Comic book culture should foster an interest in superheroes
for everyone–including girls and women.
Photo: Vera Kratochvil

So it’s kind of a cliche. 

Female walks into a comic book store clueless about something and asks a question. Male counter guy thinks ‘isn’t that cute?’ and without even asking what she already knows, talks to her like a kindergartner and ignores her when she talks about what she likes or wants to learn more about. 

I thought this was something that didn’t happen as often anymore, or an exaggeration of experiences. 

And then it happened to me. And because this guy knew some industry-important people, I stood there and let him treat me that way, which I shouldn’t have done, because that will in no way enact change in his way of thinking.

After reflecting on it, I’ve compiled my thoughts.

Did he ever stop and think why I didn’t already have a lot of comic book knowledge? Geek culture is often so progressive, but some people hold onto comic books as this final bastion of masculinity. It’s like the Bat Cave is actually an exclusive guy-only Man Cave and by reading a “Batman” comic I might (GASP!) interpret it differently or (SCREAM!) be offended and then it will never be the same!.

Too late, old school comic book dudes. You lost your complete dominance over all things comic book when Marvel released a not-so-little movie called “Thor.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe captures a broad audience, which means big bucks for the company and its franchises. Every other entertainment company that neglects an opportunity to market to a female audience is sending another customer over to basically buy Marvel stuff and sign up for Loki’s Army.

Get over it. There are gay Young Avengers. Heimdall and Director Fury are now represented by black actors. People are freaking out about this stuff and they need to get over it. If the publisher doesn’t adapt to its demographic and their preferences, they’ll die out and cease to be relevant.

And hey, I’m not a comic book expert but that’s what I love about comic books and their associated media: just like other good fantasy and sci-fi, they reflect the zeitgeist and it makes them culturally relevant. I’m learning about past American cultural values while reading golden age comics and I’m keenly aware of what currently published comics are saying about the present. It’s a valuable mirror. I get it – and if you don’t, comic book store dude, then I feel bad for you. I couldn’t write a biography of Batman without research and I might fangirl over Superman’s cape, but I do have the ability to interpret deeper meaning from good art and writing.

That’s the thing: He neglected to really listen to me about my background. I do have a degree in English and I’m halfway through an industry-related MA. Additionally I have a decade of experience in the publishing industry, and this guy’s making it like it’s irrelevant. That there’s no room for me in his area of interest or industry. Well, too bad for him – I’m making room, and I’m noticing that these topics get a serious level of interest every time I write about them, so it’s not just me.

I can hardly believe these things are issues in politics anymore let alone among comic book audiences – who, by the way, political advisers should really be watching if they want to determine future cultural trends.

Why had it taken so long for me to even wander into such a store and ask questions? Because a comic book store isn’t like a regular book store for me. At the library or a Barnes & Noble, I ask questions and people are always excited about seeing me learn or purchase their books. It doesn’t exactly work that way at a comic book store, which actually hurts the bottom line for these independent stores and the small and large publishers that supply them.

What about the future? It’s great to get out there and interact and meet other geeks. How else would I learn about new stuff? Oh yeah, the internet. Also my husband and (male and female) friends who aren’t jerks. I’m not so easily turned away from an entire media simply because of one bad experience, but I think at age 13, I might have been. And that’s unfortunate for the 13 year old girls out there who want to read about Black Widow but get weird looks and questions when they go into a comic book store.

The future is digital. The other thing about the future of comic books (and printed media in general) is that it’s very much digital. Now I love collecting books and holding them, but digital is less expensive for the publisher and the consumer, making all types of books and art more accessible to readers. I’ve been using Marvel’s innovative app; it’s very intuitive and does not detract from the experience of reading a comic book at all.

What’s with shaming? There’s a huge amount of shaming in geek culture at large, and within comic book fandom specifically. Everyone has to start somewhere, yet new fans (regardless of race, age, or gender) are constantly shamed for lack of knowledge. Fandoms won’t grow and survive if they don’t let new people in. When you go to successful publishers’ websites or talk to reps and celebs at conventions, they’re extremely welcoming of new fans. It makes sense. New fans buy stuff and bring in enthusiasm and keep the franchise going!

This isn’t a new thing, however it’s really odd. It’s super believable when I mention I’ve written a novel or that I make money blogging, but when my career aspirations involve comic book movies, editing graphic novels or working in the related industries in general, I still get a mixed reaction.

I guess it’s time to change that.

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