There’s no denying that the world of comic books — from the audience to the retail sector to those who create them and work in the industry — is dominated by men. For years, many of both genders have wondered how to attract more women to the medium, both as readers and creators. Canadian comics retailer Calum Johnston has considered the issue as well, and his Halifax, Nova Scotia, store is trying something this week to give girls and women a chance to comfortably explore its wares and ask about comics.
Strange Adventures in Halifax will host its first-ever Ladies Night on Thursday, Jan. 28. Owner Calum Johnston said it’s a chance for women who are interested in comics but might have felt intimidated or awkward about venturing into a comic-book shop, but it’s also an event for fangirls to gush about comics without guys. Johnston said there won’t even be any male staff members at the event.
“The Halifax store’s assistant manager Tiina Johns is running the show with help from our other part-time staff Nat and Jennie,” he said. “We’ve invited a couple of local female cartoonists to attend, not for a signing, but to talk with those who attend about the comics they work on and their favourites.”
One of those comics professionals will be Faith Erin Hicks, the cartoonist responsible for Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere. So what does she hope to accomplish at the event?
“I’m hoping that I can speak to the inclusiveness and variety of comics, how you can find so many wonderful subjects told in various ways by different creators,” she said, noting that even today, she encounters some people who have preconceptions about comics.
Hicks said it’s important to let girls and women know that past bad experiences don’t represent what they’ll find in all comic shops.
“I have never felt excluded in a comic book store like Strange Adventures, because they have a great staff and a diverse selection of books for sale, but growing up I was very afraid of comic book stores. I craved comics, I wanted desperately to read them, but the only comic book shop in my home town was dank, dark and I felt very uncomfortable going there,” she said.
“I think it’s important for comic book stores to recognize the importance of inclusiveness, and how there can be many readers out there who want very much to be involved in comics, but perhaps feel uncomfortable in a typical comic-book environment. A ladies night might help to bring out readers who might not normally come, and more readers reading comics means more money for all us starving creators, publishers and booksellers.”
Johnston said he wanted to have a special event each month at his store in 2010, and the first that came to mind was a ladies night. He said it’s not about making a statement or taking a stand but about entertainment.
“It’s a fun idea that will hopefully result in a few new people trying comics and a few regular readers to try some new writers or series,” he said, noting that his ultimate goal isn’t just to attract female customers to the store and to the medium.
“It’s important to have outreach in general. Not just for women. This particular event is aimed at women but others will be aimed at kids, parents, men, etc. This is an effort to reach out to a segment of our customers, give them a fun event, and hopefully bring in some new customers as well… My ultimate goal is always to sell lots of comics to lots of people.”
Another goal of the two-hour event this Thursday isn’t just to introduce girls and women to new comics but to each as well, Johnston said.
“It’s an opportunity for girls who are already reading comics to meet other girls and share some of their thoughts; it’s an opportunity for women and girls who aren’t reading comics to come in to a very girl-positive atmosphere to see if there’s something that might appeal to them and see what all the hubbub surrounding comics is all about,” he said.
Johnston doesn’t feel the comic-book industry is all that resistant to including women and girls in the audience or the creative side, but its most dominant genre does offer unnecessarily sexualized images of its female characters.
“I don’t think the industry as a whole is unfriendly, but certainly the action/adventure world of super-heroes is rather lopsided in its attitudes towards women. Just a quick glance at the costumes will confirm that,” he said.
“Does Adam Hughes know how zippers work? Why doesn’t Catwoman’s zip work properly? Does Wonder Woman really help bring the world the Amazon way of peace
by wearing ‘butt floss?’ Ms. Marvel is wearing less than a lingerie mannequin. This is how one would go into battle with the Skrulls? And that’s just cosmetic — a few small changes would make these characters more appealing to female readers.”
Johnston, who has a daughter, said girls like action and adventure stories just as much as boys and more might want to read them if the female characters were treated with more respect.
While the comics retailer won’t be present at the event, he won’t be far and will still be keeping busy with comics.
“I’ll be spending the evening at the pub next door to the shop with a box of comics. Any dads, husbands, boyfriends, male pals who provided rides and other dudes who can’t get in to Ladies Night can drop in and read some comics with me while the girls are at the shop,” he said.
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