Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Comic shop fatigue

The wonderful Noelle Stevenson recently uploaded little comic describing the reasons as to why she no longer visits comic shops.

You can view the whole thing at her tumblr here

The comic struck a chord with me and many other people and over the last couple of days I've read a lot of things online from people who have had similar experiences describing how some comic shops have caused discomfort, tension, and a feeling of not belonging. It's disheartening hearing women and girls who are eager to read comics and who are looking for a place within comic communities, but feel alienated from certain comic shops.

I remembered my first trip to a comic shop with humiliating clarity. I knew NOTHING about comics. Nothing wrong with that though, surely? The point was, I wanted to know more about comics. A friend had bestowed the greatest gift you could ever receive: a collection of Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men and I fell in love immediately and wanted more. On my first trip to the comic shop in the nearest city to my tiny town I bravely asked for help from someone behind the counter and was immediately laughed at for not knowing the difference between a graphic novel and a comic. I was 14. I didn't go back to a comic shop for years after that and stuck with my public library instead until adulthood.

That memory of my first comic shop experience got me thinking, and so here are all the stupid things that have happened to me in comic shops:

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I was once asked if I only read comics with girls in them with scorn when I took copies of female led titles up to the counter despite the rest of my pull list having about a billion dude titles in there. I wasn't aware that reading female-led comic titles require comment or investigation. 

A guy behind the counter completely ignored me, didn’t even make eye contact, didn't even try to serve me, but instead attempted to chat to my male friend stood behind me while I tried to get served and pay for my comics. He tried talking to my friend about comics despite the fact that my friend doesn’t read comics and was begrudgingly keeping me company, yet when I tried to join in because I read the shit out of comics, the guy behind the counter pretended he hadn’t heard me.

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While buying my weekly comics I once asked the guy behind the counter if they had any long boxes and comic dividers in their shop as I hadn’t been able to find them myself and desperately needed to re-organise my own overflowing long boxes at home. The guy then told me that there was no such thing as long boxes. That I was making it up, they simply DIDN’T EXIST. I asked him about comic dividers and said they didn’t have any. As I was leaving I saw long boxes and comic dividers for sale on the shelves by the exit but he wasn’t interested in serving me or taking my money for some reason.

I once asked a guy on the shop floor if a particular issue of a title was out that week as I was sure it was due out that day. He did a big long dramatic sigh and told me that I’d got the date wrong and it was out next week. I went into another comic shop and found the comic I was looking for as I was right and it did actually come out that day.

I  made the mistake of buying some Batman comics pretty soon after the release of the The Dark Knight film came out. Tip: don't buy mainstream superhero comics around the time a big mainstream superhero film is out while being a girl. Just don't. As I was queueing to buy them the guy at the till and the guy stood next to him had a little chuckle. He then asked me in the most patronising voice possible if I was a batman fan now. 'Now' meaning a *new* batman fan having just seen the film. I said no and that batman was one of the first things that got me into comics. He then proceeded to quiz me on my favourite Batman artists before letting me pay for my comics. I wonder what would have happened if I had been a brand new batman fan. What if I had seen the movies and though 'oh boy, I want me a piece of THAT!' and ventured out to the comic shop with hope and optimism in my heart only to be quizzed by a grumpy man that for some reason didn't want my first ever comic experience to be a positive one.  

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Same thing with the Avengers around the time of the Avengers movie except it was more subtle as the guy simply said ‘so you’ve seen the film then?’ in a tone that suggested that he assumed I was new to the Avengers and was judging me.

I'm not exaggerating any of these things. There's a danger that when you voice your frustrations and describe negative experiences that those who haven't had those experiences don't quite believe you or assume that because their experiences are positive then surely it must be the same for everyone else.

I will only go to those shops that have historically treated me and other women and other new comic fans well. In London I will always always ALWAYS Gosh Comics and Orbital as I have been treated well in both those places. And when I am up north I will always visit Travelling Man because those are my favourite comic shops on earth and I find them incredibly accessible and welcoming for all types of comic fans. If I have a bad experience in a comic shop, I don't go back. 

Comic shops are intimidating spaces and I completely understand why people new to comics, especially women and girls don’t want to visit them and would rather purchase from traditional and more accessible places like bookshops or access them through libraries. 

Just like record shops, guitar shops, bike shops, there’s an awful lot of pressure to feel knowledgeable before you even step foot through the door. Good shops will be welcoming and accessible for everyone. Bad shops will not give a shit about you.

I no longer visit the comic shops that are shit. They obviously don’t want my money and even though it’s sad when comic shops go out of business, I hope they fail and I hope the good ones prosper. They do exist!

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