The vast, bright, dazzling world of comics doesn’t belong to the Boys’ Club anymore. It’s been a constantly changing tide for the past few years, headed by vocal female readers and permeated with some phenomenally talented women writers and illustrators who have finally been given the chance to shine. Female readership has grown considerably, showing at about 47% of readers back in February, but more astounding is the growth of conversation amongst women comic readers, especially the growing online presence revolving around female readership and inclusion in fandom. We’re here, we’re talking, and we’re very clearly not putting up with any of the misogynistic bullshit that we’ve been barraged with in the past. It’s still there, of course, though generally the ones who continue to propagate it are a minority, albeit a very vocal one. I mean, we had an entire panel about Women in Comics at Denver Comic Con run by the fantastic ladies in comics, ri–oh wait, an all male panel claiming they “didn’t know any women creators to invite to speak on the panel”. We all believe that one. While there are steps yet to be taken, we can look back and see a significant journey has already been undertaken.
I have read dozens of stories concerning how women are treated when they visit comic book shops, ranging from being completely ignored to being openly belittled simply because of their sex. I sympathized with these unbelievable yet common situations because I knew that, yeah, this is what happens and it still happens a lot more frequently than anyone should be comfortable with. I sympathized, and wished fervently that these women would be granted the respect they deserved when frequenting a comic book shop, but I had never experienced it myself. My comic book shops have been nothing but welcoming and unbiased, exuding no air of superiority or disdain at my presence. Once, I’d known the over-attentive owner who assumed I knew nothing and made the gracious attempt to recommend a series of titles I might enjoy, but nothing of the downright nightmare experiences I’d heard tell of.
I have to offer my thanks to a rather large comic book shop nestled in Simi Valley for changing that. Simi Valley tends to lean towards the more traditional side anyways, so I’m not terribly surprised that my first disappointing comic shop visit occurred in its mostly deserted little mall center. Discovering this shop on a quiet weekday afternoon was a nice surprise, namely because I had no idea there was a shop in that area. Excitedly, I dragged my 11-year-old charge into the store, explaining to her that I loved going into comic book shops. And this wasn’t just a shop, it was a collectible and comic megastore.
The counter in front of the door was manned by two chatting employees, who took absolutely zero notice of our entrance. Alright, fine. They were deep in their conversation and probably just not well trained in manners. It was no big thing…until, not 15 seconds later, as we’re just leaving the entry-way, a man enters the store and is immediately greeted and engaged in a conversation about his needs.
Irritating. We were then studiously ignored by both employees for the duration of our visit, despite the fact that one of them nearly rounded a corner into me and we crossed paths multiple times, although they did proceed to carry on very loud conversations about what comics were best and concerning their favorite superheroes. I decided it was time to call it a day when one guy started going on about how indie comics were really picking up steam and worth reading more than the traditional super hero comics, citing The Walking Dead and Outcast as the two he was studiously following. That was enough of that.
Encountering these small bubbles of resistance paints a fascinating portrayal of the comics industry and how it’s been changing, and resisting change, over these few years. I should have grappled longer with the question of making a comment, making sure my presence was not denied, and maybe even throwing a little derision about the categorization of The Walking Dead as an appropriate choice for praising indie comics. It will have to be a battle for another day.
We’ve got a ways to go, both for female reader/creator acceptance and the larger jump into widespread representation for all races, genders, orientations, and beyond, but we’re working on it. And it’s the consumers that are truly beginning to lead the change.
So keep talking, ladies. Keep writing, creating, engaging. Wear your love of comics on your sleeve–or your hairbow, shirt, tie, shoes, bags, jackets, and jewelry. Make sure you head to your local comic book shops and pick up titles that promote strong female leads and diverse casts. Continue to ask for better. Because we deserve it. And because it’s working.