Published in Frock Paper Scissors (print), November 2015.
Brisbane’s female comic book readers prove it’s never been a boy’s club.
Dog-eared copies of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home line the rustic wooden bench, in-between craft beers and flickering candles. It’s a Thursday night in this hole-in-the-wall bar, and the table is deep in conversation about Ulysses and Lucille Ball. These baby-fringed, septum-pierced women look beyond cool, but edge closer and they’ll offer you a seat with the beaming smile of an old friend.
No skinny nerd boys. No Superman. Not a whisper of any cape-clad vigilantes. This probably isn’t what comes to mind when you think of a comic book club.
This is the Junky Women’s Comic Book Collective.
In the midst of tonight’s meeting sits Vlada Edirippulige, the inimitable owner of Junky Comics – a comic book and zine haven on West End’s Vulture Street. Filled with cube shelves, spunky wall prints and the occasional canine visitor, Junky is less of a superhero den and more of a hangout for local comic book artists, fanatics and zinesters.
Junky’s collection of alternative feminist, LGBTI and adult comics is a rarity amongst what is often considered a male-dominated, even misogynistic, subculture. “There’s this archaic view of comic book readers, that they’re only male nerds and outcasts,” Vlada says. “I speak to a lot of women who say they go into other comic book stores and feel they’re not welcome.”
Vlada isn’t a stranger to sexist naysayers – even in her own store. “I was here by myself and some suit came in, just looking to start a fight,” she says. “He was like, ‘It’s an interesting job choice for a woman, wouldn’t you say?’ I was ignoring him, but as soon as he said that, I put my screen down and said, ‘Is it interesting? Is it interesting that I’m a woman?’”
Just like the notion women can’t legitimately create and consume comics, there is a divide in the way female-centric works are perceived. “There’s this weird stigma that when you’re a woman, you’re writing for a woman,” Vlada says. “Whereas, when it comes to men, they can write for both genders. Like, ‘Oh no, you’re a woman so you should just write about your period, because that’s all your tiny woman brain can do.’”
Brisbane Oh My! Comics creator Alisha Jade feels women in comics are too often objectified, either through sexualisation or for some one-dimensional purpose. “Female characters aren’t allowed to simply exist in the same way male characters are,” she says. “To a close degree, it feels like actual women are treated the same – you can’t just exist as a woman in comic book culture without meeting some arbitrary obscure fact recall measure to prove your place. You can’t just be.”
Alisha ascribes this gender disparity to two things – visibility and voice. “There are loads of women creating comics both locally and internationally,” she says. “But because women to a large degree aren’t given a platform, they seem invisible.”
Woolf Pack editor, writer and comic book enthusiast Rebecca Cheers explores the intersection of gender and geek culture through her involvement in Brisbane’s Zine and Indie Comic Symposium (ZICS). “There’s never been a time in the history of any kind of geek culture where women haven’t been a part of it,” she says. “Geekdom has long been considered a male realm, so women becoming more visible has been met with a lot of hostility. It’s ludicrous because clearly we’ve been here the whole time.”
“When you’re a female in nerd culture, you’re being constantly called upon to prove your cred. Before you’re allowed to have an opinion, you are to present your certificate of geek authenticity, your three childhood consoles in order and like, the name of a secondary villain in a 1995 Castlevania game.”
This is where Vlada swoops in and saves the day. With some inspiration from Melbourne’s All Star Comics, she started this women’s collective to foster a sense of community amongst like-minded ladies. Open to both rookies and fanatics, this would be a safe space to discuss all things drawn and paneled.
Alisha, a fellow club member, senses a promising shift in the local comics scene. “I love the idea of a club made of ladies reading cool, non-superhero comics,” she says. “There aren’t many in Brisbane and I got turned off by the idea of book clubs with dudes. The ones I tried all had that one guy who had to be right and would aggressively argue until you gave in or left, and I don’t have time for that trash.”
Rebecca gushes at the opportunity to meet more of Brisbane’s bookish broads. “Junky has such a different vibe,” she says. “Vlada’s so super welcoming and there’s no cliquey shit.”
So, here’s to the kick-ass women in the corner of this bar – warm, smiling strangers united by their love of comics. There will always be more and they will always be welcome. Soon, they’ll need a bigger table. ♦