It can be dang hard to be a woman who reads comics.
Don’t get me wrong — in many ways, comics and the comic community have never been more accessible to women. Certainly aspects of both are getting better. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean misogyny has magically disappeared from comic companies nor the culture. The culture of comic shops in particular can be very hit or miss and that makes it tricky for women who want to buy comics in print on a regular basis. After all, if you’re anticipating getting hit with condescending gatekeeping, sexist jokes or simply derision from shop employees and managers for daring to be both female and in their store, you’ll dread going to that shop no matter how awesome Kamala Khan’s, Maps Mizoguchi’s, and the Lumberjanes’ stories are.
Now, there are other options besides comic shops for buying comics (like digitally though Comixology or waiting for the trade and buying through other sources), but the women-friendly comic shops exist! And if they’re close to you, don’t you want to know which ones you should check out?
At Panels, our contributors, editors, and staff want to highlight female-friendly comic book shops. This is especially true for the female contributors at Panels, many of whom have embraced our own local female-friendly spaces and know how gratifying it can be to make that a part of our experiences as comic readers. Check out our personal recommendations.
Downtown Comics (Indianapolis, IN)
I’m a long-term reader of comics, but about a year ago I decided to investigate a lot of Big Two characters I’d never read before. Which means that even though I’m not a new fan, I ask questions like one. Why is Batman dead? Who’s the guy in the armor? So, there just aren’t any more Ragnaroks? Also, why were there multiple Ragnaroks? I never get treated like a pest or a fake for wanting to know things. I never get a dismissive attitude for buying “girl comics” or for mostly knowing DC via cartoons. Plus, until three months ago, this shop was the only place I got to talk about comics. And I can talk a lot. It’s not easy for me to feel comfortable anywhere. I feel comfortable at my comic shop.
This tiny shop is the first place I ever started a pull list. From the first time I walked in and met the owner, who was working the front counter, they’ve been nothing but welcoming. While there aren’t any female staff, the guys are respectful, friendly, and full of recommendations. I’m a very sporadic, all-over-the-place kind of comics reader, which means that continuity, big house events, and legacies are often confusing to me — and they regularly are happy to fill me in. They also regularly ask for my feedback on what I’m reading; in other words, I get treated just like any other comics customer.
Bergen Street Comics was the first comic shop I ever went into and as a former bookseller, I immediately felt comfortable. Rather than being filled with toys and swag as well as comics, they focus almost entirely on books and issues themselves. There are tables stacked with graphic novels from indie publishers, a special all-ages comics section right up front, and gorgeous art on the walls. Maybe it’s because of their heavy focus on helping you discover new artists and authors, but I never felt like I had to know the secret handshake or name all of the Justice League to fit in.
Austin Books and Comics (TX)
We’re lucky to have a few great comic shops in Austin, but I’ve really started to feel at home at Austin Books and Comics, not least because it’s within walking distance of my house and some of the staff know me by name at this point. The real key to my comfort, though, is the enthusiasm and helpfulness of the booksellers, who have shepherded me through my first pull list experiences (sample question: Is it inconvenient for you when I have just one or two books on my list?); given me a shame-free tour of the store when I finally ‘fessed up to having no understanding of the layout; and introduced me to a lot of great books I would never have picked up on my own. The awesome folks there make me feel like my questions are a welcome opportunity to introduce someone to the fold, not shame her for her ignorance. I’ll take evangelical nerdiness over gatekeeping nerdiness every time.
Midtown Comics (NYC, multiple locations)
Midtown Comics is the biggest comic book store in the biggest city in America, so it’s about as far from the stereotypical dusty cave whose employees have never spoken to a woman as you can get. It’s well-lit and well-organized, with friendly employees who will ask if you need help finding anything but otherwise leave you free to browse as long as you like. It’s also kid-friendly, with all-ages stuff close to the front and low down enough to the little ones to see. It’s not really the place to go if you’re looking for a leisurely chat every Wednesday afternoon, but for a brisk, efficient, totally professional comics-buying experience, it can’t be beat.
Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop (Toronto)
Unless you knew about it beforehand, you likely wouldn’t immediately realize this is a comic shop. It’s inside the Toronto Reference Library, the five-story main branch of the Toronto Public Library system, and the only signage outside the clean, modern space says “Gift Shop.” So a lot of people who are browsing are there because they happened to be in the library and not necessarily because they’re comic book fans, which makes me feel very comfortable. It doesn’t matter that I’m a comics newbie because a lot of people in there are too. There’s no judgment. Plus the majority of the time I’m there, a female employee is at the helm! They have at least three female staff members, and they’re all very friendly and welcoming. And although their space isn’t as big as most comic book shops or bookstores, they have a really well curated selection of indie graphic novels, a mix of Big Two and indie trades, just a few single issues that are big hits (It’s where I got my back issues of Bitch Planet), and an awesome gift area with “shut up and take my money” items like Kate Beaton T-shirts, Kate Leth totes, and tons of Out of Print merchandise. I can’t go in there without finding something I NEED.
The Beguiling (Toronto)
Before coming here, I had only been to comic shops that primarily had mainstream superhero comics and where I felt like I was going to be judged by the dude-heavy crowd for picking up one of the few literary graphic novels or “girly” comics that they had. The Beguiling was the first place I felt comfortable browsing for the hour-plus it took me to work through a portion of their stock. The shop has EVERYTHING (two floors packed with indie, mainstream, superhero, and literary comics and manga, art books, literature about comics, etc.), so it feels like it’s for everyone. Whatever is in your wheelhouse, they have it and won’t judge you for liking it.
Downtown Comics (Indianapolis, IN)
Like Bri at the top of this list, my go-to local comic shop is Downtown Comics, specifically their Castleton location on the north side of Indianapolis. Store manager Pete is always willing to help me find a particular series on the shelf, is great about grabbing my pull list when he sees me come through the door and we nearly always end up chatting a bit at the register about the upcoming titles he knows I like. It’s a treat to be able to go to the shop after work on Wednesdays to pick up my books because it’s a store that understands being welcoming to all different kinds of customers is a good thing. Also, while this isn’t strictly an issue for women, the shop is also great for families. Not only have I seen the staff be friendly to both little girls and little boys who come in with their parents, but the store has also made a point to put the all ages comics at the front of the store. Kids (and adults who read kid-friendly comics) won’t have to walk past the more adult books to get to the comics they want to buy.
Big Planet Comics (Washington, DC)
I didn’t have an LCS for a long time for a simple reason: I was nervous about being a woman in a comics shop. When I finally did decide that, yes, it was time, I chose Big Planet Comics on U Street, and I haven’t looked back for a second. The staff is warm, open, and friendly; they recognize me as a “regular” now. Washington, DC, is known for its rowhouses, so I also love that this store is in one; it’s narrow, but not cramped, and it’s full of amazing character (both in terms of the building and the comics within it). The selection is amazing, and every time I walk through the door, I feel like I’ve left the stresses and worries of my day on the other side. Cheesy? Yes. Absolutely true? Also yes. I love my LCS.
Velocity Comics (Richmond, Virginia)
Velocity sits on a commercial strip more or less in the middle of Virginia Commonwealth University, a connection that helps the shop thrive. First of all, VCU has a great visual arts program, which encourages a relationship with local creators; and also, of course, it keeps the customer base young, and constantly turning over. A lot of local comics shops can become entrenched in serving the same clients year in and year out, but Velocity sees new community members every semester. Not surprisingly, a lot of these people are women — in fact, it seems like every fall, I see more and more gender balance in my fellow shoppers. I started going there nine years ago, when I taught at VCU and found that reading a comic or two was perfect for the downtime between classes. By now I’m one of the “olds”; the shop owners and clerks know to have my pull list gathered as soon as I come in the door. I’ve moved on to a different job in the suburbs, and going downtown to shop can be a hike, but it’s absolutely worth it to have this connection to Richmond’s arts community.
If you can’t find a shop near you on our list, we’d suggest checking out the very helpful Hater Free Wednesdays blog. Their masterlist has dozens and dozens of recommendations for inclusive comic shops worldwide.
We’d also like to encourage any of our female readers who have found their own women-friendly comic shops to post their recommendations in the comments!
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