By Courtney Key
Too often we hear horror stories about local comic shops. Employees and owners are reported as behaving in ways that are insulting, misogynist, or at best just plain inattentive to all but a small cadre of regulars.
Fortunately, however, there are a growing number of comic shops working to shed the stereotype of comic stores being dark, dank dungeons with “No Girls Allowed” signs tacked on the doors. The aim of this column is to spotlight those shops that are “doing it right” – welcoming new readers of all sexes, ethnic backgrounds and orientations, encouraging women to read comics, and engaging with the communities in which they’re located.
Over the summer I went on a business trip to Washington, D.C., and was excited to find a comic shop just a few blocks down the street from my hotel. Entering Fantom Comics, I was immediately struck by how bright, airy and clean it looked. The staff – all ladies that day! – were incredibly welcoming to me, and despite the fact that I was only in D.C. for a weekend and wouldn’t be coming back to the shop on a regular basis, they chatted with me about comics for half an hour, and even invited me to their upcoming Ladies’ Night (sadly, my travel plans meant I had to give it a miss).
Upon returning home to Texas I immediately followed Fantom on all of their social media accounts, and was impressed by how active the shop is in promoting comics to women and new readers. I messaged their social media manager Jake on Twitter, and he put me in touch with store manager Esther Kim, who took the time to answer some of my questions about their shop and how they’re “doing it right.”
Shop Name: Fantom Comics
Location: 2010 P St NW, Washington DC 20036
Hours: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
@FantomComics on Twitter
Fantom Comics on Facebook
How long has your shop been open?
Almost 10 years, since 2005.
Do you focus strictly on comic books, or do you sell other things?
We focus mostly on comic books, graphic novels, and trade paperbacks but we do carry toys, figures, art, and apparel.
Do you focus on a particular type of comic?
We focus a lot on comic books that have quality stories and writers who can write fully realized characters regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. It just so happens that the majority of these stories are found in indie creators’ books.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to new readers entering and feeling comfortable in a comic shop?
I can tell you that the biggest barrier is the feeling of alienation that can come from not knowing how to break into or navigate a literary world with really confusing publishing timelines and titles. It’s really not like any other literary medium, and there’s so much history and variety in modern storylines that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.
What has your shop done to encourage new readers and women to come in, and to develop new comic readers?
We welcome each customer and make sure to let them know that we are more than happy to help. We also host Ladies’ Nights, a monthly Queer Book Club, artist workshops, and various events meant to create safe spaces for new audiences of all types to try out comic books and meet like-minded fans who won’t judge.
Does your shop engage in any activities to involve the wider community in your city and make them aware of comics?
We collaborate with a lot of other organizations in the city in order to “spread the word of Comics” to everyone. Some of the organizations we’ve worked with are the American Art Museum, Naked Girls Reading, DC Conspiracy, Square City Comics, Artisphere, DC Public Libraries, and Georgetown University.
Tell us anything else you think is special about your shop.
Our employees and customers are really the heart and soul of our shop. Each and every one of them brings a different perspective and personality to the store’s atmosphere, and it all builds together to hopefully create a truly welcoming, creative, and exciting place for everyone to visit. I love all of them, bless their hearts, even the ones who I disagree with on Aquaman’s coolness factor (dialed up to 11, he’s the ruler of 71% of the world!).
Esther, I agree with you on Aquaman! Never dismiss someone who can control sharks with his mind!
If you live in the D.C. area, I definitely recommend checking out Fantom Comics and their events. Even if you don’t live in D.C., follow their social media accounts – they’re a delight.
Do you know of an awesome local comic shop you’d like us to spotlight? Get in touch via the comments below, the “Comic Shop Spotlight Recommendations” thread on the forum, or email me with the subject line “Talking Comics LCS Spotlight.” Please include the shop’s website or social media account, and a brief description of why you think the shop deserves to be featured here on Talking Comics.