Monday, June 27, 2005

New to Comics: One Year Later (Part I)

I started reading comics about a year ago. For some reason, I had never really gotten into comics as a child (with the exception of Calvin & Hobbes, and a Dick Tracy movie tie-in comic, and some old, obscure sci-fi graphic novel my aunt gave me), which is weird because -- despite being a girl -- I was into all the stuff one might associate with comics: I liked superheroes (Batman: The Animated Series was a favorite), science fiction, fantasy (the Conan movies were favorites), and various other things in "nerd" culture (I played roleplaying games, loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and hung out in an arcade with my older brother). Now, of course, liking these things doesn't necessarily translate into liking comic books, but in my case, I did like comics (see Calvin & Hobbes above) but I never really knew about the larger comic book culture; I had never been to a comic book store, didn't even know if there was one in my town, and so I never really had a chance to become a hardcore comics reader.

Short Anecdote: About 6 or 7 years ago, I thought I'd try to get into comic books, so I went to the only comic book shop I knew about in my area and started browsing. I was unbelievably self-conscious, had no idea even where to start looking, and the guy at the counter was involved in a very animated conversation with a customer about something I couldn't understand at all (whether they were talking about comics or indie rock, I don't think I'll ever know). Once the customer left, my first thought was to ask the clerk what he recommended, but shyness and fear of embarrassment prevented me. I wandered around a few minutes more, growing unbelievably uncomfortable (the silence in the place was deafening), and finally grabbed a Powerpuff Girls comic, payed without a word, and left, pretty much convinced I would never go back. At that time, the world of comics seemed completely inaccessable to me.

I've got a feeling my first comics shop experience was so dreadful because of a strange mix of two things: I was embarrassed to be in a comic book store in the first place (what if someone I knew saw me go in there?!), and at the same time, I felt like a poser, trying to pass myself off as someone who knew what she was doing, but who really hadn't the slightest clue what was a good comic to buy. I felt like I was too cool and not cool enough both at the same time. The store I go to now has a fantastic clerk, who is super-friendly, makes great recommendations, and is genuinly eager to make customers feel welcome, and even though it was my own insecurity that hampered that first experience, I'm wondering if, had the guy at the counter been more helpful, I might have gotten into comics that day 6 or 7 years ago.

More, on how I finally did start reading comics, and why comics are still pretty scary for the uninitiated, to follow. . .


At 1:23 PM, Blogger Devon said...

On the daily, I see so many girls like you were back then. Hopefully, more clerks will pick up on on how lost a potential customer may in a new store and become more of a help than an obstacle.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger The Derelict said...

This is so important, that the stores be welcoming, because frankly, American comics are confusing.

You look at the wall of new comics and see 300 X-men books, at least five Batmans, and a bunch of what look like Superman books but they've got weird names like "Action Comics" and even now I'm not sure which ones are in continuity, out of continuity, part of the Crossovers, or that just plain suck. And I tool around on the internet and read blogs and kinda try to keep up.

At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Lea said...

Hey Jenni! I'm finally deciding to comment. Anyways, you're post is interesting because I feel the exact same way you used to whenever I go to the comic store with you. The store just seems so huge and confusing when I look at all of the titles that I really do feel uncomfortable when I'm there. It's the main reason why I head straight to the manga section and pay as fast as I can. I sometimes wonder if I can ever get into American comics, but even when you try to explain to me all of the different types, I get way confused. I just can't see myself ever becoming comfortable in the comic store world.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger The Derelict said...

I think it's overwhelming/strange because we (people) have a tendency to want to stay in our niche. Yours is manga; for others, it's superheroes. Of course, as you've said, you have a tendency to think of American comics and equate them with superheroes, but as I've tried to show you, this is not really the case.

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Kurt said...

I'll throw out another factor - and this is just my limited personal observation: I think the many comic shop employees (and owners) struggle with the sales responsibilities of their jobs. Which isn't to say they're bad employees - they know the industry leftways and sideways and they know their inventory cold but they often are lacking in the basic sales skills you'd get taught the first day on the job at Footlocker. I've been in stores and watched a customers who are clearly looking for some help, get nothing but a blank stare.

I'm sure this isn’t the case everywhere, but I've seen a lot of it and it always amazes me because the main reason these guys work where they do is they love comics. These guys (and they are always guys) should be the evangelists, they should be pouncing on new customers with arms length lists of suggestions and support. Sure, they can discuss the merits of The Watchmen with the regulars, but you know what? The regulars aren’t what’s going to grow their business. [Stepping off the soapbox.]

I wonder how many girls out there have been scared right out of the industry by experiences like yours? I wonder how many guys?

Good post. Keep buying those books.


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