Continuing the comic shop discussion from yesterday, this is Rachel Edidin’s thoughtful & insightful views on the subject.
postcardsfromspace: This comic by Noelle Stevenson has been making the tumblr rounds, and it’s gotten me thinking about my own comics shop experiences—one, in particular.
My comics shop—the comics shop I’ve continued to think of as my comics shop, even years after I moved cross-country and it closed down (no connection, I promise)—is The Sword & The Grail, a little hole-in-the-wall comics and gaming shop tucked next to Mast General Store in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.
S&G wasn’t my first comics shop, but it was the first I where I had a pull list—and the first where I became a capital-R regular. It didn’t introduce me to comics or gaming, but it did get me invested in the community around them, because it was the first place I’d found a comics and gaming community outside of my small circle of friends that seemed worth investing in.
The owner, Alex, was an ex-military guy who’d worked as a hairstylist before deciding to open S&G. He loved comics and loved gaming and loved helping other people find comics and games to love. He also occasionally fixed my bangs after I’d trimmed them with office scissors, which is not entirely the point, except to say that a) I trusted that dude implicitly, and b) it was the kind of shop where that stuff happened. His wife worked at the salon across the street and hung out at the shop, and she was into comics and gaming, too, but more casually; and that meant a lot, too, because it underlined the fact that S&G wasn’t just for people who could get through the lightning round of big-two trivia: it was for anyone who cared enough to be there.
Which is part of why S&G was the first place where I felt comfortable enough to be a relative novice, someone who loved comics but didn’t yet know much about them. Before, I’d explored on my own, almost at random; or read the things that other people thrust at me. At S&G, I suddenly had a much wider network of friends who cared enough to learn what I liked and help me find more of it; who were eager to share what they loved and tell me why they loved it. S&G is where I started buying superhero comics on the regular, but it’s also where I learned the names of independent creators like Ted Naifeh.
As a rule, S&G had a zero-tolerance asshole policy: if you were harassing or intimidating other customers, you would be called out on it, and if you kept it up, you would be asked to leave. It was the comics shop where the girls I knew hung out, because it was the one where we knew if anyone got aggressive—socially, not even physically—the staff and most of the patrons would have our backs. It was a store that was overtly and deliberately female-friendly, kid-friendly, and newcomer-friendly—something I’d never really seen in a comics shop before. Being a regular meant occasional dibs on new books, getting to stay after hours to finish a session. In terms of other customers, it meant trust to be a good ambassador: to recommend books, or sit by new kids during games.
I live across the country now, in Portland, Oregon, a city full of diverse, welcoming, wonderful comics shops. But I owe Sword & Grail the standard by which I measure them, as well as a fair part of my decision to pursue a career in the industry.
It’s also why I have no patience for hostile comics and game shops staffed with elitist, self-deputized gatekeepers; or for fans who insist that the alternative is a feel-good pipe dream. It’s not. The future of comics and gaming shops is S&G. It’s Bridge City, Floating World, TFAW, and Guardian Games. It’s Happy Harbor, Strange Adventures, and Bergen Street, and dozens and dozens of others. Those shitty, sexist, dank-cave comics shops are a dying breed: gradually, they will put themselves out of business as the narrow, angry demographic to which they cater drives itself further and further into the margins. The new standard will be—is—well lit, and friendly, and inclusive: the kinds of shops that can take a shy college kid on the fringes and make her want to dive head-first into their worlds and never, ever come up for air.