Friday, August 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Jawnts: Comics the equal rights way

The ladies´ night concept is coming to Philadelphia´s Brave New Worlds, courtesy of Michelle Zauner.
The ladies' night concept is coming to Philadelphia's Brave New Worlds, courtesy of Michelle Zauner. BRIAN JOHNSON
I recently invited a friend to check out a local comic shop. She's a nerd who wears the label with a strut and I thought my suggestion would be pounced upon. Instead, she scowled: "It's not one of those stores where all the dudes look down on you and there are never any women, right?"

I had no idea that such cretinous behavior was enough of a norm that my friend has to screen for it. But think about it. The industry has been saturated with white male superheroes for decades, and the culture lends itself to marginalia and self-impressed expertise. It's an ideal setting for churlish chauvinism.

Comic creator Noelle Stevenson recently posted a piece about repeatedly being taunted and patronized by male clerks in some of the very shops that sell her work. She was inspired to draw it after her new series Lumberjanes was announced. "I saw female fans saying that they wanted to read it but were afraid to go into comic shops," she tells me. "What is disturbing . . . is . . . you can never tell what to expect from any given shop. I've visited dark, disorganized basement shops where I was treated very well by friendly staff, and some of my most disappointing experiences were in big, bright shops touted as 'nerd meccas.'" Her online cartoon went viral and has been shared more than 78,600 times on Tumblr.

Most stats, including the attendance estimates of the huge New York and San Diego Comic-Con, show female readership at about 40 percent. The industry is taking steps to further narrow the imbalance. Last year, Marvel introduced an all-female X-Men team, and their newest Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American teen, is selling briskly.

Some stores are also trying to be more welcoming to women. It's the right thing to do, and it's good business. After all, scorned customers can easily buy a graphic novel online. One innovative example of this change is hosting a Ladies' Night, with only female staff and customers allowed.

"While the shops that offer Ladies' Nights are already usually great shops, it's hard to tell when you don't know the shop well," says Janelle Asselin, a comics editor and scholar working on a book about increasing the medium's female audience. "It's a great way for female fans to see, oh, right, this shop takes me seriously as a customer and, even if I go in at times other than Ladies' Night, I'll be treated with respect."

The concept is coming to Philadelphia's Brave New Worlds, courtesy of Michelle Zauner, one of three employees at the Old City shop, a narrow storefront stocked with the superhero shot glasses, Walking Dead graphic novels, and the obligatory Darth Vader statute standing guard in the rear. (They have another location in Willow Grove.)

Ladies' Night will feature two accomplished local comic creators, Christine Larsen and Annie Mok (http://thelarsenproject.com and http://heyanniemok.tumblr.com), and everything in the store is marked down 10 percent. (No, guys, donning a dress will not get you in. Please stop asking.)

Other local shops may not have thrown a Ladies' Night, but they receive favorable notices on http://haterfreewednesdays.tumblr.com, where customers rate stores on their welcoming atmosphere (or lack thereof). University City's Locust Moon, South Street's Atomic City, and Center City's Fat Jack's all have positive reviews, as do several suburban shops.


Ladies' Night at Brave New Worlds, 55 N. Second St., is Saturday, starting at 7. Cupcakes will be served, so avoid the rush (http://bravenewworldscomics.com).

Have an event for Jawnts? @jblumgart jake.blumgart5@gmail.com

Jake Blumgart
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