I’ve never had my geek cred questioned. No one asks me if I “actually read this stuff” as I work behind the counter of my LCS. When I say how much I enjoy a book like Ms. Marvel or Wonder Woman, people take me on my word. When I check out a store in another town, I’m asked what series I collect, not what I’m doing there. If only these people knew I wasn’t “one of them”.
I was 19 the first time I ever set foot in a comic book store. I wasn’t even there to buy a “real comic”, instead leaving with the first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim. It took two years for me to actually set up my first subscription, for the then newly announced Adventure Time. I was late to the party on Saga, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Ultimate Spider-Man - books that are now some of my favorites - and I’d never read an issue of Batman until I was working in a comic shop. If I were held to the same standard half the comic reading population is, I’d be branded as a fake.
Instead, I’m seen as an expert by the customers of my store, in equal parts it seems because of my position and gender. When someone brings up a series I am unfamiliar with I can deflect with a simple “let me check if we have that in” and no one questions if I know what I’m doing. People want and take my suggestions of what to read, even though I was the one receiving those same recommendations just a year or two ago. While my job has afforded me the opportunity to catch up on many of the “classics”, I’ve still not gotten through much of the Marvel and DC catalog. Instead I sometimes have to rely on what I know from Wikipedia pages and secondhand accounts. There’s a part of me that is always concerned I’ll be called out as a fake, but in reality, it’s unlikely to ever happen. I get to be a part of the club because I look the part.
I’ll be going to my very first convention in March with a friend who has read comics her entire life. She actually understands exactly what happened in the New 52 continuity shift and can tell you how the plot of the Avengers movie mirrors the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby issues. If she were a guy, she’d be considered a true fan by any standard. But when she goes to a store, she gets one of two reactions. Either she’ll just be ignored, which at this point she prefers, or she’ll be subjected to a series of increasingly difficult trivia questions, trying to prove her assumed ignorance. A Batman backpack and Wonder Woman key-chain she carries with her every day aren’t enough to convince someone she’s a fan. No one asks here about her opinions on DC’s handling of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. Instead she’s asked if she’s there to get something for a boyfriend. At every turn her credibility is questioned.
This entire idea of “credibility”, however, is the real problem. The biggest lie at the center of the “fake geek girl” phenomena is that there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to enjoy comics. Regardless of gender, someone who has only seen the Marvel movies and someone who has all 700 issues of Amazing Spider-Man are both justified in calling themselves comic fans. There shouldn’t be rankings; there shouldn’t be tiers. If you prefer Tomine or Liefeld or Staples;
big two or independents; collecting variants or buying during Comixology sales - none of that should matter. The diversity of this amazing medium is reflected in the unique way each person approaches it and chooses to enjoy it. I’m not suggesting that some people aren’t more passionate about comics than others, but passion = interest + time. By excluding people as they’re just starting out, we’re not giving them a chance to let their passion for comics develop.
We need to work to dismantle this idea of credibility whenever we get the chance and catch ourselves when we’re buying into it. If you’ve ever felt superior to someone else because you knew more about comics, I want you to really think about what you gained from it. Instead of bragging about what you know, share something new with someone who doesn’t. Be the person you wish you’d met when you read your first comic. Remember we all start somewhere and invite someone new to our club.