My LCS isn’t exactly conveniently located, so I have to plan my Wednesday pick-ups strategically. If I don’t get them on my lunch break, I have to be sufficiently motivated to drive in the opposite direction of my house on a cold winter evening. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to brave some crappy after-hours weather to get my books. It turned out to be worth it in ways I didn’t anticipate.
While I’ve gotten used to being one of the few female regulars at comic shops, it’s really not all that unusual to spot another woman browsing the aisles. However, in all my years of fandom, I had never encountered another black woman in a comic book shop — at least not since college, when my friend C. and I visited the one near campus. Um, that was 20 years ago. So when I looked up to see a twentysomething black woman — one also wearing geek/hipster specs! — walking into my LCS, it was like seeing a unicorn. A fellow unicorn. I started to whip out my cell to send my husband photo evidence, but I didn’t want to frighten her away.
Fortunately, she was as tickled as I was to see someone in our shared demographic leafing through Marvels and Blackest Night tie-ins. After we traded wow-this-is-cool comments, she (I’ll call her M.) told me that she was a college student and an aspiring writer who had been frequenting my LCS for a few months. She also said her friends gave her a hard time for spending so much money on comic books. (Yeah, I’m sure they’re all squirreling away cash in Roth IRAs.) Then, she asked the question every experienced geek longs to hear: “What do you recommend?”
Best. Wednesday. Ever.
M. and I traded phone numbers, and I went home feeling like I had actually helped someone. I realize this is hardly the equivalent of mentoring at-risk youth or building a Habitat for Humanity home, but when you’re a minority in your chosen subculture, it’s nice to see a face that looks like yours once in awhile.
This is probably less of an issue for M.’s generation, but when I was growing up, other black girls my age found my love of sci-fi and costumed heroes a little … eccentric. Dabbling in the geek arts was socially risky for me — at least as risky as it could be for someone who wore Bass Weejuns and played second-chair flute and piccolo. I wasn’t exactly sitting at the Unfriendly Black Hottie* table to begin with.
By the time I went off to a historically black college in the late ‘80s, I decided those interests were best shared on a very limited basis, with people like my pal, C. (There’s a street in our college town named Jim Lee Road, and I’m fairly certain she and I once talked about taking a picture of the street sign and mailing it to Jim Lee. Does that make us geeks or dorks?) I stopped caring about being alternative a long time ago, but it sure would have been nice to occasionally bump into a woman of color — any color — back in the day. So if talking to me made M. feel even a tiny bit more confident about loving comics, well, that makes me happy.
Which reminds me: I need to check in with my padawan to see if she wants to borrow some Fables trades. Geeking ain’t easy, or cheap — but it’s worth it.
*This is a term from the movie “Mean Girls,” which you should have seen by now.