons don’t think they belong. Women who put comic books in the hands of their children and say “How do you feel about dressing as Batman this Halloween?”

I urge you to remember that no one has to prove their geek cred to buy comic books. Remember that women fight for their favorite female characters. Remember that there would be no women in comics without women into comics. Remember that every fan, male or female, has something to add to geek culture. Value every one. Take time to get to know them. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t be a jerk and not talk to a woman in a comic book store.

5 Responses

  1. Giant Woman

    I would just like to say thank you for writing this article. It really speaks to me, and I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to share two stories with you, of my experiences as a woman in comic shops.

    The first time I went to the newly opened comic shop in my local town the one of the owners came up and introduced himself to me, shook me by the hand, asked me what sort of things I like reading, then showed me where in the shop they were and suggested a few other titles I might like based on what I told him I was after.

    I recently visited a well-established comic shop in the nearest city that I have been shopping in for the best part of ten years. I had a female friend with me from London who doesn’t read comics and was just there because I wanted to pick up some trades. We were ignored by the staff as we browsed the shelves and picked up the titles that I was after. I took them over to the two chaps sitting at the till drinking their coffees, one of whom rang them through and the other – and it still frustrates me to write this – said “I bet I know which of those are for you”. I was buying Supergirl, Power Girl, Preacher and Crossed trades. When I pointed out that Preacher and Crossed were for me, the others for my husband he genuinely said “but you can’t read those, you’re a girl”. My friend (still a non-comic reader despite my best efforts that day) walked out of the shop straight away, partly in disgust and partly because she knew that I was about to launch into one of famed epic rants. At 29 years old I’ve heard a lot of stupid things in my life, but that pretty much took the biscuit for me. He no longer works in that store.

    I am now a regular customer of one shop, visit them every Wednesday for new titles for myself and my husband, go to cons with the owners and help them out if they are busy and I happen to be around. Guess which one.

    • mwhiteside

      Thanks for sharing! The comic book store is different than any other store; it’s highly personal. People who break the status quo are not always welcomed.

      My store took some time to warm up to me. It involved a lot of hanging out there and awkward conversations with other shoppers and the owner. And, yes, it was more work to prove my reason to be there than the male shoppers.

      As for the “but you can’t read those, you’re a girl” comment…that just grates my cheese. The comic book industry will be better off once readers realize they can read books that feature characters from the opposite sex. Supergirl isn’t just for women; it’s for people who enjoy reading that character.

      I am happy that you found a store that welcomes you. Your store is better off with you as a customer than the one that dismissed you.

      • Giant Woman

        I’ve been very lucky with my local store, they’ve been absolutely great.

        The girl comment still riles me to this day, but the more people I tell about it the more change I hope to bring about.

  2. AvatarofLoki

    Not to sell the gender-based issues you all see in this arena short (as they are an entirely valid extra layer of BS on an already stinky pie), but even as the most generic, bland, male, caucasian, middle-America, down-to-earth, and sociable person on the planet; I run into so much scorn (for lack of a better word) in the marketplace for daring to take up a new hobby and not knowing everything about it first.

    Tangential of the article at hand, but I thought we were all paying a premium to be on the cutting edge of the story unfolding so we could be social about it together…regardless of differences. It just seems to be a very hard door to get your foot into with zero differences, let alone gender-based preconceptions (false though they may be).

    Sorry for wandering off point! 😛

    • Giant Woman

      You make a valid point there, comics-people can be a pretty tight knit bunch at times, but hopefully you’ll come across some folks like those at my LCS who are friendly and open, and welcome new and old readers to the shop. Keep on reading though, don’t let anyone put you off!

      Love your description; “generic, bland, male …”, that did make me chuckle!

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