Jessie Hausman, illustration by Allison Costello Martin
Jessie Hausman, illustration by Allison Costello Martin
I've loved comics ever since I was a little girl. Unfortunately, there's still a perception of male exclusiveness that clings to comic-book stores.

In a post in the blog "Whosoever Holds This Hammer" on July 9, 2010, acerbic freelancer Anthony Falcone criticizes fanboy culture in comic stores. "If your store is a sweat filled hobbit cave stop going. If your store doesn't employ at least one woman stop going. And if your store doesn't provide you with the basic level of customer service that you could get at McDonalds definitely stop going."

Now, I am something of a sweaty hobbit of a girl, and I like a lot of the material that is aimed at boys. Falcone is still right on about the barriers that can keep women out of comic-book stores. The stereotype of hobby stores is that the staff is more interested in collecting than in customer relations, and therefore can be dismissive or even hostile. I can see how it would be intimidating as a woman unfamiliar with comics to enter a store that had a large group of role-playing men, and no women.

I wonder if this stereotype of male exclusiveness comes from the history of women's comics, detailed by Trina Robbins in the terrific "From Girls to Grrlz: A History of Women's Comics From Teens to Zines." In the 1960s and '70s, all that was available for women in the mainstream were "romance comics." According to Robbins, women who cared about other issues were forced to look underground, which coinciding with the feminist movement, exploded with new, exciting and subversive work. It's true that almost all the stores in Minnesota are male owned. I was only able to track down one, Double Play, in Mankato, with a female owner.

This is unfortunate because there are some amazing comics for women, and the art form does something different than books and art can do alone. One of the things I love about comics is their ability to take something uncomfortable and taboo and make it visible. For example, Phoebe Gloeckner's complex semi-autobiographical "Diary of a Teenage Girl." Her character is abused by her mother's boyfriend, but at the time thinks of it as a loving relationship. No available talk about abuse leads to girls blaming themselves, and even being unfairly shamed by others.

My favorite comic book store is Minneapolis' Big Brain because it carries all kinds of comics by contemporary women writers, including the fringe and fun "Hothead Paisan Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist" and "Bitchy Bitch." It is male owned, but it is a perfect, welcoming place for women to track down comics they are interested in.

Jessie Hausman is a freelance writer, personal care attendant, and self-described "Nerd Girl." She lives in St. Paul.