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Stand Down, Amazon Warriors: Comic Book Guys Already Killed the Comic Book Store

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

comiXology, the biggest (and, in my opinion, absolute best) digital app and reseller for comics has been purchased by Amazon. Ali covered the news here at Book Riot over the weekend, and she raised some good points about why those who are uncomfortable with Amazon’s business practices are shaking their heads. On Twitter and Tumblr, however, I’ve been noticing a lot more flailing going on: genuine fear that Amazon’s takeover will kill the independent comic shop in the same way that many have argued Amazon has been responsible for the death of the independent bookstore. Ali, in her piece, thoughtfully explains why she doesn’t see that happening:

I’m a Wednesday comics girl. I buy my books at my wonderful local comic shop each week. It’s a very comforting ritual for me, and I will always buy the majority of my comics from a brick-and-mortar shop.

But me, I’m a bit of a pessimist, or maybe my experiences have just been drastically different than Ali’s. My relationship with brick-and-mortar comic shops ended pretty much the second comiXology entered the market place. For me, it isn’t Amazon that will kill the independent comic shop: it’s the Comic Book Guy.

Meet your gatekeeper. And he already doesn't like you or anything you like.

Meet your gatekeeper. And he already doesn’t like you or anything you like.

I have loved comics pretty much since always, and in spite of a pretty kick-ass knowledge of all things Marvel (including, somewhere in my parents’ attic, a full set of Marvel trading cards), a loving long-term relationship with indie slice-of-life comics, and a career built partially on studying graphic narratives (you can read my more scholarly comics thoughts over at Graphixia any time you like), I have never felt comfortable in a comic book shop. I blame the Comic Book Guy and his (definitely his) ethos.

The stereotypical individual, made popular by The Simpsons, is not really what I’m talking about here — though I think many of us have run into similar personalities. But snotty sales people don’t really keep me out of record shops when I’m looking for vinyl, or even bookshops (as much as I complain about it) when I need a hard copy of a book. So I don’t think it’s the predictable judgment one gets from an rude comic book sales guy. It has more to do with the unwelcoming atmosphere I seem to find in so many comic shops, whether I’m a regular or a visitor.

Even as comics have become increasingly mainstream, comic shops have often remained places where only the hardcore are welcome and one has to prove one’s Nerd Cred to fit in. They are also often very female-unfriendly places. Perhaps this comes of feeling ostracized by the mainstream: to create a safe space for misunderstood comic nerds, anyone who is perceived as an outsider has to be shunned. But what I want to bellow at the top of my lungs in these shops is, “I AM ONE OF YOU. I AM NOT AN OUTSIDER. LET ME BELONG.”

A short list of some unpleasant encounters I have had in various comic shops:

  1. A fellow customer refusing to allow me to approach the rack of Civil War back issues until I proved to him my knowledge of Black Panther’s pre-wedding back story.
  2. A clerk asking me if I was sure my boyfriend didn’t have any of the comics I was buying, because the shop had a no returns policy.
  3. A fellow customer redirecting me from the All-Star Superman I was flipping through to the slice-of-life comics “that girls like.”
  4. Two (!) of my small handful of unwanted ass-grab experiences have occurred on Free Comic Book days when stores are crowded and often rowdy.
  5. On one Free Comic Book Day, a fellow customer took a comic out of my hands (wrested might be a better word) because, “There’s no way you’re going to appreciate this.”

Now I know — of course I know — that not all comic shops are like this (the one Ali goes to sounds GREAT and I would like to go to there). But these kinds of experiences — coupled with the usual weird hush and/or lingering gaze that often accompanies a woman walking into a  comic shop — have happened often enough that I have given up. If I’m in a new city, I will always check out the comic shops to see what’s up and what’s popular, but I’ve given up hope of being a regular with a Wednesday ritual.

Instead, on Wednesdays, my iPad yells at me that there are new comics to be had, and I open the comiXology app to download them. Not only can I do it in the comfort of my pyjamas before I even get out of bed to get ready for work, but I can do it without my butt getting fondled or having to prove my Nerd Cred. Instead, I get to just read the comics. Which is what it should be all about anyway.

So in the wake of Amazon’s takeover, I won’t be stopping my love affair with comiXology. It gave me a way to enjoy weekly comics again, and I can’t argue with that.