The most recent episode of the TV series Heroes featured a scene that seems to have upset a lot of people around the Internet. You can watch it here at Hulu and it starts about 17 minutes into the show.
If you don’t want to watch it, here’s the summary (please note that I do not watch Heroes, but I know enough about it and I did watch bits of this episode and this scene in particular):
Claire, the blond cheerleader-type, decides for various reasons to go get a job at a comic book store. Never mind she doesn’t read comics. The store owner/manager/whatever asks if she can work Wednesdays. When she doesn’t get it, he tells her that’s when new comics come out. He then asks her if she wants to fly or have invisibility. Claire is further confused and decides to leave. The manager-type says she can have the job because all the guys are looking at her and she’ll probably sell comics.
This scene was not nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be. The manager person seemed pretty patient in dealing with someone who didn’t know anything about the job she was applying for and while he was obviously nerdy, he just struck me as being a typical slightly awkward comic book guy. Maybe the line about “all the guys are looking at you” was questionable, but at the same time, maybe the manager thought it would be nice to diversify his staff a bit.
But instead everyone has decided that Heroes is making fun of their core audience and girls totally read comics and comic book stores are never ever like that. Ever.
Let me make one thing clear: I know there are a lot of amazingly cool comic book stores out there. I’ve been to a bunch of them. Isotope in San Francisco, certainly. Big Planet around here, yeah (I especially like the Georgetown one). Forbidden Planet in NYC is, of course, phenomenal. Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor is fun. Everyone seems to adore Rocketship in Brooklyn. And a little stuffed bull really enjoyed his trip to Bergen Street Comics.
But I don’t think a handful of stores in major metropolitan areas along the coasts (and one in a liberal university town) is necessarily representative of all comic book stores.
Because for every one of these great comic book stores, there are probably dozens of comic book stores like Stories in Richmond.
One of the Stories is near my mom’s house in suburbs of Richmond. It is exactly what you think of when you think of a comic book store — tables covered with long boxes of back issues, old collectible toys hanging from the walls, dimly lit and packed full of stuff and the “adult” section a little too visible. Now, Stories is fine for what it is — it’s a comic book store and it’s not trying to be anything else. And while I never felt particularly uncomfortable going in there, it really wasn’t a place I ever felt too excited about going to, and given the choice, I’d go somewhere else.
And yes, it’s still there. It’s still like that today. Stories, to me, is much more typical of comic book stores than any of the others I mentioned above. Those are the exceptions. This is still, unfortunately, the rule.
I do feel like I should point out that the employees at the comic book store I went to as a young teenager were always really nice to me. The worst thing any of them ever said to me was to tease me about my hat and ask if I was trying to be “Blossom” (it was the ’90s, OK?). But I also remember going into comic book stores and feeling invisible and ignored. And this still happens.
Once, a year or two ago, I was in the Big Planet store in Vienna. When I first went in, there was a dad and his young son looking at Bone or some such, and then a young hipster couple looking at graphic novels. They departed and young men came in and started talking about typical comic book stuff. No one, to my knowledge, was really saying anything terrible or sexist, but I suddenly had the sense that I was an intruder in a boys’ club and I didn’t belong there. I left soon after.
And this was a store I like, a store that basically does everything right. It’s well-organized, bright and colorful and comfortable (it should be said that the Vienna store is probably the most suburban of the Big Planet stories). It was the underlying attitude of the patrons that changed that store for me.
Girls and women reading comics isn’t the novelty it used to be and I think that’s awesome. I love that. When I was teenager it did feel pretty lonely and I’m glad it doesn’t seem as lonely now. But there are still some comic book stores — and obviously, fans — that are slow to catch up with the changing times. If you thought that scene in Heroes didn’t represent reality, well, I’m glad that you see comic book stores and fans that way. But to me, even though I know there’s plenty of cool stores and cool fans, it still felt pretty accurate.
Screenshot taken from Heroes episode “Shades of Gray,” captured from Hulu.com