For the first interview on the Vocal Minority, we spoke to Shannon Woodhouse. Shannon is a Vancouver based entrepreneur and geek fashion designer. An avid lover of comics and its culture, she is the brains behind the successful independent Rat Queens Merchandise, a line of clothing and gear for the discerning lady consumer. A full time mom and business owner, Shannon still finds time for D&D, comics and a fine glass of wine. You can find her on Twitter as @Shanjams84
Tell us about your rationale for the Rat Queens merchandise. What spurred you on to start the company?
It started really simply, with me just going to a con with Kurtis (Wiebe). I wanted to represent Peter Panzerfaust, so I made a shirt. I had properties I really liked and I wanted to represent them at the con but I hated the clothes. I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on a t-shirt I knew I’d look bad in. So I found a shirt I knew would be a flattering cut on me and I got this print to put on it. That cost me the same as going to the con and buying a t-shirt. So I thought, why don’t they make shirts like these for girls? I mean, they had t-shirts for girls, but they tend to be unflattering and cheap looking.
So I started looking into it and I thought Rat Queens was the perfect property to get into. Rat Queens has a huge female audience and the fans are amazing and growing. I had this vision of the logos, and how that would translate really well to women’s clothing. So I did a business plan, just to see if I wasn’t going to go bankrupt, and then I went for it. I’m really happy that I’m providing something for women. Because there hasn’t been something like this in the comic book world.
The business is modelled on independent clothing lines in the U.S.A. Typical brands are doing huge runs, with a lot of clothes being pumped out, as cheaply as possible, using overseas manufacturing. One of the best things to come out of the US is counter-culture. And independent clothing lines are counter-culture. The idea behind independent clothing stores is, to me, completely punk rock.
What can an independent clothing line like Rat Queens bring to the comic book community as a whole?
Say you are looking for a Spider-Man t-shirt, and you find a red tee. That shirt comes from a production line that is massive. Because that red shirt is not just used to print Spider-Man shirts. It is used by multiple properties, even outside the comic book world. It is expensive to do different cuts. That’s why we don’t have variety. So why don’t they produce shirts with cuts for women? Because they don’t have to. They are already making so much money. And no one is forcing them to. It is selling. And it will always sell. People will always buy it because they like the character.
So here is me trying to come in. That’s why I’m the first independent merchandising line. Because that’s not how merchandising is done. And there is a demand for it. I’ve even taken some flack by not having more extended types of cuts.
Like male t-shirts?
Yes, male t-shirts but also extended sizing. Extended sizing is something I totally believe in and I have managed to get some out. But I’m still limited, because I am buying tiny runs. The only way I can do extended cuts is if I become an artisan, and sew them myself and sell them for $300. But I don’t want to be an artisan. I want to be competitive in the merchandising world and be able to sell the shirts at a competitive price. Which I am. The more people that buy the shirts, that’s the public demanding quality. If you have variety and quality, they will come to you. And I source only Fair Labor manufacturing, if it doesn’t meet fair labor standards then its a deal breaker for me.
It’s hard, but I have plans. I hope to do wholesale and get to comic book shops, and even other properties. Creators love this idea. But there is a reason no one has done this. First, who has the time? And also, why would you do it?
It’s so much easier to go the other day.
The public has spoken. There is a demand for it. Everyone wants Rat Queens merchandise. Everything is gorgeous and flattering.
That is in essence what it is all about. It is about the book and the culture that the book is creating. It for women who really love Rat Queens. A lot of them do amazing cosplay outfits, but if they also want to fly their Rat Queens flag in their everyday life, they can do that too. This is all that I want, as a fan. I want to represent my fandom. That’s what I wanted to provide for people.
Do you think the failure of big merchandising companies to provide different cuts for women is a form of gatekeeping?
Yes and no. I think it has a lot to do with consumerism. And they do have women shirts, they’ve just been bad shirts. Women hate those cuts. They are unflattering, not matter what your body-type is. The gatekeeping might be just a huge underestimation of the market. What is unanimous in most industries is that you don’t want to take chances with your money. Why take this chance, when what we have is already selling?
It’s interesting that you mentioned consumerism. Because in feminist economics, the belief is that the market both reproduces and reinforces inequality. So they don’t have to cater to women, because they will buy the product anyway.
Yes. Why take the chance? It takes somebody to put their own money on the line to take that chance. I took that chance. I know there is a market. So I’m going to do this. It takes innovators. I’ve already seen changes, even with Marvel! That same shirt I printed with Peter Panzerfaust? They are now using that same shirt for their merchandise. The environment is changing.
Our column is called The Vocal Minority, after the events of a few weeks back. What did you think of the whole controversy surrounding the Vocal Minority?
Yeah… I am very vocal about comic books. A lot of women are. Those days were rough for the comic book community. There was a lot of emotion going around. Everyone felt like they got a bit of a gut punch. In my world, the community feels good and positive, because that’s the people I surround myself with. But then you look outside and some people are two steps back.
Firstly, just who is the vocal minority? I didn’t think of it immediately as women. And I don’t know if it was meant that way. I think what he was saying was that there was a loud group trying to change things. My view of the vocal minority is, if it is the people who are changing comic books and buying them. If that’s his definition, then the vocal minority is a little bit of everybody. The best thing about comic books is that there are so many different genres. You don’t have to cater to one. It is a weird way of thinking. I didn’t get it.
We also strongly believe that the Vocal Minority is everybody who cares about the future of comics. And you are right, those days were rough. We were both tagged in some awful, aggressive tweets about the Batgirl cover.
Yes, I blocked away! But my fear is that people are going to see this as indicative of the comic book world. As if the new Gamer Gate is the Comic Gate. I strongly believe in inclusivity. This is a creative field, where there are no restrictions when it comes to stories. So everyone should be represented. Everyone is invited. When you are in this world, it really opens people up to new ideas. But that being said, there is a price of admission. And the price is that you buy and read comic books. And there was a major switch in the tone of the discussion when some non-comic book people got involved. At first, there was a lot of positive discussion about the cover, and this is fandom! We talk things out. I was having long discussions with fanboys about rape-culture, and about The Killing Joke. We didn’t agree on everything, but the discussion was civil. The conversation changed completely when the cover was pulled and people outside the community started getting involved.
You are not part of this community, you don’t have a ticket, so why does it matter?
The Batgirl Joker Variant has exposed some divisions in the comics community.
There is huge element of nostalgia. And I have huge nostalgia. One example I can think of, and I’m outing myself right now, is that my favourite comic book of all time, is absolutely awful. I read it as an adult and I was sick about it. I would never let my daughter read it, even though it was my favourite comic as a kid.
I love the character, I thought she was beautiful. She is just gorgeous. I went to the comic book store with my brother and I was allowed to buy one comic book, and I bought this one because she was on the cover. It came in a pack with the first five issues. I loved the one about her. Then one time I went to the comic book store and I saw this new one where she was on the cover crying, and next to her was an evil version of herself. People might know what comic book I’m talking about just by this description! I would read this comic again and again. And I would always play that character when I played make-belief. I had a friend who would play Superman, and I would play her – a total cross-over by the way. It was such a creative, rich world to play in.
But going back, that comic book is about her being in sexual slavery and tortured for several years. And yet, I can’t ignore how much I love that comic book, and how much fun I had with that character as a kid. If I show up at a Con with that book, and wearing the original outfit, I’d feel awful people protest, and call me an anti-feminists! I don’t know how to defend that, other than nostalgia. And if that nostalgia goes deeply, I may react strongly against it.
So I understand fanboys. But here’s the thing, if you love The Killing Joke, no one is taking that away from you.
This is the ability to enjoy media critically. Which means that you can enjoy things whilst understanding that they are also problematic.
Yes, if they were to reboot my mysterious comic with the original cover and story-line, and people protested, I’d absolutely get that. It doesn’t transfer to this day and age, so whilst I would be excited, I’d understand how inappropriate it was.
Finally, there are some who say that most women in the community are Fake Geek girls only interested in fashion and the cosplay. As the owner of a merchandising line that caters exclusively to women, how do you respond to that?
Women are a huge part of the comics readership. So to say that they are only interested in clothing is such a weird generalisation.
The whole Fake Geek Girl thing is also weird for me. I had to hide my geekyness. I didn’t even know it had a label, I just thought I was a weirdo. And I felt pressured to hide it because the world I lived in was very shallow. So I felt I’d be judged because I didn’t fit in. For years, I didn’t set foot into a comic book store. But one day, I was feeling really lonely, so I went into a store. And it felt amazing. But it was ridiculous, I’d be walking my dog in this area near the comic book shop and I’d look around to make sure no one would see me, before darting into the shop! I bought comics that I felt would be acceptable if I ever got caught. So I bought the Buffy comics from Dark Horse. I even had a secret comic book stash. My bedside table had a false drawer, where I’d hide my comics.
So I don’t get the Fake Geek Girl stuff. I mean, that’s awesome! People are ok with coming out with this now? Aren’t people afraid of being mocked for being a geek? It’s amazing that people are proud of it! That’s pretty awesome.
It’s funny, people who buy my clothes, they are not all into comic books. Maybe they will pick up the comic book, which is great. Nerd, geeky properties tend to be very progressive. They are challenging social norms and making people think. Being part of the comic books community will really broaden your world and you will learn new things. The more people that get into comic books the better. The industry needs new readers to stay alive. We need everybody.
Shannon’s Rat Queens merchandise is stylish and comfortable (I have the heart logo t-shirt and the tunic tank ~ Mara). If you’re looking for a way to show your love for Rat Queens everyday, be sure to check out her line.