by Samantha Robertson
Rachel Edidin, your regularly scheduled InsideOut blogger, is a hell of a writer and a hell of an editor. At the moment, though, she’s also a woman hopped up on quite an assortment of pharmaceutical-grade painkillers, the kind that pack such a mind-addling punch that they have an appreciable shady-street-corner market value. And that, ladies and gents, is why you are reading my words this afternoon.
As well as being one of Rachel’s friends, I also happen to be one of her coworkers. Yes, I too am a woman working in comics. As a woman involved in this business I do, of course, find myself frustrated by many of the stereotypes that plague my beloved industry. But the stereotypes that bug me the most? I bet they’re not the ones you’d think . . . They’re not any of the stereotypes that have to do with the physical representation of female characters in mainstream comics. My issues have nothing to do with how my gender affects my relationships with others in the industry (honestly, it’s never come up; in this regard, I’ve been blessed to work with wonderful and, above all, professional people). They aren’t actually anything related to gender, sexuality, or the authenticity of fictional representation at all.
So what are the comics industry stereotypes that bug me the most, that set my teeth on edge and never fail to bring out the verbal pugilist in me? They’re the stereotypes so frequently associated with one of my most beloved comics institutions: the comic shop. You know the stereotypes I mean . . . That comic shops are dark, shady little dens of iniquity, boys’ clubs that range from dismissive to downright hostile when faced with anyone of the female persuasion, the concept of dusting, and anything not currently ensconced in one of Wizard Magazine’s ‘top (insert multiple of five here)’ lists. That they are havens for the socially inept. That they’re all populated by people who make you think of that Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
These aggravating stereotypes about comic shops, and the people who work in them, hit very close to home for me because before coming to Dark Horse Comics in October of 2005 I had the privilege of working at a really great comic shop—the Strange Adventures Comic Book Shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, up on the east coast of Canada. More than anything else, my time at Strange Adventures cemented me not only as someone who loves comics, but as someone who can’t imagine working in any other industry. Granted, I’m biased, but in my mind the place represents everything that a good comic shop can be; it’s well-organized, well-stocked, and family-friendly, a place staffed by men and women who really love what they do.
What I find particularly interesting is that after years of making a point of visiting new comic shops whenever I get the chance, I can say with some authority that I’ve seen an awful lot of comic shops in my day, and I’m ever more convinced that places like Strange Adventures aren’t exceptions to some unwritten rule; they are, in fact, the norm. Sure, I’ve been to a handful of rather less impressive comics retail establishments, but by and large the places I’ve been have each brought a smile to my face. They’re devoted small businesses run by people who really care about what they do, people who came to this industry not because they wanted to create little club houses for themselves but because they really dig comic books. They are places that are very inviting once you get over the initial sensory overload that comes with being suddenly faced with an entire shop’s worth of colorful product (there is, I think, a certain special kind of vertigo that comes with that first moment you stroll into a really packed comics shop). They are places where, in general, as much as budgets allow—and budgets are something you really learn to appreciate after working in a small business for a while—an honest attempt is made to try to be open-minded in stock ordering and satisfying customer requests. They are places where you’ll get by best if you have a sense of humor (just don’t forget to have a sense of humor about yourself, too). They are places that are, in short, fun.
Now I’m not going through all of this with you good folks because I think I need to win you over. To be honest, I rather expect I’m preaching to the choir here. Since you are all comics enthusiasts yourselves, I’m betting you each have at least one comic shop that you frequent and enjoy. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I really think it is important that those of us who love comics become more vocal and encouraging when it comes to praising those places that are getting it right. Don’t forget that when people bring up those stereotypes about comic shops, they are disparaging places that have earned your patronage, and that when people speak with disdain about comic shop customers, they’re talking about you. It’s in our best interests to disperse these myths and fight against these assumptions, so I say unto you, spread the word about your favorite shops! Get your friends and families to check them out! The next time someone rolls their eyes at you when you say you’re heading down to check out this week’s new comics, with that ‘oh, that place’ look in their eyes, drag ’em along with you and help open their eyes! The next time you’re looking for part-time work, why not see if your local shop needs an extra hand? Maybe you can help them out with the next Free Comic Book Day. And if you’re a comic fan wondering what to do with your life, perhaps someone who hasn’t found that special shop in your area, have you considered starting your own? Being a comics shop entrepreneur is a hell of a lot of work, but there is no doubt in my mind that the increasing numbers of informed, intelligent, dedicated comics retailers that I see around the world are one of the best things this industry has going for it.
by Samantha Robertson