Interview With Kate Leth

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Kate Leth is a renaissance woman of the internets: cartoonist, comic shop employee, trendsetter. Now she’s adding retail crusader to the list.

Kate Leth and Wonder Woman, Beware the Valkyries

Between creating comics and working a regular gig as an employee of the Strange Adventures comic shop, Kate Leth has been quietly recruiting. A few tweets here, a Facebook post there; nothing that would raise any eyebrows. Just a simple request asking other women working in comic shops to contact her about joining an online group. So what are Kate’s plans for this exclusive gathering? It may be a while until we find out what these joined forces of female retailers can do, but Kate tells us a little about what to expect.

Megan Byrd: You’ve recently put out a call to arms for women working in comic shops to join a “not cult”. What are your plans for gathering this top secret group of retailers?

Kate Leth: I wanted to gather and organize women who work in comic shops worldwide, because while there are many of us, we are often far apart. It’s a unique retail experience, and not as densely populated by women as many other sectors. It seemed like a pretty swell idea to bring back together these awesome geek girls through the power of the internet!

MB: Have you chosen a name for this league of local comic shop ladies?

KL: We are the Valkyries, and we are mighty.

MB: It’s kind of surprising that there aren’t other similar groups for comic shop workers in general; what made you create this group specifically for women as opposed to any comic shop workers?

KL: There are some groups for comic shop owners… But no, it didn’t seem like there was a girl gang for geek babes, and that seems like an oversight. While it’s more and more common to find girls working in comic shops (and in the nerd world in general), it can still sometimes feel isolating, and we have a unique perspective in some ways. It is sexist? Exclusive? Maybe, but it’s still pretty darn awesome, and the ladies of the group really seem to love having a space to be themselves. Nobody has to explain anything. We just get it.

Kate Leth Comic, What My Job Is Like, Kate Or Die, comic book retail, women in retail, Beware the Valkyries

MB: Was there a group or website centered around another industry that inspired this group? Some that come to mind include I Hate Starbucks and the ever depressing and hilarious Clients From Hell.

KL: Ha! No, not specifically. I was more looking at the groups for retailers, for cosplayers, and just saw an untapped kind of niche. Why not brings together all the lovely ladies of the LCS world? It’s a different kind of customer base than many other jobs.

MB: Many of those previously mentioned sites do tend to have a focus on venting frustrations but also serve as an outlet for employees to discuss topics anonymously without fear of retribution. Have you seen a focus on the types of discussions amongst the comic shop employees you have gathered thus far?

KL: We’re not just complaining about the customer who asks where the “girl” comics are, we’re organizing rides to conventions, swapping Lying Cat t-shirts, talking retail strategies. Sure, it’s a place to vent, but I’d like it to be positive overall. We’ve been talking a lot lately about t-shirts, how Diamond* offers so few Juniors and Women’s sizes. Every Wednesday we talk about what we’re reading. We all swooned over the solicit for the new Batwoman statue. Stuff just seems to come out pretty naturally – there’s always something going on in geek culture to discuss. It varies pretty widely. There’s a cool thread for showing off your geek tattoos.

* For those that are not part of the industry, Diamond is the largest distributor of comics. They are technically not considered a monopoly because they carry other products like t-shirts and toys where they face many competitors, a fact that makes their apparel offerings quite dismal. For mom and pop stores, Diamond may be their only choice for placing small orders for these non-comic book items. – Megan

MB: How many individuals have joined your group thus far? Have you recruited any female store owners?

KL: So far, are group has about 65 members. Not too shabby! There are a few store owners and managers in the shop. I’m wary of inviting bosses because I want employees to feel more comfortable sharing, but most shops with multiple ladies seem to be very much like a family and get along well. I work with another girl, Natalie, and our Fredericton location has a few girls as well.

MB: Currently you have limited the group to traditional comic shops. Do you have future plans to include hybrid stores such as gaming or book stores that sell comics? What are the criteria for joining?

KL: There are a couple of ladies who work in comic-heavy bookstores, or comic shops that focus on gaming as well. I do want to keep it comics-focused, though, and have had to turn some people away. I actively encourage people to start their own groups if ours isn’t quite the right fit! Right now the criteria is flexible, but I just ask that you’re a girl who is employed by a comic shop. Some are full-time veterans, some work weekends, a few are event organizers. We’re all hard-working dorks.

MB: In our previous correspondence you have mentioned that this group will eventually have a public face. Will this be used simply for further recruitment?

KL: I think so! I’d like us to have some sort of vaguely intimidating presence… Hah. A website with the basic info about the group, an invitation to contact us. Then, naturally, silk jackets. And patches. Motorcycles.

MB: Do you plan to organize events once these workers are mobilized?

KL: I’d like to start with meetups at conventions – I think a couple of girls are going to get together at SDCC. Some day I’d love to do a meeting at a castle or something. I have lofty ambitions. We are legion.

MB: Are you planning an invasion of some kind and will it be too late once it is revealed?

KL: I’ll never tell.

MB: One last question, until there is a public site how do potential Valkyries join up?

If people are interested in joining and feel that they qualify, they can contact me on twitter (https://twitter.com/kateleth) or tumblr (http://kateordie.tumblr.com). The group operates on Facebook, so they need to be on there and able to be found.

Since this interview, Kate Leth’s organization has gone live at Beware The Valkyries - join the ranks today! If you are not part of the world of comic book retail, you can still check out Kate’s comics at Kate Or Die. You can also catch up with her in person at the upcoming Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival on August 18th.

Megan Byrd

About Megan Byrd

Megan is a Chicago based professional photographer by day and a comic book blogger by nights and weekends at comicbookcandy.com. As a former comic book retail employee, Megan writes about the industry with an insider perspective. Megan still moderates a monthly Ladies’ Night event at Graham Crackers Comics in downtown Chicago, and is editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Night Anthology.
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8 Comments

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  2. “it can still sometimes feel isolating, and we have a unique perspective in some ways. It is sexist? Exclusive? Maybe, but it’s still pretty darn awesome, and the ladies of the group really seem to love having a space to be themselves.”

    See, this is why no one ever takes us seriously. As soon as us women enter anything not specifically built exclusively for us, we immediately go into an all-girl huddle & declare that any of those nasty men can’t join our exclusive club.

    Now, with the greatest of respect; those kinds of groups only exist to benefit that groups members. It doesn’t benefit the basic topic, the service sector, or any industry, heck it doesn’t even benefit other women who are not part of that group. All it does is insulates its members against legitimate critique & makes sure that no one will ever take us seriously as a part of the aggregate.

    An just to make it clear, it’s something men don’t do, even in industries in which they are an extreme minority in.

    I’ve actually recently been wondering if this herd behavior is actually a way for us to extend “relational aggression” out of childhood well into adult-hood, long after we should have grown out of it. A way in which we create an in-group from which we can slander the out groups.

    Because we are not legion… We are individuals, so maybe its time we start acting like the adult individuals we want to be taken seriously as.

    • I can definitely understand your reaction, Kelly. I myself struggle with issues of exclusivity as the moderator of a Ladies’ Night event at a LCS, but the event exists as a celebration of common interests, not of the exclusivity shared by the minority group. Similarly, I don’t think the Valkyries gather to have discussions about just being women. Male store employees have not created their own group to speak with other like minded folks because for most of them that’s just called “going to work”. And yes, it is absolutely self serving to create these groups, but I don’t believe that makes it detrimental to the fandom at large. By default a space that is dominated by one group is welcoming to the standard. Events and societies that cater to a specific group end up being beneficial by encouraging individuals that would otherwise be too intimidated to engage with other fans. As a result, our LCS has seen a lot of new faces specifically because of Ladies’ Night. I think the rise of women-centric groups in fandom is one more step towards creating more diversity by raising awareness of the specific desires of a group that to many fans (and some publishers) are still considered non-existent. These groups wouldn’t exist if the individuals creating them already felt like they belonged; they won’t exist when they do finally make up a larger part of the group.

      This may seem like a uniquely female desire to create groups amongst ourselves, but there are most definitely male driven societies where men are outnumbered; for instance the American Assembly for Men in Nursing, or if we want to talk about a female dominated hobby, check out menwhoknit.com! Personally I think it is awesome when anyone is enthusiastic enough about what they love to actively seek out others to share that passion. They aren’t doing it wrong by going to a safe place amongst similar folks first, and that includes those that happen to have a job related to their hobby.

      • “but the event exists as a celebration of common interests, not of the exclusivity shared by the minority group.”

        you are kidding right? Unless the celebration of common interests is “possessing a vagina” you are clearly speaking rubbish.

        If the thing in question is “we love comics” then by its very definition, excluding people who love comics who happen to not have a vagina, is done specifically for “the exclusivity shared by the minority group.”

        If it wasn’t you’d abolish that particular criteria right now.

        “Similarly, I don’t think the Valkyries gather to have discussions about just being women.”

        Then you should have no problem letting in the guys.

        “Male store employees have not created their own group to speak with other like minded folks because for most of them that’s just called ‘going to work’.”

        No that’s not why men don’t do it: They don’t do it because unlike us they aren’t actively bigoted. They don’t construct groups along “us versus them” gender lines, It would never occur to men to do so in this day and age.

        “Events and societies that cater to a specific group end up being beneficial by encouraging individuals that would otherwise be too intimidated to engage with other fans.”

        With all due respect, bullshit. If all the men working in comic book stores today went and joined up, made their own exclusive no girls allowed club, specifically to benefit them & against you as a woman, you’d be screaming sexism & rightly so.

        What happens when this group starts to promote others in there group ahead of women? What happens when this group decides to have a party & not invite you because you happen to be female? What about when your male associates are sent on training courses over you because they are in this group?

        An in-group dynamic doesn’t benefit anyone but those parts of that in-group.

        But I just love that you are so deeply engrained in your own echo chamber, so deeply enmeshed in your own sexism, that you’ve actually convinced yourself that that this sexism is totally different from exactly the same kind of sexism that doesn’t benefit you, because this sexism benefits does you.

        So remember when the Emperor looks naked, it’s because the Emperor is naked.

        Groups like yours make being a woman 10 times harder, by showing the men in charge exactly why we shouldn’t be trusted with the smallest modicum of real power: Because we abuse it in the name of “same group preference.”

        • Kelly, believe me, if I thought any of the negative effects you listed were a result of our group I wouldn’t associate with it! But I can assure you that my opinions are directly informed by my real world experience as both a comic shop employee and as a fan. Since we started our ladies’ night event nearly 2 years ago, there has not been one complaint directly to the store, in person, by phone, or online. The owners have continued to support and advertise our group because they have seen nothing but positive results, including increased business and a lot of new readers coming into the store. And mind you, we’ve never turned away the occasional male attendee. We even host co-ed events a few times a year. I’m very much interested in doing a follow up to Kate’s interview by contacting store owners and organizers that host similar events to see what the reception has been. I would be very surprised by any negative reception received in person (from afar and without actually going to these stores and their events, anyone claiming sexist or exclusionary motivations only has their assumption to fuel their opinion). It’s not about us vs. them. It is us amongst them – and it’s almost always the first step to feeling more comfortable within a larger group. That is certainly the case for our attendees that literally stepped foot inside a comic shop for the first time because of an event that catered to them! I would encourage you to visit a similar event to the ones Kate and my store run. If you truly feel these events are detrimental to both fandom at large and the women that attend these groups, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with them in person.

          • “Since we started our ladies’ night event nearly 2 years ago, there has not been one complaint directly to the store, in person, by phone, or online. ”

            Of course there hasn’t been: Because the people who that would disadvantage would be male & we all know what happens when men complain about the sexist things we do: We call them sexists, misogynists & women-haters.

            The fact is that you & I both know what you are doing is exclusionary by gender, something that you personally would scream bloody murder over had it been the other way round.

            So at this point you can’t really make any real claim to being at all egalitarian, at all about equality.

            “The owners have continued to support and advertise our group because they have seen nothing but positive results, including increased business and a lot of new readers coming into the store.”

            Sure & imagine what would happen if you didn’t exclude 50% of the population by gender. In fact if you are getting such great positive results & it’s not as you say “being used as a platform to talk about being a woman” then is it not your responsibility to extend that service to men as well as women.

            Or is it more important to you to keep your girls club a girls club, because being exclusionary is more important to you than being about the comics.

          • Again, I really urge you to actually go to an event that caters to female fans and you’ll have a much greater understanding of the meaning and implications of these groups. Until then, I’m afraid you really go beyond assuming the worst. As for the future of our event, we’ll happily continue to accept anyone that attends but it will remain a “girl’s club” until the readership, creators, and marketing of comics accurately reflects society at large. Ladies’ Night is definitely not about the comics; it’s about the people who love them and are still not considered part of the equation by many creators and fellow fans.

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