Wednesday, January 10, 2007

If Anyone Ever Wonders Why I'm So Arrogant When Discussing Comics...

It's a pre-emptive strike. I've experienced what Reb has in every comic book store in four cities. (Via FSF Carnival 9)
Two other guys, both of them nerds, were there. Both of them overheard. And upon affirming that yes, I really like Batman and have a mild interest in and knowledge of comics, I was asked what other titles I read.

This was not a friendly question. It wasn’t the way you’d ask a new acquaintance what they read to see if there’s anything to discuss or bond over. It was a challenge, which they made very clear. The question may have been, “What other comics do you like?” but the subtext was very clearly, “You’re a girl, what other comics could you possibly actually be familiar with?”

But I am, as I said, conversant in Batman and passingly interested in comics. So I answered honestly that I don’t really read a lot of comics, and definitely know more about Batman than anything else, but thanks to friends who were really into them, I enjoy both Green Lantern and Green Arrow. And the guys in the staff room, well, freaked out.

The questions began. First I was asked to establish more credentials, and it wasn’t even innocently phrased anymore. One guy said, word for word, “If you really like Batman, name three Robins.” Because hey, I’m me, I busted out Stephanie Brown, in fact, and not Tim Drake. I was then told that I’d forgotten one. (“No, you asked for three and I named three. If you wanted Tim, you should have asked who the three male Robins were.”) I was asked who killed Jason Todd. I was asked to detail current storylines.

And again, keep in mind, these were questions to establish that, good god, I really was a living, breathing girl – an attractive one, no less! – who was into something nerdy. One of the guys responded with wonder. The other, who many women at the store have had other, far worse kinds of run ins with, was angry and condescending. (Needless to say, he was the one who hadn’t even realized Stephanie was a valid answer to the Robin question.) This all went on for a good twenty minutes (until our break ended, in fact) and through the whole thing I got more flustered and more angry, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until later.
Ahh... Nerd Superiority plus sexism. Didn't Atalanta set up the race rule because of a similar combination?


  1. Oh have I got a story for you.. I've been collecting comics since I was in grade 6 at least, back in the early 80s. I started with the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and then ventured into Teen Titans and X-men. Then I got a taste for silver age DC comics and well, I went nuts with it.

    So there was this one time I was in a particular comic shop for the first time and I had my Have List with me. I have a Have List, not a Want List because well, who knows what I want til I see it and it would be huge! This way, I know what I already have and not to duplicate it. One of the staff walks by and asks me if I need any help and I politely declined as I walked through their silver age section starting at A.

    Then he walks by again, noticing that my Have List is huge! Then he goes "Are you getting those for your boyfriend?". By this point I was indignant! I don't think I've ever had a boyfriend who collects more than I do in my life!

    Anyways, I ended up blowing $100 (which sounds kind of like nothing now but for a university kid at the time, that was alot!)

    I shop there frequently now and I just chalk it up to the guy's inability to imagine that girls might like comics that much too. :/

  2. Since moving to [the] Boston [metro area], I'm not sure I've been into my comic shop (Million Year Picnic, in Harvard Square) once without seeing a woman there, as a customer. About an even half of the time, a woman is talking at length about comics/life/their combination with the gentleman behind the counter (whose name, shamefully, escapes me).

    I think the solution is to get the hell out of the midwest.

  3. I have a Have List, not a Want List because well, who knows what I want til I see it and it would be huge!

    Brilliant! Now I am totally going to draw up a Have List. Thanks for posting, Nancy!

  4. Same old story, same old dance. *sigh* On the other hand, with only a few (annoying) exceptions, I've been pretty fortunate. I have Matt,my comic book store proprietor so well trained, that he just starts handing me Green Lanterns stuff as soon as I walk in the door.

  5. I've luckily never had an issue with this at any of my comics stores, in spite of living in the middle of nowhere. However, I did get this reaction (at my comics shop!) regarding baseball once when I mentioned my rejuvenated baseball interest. I guess the dude was just waiting until he found something he knew more about than I did to pounce on me, which, I mean, of course you're going to know more about something than I do; we're different people. You're going to know different things than I do. Ah well.

  6. I used to find comic book store clerks obnoxious, then I became one. There's a lot of shit that you have to put up with, but if you put it into the perspective that at least you're not working in a coal mine, then dealing with fanboys/fangirls is not so bad. For the record, I still found my colleagues obnoxious but funny. I couldn't help but wonder how other people saw me in that environment.

  7. We need to start some kind of event that can show that it's not just straight fanboys who shop in comic book stores. Women can challenge the fanboys with their knowledge about superhero comic books and gay people can play games and challenge anybody to call them a "fag" to their faces.

  8. I had the same problem with my local gaming/comic store.

    I went in for the first time when I needed to buy dice to gm my first dnd game. I tried a few more times after that a gave up. They store people followed me about and stopped talking when i came in. Very unfriendly.

    So I shrugged and though I wont bother again if I dont have to. The only reason I went back was that about a year later I started dating someone who pretty much grew up in that store. After a bit they got better in there, alround and better with me. Once they realised I would take an s*** from them, they calmed down.

    As a side point I hadnt read any comics in years at this point. Mostly because I couldnt buy them regularly where I live before and also because of marvels wandering character designs and plotlines.

    Now I read manga happily weekly. I buy when I can in RL and when I cant I get it online. Webcomics got me back into the genre though. There is some brillant online female comic writers!

    Out of curiosity do you also play TRPGS?

  9. Ah I said would rather than 'wouldnt'. Bad me.

  10. I guess we can count our blessings they weren't as, um, thorough in trying to get her to prove she was "a living, breathing girl."

    For that matter, how about Stephanie Brown, Carrie Kelley and um ... Tris Plover? (I know, I know, the point is that Stephanie is canon, but still.)

  11. I may not agree with you on...well most things...but even I wouldn't treat you like that.

  12. Ugh...

    I used to work for the idiots like this.

    True story: The higher-ups sent out a memo that all females coming into the store were to be directed to the fairy and dragon statues. Why? Because girls dig that stuff.

    It never occured to the head hanchos (one of them a father of two girls) that maybe... just maybe... women might come into our store and want to look at comics. :P

    This same logic lead them to make us an official Hello Kitty dealer and to stick a big display of Hello Kitty junk in the front of the store. The only ones who bought it were the goth girls who were already coming into the store to get WoD materials and Neil Gaiman books

  13. There are two criteria I use in picking my comics store -- selection and service. I've given up on fanboys being polite to me, but the clerk had damn well better be. It's so so true though...two guys will sit around loving their nerd bonding, a fangirl will appear, and they'll now bond by treating her like she doesn't know anything about comics.

    And then they moan about how they don't know any women who like comics! Hmmm...I wonder why....

    -- Anun

  14. That behavior is just sickening.

    I admit that before I got into the online comics community, I assumed that women weren't into comics (and RPGs, and video games, etc.). I'm embarrassed looking back. It didn't take me long to figure out that even if they're the minority in comics fandom, women are just as passionate and knowledgeable (and, at times, just as dorky) as the men.

    I'm happy to say that even though it's a dingy little hole in the wall, my local comics shop has several female regulars, and the owner's wife hangs out there on occasion.

  15. Okay, speaking as a geeky guy that reads comics, I can't really understand this sort of behavior. I mean, seeing more women (passionately) interested in comics is a good thing, right? What possible advantage is there in keeping knowledge of comics as a closed/male-exclusive system?

    And aside from the obvious problems with this, it can't be good for the industry as a whole. In an era of shrinking audiences you'd think fan-boys and store clerks would realize that pulling in larger numbers of female readers can help keep the books we love coming.

    Anyways, though this is a bit depressing as a first post, I always enjoy the blog Ragnell. Keep up the commentary!


  16. I don't know... Ragnell can attest, for some reason I'm not usually hit with this kind of sexism... Maybe because I can usually turn it right back at the guys with something obscure that they don't know...

    I have my own favorite "fanboy question"...

    What's the only correct response to someone who tells you that "Captain Marvel" is their favorite character?


  17. This is so weird. I still have problems believing that the "girls don't read comics"-attitude exists off the internet, because the whole concept is so foreign to me. I mean, at my local comic book store, about 40% of the clientele and at least half the staff are women. I honestly never even thought about it before I started reading internet blogs.

    I wonder if it's just me who's oblivious, or if it's a cultural thing (I'm Norwegian). All right, so it's not the same everywhere (from reading the comments) in scary foreign places, and probably different in various circles, but still.

  18. well, sinspired, if captain marvel's really their favourite character, clearly it has to be this one.

  19. What could possibly be the point of discussing pop culture -or really, any art- if you can't snobbishly tear down other people's tastes?

    Me, I find this easiest in comics, because I don't really like manga or superhero stuff. It doesn't take a lot to be all high and mighty to people when they declare they're mostly dropping out of comics fandom because DC sucks so damn much.

    It's easiest if your taste already tends towards the rarified.

    The hard part is being condescending to people who actually have better taste then you, ie "You don't like the Monkees? Philistine."

    I still haven't mastered it with movies; all I watch is stupid genre stuff, pretty much. It's hard to be properly proud when the other guy talks about a brilliant Jacques Tati movie he just saw and the last thing you watched was Transformers: The Movie.

    It's weird to me that people take this kind of stuff seriously, when in most cases it could not possibly matter less.

  20. If you REALLY like comics, tell me when I'll lose my virginity, Ms. Smarty pants!

  21. ok, now I have to pipe up from the midwest, here! I live in Iowa City, Iowa, and we have a really great comix shop here, Daydreams. The guys who work in there are always friendly, helpful, and there's a great woman that works there too.

    Also compared to some stores I've been in while travelling (on the *gasp* coasts), that look like some high school fanboy's bedroom, Daydreams has a great selection and a great layout.

    Thinking that somehow the midwest is this dearth of culture and enlightenment shows its own lack of enlightenment.

  22. Hi -
    I check in here a lot but have never commented. I'm a friend of BeaucoupKevin and Bahlactus and I own a couple of comic shops here in the Boston area.
    I pride myself on having a decent-sized female customer fanbase and not being condescending towards them. I've never been a big believer in the gender line as it applies to comics or really, any sort of "obsession".
    The fact that you were being challenged about your comics knowledge is just appalling to me; if I were present, I definitely would have broken out my comic geek credentials and turned the tables on the sexist "experts".
    Keep on keepin' on!!

  23. OMG... I HATE nerd superiority.. and it's just an ego thing... they feel insecure about themselves and this is the ONE thing they feel makes them special :\ The weird thing is that geek guys complain about there being no geek girls but where there are they always find a problem with them. Usually it's a) not attractive enuf b) knows too much. What they WANT is NOT a girl who reads comics, but an attractive supermodel who is fasinated by comics but knows nothing about them and is impressed by their vast stores of knowledge. :O

    I rly hate when ppl get so angry about what they know and badger us with questions so that we prove our worth :\ And they dun even want us to prove it, they want us to fail so they can lord over us. :(

  24. I know I can't speak for the entire male population, but I'll speak on behalf of the male comic fans who aren't complete dicks.

    So on behalf of the members of the group I speak for (see above): Sorry about that.

    I don't know whether it's that these kinds of guys are threatened that a woman (particularly a sexually attractive one) might have a foothold on something they consider their territory, or that that same woman might know more about the subject matter that they believe themselves to be such experts in. I can tell you, that not every male comics fan is like that.

    I would love to have more women to chat about comics with at my local shop. Most of the time, its a complete sausage fest full of the same kind of goofs that you encountered, and just for the record, I can't stand them either. I am not at all threatened by other perspectives, in fact I welcome them. Its one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much.

    So next time these goofs start to get to you again, you can console yourself with the fact that the real reason they're such jerks is that they know that no pretty, well rounded woman who knows more about comics than they do will ever show them the inside of their bedrooms. ;)

  25. naomi: Just wanted to second the Daydreams love. Iowa City is a pretty lucky place to be sometimes.

    Now if only Iguana's were still around...

  26. God, this reminds me of the last time I went to pick up a Transmetropolitan trade in a short skirt and tall boots.
    Some guy wanted to pull the hey-little-lady routine, and ended up getting an update on all the major titles' storylines, courtesy me. He deserved the flabbergastination; the mook tried to test if I really liked Warren Ellis by seeing if I'd heard of the Chair Leg of Truth. While I was holding the relevant volume.
    I was tempted to demonstrate, but mostly decided it would be better if he could walk home to cry over not getting to do hot lady geeks.