I started this website to reflect, inspire, and celebrate women in geek culture. Too often, we aren’t represented well – or at all – and if you have any doubt about this sort of thing, just ask any woman who’s gone into a comic book store. As a 30 year old, I was told to ‘talk to my big brother’ if I was interested in comic books. The shopkeeper at that particular store didn’t take into consideration things such as my buying power, my primary source of income in the household, or the way Marvel’s clever marketing and careful characterizations had inspired me to purchase more of their offerings.
Then I found All Things Fun! on a recommendation from a friend. With shops located in West Berlin and McGuire AFB, NJ, I found that I didn’t have to drive all the way into Philly or wait for the next convention if I wanted a positive experience getting my geek goods.
All Things Fun! was actually the very store that inspired The Geek Initiative’s Female Friendly Comic Book Store list – and the first store on it. Compared to many other shops in the region, the staff at All Things Fun! treat everyone kindly. They’re especially friendly towards families and encourage kids to come to the store to meet their heroes. Whether I’m new to a particular series or want an in-depth discussion about Thor, the staff at All Things Fun! are extremely helpful.
Because of this difference, All Things Fun! has flourished, creating a rich gaming culture hub and community while other shops have floundered.
I reached out to Dina (the majority owner of the store) and Ed. This couple is passionate about publishing, gaming, community, and comic book culture – and it shows in the way they run their store. Ed and Dina provided a glimpse into the world of running a successful comic book shop and offered their insight about the way women are often treated in comic book stores.
Tara M. Clapper: All Things Fun was one of the first comic book and gaming stores to go on our list of Female Friendly Comic Book Stores. Does it surprise you that there is an apparent need for such a listing?
Ed: Alas it doesn’t surprise me. The comic and gaming retail market has changed a lot in the last ten years but not as much as the rest of the retail world. The barrier for entry is still pretty low and you still have a lot of poorly run “club houses.” These types of stores don’t necessarily showcase our industry in the best light.
All Things Fun! celebrated our 10th Anniversary in September 2014. Our focus has always been to offer a safe, clean, inviting environment for everyone. All Things Fun! is a haven for fans and collectors but also inviting for the general public. (We respect all of our customers including our female customers!)
Dina: It doesn’t surprise me. One of my biggest complaints when I would shop with Ed at any comic book store is how uncomfortable I always felt. It was one of my personal goals when opening the store to make it a much more friendly and welcoming environment.
TMC: When did you decide to open a comic book store and why did you do it?
Ed & Dina: We both worked in the world or retail publishing for years. Ed has been a fan of the comic and game market since the late 1970s. Until recently the local market had been under-served. In fact when All Things Fun! opened in 2004, there was nothing like it in the region. We focus on creating a safe, fun, inviting environment where you can see some really cool stuff you might not see in other retail outlets and get a chance to become part of a larger community!
After years of working in the corporate world and building successful retail outlets for other people they saw an opening in the local market and took the plunge.
TMC: What is the key to building a strong community in your store?
Ed: For us the key has been to just be ourselves. We enjoy working with our customers. We aren’t so much “selling” as we are matching people up to things we are pretty sure they will enjoy! You don’t get this kind of interaction at Target, Walmart or online at Amazon. Sure, we are a store. But people enjoy their time at the shop. And by creating a welcoming atmosphere people respond by welcoming others! Then we work very hard to offer a diverse mix of events and products, giving you lots of reasons to come visit, stick around and get involved at All Things Fun!
Dina: I’d have to say the key has been our customers. They are great and very quickly become more friend than customer. It’s easy to build a community with such great people!
TMC: Have you experienced or observed sexist treatment of women in comic book stores in the past?
Ed: Unfortunately, yes. Not at our store but it’s one of the reasons we founded All Things Fun! Dina was always talked down at various shops she’d visit. While Dina wasn’t always a fan of the comic medium she’s been a professional purchasing agent and retail planner in the publishing field for decades. She has a better understanding of the product life cycle and retail merchandising than most retailers. And the idea that some of these guys would talk down to her or leer at her while she attempted to shop was just infuriating.
Even now it’s still an all too often occurrence to have female customers talk about how they visited another store and was made to feel uncomfortable while trying to shop. While I’m not happy about that I have to admit it’s been a small boon for our business. We’ve met some wonderful female comic collectors that drive a little bit longer and pass other stores to shop at All Things Fun! And it’s not something that’s difficult. We treat female fans with the same respect that we treat everyone else.
Dina: I’ve always felt like this industry was a boys’ club. Even today outside of the store, most comic people are shocked if I display any knowledge of comics.
TMC: With the increasing popularity of digital comics and games, do you worry about the future of your store? Why or why not?
Ed: Sure as a retailer I always worry about everything! But at least so far digital comics has only been a blip on the radar. Sure we lose some readers but for the most part these folks haven’t been our regular market. Just like conventional publishing, digital publishing hasn’t completely recreated the experience of owning a BOOK. Feeling that book in your hands. Smelling the paper or getting immersed and being surprised by a splash image when you turn the page of a book.
Reading a comic (or a book for that matter) is a singular experience. But one that can be shared with others when you talk about what you read and how it made you feel. Each of our stores has a huge comic wall where every title is faced out. Visually it’s a great experience to be standing in front of a more than 50 foot wall of comics. Literally hundreds of new books in a massive display that changes every week. And you can walk that wall and experience little slices of adventure in every title. You are actually rewarded for judging a book by it’s cover. And shopping at a good comic store is often like walking into a book club. You’ve got staff (or other customers) ready to listen to what you enjoyed and steer you toward new books you might like!
This entire experience is lost online. Sure, you can order books in your underwear at 3am. (And you can tell your cat how you loved Detective #34!) How will you find your next title? Sure online reviews are a great service. But sometimes you want to browse or truly immerse yourself in the hobby experience.
Gaming has some of the same challenges. Now with Amazon and Kickstarter we have whole fleets of customers that can save a few dollars and purchase games online. And we see some of that behavior fairly often, folks will come in ask us questions, seek our advice and then go online to make the purchase. Sometimes right in the store. (In fact it’s become so common they made up a word for it, Showrooming.) While we aren’t a fan of this stuff we choose to focus on our actual customers. Folks that are interested in our products, community or getting involved. In this regard our community often polices itself. If you enjoy the community aspect of the store you need to make purchases and support the store.
For example, our free Board Game Nights are in support of customers that purchase games at All Things Fun! Have trouble getting folks to play your new game with you, no problem! Come on down to All Things Fun! We host all kind of events to help support our customers and our community. But it’s not really an event to support people who buy their games online. We’ve had a few people over the years try to abuse our free events but for the most part we have a great and ever growing community that support All Things Fun! and we are so thankful for them!
Dina: I think there will always be a place for the printed word. I also think there are many people that are like me in that regard. I enjoy having the product in my hands.
TMC: If someone is interested in reading comic books or playing a tabletop game for the first time, where should they begin?
Ed & Dina: Stop in to one of our locations (if you live in the area) and we can steer you toward a whole bunch of great options. In the comic world most publishers have given clever retailers some great tools.
Want to try some superhero reading? Maybe you’re a lapsed collector or you enjoy all of the recent movies and direct to DVD cartoons and you want to see what all the fuss is about. Try Justice League Vol 1 Origins. It’s a great introduction to DC Comics New 52. And easy way to get into comics. This title is like a superhero buffet. There is something for everyone. And once you find a part you enjoyed you can follow that character into his or her own New 52 trade collection.
Would you like something with a horror bend? Supernatural thriller? Pretty much any area. We’ll show you a collection that you’re bound to find interesting. Image Comics has a number of great unconventional series. And each of the first collections are priced at just $9.99. (I warn you though. It’s a trap! once we get you hooked you’ll be waiting for me to call you every 6 months when the next book arrives.)
Did you like Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, X-Men Days of Future Past? We’ve got a book for you.
Want to try your hand at playing a game? Most Role Playing Games (RPGs) have fun introductory boxes that give you a great taste of fun for just a few dollars. We also have a number of great inexpensive board games that can allow you to experience some of the mechanics without spending a ton of money.
If you are curious about gaming you can also check out the All Things Fun! Podcast. We review various games and try to steer people to some of the best titles on the market!
TMC: What do you think about changes spearheaded by the major publishers – for example, Wizards of the Coast’s latest starter kit targeted towards new adventurers and Marvel’s push to diversify the races, genders, and religions of superheroes?
Ed & Dina: We are huge fans of anything that makes it easier to get into a new hobby. Life is stressful enough. Hobbies should be fun!
We’re not always a fan of changes for the sake of change. Marvel’s changes often come off like they are publicity driven. And sales will pretty quickly reflect that. But occasionally they hit on a solid editorial change that makes for compelling reading. (Like in the case of the new Ms. Marvel.)
TMC: Who are your favorite superheroes and what do you like most about them?
Ed: I’m personally a huge fan of Green Lantern. I love that his power is based on the will power of the wearer of the ring. I’m also a fan of Johns take on the character and how their “constructs” take form based on the personality of the ring wearer. (Oh, sorry I think my geek is showing!)
Dina: It’s trite, I know, but I like Batman. I like the guy that doesn’t have super powers and still has the ability to make things happen! For myself it’s easier to relate.
TMC: Being a geek used to be pretty uncool – but now it seems that everyone wants to be one. How do you feel about that?
Dina: I love it. It’s great for business!
TMC: What would you say to someone who is interested in a new hobby, genre, or game, but reluctant to try it?
Ed: Well, of course I’m going to say come down to All Things Fun! and we can take care of you! To the 75% of the country that isn’t local to All Things Fun! – I’d encourage you to find a friendly hybrid game and comic shop. Certainly resources like The Geek Initiative can help you identify quality retailers.
A passion for the hobby and providing an inclusive space really helped Ed and Dina succeed. Do you have a favorite comic book and gaming store that also treats all customers respectfully? Email Tara at thorfan (at) geekinitiative (dot) com and we’ll add your recommendation to our list.