It was "Free Comic Book Day" this last Saturday, and I went in the afternoon to surf around for a new book, and, you know, support the medium. I found Shaolin Cowboy by Geof Darrow, and was mighty pleased. I also noticed some little wind-up robots (Kikkerland gadgetry!) on the way out, and they got to bugging me to the point that I decided to go back and buy one on the way to get groceries with my lady.
She hates comics. I've suggested Blankets, Ghost World, Orbiter, A Distant Soil, others, but she just can't get into them. Part of it, she admits, is a prejudice toward the key memes of the medium -- the capes and tights and muscles-for-justice. Part of it is that she thinks women are overly sexualized in comics... We debate this point (including the traditional oversexing of men in comics) about once a month or so. The sad thing is, she mostly right, because most comics still insistently truck in such dreck (so the brilliant stories get obfuscated by what's marketed to 13-year-old-30-year-olds).
So we go into the comics shop and I pick up my robot (okay, yes, my toy), and we're waiting quietly in line to buy the thing when the manager dons a black and purple belled jester's cap and addresses her, like, "Heeey! This is free comics day!! You can't have your hands in your pockets in a comic shop! Don't you wantafreecomic??!!" and starts jangling his cap, like he's talking to a 4 year old. All the folks turn to look at my wife.
She holds her own, says "No thanks.
Then when I actually check out, the cashier makes some kind of allusion/joke-thing about "Stargate: SG-1" and I don't follow the show, and my wife doesn't follow the show (we don't get channels, even, we just rent DVDs), so we're lost, but he's cracking up. Here's the money, thanks, bye, you've managed to out-nerd me. Congrats.
We step out to the sidewalk and she immediately says "I'm never going in there again."
Alright. Pause. Take a breath.
This is the part where you think: "Gee. Most of the patrons who check out graphic novels from my library are teenage girls. Granted, they're almost exclusively taking out the manga love stories and teeny romance tales, maybe with just a dash of The Sandman or somesuch sometimes... But he's right. Comics shops are usually male-only domains. Why don't girls feel comfortable in comics shops, but very comfortable getting comics from my library?"
And this is the part where comic shop managers should take notice.
Most new readers are female, and most are young. That means that if you get your act together, wipe your noses, and make your stores inviting to the young woman demographic, you might just garner yourselves some lifelong customers. And you might just be doing your part to rescue the medium from itself.
Others have been writing about this for some time (see Warren Ellis' Come in Alone for a very good example), but I'm yet to see much change. Comics are absolutely going to suffocate in their own excrement of control fantasies and sexual fetishism unless alternative kinds of stories, styles, values, and aesthetics come to be celebrated, and come to be the touchstone in what we mean when we say "comics" -- and this needs to happen soon.
Now what can comic shops learn from librarians about cultivating a strong comics customer base?
- Libraries aren't dingy, musty, dusty, and dark.
- Libraries don't encourage groups of grown men to hang around cuss the %@#$ out of each other over the subtler points of orcish armor in D&D 3rd ed.
- Libraries offer lots of kinds of stories in lots of formats -- not just superheros and hentai.
- (and here's the main point) Libraries aren't creepy -- they're not the kinds of places where everyone leers when a girl (OH MY GOD, A girl...) walks in.
Obviously, not all comic shops are so bad. And superhero stories can be fun, for sure. I don't mean to throw it all out.
But a little sunlight and and a little cool music and a little bit of Bubble Tea culture would go a long way towards encouraging girls and women to pay a visit to the shop. A little less uber-nerdlingness and a little more of a "
It would have made all the difference to my wife on this last Saturday.
Listening: Paulo Conte