Club provides safe space for female comics fans

Marvel Comics
Vintage Spider Man and X-Men Marvel comic books.
Mario Tama | Getty Images file

In high school, Julia Walchuk's brothers said her love for Batman was too extreme. In the Girls Only Comic Club, the University of Minnesota graduate found there's no such thing.

"Batman is everybody's gateway drug into comics," club member Felicia Pruitt Brown told The Minnesota Daily.

"The animated X-Men were my gateway drug," other member Vinny Anderson said, dryly. "Batman had nothing to do with it."

Walchuk helped found the Girls Only Comic Club last November as a safe place for female comic fans to come together. The group first met at Black Coffee and Waffle Bar with a brief stint at Annie's Parlour before settling into the candlelit backroom of the Kitty Cat Klub. It's where they meet every Thursday night and nerd out over drinks and baskets of fries.

'Why are they taking over and changing things?' Comments like that make groups like this necessary.

"I'm very introverted," member Emily Ly said. "It's not that I don't like to meet new people. It's just that it's really hard."

Ly and Brown were classmates at the university — although Ly never attended the class they shared — and have been longtime friends. After Ly saw a flier for the group, she convinced Brown to go with her.

"Our plan at first was, 'Let's go together, and let's not put enough money in the meter,' so if we don't like it, we can be like, 'Sorry, our meter ran out,'" Ly said.

"You never told me that." Walchuk said, laughing.

She and Brown have regularly attended meetings since.

In the beginning, the Girls Only Comic Club's meetings were very structured.

The members would go around the table and talk about the comics they'd read that week. The group still follows this basic blueprint, but they don't limit themselves to comic books.

"We've become more of a community," Walchuk said. "We just come and hang out, so we talk about a lot of different things. ... We're just here to be nerds and do nerdy stuff."

Group members get together outside of the meetings, too. They recently met up to see the gothic romance film "Crimson Peak." Last year, they took a road trip to Chicago for Comic Con.

However, no matter how many comics they read or events they attend, the group members — like many women in the nerd industry — cannot escape the idea they only like comics for attention or to seem cool. Members say this "fake geek girl" trope makes it especially difficult for women with a budding interest in comics.

"If you're new to something, especially something in a nerdy kind of fandom, you get a lot of criticism for not knowing things," club member Jackie Culbert said. "Especially as a woman, you get critiqued a little bit more. Let's say you like Batman. You've seen the movies, and you're just starting to pick up the comic book. You don't know where to start because Batman is, what, almost 100 years old at this point?"

"Two hundred," Anderson said. "I will go on record for that."

Culbert continued, stating that as a woman, if you're wearing a Batman T-shirt, you'd likely be judged by men or grilled on your knowledge of Batman lore.

If you're male, you'd probably get a pass just having seen the films.

"Unfortunately, the comics industry and the nerd industries, in general, have been predominantly male-oriented," Walchuk said. But the industry is making strides. There are now more women comic creators and well-written women-led comic books, such as Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel.

"I can't remember if it was Batgirl or Batwoman, but one of them was created just to dispel rumors that Batman and Robin were gay," Walchuk said. "That was her sole purpose, and now we have these characters who are holding their own."

That said, not all change has been greeted with a positive response. Recently, female comic book characters' costumes became a lot less revealing.

"Guys were like, 'Why are we letting this vocal minority of comic book readers change the way our comics are? Why are they taking over and changing things?'" Walchuk said. "Comments like that make groups like this necessary."

Walchuk said the group removes pressure for women who are interested in comics but might feel uncomfortable going to a comic book store.

"I think it's rare these days to have a group of girls who can feel free to just come together and be nerdy and be whatever you want to be," Walchuk said. "It's a super open, super welcoming space."

An AP Exchange feature by Chance Wellnitz, The Minnesota Daily.

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