Thursday, March 15, 2012

Leah Moore Knows Girls Read Comics

Comic Book Readers by Ruth Orkin, c.1947 (found on Liszka's Soup)
"Girls read comics, not just Manga either. Girls read superhero comics, indie comics, autobiographical comics, historical comics, literary comics, horror comics, romance comics and even just plain terrible comics. Girls are comic fans. They want comics aimed at them, or aimed not at them, or just comics that are good. They want all the same things male comic fans want. They want to be sold to, they want to buy the cold cast porcelain model of Rogue looking badass and put it on their shelf. They want Wonder Woman underwear sets and Wolverine stationery for the new term. Women are just as whimsical, gullible, romantic and fanciful as men. They are capable of grasping the finer points of all the weird freaky made up stuff that we all commonly know to be “ACCEPTED CONTINUITY.”  They will talk about costume changes and characterisation." - Comic book writer and fan Leah Moore

Leah Moore knows a thing or two about comics. Read more of her staggering logic as applied to the flailing comic book industry on Warren Ellis's website.

Monday, March 12, 2012

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.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Comic Book Culling: Alternatives For Recycling Your Comics

Every headline touting a long-lost comic collection found in grandma's attic is sure to give retailers a slight headache. Whenever genuinely rare comics go for big bucks in auction, phone calls to comic shops from consumers with stacks of worthless comics from the 90's and dollar signs in their eyes are bound to follow. It would be a humorous situation if it wasn't such a time consuming (and frequent) occurrence to explain that no, your Death of Superman is worth less than the bag and board you put it in. Modern comic book readers know better than to believe the prevalent myth that comics are a sound monetary investment. Most fans have come to accept that these are a disposable form of entertainment (if you haven't, the sooner you come to terms with this, the less bitter you'll be later on). Recently I've seen more longtime readers  bringing collections in to sell back to the stores they bought them from, mostly siting concerns for space and wanting store credit to cover their ongoing buying habits. As the industry moves further into the realm of the digital age, it will be interesting to see how the face of comics' retail changes. Several newer stores have foregone the back issue market altogether since modern merchandise tends to sit unsold for long periods of time. For those who are looking to get rid of their overabundance of books, there are plenty of options besides selling comics to local comic shops or throwing them on Ebay. These certainly aren't your only options but they are creative ways to keep your once cherished and sometimes regrettable purchases from becoming landfill fodder.

Binding Your Comics
Image courtesy of Houchen Bindery
Having your comics bound is an exciting way to re-ignite the love you once had for these stories. A custom hardcover of X-Men: Inferno is far more likely to be re-read and shared than when it is hidden away in long boxes. Perhaps not every story deserves this indulgent treatment, but for the books you just can't part ways with, why not keep them around in style? Another added benefit of this service is keeping the original covers, ads, and letters columns in tact (though this is optional). I hope  to see these (and many more) bindery companies start making appearances at comic book conventions.

Houchen Bindery
Houchen is a library certified binder, and the quality of that standard shows in their work. They offer a wide selection of options for comic book binding, and they also provide templates for creating custom covers.

Comic Book Binding
Comic Book Binding is a division of Denver Book Binding and they are comic book fans just like you. They even have instructional videos on how best to prepare your comics for binding.

Crafting With Comics
A clever groomsmen gift from user Najaorama
If you are entirely certain you'll never want to read the stories from your collection again, or don't want to share them with others, then repurposing them for crafty uses may be the way to go. Clever crafters have found countless second lives for their comics including wallets, purses, jewelry and more. The papercraft possibilities are endless! Here are just a few standout re-uses:

Comic Book Party Banner (Friends, take note for my birthday next year)

Comic Book Starburst

Comic Book Necklace Pendant

Comic Book Flasks

Donating Your Comics

Whether you are handing your books over to a younger sibling, nephew, or neighbor, whoever the lucky recipient is they are sure to be grateful for the gift. If you don't know any potential readers first-hand there are several organizations that are dedicated to putting your comics to good use, such as Chicago's own Open Books. They will resell your unwanted books and use the profits from the sale to support literacy programs. Even Challengers Comics has partnered with this wonderful organization - you can leave your books with this local comic shop and they'll drop them off for you. The added benefit of going through an organization like Open Books yourself is that the donations are tax deductible. If you cannot find a local organization or don't want to pay to have your books shipped to a donor,  Salvation Army and Goodwill are always willing to take your comics. However, at a second-hand store your comics are just as likely to be bought by a misguided individual hoping to find a collectible as they are an actual comic book reader. A few more charitable organizations that will accept donated comics:

Comic Book Connection Initiative


Comics For Heroes

Keep in mind, the organizations that give books directly to children will only want your comics that are age appropriate for young readers. Many local libraries have "Friends of the Library" chapters that are happy to take graphic novels off of your hands as well, and that's a good option for books with content that is not all-ages friendly. Another alternative for donating your comics with adult content is to give them to troops  serving overseas. In particular, sending your more recent purchases is a great way to give active duty comic book fans a taste of home. An event comic may be in your distant memory, but for a fan serving overseas it could be a highly anticipated read as they wait months between visiting a comic book store.

Operation Gratitude

Operation Comix Relief

Operation Paperback

These are just a few of the many organizations willing to take your donated comic books, and most metropolitan areas have similar active groups. Simply search for "donating comic books" and your city or state and you're bound to find many more local charities. Even if it takes a little extra effort to donate your books, your comics will have an immediate purpose through a charity rather than sitting unsold in the shrinking secondary market.