Ladies Night at Graham Crackers Comics Chicago Loop

This past Wednesday evening Graham Crackers Comics located in the Chicago Loop looked a little different. As one keenly observant male customer opined a little too loudly, "You guys are swimming in estrogen today!" After manager Matt Streets pointed out that the store's first Ladies Night event was about to begin, he sheepishly took his books up to the register and went on his way. Considering the large turn out, it's safe to say this will be the first of a regular monthly event at the local comic shop. As an employee of Graham Crackers Chicago Lakeview location, I served as a store liaison for the event and also helped to moderate the conversation. Comic book creator and recent transplant to Chicago, Hannah Chapman spearheaded the event and organized it along with store manager Matt Streets. Ladies Night served a few purposes; first and foremost, it was a chance to meet and talk comics with other local female fans. Participants were encouraged to bring books they were enjoying as well as creating, while helping themselves to snacks and 10% discounts on all purchases. In addition to Chapman, local creator Jo Dery also brought some of her creator owned comics and answered questions about her work process and how to self publish (as one participant stated, "You just make them and sell them, it's that simple!").

Hannah Chapman, organizer seen at bottom right
As evident in the photos, the turnout was impressive with around 20 participants joining in the discussion (we ran out of chairs, but not cupcakes). The number of women wasn't nearly as surprising as how varied the group was. Having an interest in comics and falling into the females aged 18-35 demographic were about the only certain commonalities amongst everyone. Tastes were as wide ranging as experience, with longtime fans sitting next to women who had yet to read a comic but were interested and encouraged by their friends to come. Some only read cape comics or indy's, others were fans of manga or small press, but all were for the most part willing to listen to the suggestions and stories being shared. This being the inaugural event, topics ranged greatly and changed frequently. Considering the range of experience amongst the group, the organic structure was beneficial for a first time meeting. With new readers present, a few topics required further explanation. Even something as simple as encouraging participants of Ladies Night to go to C2E2 meant having to explain that it is a comic book convention happening in Chicago in April. Not all topics required clarification; universal yet cliche subjects were broached as well like comic book crushes (Robins were a favorite). The temptation to bring unrelated experience to each discussion was hard to resist for some, and this contributed to the fragmentation of conversation at times. Narrowing the event to specific themes and designating a time frame for discussing topics would help to keep the conversations from straying too far off topic in the future, and also require fewer of the necessary explanations needed for new readers.

Local creator Jo Dery (seen at top left) passes around her books
In an increasingly digital age, lengthy discussions on comics are more likely to happen online, whether reading reviews, commenting on websites or message boards, and interacting with other fans and creators via twitter.  We may talk with our local comic shop employees or with our friends about what we are reading, but the dynamic changes greatly when you are talking in person with a group of strangers. We don't feel the need to be as polite when dispensing opinions anonymously in an online forum, introductions are not necessary to our twitter followers. When one participant expressed a desire for diversity of depictions in cape comics (the brokeback pose was cited specifically), another fan quickly stated that the highly-sexualized and unrealistic portrayals were the most attractive aspects of comics for her as a reader. She succinctly stated, "When I play a video game (or read a comic) it better damn be a sexy character." Though the conversation changed quickly, the short exchange was far more civilized and respectful than any message board discussion on the topic would have been. It was encouraging to see differing opinions being shared openly without the often hostile attitudes that plague the online comic book community (and female fans are not immune to this either).

Participant Delia, seen at bottom left, shares one of her comic books
Whether one chooses to explore the online community or not, enjoying comic books is a largely solitary experience. Just getting out and meeting other fans face to face, particularly those that belong to a minority group within a larger readership, made this an insightful and positive event. The focus may have been lacking at times, but passion for comics was never in short order. My favorite moments from the night were whenever a shared universal theme made us all laugh, like in the very beginning when someone compared the introductions to an addiction support group. The nervous laughter more than just acknowledged the joke; it may have been the moment when we realized coming here put us in a different category than our other less nerd-inclined friends. We are in the know about something awesome and deserving of recognition, and yes, other girls are in the know, too. Besides introducing ourselves, we also named our favorite comic book character and the answers were as eclectic as the group itself. Whether new or old to comic books, everyone had a quick answer and enthusiasm for their choice.
The next Ladies Night at Graham Crackers Chicago Loop will be held on Wednesday, April 4th at 6-8. Here's hoping more events like this become commonplace and lead to more communication amongst the varied group of female comic book fans.