Inclusive atmospheres are important to the future of comic stores

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Actress Rebecca Hall, actor Luke Evans, actress Bella Heathcote and director Angela Robinson attend the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women meet and greet at New York's Forbidden Planet on October 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for Annapurna)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Actress Rebecca Hall, actor Luke Evans, actress Bella Heathcote and director Angela Robinson attend the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women meet and greet at New York's Forbidden Planet on October 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for Annapurna) /

With COVID-19 hitting many businesses hard, comic stores can not afford to harbor ill will toward the fast-growing demographic of women consumers.

Visting a comic-book store to grab the latest issue of your favorite story is a staple in many people’s lives, and for good reason. Going to a local comic shop is where you can link up with other fans and share your passions without being judged by those family members who don’t understand your obsession with zombies or superheroes.

Sadly, since the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across countries around the world, many businesses have taken a huge hit — and comic stores are no exception. These stores were already threatened before and had to adapt to the new online world of comic-book shopping. Now more than ever comic-book stores need to adapt with the time and gain new regulars to stay afloat.

Inclusion is a term that may come off as frightening to some people, but at its core is kindness. Inclusion means that more people get to be involved, and you get to share your loves and passions with many. True inclusion excludes no one. After all, fans are in this together and everyone wants to see their favorite stories grow and thrive.

Over the years, comics themselves have become more inclusive, bringing about a new generation of fans. Recent studies show that women between the ages of 17 and 33 are the fastest-growing demographic. When a person feels represented on the pages of a comic and makes a connection to a story, comic shops have a chance to build a lasting relationship. Unfortunately, gender can play a big role in the respect a customer gets when they walk in the door.

My journey with comic-book stores started when I became a fan of The Walking Dead. I began by watching the television show when a few seasons had already aired. In the downtime before the next season started, I wanted to get my hands on all content related to The Walking Dead. So naturally, I wanted to read the comic source material, which I quickly found I preferred to the show.

I got up to date on the comics and found stores to go to purchase the newly released books, as I’ve always been a fan of having a tangible object when it comes to reading. The first store I tried made me extremely uncomfortable. I asked if they carried the comic, and was met with glares and half-answered questions. It wasn’t a welcoming atmosphere, and I couldn’t leave fast enough.

Quickly my excitement for getting new comics from the store disappeared. After my second trip, I didn’t return and decided online was the way to go for me. My family moved to a new place, and in the meantime, I became an online content creator for The Walking Dead, becoming very knowledgable about everything surrounding the topic. I had built my own community at this point.

My new area had several comic stores, but unfortunately, most only sold older comics and no new releases. I found one store promising and made my way inside to ask if they sold the comic. I was met with vile looks and disgusting remarks: “Are you sure you can handle a real story? This isn’t the same as the TV show” and “You know Daryl Dixon isn’t in the comic; you sure want to buy without eye candy to enjoy?”

I felt like I might explode inside, but instead of firing back, I walked out, mostly because I had my toddler in tow. I vowed I was done with comic stores.

Following that interaction, I had so many questions buzzing in my head. Did I say something wrong? Why did I have to prove I’m a fan to buy a book? Why is it so hard for others to respect me?

As background, Daryl Dixon is close to my least favorite character ever. I’m also a pansexual woman who doesn’t even take looks into consideration when carrying on with daily life. I felt attacked and sad from all angles. Even if I had no knowledge of this universe, I still deserved respect as a customer. I love this story, and when I went to comic conventions, I was celebrated and felt accepted like I never have before. Why was this so different?

We moved again, and even though I left comic stores on a sour note, I decided I would give a local one a try when a variant was released that I was clamoring to have. As luck would have it, I finally found a shop to claim as my own. Time Tunnel Comics changed my outlook on comic stores completely. From the moment I walked in, I was welcomed and immediately at home.

This store is a perfect example of how comic stores can and will make it through anything thrown at them. Even during this pandemic, they offer curbside pick up. When you walk into this store, you are a fellow human wanting to purchase a story you love, or a human who wants to find a new story to fall for. Even if you walk in vastly underprepared for your trip, you will be respected and helped. But then, the store’s mission reveals that the business is all about the experience:

"“In an era full of online retailers, we try to make the experience of walking into a shop, looking at what you are buying, and talking shop with us as an experience worthwhile. Any idiot can mark down a book; it takes a quality idiot to help customers make informed purchases that makes them want to keep reading comics. We strive to be your favorite idiots.-Jake”"

This silly statement should be how all retailers feel when selling comics. Women walking into a shop shouldn’t be seen as a threat to a place you love. Having women walk into your shop is an opportunity to garner support for your business and your beloved stories. In a time where the future of shopping in-person is teetering on the edge of impossible, shops can’t afford to be unkind to anyone. Inclusion and compassion are the future of comics. If the comics themselves can grow and adapt to fit a new audience, stores themselves can learn from what they sell.

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Do you have a favorite comic shop you consistently visit? If so what makes it special? Do you believe inclusion is the future of comics? Tweet me your thoughts @Mamadeadhead on Twitter!