Within the pages of comics readers have happily noticed the positive shift towards inclusion and representation for women and minorities. Readers and publishers are beginning to pay attention to their audiences requests to be reflective of the world today through their characters and by the artists producing comics as well. So why are the venues where these representative comics are sold still set in the misogynist mindset?
There are countless firsthand accounts of negative experiences within the walls of comic book stores that have been posted across the internet. Time and time again these accounts feel worse than a bad rerun of The Simpsons episodes featuring the insufferable Comic Book Guy. Comic stores featuring sexist advertisements and posters, as well as condescending conversation from store employees and male patrons are entirely misrepresenting the progressive comics on their very shelves. The derision from male staff and customers is unfortunately an all too common act of geek policing or gatekeeping that female comic readers have to combat when making their purchases.
The Buzzfeed video “If Geek Girls Acted Like Geek Guys” is a perfect example of these acts of gatekeeping, and the satirical video proves its point through its gender subversion alone.
Comic stores by nature are overwhelming spaces for even experienced readers, so it is critical for the success of their space, as well as the success of the comic industry, that these stores be welcoming from top to bottom. In order to best cater to their customers, comic store employees need to be both knowledgable of a huge variety of comics- ranging anywhere from popular kid focused titles, to obscure independent works. The nature of gatekeeping is doing more harm than good- both to the customer base as well as to the comics industry.
Considering the recent SKTCHD Survey of 25 worldwide comic book retailers, the percentage of female customer bases is significant. These retailers reported female patrons make up to 25 to 50% of their customer base. This only goes to prove how valuable it is for comic stores to be run in a friendly and conscientious manner towards women.
Sadly though even the more visible female readers still haven’t corrected the imbedded in comic book stores. One critical example of the negative atmosphere experienced in comic book stores comes from female comic industry professional, Noelle Stevenson. In her autobiographical comic, Stevenson depicts her frustrations with geek culture hubs rampant sexism which manifests the moment a woman walks into a comics shop.
From these negative interactions in comic stores Stevenson was made to feel ostracized by the less than supportive employees and their reactions to her her comic selection, and this is a comic industry professional- someone who lives and breathes comics for a living. Her narrative is an all too common one for women interested in comics.
There’s plenty of backlash against gatekeeping within comic book stores that needs to continue to be exposed by industry professionals like Stevenson as well as average customers, and there’s significant work being done in order to push for positive and safe spaces. While there are alternatives to entering brick and motar comic stores, such as purchasing comics digitally through distributors like Comixology, women are standing up for themselves against these bullying atmospheres with websites like Girl Wonder, The Geek Initiative, and the tumblr Hater Free Wednesdays all with dedicated and regularly updated lists of comic stores that are female and minority friendly. These strides to assist those who feel marginalized in spaces that should be as welcoming to a diverse audience are an invaluable tool for comic readers wanting to foster safe spaces for all.
I’m happy to report as well that Fredericksburg Virginia touts a well reviewed comic store of it’s own located very close to the campus of Mary Washington. Little Fish Comics has been reviewed on Hater Free Wednesdays as well as Girl Wonder, and the buzz is nothing but glowing. I’m planning on stopping by this Sunday and am eager to see this safe space for myself.